Political Prisms and Liberal Bigotry
A speech and a blog that go together.
First, a speech, July 30, by Herbert E. Meyer:
.... Imagine that tomorrow afternoon you're at a barbecue, telling your friends about this evening's dinner, when someone asks you what the speaker looked like. Most of you would reply that the speaker was an average-looking man about five-feet-seven-inches tall, reasonably fit for his age, with fair skin and blond hair going gray. One or two of you might add a few more details: a dark cashmere sports jacket, white shirt and red tie. You could even add more details if you chose: black shoes, and a wristwatch with a brown leather strap.
But all your descriptions would be similar, because you're all looking at me and this is what I look like tonight.
Now, imagine that half of you were looking at me through a prism one of those long, triangular bars of glass. A prism refracts and disperses light, so everything you see through a prism is distorted. Those of you looking at me through a prism might see a tall man with purple skin. My sports jacket might look green instead of brown, and my shirt might look red instead of white. In short, if you're looking at me through a prism you'll get everything wrong.
Well, just as there are real prisms those long, triangular bars of glass there are intellectual prisms, in our minds. And if you're looking at the world through an intellectual prism, you'll also get everything wrong.
Let's go back to that barbecue, and now imagine that you find yourself chatting with a couple from overseas who are making their first trip to the US. The wife turns to you and says, "I've never been here before. Please tell me, what's this country like?"
You might reply:
"This is a marvelous country. Obviously, it's huge. Like every other country, we have our economic problems. But by and large we provide a very high standard of living for most of our people. The majority of us live comfortable lives. In fact, this country provides more opportunities for people to lead the kinds of lives they want than any other country in the world. We're a religious people, and we tend to be generous among ourselves and to countries less fortunate than we are. Our armed forces are the most powerful in history, and we're all so proud that they defend us here at home, and that overseas our armed forces have liberated tens of millions of people from tyranny."
Of course, you could add more details: American workers have a higher level of productivity than workers in any other country. We hold the leadership in most of the industries that will drive progress through the twenty-first century, such as software, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and entertainment. We are home to 25 or 30 of the world's finest universities, and five or six of the world's best symphonies and opera companies. We even produce wines that win tasting competitions in Paris.
Whatever the details, all your descriptions would be similar, because all of you would be describing the United States and this is who and what we are.
But if that woman had asked her question of another guest someone who had one of these intellectual prisms in her mind the answer would have been very different:
"This is a horrible country, and I'm ashamed to be an American. It's controlled by a small group of rich people who made themselves rich on the backs of the poor, and who stay rich by keeping all the rest of us down. Rich people don't pay taxes at all. You wouldn't believe how many Americans are still caught up in religion, and nearly fifty million of us can't even afford basic health care. We're very racist. Our industries pollute the environment, and our military drops bombs on people all over the world to help the oil companies make obscene profits. Nobody overseas likes us or respects us, and I don't blame them. Why on earth have you come here?"
Let me put this as starkly as I can: What's going on today in our country isn't normal politics. In normal politics honorable people will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how best to deal with the issues that confront us national security, border control, healthcare, education, energy, the environment, and all the rest. What's going on today is a kind of domestic Cold War a seemingly endless standoff, with the occasional hard skirmish between those of us who see the US for what it really is, and those of us who are seeing the US through a prism. And remember, unlike real prisms these intellectual prisms or, if you prefer, these political prisms are invisible. If you're looking at the US through a political prism, you don't know you're seeing through a prism and you won't believe anyone who tries to tell you that you are....
Now, a blog, Aug. 3, at Bookworm Room:
.... Given that liberals are in the catbird seat, and given their much-vaunted tolerance, one might think that they’d be kind to, indeed solicitous of, the few Republicans in the midst. Sadly, however, that’s not the case. As regular readers know, I’ve chosen to keep my political life separate from the day-to-day aspects of my life. I simply can’t (and don’t want to) run the risk of tainting my carpools, my neighborhood barbecues, my kids’ comfort level at school, the camaraderie of the sports teams with which we’re involved, etc., by exposing myself to the obloquy that is routinely heaped on conservatives here — and this is a hostility that increases as elections draw near, of course.
During the 2004 elections, people who were unaware of my political inclinations announced in front of me that “Bush is the worst President ever,” “Republicans are stupid,” “Republicans are evil,” “Bush is stupid,” “Republicans are corrupt,” “Republicans are fascists” and “Bush should be impeached.” Children ran up to me on the sidewalk chanting “Bush is evil, Bush is evil” — so you know what their parents were saying at the dinner table. In this election cycle, one of my children announced after school that she was voting for Barack Obama “since every one is because he’s black.” I quickly scotched that line of reasoning.
I know I should be speaking out when I hear statements such as these, but the sad fact is that I like these people. Barring their monomaniacal animosity towards Bush and the Republicans, they’re otherwise very nice: they’re hard workers, loving parents, good neighbors and helpful and reliable friends. Being the social creature that I am, I don’t want with one word (”Republican”) to turn these friendships upside down and inside out. (I’m not the only one with this problem.) I don’t want to be on the receiving end of some hideous Jekyll to Hyde transformation, so I just keep my mouth shut.
Those people I know who have spoken aloud their new conservative political views have been horrified by the animosity turned against them by formerly friendly neighbors and colleagues. My in-laws who are, like me, 9/11 neocons (down in Los Angeles) have stared open-mouthed at colleagues who use staff meetings to revile Bush and the Republicans — all to the cheers and huzzahs of the other staff members. (Indeed, what they describe sounds remarkably like Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate.) On the occasions when they’ve suggested that maybe, just maybe, Bush isn’t the Antichrist, they’ve found themselves shunned by these same colleagues....
Lane Core Jr. CIW P Thu. 08/07/08 08:36:49 PM
Categorized as Political & Social/Cultural.