Monday, October 26, 2009


This post is long overdue. It is inspired in part from this commentary, Suffer the Little Children, by Southern Beale and this incident, Hate Begets Hate, reported by Southern Female Lawyer, who recalled this conversation with a stranger while shopping:
They have a young child and just couldn’t bear the thought of their child growing up in this sort of cultural environment … But the straw that broke their hearts was when they were at a local flea market … and there was a vendor there selling Klan material. And as it turns out, this woman and her family are of a group that is frequently targeted by the Klan …
Here is Southern Beale’s follow-up commentary:
What is the point of all the battles over de-segregation and all of the ground gained over the past 30 years if we’re going to self-segregate anyway? I certainly can’t fault anyone for doing what they think is best for their children … But the entire conundrum depresses me.
Indeed, one can hardly fault any family for wanting to keep their children safe from bigots. Yet, this tendency to self-segregate runs deeper than we realize. We no longer cluster along ethnic, racial, or economic lines; we self-segregate along political and cultural lines … with potentially dangerous consequences.

This is the thesis of Bob Bishop’s landmark study, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. According to Bishop, the terms “red state” and “blue state” no longer refer to those states that return Republican or Democratic majorities, but to groups of people clustered within communities who self-identify across an array of opinion: liberal versus conservative, urban versus rural, and religious versus non-religious, as examples.

As evidence, Bishop cites major changes in the electoral map over the past 33 years. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the presidency by a razor thin margin; yet 26.8% of the vote came from landslide districts where Carter won or lost by 20% or more. The number of landslide districts had grown to 48% by 2004 … almost double since the Carter era.

Another study compares educational attainment and geographic mobility. In the 1980s and 1990s, 45% of Americans with a college degree moved from state to state within 5 years after graduation, compared with only 19% of the population having a high school education.

It is not difficult to imagine how and why we make conscious decisions that alter the electoral map. When we canvass neighborhoods looking for a place to live, we tend to notice the McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden signs in front yards. We may look for a bookstore or a gun shop, or a fundamentalist or Unitarian church in town. When choosing where to live, our decisions are not necessarily guided by economic considerations, but by cultural and lifestyle choices.

(O)CT(O)PUS is no less guilty. I am a northern transplant living in a southern state. There is a saying where I live: “The further south you go, the more likely you will meet northerners.” I have witnessed racism at both ends. Racism is palpable and visible in the South; racism renders you invisible in the North. In the South, racism is a snake that strikes suddenly; in the north, racism means a slow, agonizing death by venom.

After the hurricane season of 2004, I turned refugee. I sold my beachfront home and moved to Lake County along the central ridge where I learned: Racism is cultural and systemic, not merely historical.

Lake County Florida is infamous for the case of the Groveland Four, an all too familiar story about the alleged rape of a white woman by four men who were beaten and forced to walk barefoot over broken glass until they confessed. It is the story of a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall who appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, about a sheriff who was a Klan member, and the murder of two civil rights activists whose home was bombed on Christmas Eve.

I witnessed weekly acts of racism in the local cafes; the harassment of a black woman at a lunch counter; epithets hurled at a black family by a passing bigot. As I witnessed these encounters, I felt assaulted. When I spoke out, I almost got assaulted.

After a year, I returned to the coast where I bought a condo. My Lake County home along the central ridge, my refuge from coastal storms, remains unsold. Having witnessed racism first hand, I can well understand a family's concerns for the welfare of their children.

Yet, we pay a price for surrender. Over time, according to Bishop, a preference for living with like-minded neighbors in extreme homogeneous communities incubates ever more extremist views. Voters in landslide districts tend to elect more extreme members to Congress while moderate candidates shun public office. Among highly polarized lawmakers, debates degenerate into shouting matches as legislators engage in obstruction and gridlock. That is how our most urgent and pressing issues go unresolved.

