Sunday, October 24, 2004
Case in point.
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I found this article more than 4 years ago but it strikes me as really relevant right now. People have gotten so tightly wound that the only reason they can imagine someone holding an opposing opinion is that they're stupid, hateful, misguided, or outright evil. This is exceptionally dangerous. Reasonable, honorable, well-informed people of good will can come to conflicting conclusions on big issues.
I've written before on the subject of abortion. I can see the pro-lifers side. If I accepted the premise that a fertilized egg is the same sort of rights-bearing creature as an adult human, well then it follows that abortion is in fact murder and should be treated as such. I don't accept that premise because I don't find the existence of a heartbeat or fingerprints or DNA a sufficient and compelling argument for moral equivalence. I could buy a brainwaves argument. The cessation of brainwaves is accepted as death. Brainwaves start somewhere between the 24th and 26th week as I recall, which is also around the earliest limits of viability outside the womb. I think that's a great compromise. But of course that's because I don't see a bundle of 8 cells as a bearer of full human rights, one of which is life, thus conferring upon me a moral obligation not to trespass.
If you're feeling like we've lost the signal in the static, I think it's because people have abandoned civilized discourse. My own parents are contemptuously dismissive of my political beliefs. I don't bother to discuss politics with them. They know I'm voting for Bush but I can't even discuss the issues with them because they're completely unaware of the actual details involved on most of the subjects they're loudest about. I can't give someone the cliff notes and then discuss the book with them.
I run into the same problem discussing guns. People are so ignorant of the topic that it's impossible to have a rational dialogue. People throw around figures that are just flat out, orders of magnitude wrong, and no one calls them on it because the audience is just that ignorant. How fucking Orwellian is the notion that our evidence may be false but our conclusions are right, so it doesn't matter? It fucking MATTERS!
I remember debating drug policy with a friend. I was arguing that prohibition is doomed to failure (see: >50% of the US prison population is incarcerated for drugs.) She got frustrated at our facts and figures and said something along the lines that 'I know there are statistics out there that will prove my point but I just don't have time to look them up.' I dropped it because it was a social occasion and it's not polite to persist with uncomfortable discussions. But as a diagnostic statement about what's ailing the american polity, you can't get much better.
I can't refute points that aren't made. I can't make the points for the other side. It's sad when I know them better than the people who hold the opinion. It really has devolved into a battle of dogma versus dogma and that's a really dangerous place to be.
I recently unearthed the box of buttons that I rotated on my bag in high school. I may wear one of them to the polls. It says "Having your say does not equal getting your way." I was 14 when I parted with 2 of my precious dollars for it. Is it really too much to expect 50 year olds to grasp the same concept?
I've also recently been recalling the scene in Primary Colors where the Libby character recalls losing it in the wake of her candidate's loss. She says that she was sure that the CIA was behind revelations that he had spent time in a mental institution. THEY must have done dirty tricks. They must have made him crazy. So she thought that her team needed to get better and dirtier tricks. Her political idol stepped in and told her that "We don't do that. If we win, we want to win because our ideas are better."
So what does it mean if 'our side' loses? Especially when the issues are this important? No wonder people are going nuts. It is important to remember that we all have to live here after Nov. 2nd, too.
On a somewhat related note, I'm utterly delighted to discover the existence of the Guns and Dope party. Though the pairing of the two, particularly in their logo, is probably a barrier to any sort of serious consideration. That and the ostriches. The guy who started it writes for Reason. Perhaps someone will start the Live and let Live/ Walk Softly and carry a Big Stick party in time for '08.
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Gah. Halloween is a pagan holiday. This is like banning Santa because he offends christians. What on earth will they do with Valentine's day? Cupid versus a martyr. All of our mainstream holidays are perversions of religious traditions. Get over it.
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I'm not going to make a regular thing of this but, as I predicted, (The reason I stopped paying attention for a few months.) Behold: the entire world has gone completely cuckoo about this election.
It certainly seems like if anything, more bridges have been burned and more wells poisoned than I expected. For heaven's sake people! Can we dial it down to 10?!? What the hell happened to a basic sense of propriety, if civility is too damn much work?
Update: The Guardian has removed all references to the article, but the internet is magic so here's the Google cache. Just in case that disappears too, I'll reproduce the full text of the article.
Saturday October 23, 2004
Heady times. The US election draws ever nearer, and while the rest of the world bangs its head against the floorboards screaming "Please God, not Bush!", the candidates clash head to head in a series of live televised debates. It's a bit like American Idol, but with terrifying global ramifications. You've got to laugh.
Or have you? Have you seen the debates? I urge you to do so. The exemplary BBC News website (www.bbc.co.uk/news) hosts unexpurgated streaming footage of all the recent debates, plus clips from previous encounters, through Reagan and Carter, all the way back to Nixon versus JFK.
Watching Bush v Kerry, two things immediately strike you. First, the opening explanation of the rules makes the whole thing feel like a Radio 4 parlour game. And second, George W Bush is... well, he's... Jesus, where do you start?
The internet's a-buzz with speculation that Bush has been wearing a wire, receiving help from some off-stage lackey. Screen grabs appearing to show a mysterious bulge in the centre of his back are being traded like Top Trumps. Prior to seeing the debate footage, I regarded this with healthy scepticism: the whole "wire" scandal was just wishful thinking on behalf of some amateur Michael Moores, I figured. And then I watched the footage.
Quite frankly, the man's either wired or mad. If it's the former, he should be flung out of office: tarred, feathered and kicked in the nuts. And if it's the latter, his behaviour goes beyond strange, and heads toward terrifying. He looks like he's listening to something we can't hear. He blinks, he mumbles, he lets a sentence trail off, starts a new one, then reverts back to whatever he was saying in the first place. Each time he recalls a statistic (either from memory or the voice in his head), he flashes us a dumb little smile, like a toddler proudly showing off its first bowel movement. Forgive me for employing the language of the playground, but the man's a tool.
So I sit there and I watch this and I start scratching my head, because I'm trying to work out why Bush is afforded any kind of credence or respect whatsoever in his native country. His performance is so transparently bizarre, so feeble and stumbling, it's a miracle he wasn't laughed off the stage. And then I start hunting around the internet, looking to see what the US media made of the whole "wire" debate. And they just let it die. They mentioned it in passing, called it a wacko conspiracy theory and moved on.
Yet whether it turns out to be true or not, right now it's certainly plausible - even if you discount the bulge photos and simply watch the president's ridiculous smirking face. Perhaps he isn't wired. Perhaps he's just gone gaga. If you don't ask the questions, you'll never know the truth.
The silence is all the more troubling since in the past the US news media has had no problem at all covering other wacko conspiracy theories, ones with far less evidence to support them. (For infuriating confirmation of this, watch the second part of the must-see documentary series The Power Of Nightmares (Wed, 9pm, BBC2) and witness the absurd hounding of Bill Clinton over the Whitewater and Vince Foster non-scandals.)
Throughout the debate, John Kerry, for his part, looks and sounds a bit like a haunted tree. But at least he's not a lying, sniggering, drink-driving, selfish, reckless, ignorant, dangerous, backward, drooling, twitching, blinking, mouse-faced little cheat. And besides, in a fight between a tree and a bush, I know who I'd favour.
On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?
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