Demonization is natural and can even be enjoyable, particularly in the hands of someone who is sharp-witted, sharp-tongued, a great writer, or rhetorical speaker. Many of us love to throw sharp jabs, flip and cutting remarks, or witty rebuttals to those whose positions seem indefensible to us. Especially in the age of social media, when we no longer have to type up a letter to the editor, get a stamp, start the walk to the mailbox, and…. oh, never mind, it passed.
And there are certainly despicable people who knowingly exploit fear for their own gain — political or monetary, particularly in the media and politics. But most ordinary people, and even some in media and politics are just afraid themselves, just like we all are to varying degrees. Most of what is bad in life is motivated by fear and insecurity. For example, the person who seemed most fearful in that video from Minnesota was the cop who did the killing. His screams were haunting. Is it okay to feel bad for him? To wonder what the hell it must be like to realize you have done something like taking another person’s life out of fear? He screams empty attempts at rationalization and Diamond Reynolds is like the calm voice of his/our conscience, somberly informing him what he just did. Of course, the real tragedy was for the victims. The cop gets to go on with his life, if he can manage. From the sounds on that tape, I am not so sure.
Not to draw a straight line from the cop’s rationalizations. But in the fallout, with the Black Lives Matter movement getting dismissed by “all” or “blue lives matter” counter-sloganeering, and then with yet another Lone American Gunman taking the lives of five police officers, we find ourselves heading back to our respective corners and habitually reactionary stances. We all try to rationalize our positions, many formulated out of fear. We find ourselves correct and righteous sometimes and incorrect and shamed many other times. Then we dig deeper into our respective foxholes. So then we are left with people on either sides of a battleground. And instead of trying to do the hard work toward progress and mutual agreement — which is almost always slow, incremental, and usually tedious and frustrating, at best leading to mediocre compromise — we go for the short edorphin-stimulating blasts of being “right.” More “likes!”
This was no more evident than in the Democratic primaries this year. It was understandable; finally, after years of the left getting pushed to the center and then the center-right, the more idealistic left of us saw promise of moving the needle toward the sort of true Dem ideals thought to be left behind during the hangover of the Great Society, if not largely forgotten after the New Deal saved the country. But the reality is that the country seems far off from being that far left — or right — again, unless another Great Depression or world war comes along, God help us. Meanwhile, people who are ostensibly on the same “side,” who agree on 90%+ of issues great and small, started belittling each other and demonizing the other’s fave for nominee of the party. Rational discussion becomes passionate and bitterly personal disagreement.
I listened a bit today to extreme right wing radio on WRKO in Boston today. I do it sometimes like I am picking a scab. And I hate myself after. But I don’t recommend it to anyone because it is precisely the worst of the worst exploitative and dishonest media you will find. And listening in to in order find satisfaction in being “right” over those ignorant callers is a base objective. In doing so, I was reminded of just how polarized so many important discussions have gotten in this era — not just “them,” but also “us.”. Sure, we can blame it on the early success of such right wing radio, which lead to the extremely successful Fox News and, as a less successful reaction, MSNBC (I understand it is not a perfect analog for the left to what Fox is to the right, but reactionary and schtick it often is) and the biting and deeply necessary satire of the Daily Show and its spawn
We all feel beaten down. But beat on against the tide we must. I bet pretty much all of us have relatives and friends that we love who are on the other side our political, religious, and other strongly-held beliefs. I am as guilty as anyone in reducing complicated issues to social media posts. How can someone I otherwise respect vote for Tump? How can anyone support the NRA and a fraudulent interpretation of the Second Amendment that results in ongoing carnage? I have only a vague idea or two. But that is better than having my default “no fucking idea” and writing them off — unless they truly are hopelessly unreformed and hateful racists, of course. And I am not connected to any of those, I hope. But some are indeed very afraid, Fox News on all the time making them even more fearful. But I am trying to understand, just as I did during the post-9-11-Bush Dark Ages. If we don’t understand we get further polarized. And I have seen politics ostracize close members of my own family to their death, literally.
And as my family and I are readying ourselves for a week-long vacation together abroad, during one of the more tumultuous times in our modern history, I just want to go, escape, and enjoy the company of others, to laugh, see another part of the world, and have a great time. I would rather not discuss anything like the above because understanding on some issues usually seems like such a hopeless goal. But I will do my best to remain open and compassionate, as I hope to do in all manner of my life. For, as the Buddha or some other wiseass said, “it is all a bubble of froth.”