Due to clustering, we are less likely to converse with people holding different views and more likely to caricature them. Democrats and Republicans alike are more likely to assume the worst, each regarding the other as “incomprehensible.” Even in the judiciary, Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. As Bishop states:
We now live in a giant feedback loop, hearing our own thoughts about what’s right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear and the neighbourhoods we live in.”
This discussion about clustering and the dangers of a “Balkanized” America leads me to an overwhelming question. When I look at our comment policy, we are remarkably efficient at dispatching unwelcome trolls … and rightfully so. When I read the first sentence, the one that states, “We welcome civil discourse from people of all persuasions,” I wonder: How welcoming are we? We tend to treat conservative visitors with suspicion, not always with justification.

Let me elaborate. Recently, we had a visitor who said: “Thanks for not flaming me or deriding me or calling me ridiculous names as has been done on other sites by less than honorable liberals.” Patrick of Sane Political Discourse has always been a civil and respectful guest on our beach. I reserve my highest compliments for Pamela of The Oracular Opinion. There were times when I leveled harsh criticism, but Pamela has never wavered. She treats all bloggers, conservative and liberal alike, with the utmost kindness and respect (even after being miserably mistreated by an overly aggressive cephalopod).

So what do you say, fellow beachcombers? Shall we swim against the tide and give our conservative guests a chance to establish themselves as friends and neighbors before we dismiss them as trolls? I welcome your feedback.


  1. I think simple empathy, a tiny bit og detachment and good old Socratic doubt are necessary to perform the balancing act of being either the stranger in a strange land or the one living with "the other"; when one is adamant and unyielding in one's ideological certainty one is less likely to be open and inviting of "the other". I too had a commenter express thanks at my even-handed treatment of his opposing view without making him feel like he was an idiot or that he was an unwashed heathen enemy of the all that's good and holy, and in the process gained a fan of my blog. I try to be appreciative of other people and make time to look at things from their side, in a sort of phenomenological way, that is leave the preconceptions at the door and just pay attention and listen. It's not easy, but it can yield dividends.

  2. It is human nature to gravitate toward those who are "like" us. And there is historic precedence; one only has to look to the very ethnic neighborhoods of New York or Boston.
    But what of the more subtle but probably more damaging clustering by political leanings or moral codes?
    I'm sure most of us have heard of outlaw enclaves where the bad guys could hide out until the heat was off them. Or the tragedy that was Jonestown.
    Is it possible to create the same environment in the bloggerhood? I think we have all seen evidence of that.
    It is a fine line to walk where you uphold your principles while allowing someone of a different mind to speak about theirs.
    Problem is we all think the other train of thought is wrong. Neither side wants to concede the other's point.
    I would like to think we here in the Zone at least give those of differing opinions a chance to express themselves but we also have an obligation to uphold our own principles and defend/explain our own views.
    Unfortunately, that usually leads to arguments and injured feelings and accomplishes little.
    At least with Patrick you get someone who remains pretty much level headed throughout a debate. Although once he's reached an impasse here, he usually goes over to his own blog, writes a post about his views and claims some vague sort of victory. But, hey, we each own our blogs (collectively here) so we can say whatever we want there.
    8pus, this is getting to be a long response and I'm not even sure I'm addressing what you asked.
    But I have no problem with alternative views or allowing others to express them but if I think they are wrong, I will call them on it and explain why.
    Mostly I think blogging needs to be done on a more intellectual level, leaving emotions out of it as much as possible.
    Does this even remotely address your question?

  3. This pretty much sums up how I feel - that ideally, it would be great if we could all just get along. Or at least respect each other enough to not descend into impropriety. As we say around my house, "We live in a SOCIETY, people."

    On the interwebs, people are notoriously more likely to engage in what I think of as intellectual role play - i.e., trying to seem smarter than they are - and are far more rude and aggressive, as well. Over and over again I see the "scornful intellectual" facade from people online and really, I cannot discuss anything with this type anymore than I can the ALLCAPS crazies.

    I think we all have to work extra hard and be vigilant to keep people to a higher standard of dialogue. I am a big believer in keeping to standards for grammar, spelling, etc., no ad hominems, and I don't throw out a fact unless I have verified it to the point I would be comfortable signing my actual name to it. But it can be done.

