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    « The Real GMO Wars | Main | A Letter to Liberals... »

    A Response to All Regarding “A Letter to Liberals”

    My last post received more than the usual amount of attention, and that’s putting it mildly. (Website traffic was the second highest it’s ever been, topped only by a post I wrote last year which questioned Oprah Winfrey’s motives in donating to a Stockton, CA candidate.)  Comments, too, have rarely been higher. My site gathered over 150, and the various Facebook trails easily topped another 500 or more.

    I tried to keep up with them, really I did. But it was just too much. So instead I offer this post as a response to all who took the time to read and reply.

    First, a bit of summary: my previous post was an open letter from a fictional narrator (let’s call him “John”) who has a basic middle-class life with generally conservative, bullet-point political beliefs, none of which are all that strong. He spends most of his time living life rather than breathing politics—as most of us do. He describes himself, first in purely personal terms, and then in terms that are increasingly conservative, and he asks whether the liberals out there hate him. (I also want to add that John’s beliefs are NOT mine; a number of responses asked about that—several even calling me cowardly for “hiding” behind a fiction. My answer is to read more of what’s on my site; my positions are well-known and very public.)

    The point of the post was not to discuss John’s political leanings; it’s pretty obvious that most on the left would disagree with much of what he says. The point, rather, was for each of us to ask ourselves whether, as we learn more about someone’s political beliefs, we’re that much more likely to pigeonhole them (or, worse, demonize and dehumanize them), allowing that small part of their lives to color how we react.

    And it seems, based on the responses received, that we do.

    Using a variety of semantic techniques (in which I’m well-versed) I took the time to manually analyze the 166 responses on my web site in order to categorize what people said.  Here’s the chart:


    First thing to note: A sizeable chunk of commenters—about 1 in 5—spent their energy disputing the specific points delineated in the narrator’s world view; many, it seems, thought they were actually talking to me rather than a fictional character.  It was interesting to see where these people got to before they became a little bit heated in their responses. Frankly, it was much as I expected: people were fine with “John” until he hit one of several hot buttons: for some they “were fine with you right up until you said you voted for Bush twice,” or they “just didn’t understand why you think we’re trying to take your guns away.” For others it was religion and still others abortions.  A few people even went point for point.  Most, though, remained largely civil… largely, but not always.

    Then there were the 5% of responses that clearly and succinctly confirmed their hatred for the narrator, offering up some choice tidbits in doing so:

    “Yeah, you're hated. You're too lazy to think.”

     “Yes, I do. You're scum. It's because of you and millions of dumbasses just like you that the country's as fucked as it is right now. Fuck off and die.”

    More interesting to me, though was the “almost hatred,” the collection of people who couldn’t come right out and say it (perhaps because they don’t like to think of themselves as people who would hate), but who have absolutely no problem pitying the narrator, or feeling for sorry for him, or just straight out insulting him… as if that somehow makes it okay. I call these people the “No, buts” (as in, “No, I don’t hate you, but….”), and there were quite a few of them who said things like these:

    “I…do not hate you but I don't hold your views. You and your wife sound like sheep led blindly by the [R]epublican party.”

    That was one of the nice ones. Try these on instead.

    “Of course I don't hate you. But I do think that you're a bit of an idiot who holds opinions he's not willing to think about for more than a minute at a time.”

    “To answer your question, "Do I hate you?" the answer is that I disparage and disdain you for your complacency, ignorance, lack of foresight, and lack of empathy. But you are just too insignificant by yourself to be worthy of full-fledged hatred. I reserve that for the scoundrels who have taken you in.”

    Oh, but thanks for not "hating…."

    A nice chunk of the commenters—about a third—were civil and engaging on the general topic, and chose not to bullet-point their responses. To these people I say “thanks.”

    My favorites, though, were the small group of people who really took the time to examine their own responses, who saw the point I was trying to make, and who suppressed their limbic brains long enough to take a look at themselves:

    “Manufactured divisiveness is the problem. Oneness is the solution.”

    “[The post] was meant to get readers to consider why they think all Republicans fit into that mold. Because they don't. And to get readers to realize that all of us Liberals don't fit into the mold that Republicans try to squeeze us into either. Doesn't anyone take the time to read all the way to the end anymore?”

    It seems to me that many do read all the way to the end. But they don’t necessarily wait until the end to make up their minds….

    (A side note of thanks to the few who made me laugh, especially the guy who said that he didn’t hate the narrator until he found out that he, the narrator, was a Penguins fan…)

    Semi-finally, I want to point out three sites that were referred to along the way; two are direct responses to “John’s” letter, and the third is a wonderful cartoon strip that sums things up quite nicely. From Deborah Winter-Blood comes this one, and from Philip H. comes this one. The third, from the site Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is here. All are very much on point and interesting to read.

