People I Neither Hate Nor Fear

I’ve been trying to ignore the post-election insanity, but it’s pretty hard to do if you follow the news at all. There’s a lot of craziness out there, whether it’s some loonies in all 50 states petitioning the White House for their state to secede from the United States, or the obvious hate of some of the white people mourning Romney, or people defriending Obama voters on Facebook, or a Florida man possibly committing suicide because Obama won, or a pregnant Arizona woman definitely running her husband over with their automobile because Obama won. According to the injured husband, the Arizona woman “believed her family was going to face hardship if Obama were re-elected.” Since he was hospitalized in critical condition and the wife was in jail, it turns out she was right. None of my Republican friends went batty after the election, but there are obviously some psychologically damaged people out there.

Apart from all the gibbering bile, the thing I read that most resonated with me was this blog post: Letter to a future Republican strategist regarding white people. The Republican apologists had one thing wrong for a lot of independent voters. They seemed to think that people voted for Obama. Technically, they did, but a lot of voters, including me, don’t necessarily vote for candidates they support so much as against candidates or parties they don’t like. I’m not sure I’ve ever voted for a candidate that I’ve completely supported. I’m not a joiner, I’ve never registered with a political party, and I find people who prefer party to country at best misguided and at worst dangerous. I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans and even one Libertarian. This year I was tempted to vote for the Green Party just for variety, since NJ isn’t exactly a swing state.

I pretty much agree with his assessment. I have no idea what most Republican voters voted for or against, but the Republican leaders’ stances on science or war or marriage aren’t very defensible. Multiple divorcees whining about the sanctity of marriage repulse me. Also, I’m in more or less the same situation as him. I’m a straight, white male, married for almost 19 years, never divorced, raising a daughter, and while I’ll never be in the 1%, I’m solidly in the top quintile. Except for a few semesters in college, I’ve held a job steadily since I was 14. I work hard, pay my taxes, and have never received any sort of direct governmental support (other than student loans, which I’ve yet to default on). Although I do work in the non-profit sector, I don’t work for any government body. I’m exactly the sort of person that a lot of people would consider a “real” American.

And therein lies the problem for me. In addition to unpalatable stances on science or marriage, what I vote against are people who seem to hate me because I don’t hate or fear the right people or for reasons that should have nothing to do with governing the state. What I would like to see are political parties whose leaders don’t try to sway voters by placing large swaths of the population into the Other category. People who talk about “real” Americans or “traditional” Americans are counting on other people fearing or hating a lot of their fellow citizens. I can’t support that, because there are several groups of people I can’t bring myself to fear or hate that a lot of people seem to.

Non-white people

It’s been difficult to ignore American racism this year, from racially motivated protests at the University of Mississippi to the Twitter meme, “It’s called the White House for a reason,” sometimes preceded by “I’m not racist, but….” Unsurprisingly, the map of the most racist tweeters corresponds pretty closely with the red states. Growing up white in the south, I was exposed to plenty of racist sentiments from my fellow white people, who no doubt felt comfortable expressing their true selves around a pasty person like me. Since I’ve never been particularly impressed by most of the white people I’ve met in my life, that whole white supremacy thing doesn’t work for me. And since I’ve spend most of my adult life in higher education exposed to all sorts of people who aren’t like me, I’ve learned to take people as they come. If people are nice to me, I try to be nice to them, and I don’t care what color their skin is. And if they’re not nice to me, then screw ‘em, I’ve got enough friends.

Homosexuals

While Rick Santorum, for example, seems obsessed with gay sex, I’ve never heard any of my numerous gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances over the years ever mention sex. Contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe, homosexuals aren’t out to convert anyone to homosexuality, which is about as possible as praying away the gay. As for gay marriage, I really don’t see why it bothers anyone what other people do in private. In fact, I see it as downright unAmerican to try to restrict people’s liberty. Anti-gay types are usually just provincial and limited in their experiences. Since the don’t know any homosexuals, they don’t realize that the defining characteristic of homosexuals isn’t all the gay sex they’re having with each other and trying to have with straight people. It’s the same stuff that defines us all: work, hobbies, friends, family, etc. If the Republicans weren’t so obsessed with gay sex, there would be a lot more Log Cabin Republicans.

