Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ugliness filters

What is it about elections that makes us treat each other so horribly?

This election has been a bad one -- divisive and petty, appealing to our basest impulses -- but really, it's hardly unique.  And we let the nastiness seep into everything, turning us against others simply because we disagree with them.

"Republitards."  "Damn-o-craps."  "Republican'ts."  "Libtards."  "Demoncrats."  Just a few of the ugly names I've seen bandied about in the last few days.  Calls for candidates to be "taken out" (and no one is in any doubt as to what that euphemism means).  Threats of violence -- more than likely against innocent civilians -- if their team doesn't win.

Have we really come to the place where we are so tribal, so fearful of the "other," that we will without hesitation demonize and threaten violence against close to half of our fellow Americans?  It reminds me of the wonderful quote from Kathryn Schulz: "This is a catastrophe.  This unwavering attachment to our sense of being right about everything keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely have to, and causes us to treat each other terribly."

This all comes up because of a story that should be heartening -- a Democrat-led crowdfunding campaign that raised over $13,000 in 24 hours to help rebuild a GOP office in North Carolina that was firebombed.  Proof, I felt, of a contention I've long held; that the majority of humans are kind, compassionate, and just want what all of us want -- shelter, food, clean water, friends, family, security.  We may differ in our ideas about how to achieve those goals, but fundamentally, we're far more alike than different.

So this story was posted on Facebook, and a guy I don't even know -- a friend of a friend -- posted a snarky comment about how no way would Democrats do something this selfless, that it was clearly a hoax or a set-up.  And I did something I almost never do: started an argument on the internet with a stranger.

I said:  "You are really scared and angry enough that you can't conceive that people who disagree with you might be capable of something unselfish and compassionate?  If so, I truly feel sorry for you."  He responded with a dismissive, "I wasn't talking about the firebombing," (neither was I), and "no anger intended or inferred."

Which is kind of disingenuous, isn't it?

Note that I'm not talking here about what you think of the candidates and their positions.  You might be vehemently against the stance of one of them (or both!), and that's just fine.  What I'm talking about is how you speak about the people around you, because it's all too easy to fall into the trap of "I disagree with you, therefore you are unworthy of respect."  Unfortunately, during this election, that kind of behavior has become almost normal.  So I'm going to issue a statement and a plea, and I'd ask that you consider them carefully -- not as a liberal or a conservative, but simply as a human being.

Your political beliefs do not define who you are as a person.  There are kind, compassionate Democrats and kind, compassionate Republicans; there are some people of either stripe who are selfish, nasty, and unpleasant.  Neither party wants to "destroy America" or "take away people's rights" or "round up anyone who disagrees," regardless of what you'll hear from the extremely partisan talking-heads whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is getting people stirred up so they'll tune in.  Most people in both parties are just ordinary folks who want what ordinary folks want.

So here's the plea: stop posting and forwarding ugly stereotypes that make the other team look like idiots or crazies at best and demons at worst.  All you have to do is look around you and you'll see that this isn't true.  There are both Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians and Socialists and people who don't give a damn about politics at all) in your schools, churches, businesses, and clubs, and most of us get along pretty well.  None of us have horns, and damn few of us want to get rid of everyone who disagrees with us.  Maybe you can't change the beliefs of the extreme fringe who live to capitalize on such assumptions, but you can stop those ideas from spreading.  You can dedicate yourself not to being a Pollyanna who sees only the best in everyone, but a realist who understands that most of us, most of the time, are doing the best we can.

The election will be over in three weeks, but we'll be dealing for months with the results of the partisan rhetoric we've been exposed to, unless all of us -- right here, right now -- vow not to let such ugly invective rule our lives.  You don't have to agree with the people you meet, but you can speak about them with respect.  Most importantly, you can choose not to look at the world through lenses that filter out everything but the worst side of everyone.

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