    I am lucky that I have very few trolls to my blog, I actually get more offensive and rude comments on my Facebook page. But I don't delete anything and even though I have to approve every first comment to my blog, I post them all. I imagine the larger a blog gets, the more difficult it is to keep it clean.

    Long comment - yikes!

  4. I go to several blogs on a daily basis and on at least a couple of them there are comments by conservatives. When those comments are fact based opinions, one can argue with them, without attacking the commenter.

    Otoh, I go to several blogs that are infested with trolls whose arguments are not based on truth and whose genuine motivations are clearly racist and classist. Those commenters are not covservatives, they are reactionaries and are not to be tolerated, never mind encouraged, unless one likes seeing threadjacking of nearly every post the idiots isinuate themselves on.

    Genuine conservative thought is not a bad thing, but what passes for conservative thought today, in many cases, is simply dog whistle hate speech.

  5. Also, I think that when the physical area in which one lives is a giant "feedback loop" (great line) for the other side of thought, it can be rough. We joke (though it is completely true) that we go to the local organic grocery WAY too many times a week just so we can pretend we live in a blue area. But other than that, we are completely surrounded ultra conservative christians, who are very vocal right now.

  6. southernfemalelawyer, I too am an anomaly, living in a very red area of NC. Granted there are "blue" pockets here, mostly in college towns, and even though Obama won NC is was a slim margin.
    I don't hide my political leanings but I do try to leave the emotional drama out of it and keep my cool when discussing politics, Obama, color, etc. I like to think of myself as a shining light in a dark landscape. :)
    When I'm tired of the endless quoting of misinformation, I work into the conversation that I'm a deist. Now most of these "godly" Christians around my neck of the woods have no idea what that is - they assume I'm some sort of devil worshipper, and they drop the conversation quickly!

  7. This one needs long answers. I used to operate under the assumption that progress was always working slowly in the background and that enlightenment was a process like evolution and there was a goal toward which it worked.

    I don't think so any more. Years ago I read a book by Arnold Forster called Square One about the beginnings of the Anti Defamation League. It convinced me of the necessity of confronting each and every offensive incident and that bigotry, like other vermin, thrives in the dark. Would the KKK have suffered so greatly in recent years if so many groups hadn't gone after them with lawyers?

    Yes, there is conservative commentary, but we rarely see that here. We see bombing raids designed to make us angry and frustrated so that they can say we're wrong because we're angry and full of hate. To me, sarcasm works best because they can't usually deal with it, having only a book of absurd formulae and little intelligence.

    We get chronic trolls who return and return with empty idiocies starting with "you libs, commies, Marxists, etc. and no amount of respect will do more than encourage them to continue the name calling and mindless attacks.

    I see it as a war - a cold version of the Civil War, a war between smart and dumb, chaos versus civilization and the idea that such people will keep us honest by attacking us, attacking human values, laughing at social consciousness, the lessons of history and the responsibility that comes with freedom seems foolish to me.

    I know what you mean by clustering. Amazon, not too long ago, revealed that people who buy books by Coulter or Malkin buy that kind of book exclusively and it's no surprise. Such people can't and won't be converted by civil discourse and particularly in this written format. Some need to be deleted without comment, others truly need to be humiliated, some need a dismissal of their ideas with explanation. There isn't a single policy that I think applies everywhere but when someone is looking for a rigged argument about false reality, you don't give him an arena.

    Take my post on the GOP Facebook page and miscogyny laws. Some "conservative" launched into a rave about how many thousands of white women are raped by black men and all the horrible things "Illegals" do and how bigotry against white Europeans has been legislated and that the US has become a "third world shit-hole" because of it.

    Think we need to dignify such people with anything but sarcastic dismissal? I don't.

    I do think there's value in having like minded people around because we've been underdogs almost forever, we've been quiet too long, we begin to think we can't win we think not only that we're alone but that we're a minority when we are not - and most of all our enemies derive great power from their covens and cults and their blowhard hatemongers.

