barlow on magnanimous defeat

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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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Just a little bit. Because although I said I won't write about politics here anymore, nothing's to prevent me from talking about others who do... So, the rundown: Sharleen writes beautifully about the intertwined nature of faith and life and... Read More


Barlow's post is indeed elegant though for me the time of acceptance was short-lived. Remember the huge percentage of people who still think Saddam masterminded 9/11? I'm still going to work to persuade them with known facts. Until we can have a debate based on reality, we're in big trouble.

Don't fret about exit polls -- one daypart can't be used to predict how the whole day will go unless you are incredibly sophisticated in parsing the data (and almost no one is that sophisticated). Kerry looked good in the AM but that's because more women and professionals tend to vote in the morn. Exit polls are good at showing why people voted the way they did but are almost never reliable in predicting the outcome of an election.

Be very afraid, as you already are, of the electronic voting machines. They represent "black hole" voting more than "black box." Unfortunately most people aren't tech savvy enough to know how vulnerable these machines are to manipulation.

Barlow has very noble sentiments, and indeed it can be worthwhile to listen with respect to those who do not agree with us. I can tell you from my own experience, however, that trying hard to listen and communicate is draining and enervating. Progress can be made, but your identity can easily become compromised in the process. Also, the progress you make is like money in the bank that can suddenly be taxed at any moment, at a 200% rate. That is, one little slip you make in expressing your emotions, or phrasing something awkwardly, can undo weeks or months of progress in reaching a better understanding. So my advice, for whatever it is worth, is to pick and choose carefully those to whom you'll talk your heart out.

For my part, I've identified a small subset of people who I consider worth expending the effort to reach out to. I'm reaching out to Libertarians - many of whom are strongly critical of the Republican Party in its current incarnation as the party of the war machine, the deficit and the police state. Take a look at some Libertarian sites such as You may be pleasantly surprised by what you read. Also take a look at the Democratic Freedom Caucus within the Democratic Party. This is a caucus of "geo-libertarians" who try to combine the best of the Green and Libertarian parties.

A second group of people I'm reaching out to are the people who are losing economically. I see class as an idea whose time has come around again. Now there are both middle class blacks and blacks in poverty. Now there are both elite conservative fembots and struggling single mothers. There is a whole group of white males who have been alienated from the Democrat Party by the politics of identity. Why not find common ground on economic issues? Why not make men feel more welcome? Why not have a white male caucus? If the Republicans can woo women and blacks, then the Democrats can certainly woo white males. But first we need to counter the dominance of the corporate media which constantly encourages them to scapegoat feminists, minorities, a supposed liberal elite, and even Hollywood celebrities. Part of the working class/sliding middle class white male resentment of liberals is class-based. Watch O'Reilly, and you can see him trying to get class-based resentments to be directed towards Hollywood liberal celebrities. The time is ripe now to, once again, make economics the Big Tent issue.

As for reaching out to evangelical Christians, I can tell you that they will only short-circuit the discussion by responding that they won't listen to their head but to the "heart of God".

That's my two cents. If anybody can succeed in the areas where I've failed, more power to them.

I am a libertarian republican.

My heart does truly go out to those of you on the left who have felt the crushing impact of rejection by the electorate, despite my relief in the thwarting of your ambitions. I empathize with you, though I disagree with your aims. I can't say that I wish you success -- but I do wish you well -- and I know how hard this time must be.

As much as I disagree with leftist collectivist, class-warfare politics, I recognize that my views are not shared by all. The leftist point of view, so long as it still represents a substantial portion of the electorate, deserves a voice and representation in government.

It occurs to me, however, that there is far less magnaminity than this, from your side to ours. An increase in respect for your opponents and empathy for their views could only be to your benefit.

Remember Churchil, who said of Rommel, "Across the field of battle, I salute you."

Thanks, Ishmael. I respect the Libertarian position of tolerance in the basic, old-fashioned sense of live and let live. It is one of America's founding principles, and the left and the right have both been known to violate it in their own special ways. I know that both the left and the right have control freaks in their midst. Right now, however, it is the Republicans who are in charge of the government. If/when Dems are back in the majority, I won't support the pendulum swinging back in a direction of lefty control-freak tendencies.

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on November 6, 2004 11:12 AM.

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