Women

Now, I don’t really think that Republican leaders hate or fear women, well, most of them anyway. Calling women sluts is a pretty good sign of misogyny and double-standards. However, even the non-haters often think women are less than full citizens, and their rights to control their own bodies cease when they become pregnant. To some, women are merely baby receptacles and their rights end where a fertilized egg begins. I know they have their reasons, even some good ones, but I just can’t get behind that. “Life begins at conception” isn’t a fact; it’s a catchphrase. And while I’ve never met anyone who was actually pro-abortion, I’ve met plenty who are definitely anti-choice. For the record, I like women, and I think they should have the same rights over their bodies as I have over mine, and that includes all the ones who turned me down for dates in high school, which in my experience is a leading cause of misogyny. One can be morally opposed to abortion without being opposed to its legality. If a belief in equal human rights gets me hated, that’s fine. As for male superiority, I feel about that like I do about white supremacism. I’ve met a lot of men in the course of my life and haven’t been all that impressed by most of them as some sort of superior beings.

Poor people

Otherwise known as “the takers.” I can’t bring myself to hate poor people, either. I’ve been poor myself at times, and grew up, if not exactly poor, then at least in tight circumstances. But I had advantages that a lot of poor people lack: two parents who set examples by working, attending safe if not spectacular schools, living in a safe neighborhood, etc. I’ve even known a lot of truly poor people, especially in the rural south. What they seemed to have in common wasn’t a desire for government handouts or an unwillingness to work hard so much as a lack of knowledge about what is possible and an environment that didn’t allow them to succeed without overcoming extreme obstacles and deprivations. A lot of people grow up in circumstances that make it highly unlikely they’ll succeed without being geniuses of some sort, while others grow up in circumstances where even their stupidest actions don’t allow them to fail. People born rich who think they’re self-made are deluded.

Immigrants

I have a confession to make. Unlike, apparently, all the immigrant-haters in the country, I’m descended from immigrants to America. Sure, they came over a few hundred years ago, but my ancestors were all immigrants, except possibly that Choctaw woman my dad claimed was his great, great grandmother. (Actually, he claimed she was Cherokee, but given that the family is from central Mississippi, if it’s true she was most likely Choctaw.) The thing I’ve noticed about immigrants to America is that they like to work. If hard-working people want to come to America and work hard, I say let ‘em. As for the attempt to distinguish between “legal” and “illegal,” well, we all know laws change. If we passed a law saying all immigrants are now American citizens, then suddenly they wouldn’t be illegal. Good or bad laws don’t change the fact that people come here for work and freedom. And if immigrants want to deprive Americans of grueling jobs picking fruit or cleaning rich people’s toilets that no Americans actually want, I can live with that.

Scientists and the scientifically minded

Not only do I not hate scientists, I state approvingly that my Congressman is a rocket scientist, which is what it says on his bumper stickers. Since I don’t stand to make a ton of money peddling fossil fuels, it doesn’t bother me that scientists are concerned about the long-term sustainability and environmental damage of our reliance upon dirty energy. Since I don’t care that I’m descended from monkeys or whatever it is anti-evolutionists believe I believe, it doesn’t bother me that the scientific evidence is pretty much all in the evolution camp. Good science is good for everyone. I don’t have a problem with following the scientific consensus because I don’t have a religious or political ideology hostile to empirical evidence or reasoned analysis.

Atheists and agnostics

According to something I read recently, atheists are among the most reviled people in the country. Personally, I think atheism is a philosophically untenable position, which is why I’m an agnostic myself, but despite our philosophical differences I don’t hate the atheists, and for the haters we’re all the same anyway. The objection seems to be that it’s supposedly impossible to be a morally upright person if you don’t believe in whatever god the person judging you happens to believe in. I think this one is another example of provincialism, a limited upbringing, and a lack of experience. I’m too busy working hard, paying taxes, obeying laws, not being cruel to people, being married, and raising an almost perfect child to worry about what the haters think, though.