    I could go on, but. . .

  8. I'm torn on this, Octo. On the one hand, I agree with Zirg, you, and others that a bit of empathy and patience goes a long way -- especially after I visit conservative blogs and see that, while the opinions there are the polar opposites, the behaviors toward The Other (i.e., us) are similarly contemptuous and dismissive. This does not help matters, and certainly does not foster a civilized discourse. A little less of knee-jerk contempt would be useful on both sides, IMO.

    But then, when it comes to discussions on issues, I also see that there are fundamental and unbridgeable differences between the conservative and liberal POVs, and, as long as the goal of a discussion is to convince "the other side" of the righteousness of one's position, the discussion is futile. At best, we can end up agreeing to disagree, I think.

    The differences reach much deeper, IMO, than just opinions about the role of government and other semi-topical subjects. We are talking about fundamental differences in value systems, which, in turn, shape the ways we perceive the world on a very basic level (e.g., cooperation vs. self-interest as a dominating force in human relationships, etc.)
    Frankly, I don't see a way to reconcile those.

    The problem with blog wars between the opposing sides is our tendency to personalize our differences. Simply put, we (a generic "we") don't know how to argue our position without becoming offensive and putting down the other. Too often our passion takes over and we feel justified in personally demeaning each other -- and that not only does not foster any arguments, but is needlessly hurtful.

    Which is why I have put in effect a "no personal potshots" policy on my blog, no matter which side does it. Differing ideas and opinions are fine, personal jabs -- no. Will not post comments that seek to flame anyone for whatever reason. It's just tiresome.

  9. What democommie says mirrors many of my experiences, especially his distinction between “conservative” and “reactionary.” Among my circle of friends, there are conservatives with whom I can agree on a range of issues, whom I found to be honest and sincere in their concerns. I say this with a sense of irony: These conservative friends switched parties last year to vote for Obama.

    I have witnessed conservative bloggers being trashed by the reactionaries, who call them RINOs and other disparaging names. I respect those conservatives who demonstrate independent thought by being willing to question their own politics. While the reactionaries may punish them, I feel we should support them, or at least be friendly if nothing else.

    One conservative blogger in particular is deeply troubled by the none-stop vitriol from within reactionary ranks. This blogger has considered withdrawing from the Internet; a darn shame because this blogger happens to be very honorable.

    I can’t help but notice some stereotyping within our own ranks, and I have tried to give examples of conservative bloggers who are just as much victims as we are. There is nothing in this post to suggest we should tolerate trolls. If I can’t toy with them as a cat toys with a mouse, I delete them with relish. All I am saying is that honest and sincere conservatives should be treated with civility and respect, and given a chance.

    Why do we choose some people to be friends but not others? Perhaps this remains one of life’s mysteries. I am certainly grateful for the friends I have and this includes you, my fellow beachcombers.

  10. A thoughtful post - one that perhaps hints at something that we on the broadly defined Left are not always quick to own -

    - and that is that intolerance is not exclusive to conservative thinking. It is a word that certainly is often aptly attached to conservative groups and ways of thinking but we on the oh so broadly defined Left are also guilty of being intolerant towards those who do not think as we do - the blogosphere has done much, sadly, to bring about the intolerant nature of BOTH (ALL) sides.

  11. Good post! I remember ABC News did a "Red America/Blue America" special sometime around the 2004 election which looked directly at our tendency to self-segregate along political lines. It may even have been based on Bishop's study. Funnily enough, I've lived in (or near) the two communities it used as its examples: I grew up in Montclair, N.J. (blue community) and live near Franklin, TN (the red community.)

    Difficult though it may be to be a liberal in Tennessee, I've always told my liberal friends in places like California and New York to quit complaining about us Red States and EMIGRATE. I haven't had any takers!

