Sunday, March 2, 2008

to all-encompassingly

Hello Travis,

I have a question for you that has perplexed me quite a while, and which was raised again when I was reading some posts and comments on your blog. I hope you will read this message and take it as seriously as I do.

I suppose I ought to just get used to the idea that as a leftist I "hate" America, but I simply cannot.

My question is, when you write such things (specifically, to someone on a Dec. 4 post on Ahmedinejad), is it just part of the blogging game where everything is tongue in cheek and nothing is meant to be taken seriously? Or do you (and many others like you) really mean it? Do you really believe that there are two groups of people in this country, one group that loves America and another group that hates it?

If it is the former -- that blog language is not meant seriously -- then I feel that there is the risk of language being so cheapened by lazy usage that people become very cynical. Which I think is pretty accurate for a lot of people. I am not this way, however: my ideals of civic duty will never be submerged in cynicism. My own stance is to try to reduce, not increase, this cynicism, by using language carefully, as if it were a tool that can do harm and good.

If it is the latter, on the other hand -- that leftists are those who "hate" America -- then you run into serious logical and other problems. The first problem, in my opinion, is social fragmentation to the point that many people do not have any meaningful contact with people of different political views. When I say meaningful, I mean being friends with such people. When I was in my 20s it was much easier for me to say things about people on the right that were not really true because I rarely interacted with such people. Since then, I have gotten closer to several such people. I see them as people. So I still think they are incorrect on all kinds of issues, but I could never spout such things as "they hate America" or "they are fascists." Because when you really take someone as a person -- which, by the way, is one of the injunctions of Christ's teachings, which you say you follow -- you cannot use language in that cheap a way.

The other problem, besides the human/social one, is logical. Surely people on the right critique the government all the time. Why are these critiques, which are every bit as heated as those from the left, not indicative of "hatred"? My sense is that rightists, being nationalists, view politics in precisely this way: some critiques are motivated by love, others by hatred. The latter is illegitimate, the former is fine. But who are you, or anyone for that matter, to judge who loves America? Especially when the person being judged is a total stranger on the other side of the blogosphere?

Secondly, is not engaging in political talk a rational activity? Why then is this activity conflated with the emotions of love and hate? Surely even people on the right have very conflicted and conflicting emotions regarding not just America but every part of their lives. Think of your own siblings. Are there not feelings of animosity mixed in with love? One cannot be close to someone or something without complex feelings. But my main point here is simply that as rational beings we can make critiques and commentary based on something other than a simplistic emotional yardstick of hate and love.

I hope you will take this inquiry seriously, because it troubles me. Will there come a day when, in a political crisis, people on the left such as myself are branded traitors simply because of rational political positions? Am I a potential traitor, in your eyes, this person you have never met? Or is the language you use just a game with little meaning? Either way, I hope you think about it. Because language really does matter -- to each person, and to the country we share.

1 comment:

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