Liberals

I saved the most vague for last, because when I read right-wing descriptions of those darned liberals in the comments to a news article or a blog post, I can’t figure out who they’re talking about since none of the descriptions seem to have anything to do with me, and I’m pretty much a liberal. I believe in the individual right to life, liberty, and property; freedom of speech, religion, and association; equal rights; constitutional government; representative democracy; the separation of church and state; the Bill of Rights; basically, liberalism. If you don’t like those things, fine. Hate me. But you know what, liberals are concerned about government spending and the economy, too. If people quit attacking me for something they obviously don’t understand, they might get my vote occasionally.

There are probably some other groups of people I don’t hate or fear, but these are the groups I see being “othered” or demonized the most. When politicians, talk-show hosts, and whatever Sarah Palin is these days demonize people I know aren’t demons, it just makes them look crazy to me, like they’re not part of the reality-based community. If the recent election shows anything, it’s that demonizing or demeaning women, minorities, immigrants, the scientifically minded, and the poor isn’t necessarily a winning strategy, not that I expect it to stop.

6 thoughts on “People I Neither Hate Nor Fear

  1. Next time you see your daughter, why don’t you remind her how lucky she is that you decide not to abort her. I’m sure she will heartily thank you and agree that ending her life would have been your natural right.

  2. If you’d left a reasonable comment, I’d have left a reasoned response. Since you’re attempting some sort of cheap emotional manipulation, I won’t bother.

    That’s exactly the sort of thing I might say to my daughter…if I were really creepy. Meanwhile, you can tell Savita Halappanavar’s husband how happy you are that justice is served.

    • While I do disagree with some of your views stated above, I fully agree that this hating/fearing of various groups used a catalyst for polarity must stop. I am in a similar situation in regards to affiliation (no party, mostly voting for the ‘less undesirable’ candidate), and the political discourse (if you can call it that) during this election cycle was particularly absurd. From the looks of your book, you are not MacIntyre’s biggest fan, but I think you can agree with his view that there needs to be a move towards better rational political deliberation that has its roots in something other that emotionally exaggerated assertions (a phrase which, at least in part, describes some attitudes towards the groups of people you mention). One of my biggest disappointments, as a freshly hatched young professional, is that in some ways, even small-scale political discussions among librarians are no better than other parts of the population. Some of my own attempts at initiating convivial (at least to me) discussion have been greeted with obscenities by colleagues whom I otherwise respect-librarians who claim to care very much about serving their patrons and promoting intellectual freedom. Perhaps this was just an unfortunate beginning to my nascent career. In professional practice, many librarians do often seem to fall short of their own ideals to suspend judgement of patrons, self-righteously festering a pet grudge about ‘this’ or ‘that’ group of patrons in private while putting on airs of respect at the desk, instead of striving for genuine respect, even for the patrons that get on our bad side. This isn’t true of every institution, of course, but I find this phenomenon bothersome on any scale, because librarians, at least in my mind, have a strong potential to nurture a healthier kind of political deliberation due to generally accepted ideals of the profession (the problems with defining a philosophy of librarianship notwithstanding). A idealistic (and unrealistic) part of me wishes for compulsory philosophical training for librarians to encourage more engagement in this area-at least it would discourage individuals unprepared for graduate studies from vaulting themselves blindly into the profession.

  3. A lot to think about here.

    As for my book, while I do attempt a defense of a certain strain of Enlightenment thought in the first chapter, the bulk of the book is an intellectual history of modern American libraries arguing that they developed as a result of the Enlightenment. Whether the argument is correct or not is irrelevant to what you think about the Enlightenment, though.

    As for MacIntyre, I haven’t read much of him in the last 20 years, but I did thumb through my copy of After Virtue this morning. He was actually quite influential on my thinking when I first read him, particularly on my appreciation of Aristotle’s ethics, but generally I think he’s trying to defend a pre-Enlightenment view in well reasoned treatises typical of post-Enlightenment philosophy. Also, his characterization of the Enlightenment is very narrow. What I consider the three most important legacies of the Enlightenment he doesn’t talk about as much as he does Aristotle, Augustine, or Aquinas: modern democratic republics with their emphases on individual liberty and popular sovereignty, and how stable they are despite the occasional disruptions by people who want liberty for themselves that they would deny to others; more or less free market economies that, while subject to internal inconsistencies and utilitarian objections, have generated an enormous amount of wealth; and modern science, the effectiveness of which can be denied or ignored, but not really argued plausibly against.