  12. Disagreement in recreational discussion is one thing. Family fun gone wrong is also commonplace (my parents are TEA partiers apparently). But the most difficult area to navigate is work. I don't know what it is like in other areas of employment, but one of the reasons I went solo was that I could not stand the rampant (and totally condoned) racism, bigotry, sexism, and general intolerance.

    Happily, going solo has reduced my exposure to that crap by about 85%, but that still leaves awkward conversations with clients and peers on politics (they commonly assume that I am just dying to bitch about Obama). And then there is the less savory stuff. What in the hell do you do when someone who owes you $5K out of the blue cracks a joke about "Mexicans?" Happily, I do the nerdy kind of law and most of my clients think I am a filterless egghead, so I can get away with a blank stare and throw out a figure about how much money undocumented workers pay into the IRS.

  13. rockync - laughed about the Deist thing. When I first moved back here, a neighbor was giving me the hard sell on some singles function at her church (I guess she was figuring she could get 2 birds with 1 stone. Though she was sweet for worrying about my heathen hussy soul). When I told her I wasn't a Methodist (which, as you probably know, goes over much better than saying I am not a Christian), she said 'Oh sweetie - we are a very open church, we accept people of ALL faith - EVEN Catholics!'

  14. LOL! southernfemalelawyer, Methodists and Baptists surely are busy here in the South!
    I've been over to your blog and see I have found another lover of good food, except on me it shows!
    My husband and I recently cared for his cousin who died in June from lung cancer. She had been an assistant attorney general in the state of FL, criminal appeals div. She even successfully argued a case before the US Supreme Court. But the work did take its toll and she retired before she was 50. It did burn her out.
    Legal work is a tough profession!

  15. If someone wants my respect for their opinion, they have to present me with a respectable opinion. I'm not averse to differing views, but I won't abide stupidity. The problem is that, on the internet, respectable opinions are rare.

  16. Hey, everyone, its democommie's birthday. Lets help him get wasted (and leave the empties for me - must be a throwback to my univalve days).

    Matt, one of my favorite comics, George Burns, said this just before his 100th birthday:

    "I was raised to always respect my elders. The problem at my age? There is no one left to respect anymore."

  17. First let me say “Thank You”. I felt very honored when I read what you wrote, Octo, because I know it came from your heart.

    Wow, a great post and a lot of good comments. It seems we have been working on this civility, respect, kindness “theme” for awhile now, doesn’t it? It’s nice to know that we haven’t given up even though sometimes it seems futile! Too bad we can’t extend our message to those outside the blogosphere as well! Although, with some of Octo’s posts getting out there, we may succeed yet!

    Squid said what I’ve been saying for a very long time. It is BOTH sides. I have seen nasty Conservatives and Liberals. Heck, I’ve been attacked by both. I have read blogs by Conservatives that would make your hair curl! As I’m sure many of you know. But being a Conservative, I didn’t expect THAT! I’m supposed to be in the party of family values, honorable character, blah, blah…and here I am reading all these hateful things! How can this be?? It made me ill. I am “supposed” to “expect” this from the Left. After all the Left is “bad”. So, why is MY party writing such mean, hateful things! What an eye-opener for ME! I’ve seen a lot on my own blog, too. The infighting is just ridiculous. A right-winger saying the Left is vicious as the rightie calls the leftie names. Really? Or vice-versa. In short, I know first-hand that both sides can be vicious and intolerable. And then there are many on both sides who are kind and tolerant, too.

    I, on the other hand, try to be tolerant and polite. When I comment on blogs or respond to comments on my blog I TRY to write in a way that is not aggressive or antagonistic. I also don’t think I’m going to change anyone’s mind/opinion. I like to write my view point and hear what others think. One of the problems I see a lot in the blogosphere is that many people believe “their” side is the “right” side therefore they “feel” the need to put down the “other” side or “bad” side. I find that defeating for BOTH sides and I don’t like to participate in it. Do I sometimes write satire or take a few jabs? Yes. I do. I have been known to write a few provocative posts which have incited some emotions, but not necessarily the emotions I wanted to incite! I’ve never purposely written anything to incite hatred or anger. But I do find there are people out there who do enjoy this past-time. When I encounter those people, I try to avoid their provoking words, phrases, etc., and comment on something that is neutral, or just ignore them altogether.

