Thursday, May 3, 2012

a newspaper column about political arguments & stupidity


This week's column for the St. Clair Times wound up being not nearly as good as this Cracked.com piece about election stories (language NSFW). But I enjoyed writing it, for whatever that is worth. You can enjoy me trying (and failing) to come up with new ways to write the word "stupidity." I don't really own a thesaurus that's any good. As always, contributions are welcome either in the comments section or by finding me on Twitter.
Election season means a lot of arguing

One of the joys of working in a newsroom is working around people with strong opinions, mostly because it leads to arguing those strong opinions with vehemence and absolutism.

Walk into your average newsroom, and you might leave with the impression that all the people who work there hate one another. That’s how heated the arguments often can be.

This apparently makes for very successful television, based on the ratings for ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and “Around the Horn.” Real-life newsrooms feature a number of those types of arguments, though with more swearing and less makeup.

But the key to each argument is the following: the people making the arguments ultimately respect one another as individuals. They are disagreeing — many times violently and occasionally with no real basis — but they can walk away still friends.

It is now May, in an even year. And that means it’s time for elections again, one of those rare gifts in which a free society can engage.

Election years, however, come with something of a crippling downside. Frankly, some people seem less concerned about making sure their side wins, so much as they are scorching the earth so that nobody wins.

This occurs, near as I can tell, because the people involved with these races are personally invested in their side. And people who are passionate about politics — from either party — tend to make one of two assumptions about the other side of the aisle.

The first assumption: that they (the opponent) is filled with people who are either stupid, na├»ve or simply “misinformed.” This generally leads to a lot of clucking of the tongue and patting of the head.

“It’s really cute that you think that, Person I’m Now Talking Down To, and I bet you really believe what you’re saying. But I want you to know that what you said is idiotic, and I am about to attempt to make you feel dumb for having an opinion and saying it out loud.”

Remember, people who are passionate about these issues tend to see everything on their own terms. And if you refuse to see those things strictly within those confines, you must be poorly educated.

There is a second possibility, however, and it is slightly more sinister than the first. If a person believes differently than you do, maybe he’s not an ignoramus; in fact, maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s because he has a super-secret hidden agenda he’s keeping from the world.

It is the exact opposite of complete oafishness. A person with an agenda is after something; he doesn’t just want your vote, he wants your soul.

“You wouldn’t be saying that, Person On the Other Side of the Aisle, if you truly loved America. You are trying to hurt America, sir. Why will you stop at nothing to let the terrorists win?!”

This, by the way, may be why it is impossible to honestly discuss politics in America: most of us who care have already decided that everyone on the other side is either foolhardy or conspiratorial. Who can have a reasonable conversation with a bunch of idiots being led by shady, evil conspirators? Everything the other side says — no matter how benign — then must fall into one of those two categories: evidence of their ignorance, or evidence of their conspiracy.

I can’t help feeling like we should all be better than that. Which means I’m bound to receive a few e-mails over the next few days calling me a doofus, or telling me I’m in on the conspiracy. I can’t decide which is worse.

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