I’ve also been fighting off an unhealthy little addiction. I started surfing the net and stumbled upon a website where people come to talk about TV shows. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be interested, because I don’t watch a lot of TV – at least not a lot that’s actually on, rather than on DVD. But this year there’s a show I’m actually interested in, so I started reading the discussion there, and eventually posting some of my thoughts.
Well, okay. I started posting things that I thought would provoke a lot of argument, which they did. But that’s what I do. Professionally, personally, whatever. Provocation is my stock in trade. I’ve recently been seen having a loud argument about terrorism, oppression, and democracy at the Gold Star Inn, during which my lovely wife was afraid we’d come to blows. Actually I was arguing with someone I like and respect, and we parted friends. I think we just missed Jimmy’s.
In any case, addiction. I got to where I was posting a couple times a day or more, when I had better things I could be doing. Like working. The cause was mostly a heated debate on ethics, one worthy of a weeknight at Jimmy’s. At issue were the “ethical issues” involved in the extra judicial execution of an enemy soldier who is trying to defect. Yes, my controversial and provocative position boils down to "murder is bad, so you should only kill people in self defense." But if you read the paper, you're probably aware that there's a certain amount of disagreement on this issue.
Debating it got me to delve deep into why killing is a Bad Thing, which was useful and productive. But it also got me to the point where I really, really wanted to convince people that murder is wrong, which is frankly insane as well as pointless and silly. People on these boards had previously defended a military overthrow of a democratic government, and the torture and killing of another prisoner. They comment how "cool" and "strong" characters are when they take swift, violent action. Didn't I learn anything from the last election?
Apparently not. I ranted on until I got booted off the board, at least temporarily. Which was fair, because they have clearly posted rules, which I broke. I don't like those rules much (I'll get to that in a minute), but that's not really the point. They have to have some rules, and enforce them, it they want to keep it a nice and reasonable place. That's why I was posting there, and not at other places, where the last time I checked, madness reigned. If I weren't so lazy I could start my own board. But I don't really care, so I won't.
The thing I don't like about the rules is you can't really engage someone else's arguments. Reasoning by analogy, trying to restate someone's arguments to clarify them, is considered rude. Unfortunately (from a certain point of view), that's what I was trained to do both as a crisis counselor back in the day, and as a late-night debater at the U of C. So when I finally said stuff that worked, in the sense that it drew out replies that clarified other people's arguments so I could understand their premises, etc. I also got banned for rudeness.
I see where they're coming from, but to me this kind of politeness is a lot like the "fairness" you see from the mainstream media. One 'side' states an opinion, the other 'side' does the same. Without engaging in real dialogue, nobody ever mentions it whan one side is complete horseshit. The right gets away with passing off complete balderdash as fact. Saddam has WHDs. Gay parents are bad for children. On and on and on. What good't the internet if you can't be more participatory than that?
And I was trying to be polite. Here’s what I didn’t say:
What the hell is wrong with people? Here, in this country, with our history and Constitution and all this blabbering about freedom we do on flag holidays, why the hell did only 73% of Americans believe that the kind of abuse that went on at Abu Ghraib was "never justified?" Why do we sit here and allow people, some of them American citizens, to be detained by the government without charge, without showing any evidence to anyone, for years? Why do we tolerate tens of millions of people living in poverty in such a wealthy country? Why do we have a religious leader revered by millions on TV advocating the assassination of a foreign leader. Why did 59 million people vote for this bullshit?
And why, oh why, do we have people who sit up day and night at their keyboards and argue that torture is justified, that a country in crisis can't "afford" democracy, and the killion someone is not only permissable, but necessary, if you suspect, without evidence, that she might, at some point in the future, be a threat. What the hell is wrong with such people? What guilt are they running from that the feel such a need to spend so much time justifying murder, arguing that we owe nothing to anyone but our own, that self-interest and perceived safety justify destroying whatever we fear. What kind of society are we that we produce people so threatened by the idea that a life is a life is a life?
Should I have said that?
Ripples in the upside down lake of the void, is what I should have said.
Let it go already. The whole thing is meaningless and bizarre. It's another fistful of peas that this monkey should let go of. And anyway, antagonizing people by calling them names isn't likely to change anything they think about killing people, other than possibly to start daydreaming about killing me. The thing is, the show was designed to provoke debate on these issues, but at some level it just doesn't work. According to the creators, many of the events in question were written precisely to
embody one of the main allegorical themes of the show, which is the tendency to dehumanize the enemy in times of war. This has been going on since the dawn of time. We convince ourselves that the enemy is somehow less than human, does not value life the way we do or share any of our common values. This enables us to rationalize and justify the terrible things we do to our enemies such as kill and torture them."
But many people are not terribly bothered by dehumanization. They intended to hold up a mirror to our own times and show us our nobility, but also our pigheadedness, our flaws, our failure to understand that there are other perspecives out there besides our own. But people are not necessarily disturbed by what they see. Kick Ass! they say. Woo Hoo!
I’m not sure whether it says more about the moral blindness of the population or the utter irrelevance of artists in the modern world. It’s like Picassos hanging on the walls of banks or corporate office buildings. Are the bankers and businessmen dupes, or was Picasso? He died a rich man, so maybe it's just me that's the idiot. Probably. Perhaps his radicalism was never relevant, and his legacy is just that rich people will pay a big chunk of money for a piece of canvas.
The failure of art to reach people shouldn’t be surprising. Intellectual debate on ethics doesn’t mean much to most people, either. Which is all right. Compassion and humility will steer you the right way nine times out of ten. But how to deal with people when they won’t be guided by those values, that’s where the trouble starts. Frankly, I'm at a loss. With acquaintances and family members, it's often a choice between awkward silence and yelling matches when it comes to the issues of the day. Neither option is very comfortable.
I promise I won't post about anything this geeky for at least a couple months. In the mean time, a new neighborhood paper showed up on my doorstep this afternoon. Check it out.