    It seems whenever anyone, Right or Left, has no facts they resort to name-calling and insults. Their disgusting antics shouldn’t be tolerated regardless of political affiliation. I find the cyber-muscle poster very annoying, but handle them with firm politeness, unless they become offensive, in which case I will delete the comment. I, like Octo, will “play” with Trolls just for the fun of it, until I get bored then I delete them. Unless and again they are really offensive, then I delete them immediately. That seems to be the only defense we really have against trolls, unfortunately.

    If we’re lucky, we will get polite readers and the trolls will leave us alone. IF we’re lucky. But the more popular your blog becomes the more trolls you are likely to attract it seems. I guess it goes with the territory. I’ve heard some say it’s a badge of honor! I’m not quite sure of THAT however.

    As far as your question, Octo, about giving others of a differing political persuasion a chance. Let’s see I have Truth, Tao, Shaw, James and you here at The Zone as friends…all because someone took a chance and went outside their “comfort zone”.

    So, YES, swim against the tide— take the chance! Because you JUST might meet your next good or best friend!

  18. Oy, Octo, you have opened a hefty can of worms with this post. It'll probably become a classic -- for me at least, as it expresses many of my own recent thoughts and doubts (yes).

    Pamela said:

    One of the problems I see a lot in the blogosphere is that many people believe “their” side is the “right” side therefore they “feel” the need to put down the “other” side or “bad” side.

    True. But (of course there is a but), while the put-downs are unnecessary most, if not all the time, sometimes one side is indeed right and the other, well, wrong.

    There are certain issues where there is a clear right and wrong, and a possibility of a compromise is not only undesirable, but morally unacceptable on the most fundamental level.

    Health care and its reform in the US is a good example. One either believes that health care is a human right, and therefore everyone should have an equal access to affordable medical care -- or one doesn't. There is no gray area here, no "maybe," no "yes, but." At least I don't see it.

    If you believe that health care is a human right, then you cannot in clear conscience oppose the health care reform (though you may have your own ideas on how to do it).

    However, Republicans/conservatives, as much as they are the same group, do their very best to stop the reform, many of them maintaining that we have the best health care system in the world, facts be damned.

    Where is the room for compromise here? It's an honest question. How do we even have a reasonable conversation between the two camps in face of such startlingly different perceptions of reality?

    My idea in a case of widely differing views would be to seek any and all common points -- but what are the common points in the health care debate, if the two sides do not even, seemingly, inhabit the same reality?

    If it is impossible to reconcile our differences, what remains? What should we strive for -- some form of cool respect perhaps?

    Or war? After all, social progress does not come about through polite exchanges where we ask for rights and concessions, but through more or less bloody (metaphorically speaking and not so much) battles with conservatives whose goal, by definition, is to preserve the status quo.

    So to bring my ramblings to a close: what kind of a conversation between liberals and conservatives is possible and/or desirable (other than just voicing our respective opinions without name-calling)?

  19. "what kind of a conversation between liberals and conservatives is possible and/or desirable (other than just voicing our respective opinions without name-calling)?"

    I don't have time for lengthy comments this morning, so thanks for posting what I would have said if I had said it.

    Yes, where is there room for respect when dealing with the KKK, for instance, the Aryan Nation, the militant Theocrats? How would you have a polite and productive discussion with Charles Manson? Even were there some middle ground would it lie in any area of sanity?
    Just where is that fertile ground between bigotry and compassion, lies and truth, science and peremptory mythology?