    And finally finally, let’s all just ask ourselves honestly and truthfully: Where on this chart did we end up? And where do we want to be?

    Michael (the real, non-fictional person) Charney

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    Reader Comments (27)

    Fap. (As the Major would say).

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBruce MacLean

    Please do the same experiment with a fictional left of center guy and let's see what those on the right do to you!

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCammaleft

    I'm one of the people who responded to you. I came and read this and have to admit I'm a little disappointed. Instead of continuing the interesting dialogue format that you had established, you decided to focus on the offensive responses that you knew you would receive when you first made the post.

    Yes, we all know that there are highly negative and loudly voiced individuals on "both sides"... so, you haven't really brought anything to the surface with this second post.

    "The point, rather, was for each of us to ask ourselves whether, as we learn more about someone’s political beliefs, we’re that much more likely to pigeonhole them (or, worse, demonize and dehumanize them), allowing that small part of their lives to color how we react."

    "That small part of their lives" was not described as a small part of his life. He said he wasn't especially politically motivated, but he also said he goes to church every week and voted for George W. Bush twice. If you don't think some vehemence is earned in taking part in the election of one of the well-agreed-upon worst presidents in American History, then why WOULD we get upset with how others participate in our Democracy?

    My counter is that if "being a Republican" isn't a large part of your life, you have no business VOTING ON ISSUES that are a LARGE PART OF SOMEONE'S LIFE.

    Is your argument that we should NOT be upset with people who elected men who directly caused our brothers and sisters to die in war?

    We should NOT be upset with people nullifying our well-thought out votes for candidates we've researched and politics we've paid attention to? We should be okay with someone who doesn't research the issues going and voting directly opposite us after we spend days upon days each election cycle carefully determining which candidate could help the country the most? And your character just waltzes in after church and "hurrrr durrrr" votes the way his pastor thinks he should?

    Yes, Republicans and Democrats are going to be mean to each other when they perceive that not much rational thought has gone into the decision to VOTE, which is exceptionally critical. Unfortunately for Republicans, walking around talking about guns and church and God and how bad poor people are and how unimportant the environment is... has resulted in educated people forming very low opinions of them in general. That's just the state of affairs.

    I think there's a reason to be upset with the fictional character. A very justified and logical reason.

    I also think there's a reason to be upset with the real author, for pushing a loaded question with a poorly thought out payload filled with relatively poor assumptions.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJudgeX

    And btw? Don't ever get the idea that the word "conservative" is uttered with anywhere near the invective by a liberal than "liberal" tends to be by a conservative. There is no leftwing equivalent to Rush, Hannity, Coulter, Palin, etc.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Lambert

    36% civil/thoughtful/on-topic is pretty high for the internet. I take it as a sign that more people are learning about the synthesis part of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Refreshing!!!!

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMysti Berry

    One thing it's necessary to keep in mind is that it would be very easy to write the reverse letter as well, from the perspective of a liberal trying to make sense of why *he's* so demonized by the other side when he is just as much of a regular person who's just as entitled to respect and fairness and dignity too.

    You're right that to a significant extent we seem to have lost the ability to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue across party lines, but conservatives are just as guilty of demonizing liberals as vice versa. Yet what I see far too often is conservatives complaining whenever they get unfairly demonized, but handwaving it as a non-issue when they get caught out doing the very same thing to the other side. The people who most vocally criticize Barack Obama, for instance, are the very same people who used to insist that anyone who ever criticized George W. Bush for anything whatsoever just suffered from "Bush Derangement Syndrome" and didn't deserve to be taken seriously. Which is not to say that Obama shouldn't be criticized when necessary -- but it's a double standard to believe that Republican presidents deserve total lockstep obeisance while only Democratic ones deserve scrutiny or criticism. It's a double standard to criticize Alan Greyson for his rhetorical excesses while giving Michelle Bachmann or Allen West a pass for theirs. It's a double standard to believe that it's okay for conservatives to unleash the most acidic vitriol on liberals, but not okay for liberals to ever express even the first word of disagreement with a conservative. And on and so forth.

    Absolutely, political discourse in this day and age is just appalling. But it's a double standard to pretend that only liberals are at fault, and only conservatives are the victims, when conservatives in fact do it every bit as much to liberals as vice versa.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCraig S

    A wise and learned man once told me many many years ago (in the early 80s) "nobody hates like a liberal"

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    You paint a picture of a truly willfully ignorant person and then disparage those who point out that fact?

