Priorities Lost

You do not have a constitutional right to be an asshole.

Just because you think no one knows who you are, you can’t just stick your bare ass out a car window, fart, and then be surprised when someone shoots it off.

Just because you hide behind a pseudonym when you troll someone’s blog site doesn’t mean that the bile you upchuck isn’t hurtful and pathetic. And there are ways to track you down, by the way.

And when you call someone names and tell lies about them in a social media meme, even if it’s only by sharing that meme, it doesn’t mean that you’re funny, and you have not advanced your cause; it means you’re part of a colossal problem in this country.

Since when did it become acceptable to call the President of the United States a “subhuman mongrel?”

Or to call the First Lady of the United States an “uppity cow?”

What about a picture of the president with the caption: “Hmmm. Maybe I am an incompetent socialist moron?”

Since when did it become acceptable to shout “you lie” at a sitting president during a State of the Union speech on the floor of congress?

And with all of this going on, why is anyone at all surprised that a Republican presidential candidate would stand up in front of an international audience and claim that Mexico is sending rapists across the border? Or that a debate moderator was bitchy because she was having her period?

The First Amendment was intended to protect the press from censorship by the state and to protect an individual’s right to gather with others and speak openly without harassment from government if they disagreed with it. It was never intended as a license to be a sophomoric, lewd, tasteless nincompoop, and I don’t just mean Trump.

Far too many people try to hide behind those few words in the First Amendment.

Do you remember how George HW Bush stood up before the Republican convention in 1988 and said, “Read my lips! No new taxes.” That turned out to be a campaign promise that he was unable to keep. Do you remember the outcry from the Democratic base calling Poppy Bush a liar? You don’t, because it never happened. People may have thought it. Some people may have said it in private. But no one back then would have called the President of the United States a liar in public. There was still some civility in the political world then.

We see and hear our president called a liar (and much worse) continually in today’s climate, even on the floor of the congress.

Part of this you can chalk up to the fact that he is black and that he is hated for his race by a large number of Americans. And don’t be so stupid as to deny that. But part of it is a deepening sense in this country that you can say whatever you want to say and that there are no consequences. And one is feeding the other. The internet has created an anonymous and distant world to play in and people try to bring their virtual selves into the analog world where it doesn’t fit.

The other day someone who often shares memes involving angels or Jesus or poems about beauty shared a meme on Facebook that was a photo of Hillary Clinton laughing with the caption “ I murdered, I lied, I stole, I was fired for ethics violations… and these stupid idiots will still vote for me… LOL.” This was followed by a dozen or so comments from others who essentially said “Not me.”

There were no comments that said, “Excuse me, but are you actually accusing a past First Lady of the United States, a past senator of the United States, and a past Secretary of State of the United States of having committed the act of murder? You realize that’s a capital offense, right? And you are doing this in a Facebook meme? Just like that? Where was that comment?

Are you trying to get others to believe that? The fact that you shared it would indicate that you believe it. Why would you share something you know to be false?

Oh, lighten up. It was just a silly Facebook meme.

Silly?  Really?  You think it that meme was composed by silly people?  That meme was created by people who want to make you believe lies in order to get you to support their point of view.  That’s far from silly.

Are you accusing Hillary Clinton of lying? She’s a politician, after all; I’m guessing she’s lied. Like George HW Bush lied? How about like the people who originally posted this?

Just what was it that she stole? And how do you know?

And since I know you don’t have a clue about this one, NO, she was not fired from anywhere for ethics violations. That, like most of the other accusations in this meme, is one of the real lies told by right wing agitators and conspiracy theorists, like the original posters of that thing.

Do you really think she laughs at the people who support and vote for her? You think she holds her supporters in contempt. Where was that comment?

I am not a big fan of Hillary Clinton. I hope I don’t have to vote for her. But I’m even less the fan of casual character assassination. It’s one thing to call Mike Huckabee “the Huckster” in a political essay that makes fun of the political culture as much as the candidate, and quite another to accuse someone of murder, theft, and contempt for the electorate in an anonymous brain fart that potentially reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

Remember the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?

Maybe everybody needs to re-read that little book.

Remember?

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.

 Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush. –
All I really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum

Civility has often been called the grease that keeps the wheels turning, and America is increasingly an uncivil country. That ungodly wail you keep hearing is a dry bushing on the axle of American life.

A 2013 poll showed that 95% of Americans believe we have a civility problem in this country. Of those, 81% believe this is contributing to violence in America. And 80% think nothing will change until our government leaders become more civil.

I don’t agree with Donald Trump about much. I do think he has a point about this country being too concerned with “political correctness.” He’s wrong when he says that we don’t have time for that. Of course we have time for that. But if we are going to spend so much effort trying not to offend certain groups of people that we forget to treat each other in a civil fashion, we are in a self-defeating spiral.