    As to the canard that both sides indulge in nastyness -- You're absolutely right. There is no middle ground between right and wrong, objectivity and dementia and the Right Wing Slime Machine has been spewing lies and hate and foulness so far in excess of the retaliatory accusations that I think it's simply dishonest to take refuge in it. Look what happens when you stand up for scientific method when hard facts conflict with Republican dogma? What do you do when you're the victim of character assassination for demonstrating links between atmospheric conditions and temperature, for demonstrating the origin of species through natural selection, for siting historical fact in contradiction of economic dogma that fails every test repeatedly? Each and every time the "conservative" response is unrestrained, free for all attack. Every time.

    I've seen countless schoolyard fights broken up by teachers who smugly insist "it takes two people to fight" ignoring the fact that it started with bullying, or stealing or some gross offense by one side.

    This split between right and left began a long time ago, but in my lifetime it began with people protesting a losing, pointless and disastrous war and a president who insisted he was the law - the Liberals were trashed as traitors. People standing up for voting rights were murdered, people with long hair were murdered, people carrying flowers were shot in the back - this isn't a difference in opinion, it's murder. Which side was right and which was wrong? Yet All I hear is how both sides were making noise. I'm sorry, it's a way to weasel out of addressing truth and responsibility.

    This isn't aimed at Pamela - I want to stress that. She is no sort of wingnut at all, but although it does take two to tango, it only takes one to start a fight. Self styled "Conservatives" have been fighting things like liberty and justice and equality all of my life and fighting so dirty that I think they've given up the right to cry foul about anything.

  20. Octo, those you mention seem to me to be good folks, too.

    To me, the conservatism worth respecting is the kind that says the government should act responsibly and within its means (our means, really) without resorting to Scrooge-like cruelty or indifference to do so, and that it ought not be searching into citizens’ private affairs – unless those citizens are harming others and need to be prevented from doing so. I think there are quite a lot of such conservatives, and it’s too bad they so often get drowned out by religious fanatics and bloodthirsty faux-patriot multiphobes.

    If there’s an appropriate meeting place for us all, perhaps its in the space opened up by the understanding that no human system is perfect: it is foolish to trust even the most representative government boundlessly, and it is foolish to be a despiser of even the best efforts of that representative government to make life better for all.

    As for talking to the far right, I suppose everyone on the site knows my view on such matters by now – I seldom bother with people who demonstrate that they are incapable of basic reasoning, who maintain positions so inane that no amount of experience (theirs or anyone else’s) is likely ever to penetrate the wall of ideological abstraction that surrounds their observations. They have an endless capacity to keep talking without really saying anything, and you cannot win an argument with them because you cannot have an argument, properly speaking. Barney Frank’s “dining room table” quip seems appropriate here.

    Other commenters have pointed out already that there really is no middle ground between rational discourse and utter insanity or vicious cruelty. And that’s why the far right is so concerned to make sure you “meet them half way.” If you do that, you’re already in freefall down a very steep cliff.

  21. Elizabeth and Captain Fogg,

    Maybe I have opened a can of worms with this post, but maybe this is a can of worms worth opening. Let me explain my concerns about negative stereotyping, a trap that even folks of our political persuasion have a tendency to fall into from time to time.

    Those of us old enough to remember the Civil Rights era know that the movement started not in the 1960s but in the 1950s, that the first initiatives were taken not by a Democratic president but by a Republican. On September 8, 1957, then President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, the first such act since Reconstruction. Two weeks later, Eisenhower ordered federal troops to Little Rock, Alabama, to end school desegregation.

    Lets look at the voting record behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964: In the House, 61% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans voted for the bill. In the Senate, 69% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans voted likewise. Thus, more Republicans than Democrats supported this landmark legislation. Here are the names of prominent Democrats who opposed the bill: Albert Gore Sr. (D-TN), J. William Fulbright (D-AR), and Robert Byrd (D-WV). Jacob Javits and Kenneth Keating were prominent Republicans who supported the bill.

    From a historical perspective, it would be unfair and unjust to put the KKK and Aryan Nations in the same sentence alongside the names of Eisenhower, Javits, and Keating.

