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