It was recently pointed out that using the term “American” could be offensive to South Americans who are lumped in when the term is used, and that the term North American is preferred.   The logic here makes sense. Get back to me on this one when we’ve managed to stop people from calling our First Lady a transsexual who looks like someone out of the cast of “Planet of the Apes.”

(Immediately afterward I saw a meme that said “University of New Hampshire tries to ban the word American.”)

American society is more divided than it ever has been. With the algorithms being used online today, you may mostly see social media posts that agree with your point of view. We tend to gather socially only with those people who agree with us on political and sometimes religious issues. We watch the appropriate “news” channel, never “the other one.” We read the “right” magazines.

It’s very easy to make jokes about any group in your protected little enclave. It may be “politically incorrect,” but it’s easy. No one is going to call you out. Do the same thing in public and it’s not only politically incorrect, it’s just rude and uncivil. And it encourages others to be rude and uncivil.

When enough people see someone as rude and uncivil, that person is either marginalized and excluded, or that person is attacked. Except in their own little group. There they may be celebrated. So that’s where we prefer to be.

When someone in my group says something that insults someone in your group, your group gets angrier at me. This is a vicious circle. We no longer have political parties. We now have the equivalent of WWE grudge match teams.

It is impossible to have a real conversation when the people involved cannot maintain a civil atmosphere. You cannot have a constructive discussion of issues when name-calling is the accepted modus operandi.  It is impossible to have a debate – a real debate where issues are stated and pros and cons of solutions are given – when the participants hide among their like-minded friends and refuse to come out except to shout obscenities at each other and shake their respective fists.

And right now this country needs to have some real conversations. We need some real communication.

In this country 81% of the population believes this incivility is going to lead to more violence. It undoubtedly will. Watch those tapes again from police stops where white officers confront black citizens. Things go south (I’m pretty sure that’s a politically incorrect phrase) when civility breaks down no matter which side starts it.

If you want to have a conversation about how “Black Lives Matter” rather than a riot over the issue, your first priority has to be an ability to actually have a civil gathering.

If you want to have a conversation about what the word “socialist” actually means in American politics today, you’ll never get there by posting pictures of “Nazis” and suggesting that anyone who is associated with the first word is also associated with the second (which makes no sense on any level, by the way).

But people don’t really want to have a conversation. People don’t want to think. It’s far easier to sit in our anonymous little tribal enclaves (PC alert) and share someone’s disgustingly ill-researched, hateful, supposedly clever material as a substitute. It’s a score-one-for-my-side mentality that continues the downward spiral of civility, leading toward chaos.

People don’t really want to have a conversation because in order to do that they would have to educate themselves on the issues and not rely on regurgitating sound bites they picked up on Fox News or MSNBC.

People don’t really want to have a conversation because… what if they are wrong? What if someone makes it look like all those precious beliefs are nothing but wrong-headed bullshit?

People really don’t want to have a conversation because they are too tired after working all day… or because they have to take the kids to the game… no time, busy, busy.

We talk about America like it was still our country. We shout and post and share and tweet and put another bumper sticker on the car, but we’re too busy to understand it isn’t our country any more. It now belongs to Facebook and Twitter and Apple and Google and Amazon and GE and Monsanto and the Koch empire. And they spend millions to make you think it’s still your country, that your little piece of it is all there is. They spend millions to make sure you don’t have a civil conversation with the guys who have that other little piece of it.

Divided we fall.

They keep the country divided because they are terrified at what might happen if it were not. If you ever stopped swapping hateful memes and shouting obscenities at each other and actually talked to each other you might learn the truth. You might realize that you are not as divided as you think. You might come to see that there is a path through Mordor, and they can’t have that.

But the first step on that path is one you learned in Kindergarten: Play nice.

Get your priorities straight.

Your Humble Servant,
Roger A. Shipley, The Willowbrook Curmudgeon.

2 thoughts on “Priorities Lost

  1. Food for thought?

    2015:
    “And when you call someone names … it doesn’t mean that you’re funny, and you have not advanced your cause; it means you’re part of a colossal problem in this country.”

    2013:
    “If you’re Mexican you can call Mexicans “beaners” and get away with it … but if I do it, the political correctness police will break down my door. If you’re black you can use the “N” word all you want and make “cracker” jokes at the same time. … I guess I have to change careers and become a professional stand-up comic before I can tell ethnic jokes.”

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    • We are all allowed to grow. We are all allowed to see things more clearly, especially when mentored by those we love who may be younger, but who still have different experiences to draw on. I reserve the right to be politically incorrect when it serves a greater purpose, but I’ll bow to the wisdom of civility as the best choice.

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