Sunday, July 14, 2002
Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

Gary Leff, the frequent-flyer guy, points in this log entry to some pointing to Ann Coulter's not necessarily getting every detail correct. In doing so, he makes the very sensible point that, "Conservatives, like liberals, need to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about their discourse."

Here's another example: Yesterday, in this entry, Howard Owens quoted this fantasy about how aliens might view the world if they bought some fictional leftist perspective. Then he goes on to berate leftists for having that perspective in the first place.

Problem one is that the piece was a pure piece of imagination written by someone of the righter-wing pursuasion. Sure, it's based on elements of idiotic left-wing blather from various places, but it wasn't like any one left-wing idiot said the particular things referenced in the piece Howard pointed to.

Problem two is that of painting with broad strokes, of pointing to something that's supposedly stereotypical as if its representative of every member of some class sharing some attribute. Unfortunately for those, left or right, who would try to paint with some broad characterizations, as individuals, people don't by and large fit into the cubbyholes we want them to. So, in trying to dismiss either "leftists" or "right-wingers" or "liberals" or "conservatives" as all having identical horns and pointy tails, we miss the fact that, by and large, they don't.

The only secure tactic is taking what individuals say on an individual basis. It would be wrong for me to characterize what Howard Owens did as a characteristic of conservatives, just as it was wrong for him to identify some fictional statements as stereotypical of "leftists". If he or the author of the fantasy want to verbally smash Chomsky for saying stupid things, more power to them. But is it really right to try to frame anyone who shares any aspect of Chomsky's thinking as "leftist" and, therefore, deserving of the same derision?

It would be wrong for me to point the lack of appropriate parallel contrast between using "leftists" the other and "conservatives" for the self, as Howard did, as stereotypical of conservatives, just as it's wrong for Ann Coulter to try to pin the actions of individuals on "the left".
Until we start to deal with each other as individuals who hold varying views and who are all part of this life we find ourselves in, we won't be able to get beyond "I win, you lose" kinds of framings. Of course, it's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that that result is exactly what the users of that kind of framing have in mind. One doesn't come to expect much in the way of self-criticism, of fairness towards others' points of views, of giving others some benefit of the doubt (no, we don't want to do that to the extent of unreasonably risking our safety and security, but we're nowhere near that threshold) from individuals who think it's more important for them to be right than it is for us all to somehow get it right.

In another entry here, Gary points out that today, 14 July, is Bastille Day. Sometimes I think many of those who so quickly dismiss the comments and perspectives of others would be happier, would find themselves naturally at home, in the midst of the French Revolution, not among those who founded this nation. Their certainty of point of view has more to do with Romanticism than it does to do with the questioning thoughtfulness of The Enlightenment.