Sticks & Stones

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine on Facebook was hating on J. K. Rowling. As far as I know, my friend is a very nice person; I tend not to collect a following of wackos. My friend said Rowling had called trans people “Death Eaters.” I’m morally certain she never said anything of the sort, but I try not to jump to conclusions. I asked my friend to provide a link to a reputable source for his accusation.

He said he would do so, but after that, crickets. He produced no link.

In the course of her rather sensible essay on trans issues, Rowling mentions that someone literally faked a tweet and screen-captured the fake, making it appear she had made some sort of awful statement that she never made. I’m pretty sure my friend was suckered by a despicable tactic of this sort.

What interests me is not anything that Rowling does or does not believe. You can disagree with her all you like. As long as you do so in a rational manner, I will support your right to disagree. It could be an interesting discussion.

What concerns me is the irrational hatred that is directed at people who don’t toe the party line with respect to one issue or another. This is certainly the case on the right, but it’s also a distressingly common tendency on the left.

Now, it has to be said that people on the left are generally much more firmly in touch with facts. The QAnon bunch starts with complete fantasies and then starts advocating violence. People of the woke persuasion are (again, generally speaking) starting from an easily verifiable view of actual oppression. With facts. I can certainly understand that the facts are upsetting, and that bringing about social change is very, very difficult. So their frustration makes sense.

The problem, it seems to me, is this: More than occasionally, people who are trying to overcome oppression start flailing around and attacking anybody who doesn’t agree 100% with their ironclad view of what’s right and appropriate and justified — their view of what’s essential in order to overcome oppression. They’re not interested in having a respectful discussion. They don’t want to use logic or take account of facts that might lead them to moderate their views. If you dare point out an inconvenient fact (as Rowling has done), you become The Enemy. The gloves are off. They will attack you mercilessly, up to and including suggesting that violence be used against you to shut you up.

This afternoon, in what I thought was a discussion of gendered pronouns, I was accused of being an old, ignorant white guy. Well, okay, I’m old, that’s true. I’m also about as white as you can imagine. But neither of those facts has fuck-all to do with the topic of pronouns. The person who used this phrase was simply being abusive.

That’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Rather than stick to the topic at hand and have a rational discussion — a discussion in which, gee, I might even learn something from him and moderate my view — my interlocutor went on the attack.

In fact, I’m not ignorant about gender issues. I don’t talk about it much (a lifelong habit of reticence), but I identify as part of the trans community. I’m not transgender per se, and the details are none of your business, but I have a lot of experience in this area and a tidy little stack of books on the subject of trans identities.

But that’s not the point either. The point is, our culture, our collective psyche if you will, seems to have tumbled off of a cliff into a swamp of irrational animosity. This kind of thing is dangerous. Even if it doesn’t lead to actual violence (and most of the time it doesn’t), it prevents us from learning from one another. How can we move forward and make the world a better place if we can’t discuss our differences in a calm and rational manner?

I don’t just mean I might be able to teach the other person a thing or two, if only he had been able to listen without hitting the big red button. Maybe yes, maybe no. Beyond that, I might have learned from him if he had been able to explain his thinking in a calm way. By attacking me, he forfeited the possibility of giving me the benefit of his ideas.

I’d like to hope that this trend will reverse itself. But I don’t see much prospect of that happening.

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