I have written about this before but I believe it to be important enough to readdress.
As a full time caregiver of my elderly father, who is still relatively functional, I often have a few spare daytime hours. I have taken to occasionally visiting my local newspaper’s website to read the various commentary on the news and opinions of the day offered by other readers. Over time the tendencies I have witnessed give me cause to be greatly alarmed at the state of what passes for argumentative conversation in modern dialogue.
These commentaries most often rapidly disintegrate into vicious adversarial Ad Hominem attacks by those of all political persuasions. I cannot stress more vociferously that this kind of nasty business is not the sole province of supporters of any political party or ideological group. Personal attacks seem to be an equal opportunity phenomenon. These unproductive conversations show up almost immediately, hijacking threads and making it nigh unto impossible to reasonably discuss the issue at hand.
Is this what we have descended to in America? Are we so full of vitriol that we cannot talk things over without calling each other hurtful names. These are our neighbors we are ridiculing. They are not enemies, they are our fellow citizens.
What I believe has been lost today is common self respect. I believe it is implied in one’s self respect that there is the expectation that others will also respect themselves. This creates an atmosphere where everyone can respect the lifestyles, decisions and opinions of everyone else, allowing for quality productive intercourse over any topic. We don’t have to agree with people to respect their opinions, no matter how egregious we find their positions. One could argue that differences of opinion lead to better solutions than simple agreement, for they introduce critical thinking into the problem solving process.
This lack of self respect is a disease from which we suffer greatly. When people cannot argue without personal attacks the issues are never fairly addressed and consensus is out of the question. When people only demonize each other there are only demons. Without productive discussion of the real issues I am afraid we will be simply be spinning our wheels instead of addressing the critical issues of our time.
Grow up people.
The recent budget proposal from right wing budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan reveals several sordid truths about conservative strategy. We would do well to understand what these rascals are really up to with their demand for draconian cuts to the social safety net.
First, in delivering such a drastic and extreme budget proposal the right is simply doing what many have done before them. They have offered policy that is so outrageous and absurd that virtually anything less severe will be greeted as “moderate” and “reasonable. In doing this they push the debate continuum further and further to the right, as policy once considered harsh is now looked at as a potential compromise.
In political parlance this is called pushing the Overton Window. The Overton Window is the range of policy that is considered acceptable. By introducing radical policy proposals to the discussion one attempts to move the window to include ideas once considered unacceptable to the mainstream of public debate, by making them look less objectionable in comparison. It is a tactic used by everyone in the political game, primarily because it works. By advocating, for example, the eventual privatization of Medicare, Ryan hopes to make future policy advocacy of a slightly less undesirable nature more appealing to the masses. Time will only tell if the trick works.
Second, inside Ryan’s proposal we find revealed the true strategic aims of the right. Conservatives have been trying to repeal the New Deal for over 70 years. They hope to take advantage of the current weak economy and the resultant loss in federal revenues to emasculate reviled New Deal and Great Society social programs, all in the name of fiscal responsibility.
The rich and their pet programs will not suffer from Ryan’s budgetary slashing. In their plan only the poor and middle class will bear the burden of allegedly putting our country’s financial house in order. Make no mistake, the corporate elite and their followers aim to make America a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy. If the Overton Window continues to get pushed further and further to the right eventually the corporations and their fat cat followers will have a stranglehold on our nation that average citizens will be unable to overcome.
Can you say Banana Republic?
Somewhere along the line, perhaps because of relentless promotion by free marketeers, America has adopted the notion that our democracy must have a free market economy. Capitalism seemingly was advocated by no less than the Founding Fathers as the only possible economic system possible for our nation, if these people are to be believed. The bare fact is that numerous democracies operate quite well indeed using socialist economic principles. I do not say this as a die hard advocate for socialism but to point out that democracy and capitalism are not joined at the hip as some would have us believe.
Another hard fact is that many of our nations most precious institutions are based in socialist economic principles. These institutions thrive because the goods or services they offer have been shown to work best with the government running the show. The postal service, police and fire departments, social security and many other entities do best with government management.
This is not to say that we should eschew Capitalism entirely. Capitalism’s benefits are many, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, and the drive to raise our selves from poverty to wealth have served this country well over the years. The problem lies in the dark underbelly of capitalism as practiced by unscrupulous manipulators. Left unchecked capitalists seek only that which will benefit them, to the detriment of anybody else. A runaway capitalist influenced government could easily lead to the downfall of democracy as we appreciate it in this great land.
If capitalist and the politicians they control continue to ride roughshod over the democratic principles we cherish, without the protections afforded the people by government regulation with teeth, we could soon live in a country very unfamiliar to those who fought to create us. They have the money but we have the power if we choose to unite and use it.
This is why a large part of the tactical operations of the corporate overlords is involved with keeping us at each others throats. The Tea Party activists are kept in the dark about just how much in common they have with the progressives they revile by nimble manipulation of hot button emotional issues propagated by the right wing echo chamber.
The battles for the heart and soul of America rage. We may lose some along the way but the fight must continue, as the war must be won if America is to have the future envisioned for it by those who founded us. A well regulated capitalist economy, with some socialist institutions where applicable, is a requisite goal of this struggle.
One of my guilty pleasures is to read the commentary on news and opinion items at my local newspapers online site. Let me first say that this dialogue is dominated by perhaps two dozen diehard enthusiasts who obviously have more time than they know what to do with. There are approximately an equal number of conservatives and liberals, ostensibly, who are among these chronic posters. One means of amusing myself while reading is counting the number of posts before the debate leaves the realm of the topic and becomes quite personal.
There seems to be an epidemic of ad hominem attacks at all levels of public discourse these days. Normal people with valid opinions are consistently called idiots, morons (or morans if you wish) or any number of epithets denoting some level of depravity. I have often wondered what is the source of all this vitriol. Do people truly need to demonize those with different opinions? Do they need to call people names simply to make them feel better about themselves or their own opinions?
I believe everyone wants to believe that their opinions are correct. There is nothing wrong with this. A large part of life is assessing situations and forming an opinion. Where this can all too easily go south is when we make the illogical assumption that those who disagree with us have some sort of mental or emotional deficit.
The media can take at least a modicum of the blame for this phenomenon. Modern media can emphasize the differences between us rather than the things we all have in common as humans and Americans. As citizens we must overcome this tendency to demonize our social and political opponents.
A lot depends on us developing meaningful and conscious dialogue to address our many problems