    The next experiment should be how well you can shame people into accepting increasingly ridiculous points by wrapping them in imagined folksy nonsense. "I have a young son who is developmentally disabled and his laughter is truly the light of my life. We go to watch the local minor league baseball team when I can. My wife and I love to make chicken pot pies together. The advancement of the white race has truly been impeded by the multicultural movement of the nineties."

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

    I had to go back & re-read the open letter again but I still do not get why it would garner such a strong response. In my opinion it didn't ring particularly true to the Republicans I have encountered in real life and on social media – if they are willing to speak out on anything at all, they're much more rabbit in their beliefs and more vitriolic, hyper-reactively opinionated. The open letter seemed more like wallflowery GOP-lite or a watery RINO to me. Frankly I WISH more Republicans resembled the narrator and were willing to admit they don't have all the answers or expressed that anything "just doesn't feel right" – that I could understand – but in my experience there is far more intensely personalize ire then vaguely complacent moderation. In fact I think I have encountered more moderate Democrats then I have moderate Republicans in the last several years and honestly it bums me out more then I can say.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkim

    I think you make my point, Tim, at least a little bit. How many people would see the humanity of that person right up until the last sentence, and then react differently because of it, letting that one belief become more important? Quite a few, I surmise...

    May 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    My father is a conservative. He always tells me that if I just took the time to listen to Rush and Beck, I would end up agreeing with them, the conservatism is just applied logic. I don't think it works that way (and yes, I've tried to listen to both Beck and Rush at different times; I remain unconvinced). I really try and understand why, in the midst of the carnage of Newtown, Columbine and Aurora, it is necessary to be free to buy a gun without a background check. I struggle to understand why giving more tax breaks to the same investment bankers who caused the financial meltdown of 2008 is the key to re-establishing American prosperity. I try to understand why turning away from science is the key to a stronger nation. I don't know what category I would fit into, in your model of society. I think that political beliefs are not ones we have the luxury of choosing, but come to us through our upbringing, our social context and our individual experience. I end up loving my Dad, whatever his political views. We have to find a way around the political views that people can't help but hold, and engage them as human beings.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Redding

    Your reply made me laugh, because although you are making a point by your own fictional, folksy, yet political statement --- you have almost to the letter, described some of my relatives. ( Including the severly disabled child, softball games, love of family AND embrace of the bigotry and extremist positions.) I too think them "wilfully ignorant" at times, but politcs is just not the focus of their lives and they tend to accept what they hear or what has been taught to them in their rigid Southern culture. They are happy as they are and I do not try and change or scold them, just as they do not try and change or scold me. They are however, still people I care about. We agree to disagree, but can still have a civil and supportive relationship.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary D.

    I find this interesting. I'm quite liberal and my views about the environment, reproductive rights, and unions actually are not just an accessory to my life, they inform much of how I live it. I see your fictional character as someone who sits about equidistant from me across the aisle. I don't feel hatred toward conservatives, I just see the world very differently from most of my conservative family members and friends. I'm not fearful the U.S. will lose its global dominance because that's not where I think our strength as a society lies. I'm quite hopeful about the future, we are a resourceful, creative people.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGillis

    I didn't respond the first time, but I feel compelled to now. I understand what you were trying to do the first time, and it sounds really nice. Nevertheless, if your fictional persona plays fast and loose with the facts, as the Republican party likes to do these days, there's nothing "hateful" about pointing that out. It's called intellectual honesty. This is the age of information. It's not hateful to say "John" is lazy about forming his opinions. It's stating a fact. This is the era of the Republican party proudly declaring that their presidential campaign was "not going to be dictated by fact checkers." All we, as liberals, are saying is that, yes, we agree that Republicans willfully ignore the facts when making their policy decisions. And no, we don't hate them.

    But we *will* call them out for it, and if that makes us wrong and divisive, then I don't want to be right.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCameron

    I'm just now catching up to this material, so my views are not represented in the charts above. I can't speak for more than just myself, but I can put up with someone who has opinions that differ from mine. But when I am threatened with death, I take issue. No, the writer from Pittsburgh did not do that. However, many, perhaps a majority, of his cohorts engage in hostile behavior on a regular basis, often to the point of threatening death or serious harm. Surely I'm not the only one who sees this. They are egged on by an inflammatory pack of agitators, from Fox News, Clear Channel, the Washington Times, and quite a few other sources whose inspiration seems to be the "Two Minutes Hate" from 1984 - gone 24/7. I'm sorry, but I am NOT going to sit still for that. Push me, and I will push back. Strike at me, and I will defend myself.

