mamamusings: November 6, 2004

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Saturday, 6 November 2004

barlow on magnanimous defeat

John Perry Barlow has a new post up today that describes eloquently the feelings that I’ve been struggling with this week.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with has been the puzzling and disturbing discrepancy between exit polls and results in key states (which others have pointed to, as well). There’s compelling evidence that our voting system is unreliable and easy to compromise—from the information at BlackBoxVoting to the Votergate documentary. But at the end of the day, I think Barlow’s right when he says

…believing that 9/11 was a vast, right-wing conspiracy is as pointless at this stage as believing in the likelier possibility that the exit polls were actually as accurate in Ohio in Florida as they were everywhere else. Maybe it will all come out someday, but there’s precious little we can do about it now. Who are we going to complain to? The authorities?

He goes on to describe a conversation he had this week with a young man he knows who voted for Bush:

“America,” he said, “is like the captain of the football team, the most popular kid in school.” He was describing his recent self, I expect. “The Europeans are like the chess club and they resent this guy cause he’s the one who gets all the girls, even though he’s not an intellectual like they are.” I eyed him carefully, while secretly inspecting myself for similar resentments. It was lucky for both of us that he doesn’t actually get all the girls. “Really,” he said, “it’s about character. It’s about morality.”

“Wait,” I said, “What about the morality of killing a hundred thousand Iraqis for no good reason?”

“Saddam was killing them too.” I doubted that even Saddam has ever killed as many Iraqis in a year and a half as we’ve just polished off, but I let that pass. “Besides, when Bush attacked, he thought he had a good reason. I can’t believe he didn’t think America was in danger.” I could, but I let that pass too.

This young man had been trained to respect authority just as surely as I had learned to suspect it. Whatever our agreements, we would always be separate in that regard. It was something that had grown into him in his lower middle class Christian home in central Illinois, along with a good pitching arm, in the same way that Bohemianism had taken root in me during the 60’s. Morality and character are words that have subtly different meanings to each of us. And a lot of the divide has to do with the degree to which we are willing to admit the feminine into our natures. I think he suspects I’m a little too sensitive. It’s less about character and morality than it is about masculinity. We have different notions about what it is to be a man, and they are important to us.

But they don’t necessarily make a bad fella out of either one of us. We both represent aspects of the American psyche that need each other, the jock and the intellectual, the Boy Scout and the renegade, the guardian and the wild card. We both love this great and terrible country, even as we fear one another’s excessive influence on it, and part of what we love is the creative fever that arises from our division. As we need each other, however unwillingly, so America needs us both.

I hope—I desperately hope—that he’s right. That these divisions will generate creativity rather than crushing it, that what we see around us now is not as devastating as it feels to me.

In the comments of my political entries, most of the discourse has in fact been civilized, and I’ve tried—hard—to listen to the arguments of the people I disagree with, to understand their reasons for believing what they do. (There are a few comments I’ve not approved, because they were so meanspirited…but they were few and far between.) But I know that’s not been the case in many of these discussions. And that’s why this part of Barlow’s post struck me most:

At the very least, I need to take the other side seriously. Dismissing them as a bunch of homophobic, racist, Bible-waving, know-nothing troglodytes, however true that may be of a few, only authorizes them to return the favor. I don’t want somebody calling me a dope-smoking, fag-loving, one-worlder weirdo, however true that might be. We are all masks that God wears, whatever God that is. We might try to treat one another with according reverence. At least we might try to listen as though the other side might have a point.I truly think we all owe one another an apology.

Again I’m reminded of my recovery process. It’s easy—so easy—to dismiss the addicts in my life as the cause of all my problems. But it’s not that simple. We can’t heal our own spiritual illness without letting go of our need to pass judgment on others. I’m not a religious person, but I’m increasingly a spiritual person. And I’m learning that anger, hate, and recriminations do more damage to me than they do to the subject of my resentment.

So yes, I need to listen more. I need to judge less. I need to understand why it is that my view of the world differs so significantly from the worldview of the millions who voted against the candidates and ideas that I value.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore the restrictions on freedom that frighten me the most—in libraries, in schools, in prisons, in polling places. But I have to focus on the actions, not the people. The issues, not the personalities.

I hope you’ll read Barlow’s whole post—the bits I posted here are only a small piece of it, and he has much to say that’s worth reading and thinking about.

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Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna