Friday, November 14, 2008

On venom and rhetorical weakness.

One of the things that astonishes me most about the people on the other end of the political spectrum is their venom. Of course, I don't mean everyone with rightist leanings, though to call myself a “leftie” is kind of a misnomer as well, but some of those who self-identify as conservatives are really hateful people.

Again, I don't want to paint everyone with the same brush. An aversion to generalizations and stereotyping are one of the things that makes me more likely to align with liberals. However, aside from what's called Godwin's Law, those who value freedom and compassion are less likely to resort to finger pointing and name-calling. However, the more intractable and traditional a liberal's opponent, the more likely they are to resort to “Hitlering”, and far sooner than one might expect.

There are numerous examples, of course. I can name a dozen hateful right wingers without straining myself:

1.Rush Limbaugh
2.Michael Savage
3.Ann Coulter
4.Jerry Falwell
5.Brannon Howse
6.Sarah Palin
7.Glenn Beck
8.Bill O'Reilly
9.Sean Hannity
10.Laura Schlessinger
11.Michael Coren
12.Ted Haggard
13.Dick Cheney

And I could keep going, (I've got at least three more), but the point is this. I can't think of a liberal who is as hateful, as violent, as rabid, as slavering, as just plain mean as any one of these people. Honestly. The most vehement advocates for social justice, for conservation, for sustainability, for compassion or for human rights are not nearly as violent as the equivalent commentators on the right. Even Greenpeace, while engaging in questionable actions in the name of the environment, are more moderate in their speech than the chorus on the right. Michael Moore, Al Gore, Elizabeth May, Stephane Dion, Even Howard Hampton: all these people are respectful and tolerant. Few resort to name-calling. I don't understand it.

And while I've been insulted several times as part of the “left”: eco-terrorist, Marxist (not really a slur, but in their mouth it's ugly, like many of the others that will follow), godless, secular, atheist, hippie, radical, Islamofascist, ingrate, elitist, feminazi, baby-killer, anti-semite, traitor, anti-Christian, fascist (?), communist, glowtard, and others, I'm rarely insulted personally for my personal beliefs.

Today I was. I'm sure that many of you know my somewhat controversial opinions on the military, its past and current missions, and the role that war plays in society. I don't believe that our intentions in Afghanistan are noble. I don't believe that the men and women who are in Kandahar or Kabul are fighting for my freedom. And I believe that the only reason we are “nation-building” is because we tore the last one down.

I don't believe that killing civilians is good for democracy. I don't believe that we've ever gone to war for anything noble. I'm suspicious of people who claim that this war, that war, the other war and this one over here were all stupid and unjust, but WWII was necessary and great. I've become harshly cynical about military might and how it's used, and I think I come by my cynicism honestly. I watched the most powerful nation in human history invade a much smaller, weaker nation because it's president was apparently told by god that he had to take out that tinpot dictator. I watched that same nation drag my own into a war with one country because a handful of guys from a different country attacked their country in retaliation for half a century of interference. I've watched enough movies about Vietnam vets to know just what awaits the people foolish enough to sacrifice everything for their country in an unpopular war, to say nothing of what they must give up of their humanity even when they fight in a “just”one.

But today, I was accused of ignorance. I was yelled at. I was scolded, and then insulted.

I read several blogs daily, and I used ot blog myself. I've not done it for a while, and the reasons are myriad, but I still keep an eye on the blogosphere, and I try to sample widely. I read commentary that ranges from “way the fuck out there” to “damn near sensible” and everything in between. I comment sporadically, largely because I know that blog comments are not the ideal forum through which to change anyone's mind. Hell, I know how unlikely I am to convince anyone of my viewpoint in any forum. But Remembrance Day is kind of a big deal, and I read a lot of people saying the exact same thing: “I remember.” Eventually it got to me, because it seemed that “I remember” meant “I remember what I was told”. So, against my better judgement, I commented.

I said that Remembrance Day is hard for me because I know what I'm supposed to feel, but instead I just get angry. I mentioned that I don't buy into the “dulce et decorum est” sort of patriotism. I pointed out that national borders are imaginary lines, and imaginary lines are kind of a dumb reason to kill someone. I pointed out that Canadian soldiers are not defending us, because it's been nearly two centuries since Canada was attacked.

“You just don't get it, do you?” said another commenter, and I must admit, I don't. How is it better to go to a foreign country to kill someone than just killing someone here? Why does putting on a uniform make it okay? How can we possibly defending our freedom in Germany, Korea or Afghanistan?

“You don't realize a soldier had to die to enable you to disrespect men and women who would lay down their lives to protect you,” she continued. And I didn't realize that it was just one soldier who had to do it. In fact, I didn't realize that I needed protection from Afghanistan. I didn't realize, even, that I was being disrespectful by pointing out that war exploits the poor for the benefit of the rich.

“That's ok...”, obviously it isn't, “... the strong have always had to carry the weak.”

And there's the insult. I'm weak. Soldiers are strong. I don't deny that they are. I never once suggested that they are. I never would. What I'm saying is that they've been duped. So have we all. War is a racket. It's a con game. Wins are calculated in square miles or in dollars, losses are calculated in number dead. And civilians, who always lose, remain largely uncounted.
The accusation of weakness is not a new one. It's been heaped on peaceniks at least since the sixties, and probably a hell of a lot longer than that. It's easy to say. It implies so much: fear, cowardice, physical and mental weakness, insanity, naivete, and gullibility. It's part of a dichotomy, so it immediately grants the accuser “strength”, and all the attendant qualities: grit, wisdom, sanity, street-sense, guts and intelligence. It's a powerful word, weak, and it's hard to refute, because refutation would mean becoming “strong”.

So there's no way to defend oneself, except by capitulating. I have said on several occasions that I would not serve, even if I was allowed to. I am, therefore, weak. I do not believe the narrative that has been told about any wars, even the “necessary one”. I am weak. I do not like the idea that my country is engaged in an illegal conflict in Asia. I am weak. I do not feel it is necessary to support the troops simply because they sang the same anthem in school everyday.

I am weak.

Perhaps I am weak. I would be afraid to face gunfire. I would be afraid to be exploded. I would hate to wear the same clothes day in and day out. I would be afraid to find out that I am good at killing, and more afraid to find out that I liked it. I would be afraid to lay down my life or take someone else's for something as abstract as “democracy” or “freedom”, or for something as concrete and ugly as “revenge”.

I said earlier that I am rarely attacked personally. This woman does it more than anyone else: this is certainly not the first time this woman has attacked me, and I daresay it won't be the last; I responded to her comment. And I'm sure to draw fire elsewhere, as well. I've become quite unpopular in a few circles online. I know that a few of my friends here on facebook and in real life find my views distasteful, discouraging, and in some cases, I fear, alienating. Most people become more conservative as they get older. I'm becoming more and more radical. If I continue to feel the way I do, and continue to share my opinion with others, I will draw more and more fire. I'm prepared for that.

It is, I suppose, reassuring that personal attacks and insults are their weapon of choice. It implies that my ideas are sound.

It's odd, really, that this particular insult got to me enough so that I felt the need to write this. I think it's because I find this stance hard, while the other one seems so easy. It requires, dare I say, strength to think critically about something so tied up in jingoism, patriotism, emotion, love and death. It's not easy to suggest my father wasted years in the navy. It's hard to accuse someone of dying stupidly.

I don't mean to suggest that other points of view are really any easier. It's the examination that's hard, and it may lead others to different conclusions, some of which might be the same as before examination. I don't know for sure.

I do know that I don't feel particularly weak. And I do know that I addressed her objections without resorting to insults.

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