    May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave Abbott

    I read thru most of the comments and the vast majority stated clearly they do not hate people with conservative beliefs. Many of the comments were thoughtful and some very lengthy. The comments were much more worth the reading than your devised letter and analysis of the comments. From how I see it Michael Carney you way way missed the boat on this. A very fundamental difference in the two opposing political spectrums in this country is that one end of the spectrum is consumed with maximizing the potential of people, inherently making them generally loving and trusting of others versus the opposite spectrum which is consumed with power and money. Your little exercise appears to me to be something we might have done in Freshman English in High School. I don't expect to find my way back.

    May 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercmartin

    I didn't read the original post, although my sense from this is that I would not have had a strong enough reaction to respond - that is to say, I'm not sure I would have had anything to say. I do have something to say about this analysis though, and that is that doing this experiment on the internet introduces a significant factor. Still a valid experiment, but I don't think the analysis carries directly to the 'real world'. The factor is analogous to 'road rage'; both driving and the internet have the same degree (or at least perception) of anonymity paired with power (in this case, power of mass communication) that brings out an aggressive side in many people that might otherwise remain dormant. If this experiment were carried out at a party instead of online, I suspect most of the 'yes' and 'no, but' responses would have been thought but not spoken.

    May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelonLord

    I didn't read the original letter until after I read this post, so I'm guessing my views are a bit clouded by after-knowledge. But, apart from the comment about taking away my guns, which made me wince a bit, I didn't read anything that made me particularly upset. In fact, the rest of the letter MORE than balanced out the one item that bugged me, because this guy seemed so reasonable and decent and, well, nice. Admitedly, I've only started identifying myself on the left side of the spectrum in the last few years (aren't you supposed to get MORE conservative in your 40s?). Prior to that, I considered myself a moderate, centrist kind of guy, who used to split his votes between the two parties until Karl Rove came along. The Karl Rove tactics and lack of new ideas on the right, coupled with a governance style that, only in the last 10 years or so, seems to place more importance in PREVENTING governing than in being a conservative voice of governing is what drove me further and further left.

    The biggest thing I find objectionable about the letter is that this guy seems far far more reasonable and far more intelligent and thoughtful than the vast majority of people who consider themselves conservative whose postings I read in the comments sections of newspapers, news sites and other media sources across the political spectrum that I tend to troll. I am probably unlike most folks, in that I make it a point to read left, right and center leaning publications, and try to avoid far left and far right cesspools. Don't get me wrong, I have found a plenitude of left leaning individuals who are unhinged as well, but my experience is that those on the right who post are far more likely in my ears to end up sounding really really dumb, closed minded and mean. I do assume that there are many who do NOT post who would probably not be like this. And probably in real life, these folks are more reasonable. But nonetheless, the right leaning posters I read are far more likely to seem too stupid to be allowed to vote.

    May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAJ

    MelonLord -
    "doing this experiment on the internet introduces a significant factor. Still a valid experiment, but I don't think the analysis carries directly to the 'real world'. The factor is analogous to 'road rage'; both driving and the internet have the same degree (or at least perception) of anonymity paired with power (in this case, power of mass communication) that brings out an aggressive side in many people that might otherwise remain dormant."

    True. A perceptive and valid point.
    However, I thought the experiment to be extremely valuable and insightful because so much of the politcal dialogue in the country is shaped by social media and the anonimity of the internet. People are often being whipped into a frenzied emotional state that ( you are correct) would not be present or apparent in a "real world" situation. But I ask myself, who goes to vote? The blindly angry interent personality or the thoughtful, logical, constrained 'real world' personality?

    Recently I received in the mail a 3 page rambling from a man who took issue from a negative opinion I posted about Rush Limbaugh on a news site. It wasn't much if I recall. Just a one line remark. But this man ( who lives in my state and only 20 minutes away) took the time to research my name and find my home address. In this letter he tells me I am brainwashed, unamerican, godless, and destined for the fires of hell and so forth. He was particularly upset with the "biblically defined slut" whom he called Sandra "Fluck." I found this experience a bit creepy to say the least, as the general accepted rules of internet communication broke it's boundary.

    So I guess my point is that social media/internet and real world may collide or enmesh more than we realize.

    May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary D.

    Thank you for this process. I found it informative about myself. To shine the light of truth when reading the original post, I started to get slightly reactionary to some of the character's positions yet my mind held me back stating that I really don't have enough information to go on to begin to debate and take a counter position stance.

    As "cammaleft" stated above. Please do this for the opposite side of the political spectrum. I think the mergence of the two will be quite revealing (and truthfully, I'm really not sure how it will turn out).

    Thanks again. Nice job!

    May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff W.

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