    However, while I disagree with his characterization and interpretation of the Enlightenment, I do think that the idea of “conceptual incommensurability” that he discusses in After Virtue is applicable to some contemporary political debates and useful analytical tool. The abortion debate is a perfect example since it involves two sides that don’t talk to each other and don’t even talk about the same thing. One side talks about the rights of women, the other the moral status of fetuses, and neither side really comes to terms with the good points of the other. Some political disagreements are less easy to be charitable about. While racism, for example, can be explained, it can’t really be justified, and disagreements there don’t demonstrate a failure of the Enlightenment so much as a failure of some to be enlightened. Other controversies are the result of conceptual incommensurability, but with one side just ignoring available evidence in order to protect beliefs they want to keep but can’t justify. Just because most of us are informed or irrational much of the time doesn’t mean informed reasoning isn’t a useful way to solve problems.

    What a lot of people don’t want to admit is that reasonable people can disagree with them, and what we see in popular political rhetoric makes it more difficult to see this point, because it’s so easy to find examples of irrational idiocy on every side, and because politicians and the media often steer away from any sort of reasoned debate. I know there are reasonable people who disagree with me because I’ve read their arguments, but Allen West, for example, isn’t one of those people. The level of popular political discussion is usually irrational and uninformed, but it’s even worse when the discussion among politicians starts to mimic the popular discussion.

    As for librarians, I agree that they have a potential to nurture a healthier kind of political deliberation, but while I’ve never been greeted with obscenities in discussions with other librarians, it doesn’t surprise me that there are a lot of librarians intolerant of political views they disagree with and incapable of holding a temperate discussion with political opponents. Librarians tend to be leftists and associate with people like themselves, which makes them as prone to groupthink as any other group that typically doesn’t have to defend its views to outsiders. The emphasis on intellectual freedom is a good example. Most of the arguments for IF that librarians offer are pretty weak, and seem mostly to consist of. “It’s just a good thing!” One of the things I was trying to do in my book was show how intellectual freedom couldn’t just stand on its own, that it was one value in an interconnected set of Enlightenment political and philosophical values that required larger justification than librarians would typically provide. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who don’t share those values, so merely shouting “intellectual freedom” at them doesn’t help a lot.

    Personally, I’m fine with debating people who disagree with me as long as everyone abides by the simple rules of mutual respect and tolerance, but that’s mostly because of my training in philosophy and rhetoric, where it becomes natural to take up arguments from multiple sides of a controversy, and from my many years teaching controversial topics and readings to students while fostering an atmosphere where people felt comfortable speaking even when they knew others disagreed with them. Plus the mere fact that so many of my opinions on important subjects have changed dramatically over the years is evidence for me that good people can be wrong, and I might be one of them. So my views on this have little to do with my training as a librarian. And I think training in philosophy should be compulsory in high school as well as library school!

  4. Certainly, Eloise. I think it’s more or less impossible to disprove the existence of something that isn’t inherently absurd, meaning that its existence isn’t in itself impossible or some sort of contradiction, like married bachelors. There are ways to define “god” in which “god” is perhaps improbable, but not impossible. While I believe it highly unlikely, and definitely not proven, I think it’s possible that there could be some sort of other dimension, or some being that exists that we don’t have the right instruments to detect. And by the time you get to highly intellectualized definitions of God, proving the nonexistence would be pointless. Consider John MacQuarrie’s definition in The Principles of Christian Theology, a Heideggerian interpretation of Christianity. MacQuarrie defines God as the “horizon of being.” That’s so far from the kind of god that atheists often want to debunk that it seems utterly pointless to bother.

    Also, there’s no reason to try to disprove something so improbable, because for things that aren’t obviously provable, the burden of proof is on the people who claim they exist. Atheism as a positive pursuit is, in my opinion, both philosophically difficult to impossible as well as being unnecessary. Nietzsche wrote that he would no more attempt to disprove the existence of God than he would the existence of Zeus. He didn’t live up to that sentence, but it would have saved him a lot of time and intellectual effort if he had.

    Anyway, that’s my basic reasoning.

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