    What makes the Republican Party different today? Starting in the 1970s, the Dixiecrats, those racist reactionaries who were once Democrats, defected to the Republicans. The GOP had its own reactionary wing: The corporatists and monopolists who opposed FDR’s New Deal. What we see today in the Republican Party is a merging of these reactionary forces. A murderous combination, I concede, but my next question is the provocative one: Are all contemporary Republicans reactionary?

    Not in my opinion. There are Republicans whose parents and grandparents were Republican and continue to self-identify with the party of their forbearers; but that does not necessarily mean that they are being represented by the current generation of GOP leaders. Witness the defections last year: The granddaughter of President Eisenhower, the daughter of Barry Goldwater, the son of William Buckley.

    Some very traditional Republicans choose not to defect, but that does mean we should paint them with the same brush.

    Pamela and I visit the same blogs and often participate in the same comment threads. She has defended The Gray Headed Brother from vicious racist attacks and defended Shaw from relentless partisanship. Judge her not by her associations but by her actions, which have always been honorable. Right now, I feel empathy for Pamela because I know she is just as troubled by hate speech as the rest of us … and has very few places to go to escape it.

    Right now, I have chores but will return later. It will be interesting to see how this comment thread develops.

    Bloggingdino, your comment popped up while I was writing this one. On your points, there is no disagreement. My concern is here about stereotyping and a tendency on our side to paint all conservatives, especially those who voice their conscience in the same way we do, with the same brush. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  22. Octo, yes, absolutely, the can of worms was worth opening -- and necessary too. I'm glad you did.

    Additionally, even though I piggybacked on Pamela's comment, my diatribe was not directed at Pamela -- in fact, I have enjoyed her comments a lot.

    Yes, I agree with you, Capt, Bloggingdino and others who have made the distinction between the reasonable conservatism and reactionaries. There are points of agreement with the first (small and efficient government is a good example). Not so much, if at all (ha!) with the second.

    But what particularly bothers me -- and again shows the unbridgeable gap between the liberals and conservatives in our values and worldview -- is the issue of health care reform. This is such a litmus test for our humanity (not to get too grandiose about it ;).

    How do we talk to people who maintain we have the best health care system in the world and no reform is necessary? BTW, you hear this opinion not just from reactionaries, but from conservatives across the spectrum.

    I find myself more and more inclined to just shut down, because repeating the obvious, in face of what seems to be a willful denial of reality, has become so frustrating and, quite likely, a massive waste of time.

    What do you think? What kind of a conversation is possible here? Again, an honest question, that. Repeating the facts, or stories of human suffering, or examples of other countries where the issue of insuring everyone is a no-brainer, or anything else, for that matter, does not appear to make a difference. I am at loss.

  23. "My concern is here about stereotyping and a tendency on our side to paint all conservatives, especially those who voice their conscience in the same way we do, with the same brush. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts."

    I try to avoid the word "conservative" as it's as poisoned as "Liberal." Indeed much of our trouble comes from the loose, idiosyncratic, tendentious way we use the language. I have little problem with conservatives and I'm a rather conservative person myself, but those who use the term the most really mean something far different than the 'Conservative' Eisenhower who probably didn't like desegregation but did think the law and his job description stood for something.

    Actually I think we'd all get along much better if we stopped using such rigged and booby trapped terminology - and I repeat, I have no malice toward Pamela and no negative thoughts and I have thanked some commentors I disagree with for keeping it civil. Those who arrive cursing me and calling me stupid and insane I do indeed stereotype and don't feel at all ashamed of it.

    For liars, the willfully ignorant, the mean, the bigoted, the selfish and the demented - many of whom self-identify as "conservative" I have no regard and I let them know.

  24. Elizabeth, thank you for your support (I was afraid this post would turn Octopus into sushi).

    I refer to this post, Enough is Enough (August 12, 2009), contributed by fellow Swash Zoner maleeper who says:

    Years ago my mother was convinced that Medicare would turn the USA into a communist country. Now, at 91, she uses it gratefully. My recently deceased father-in-law was the same; swore Medicare would make us all communists, but then swore by it when it helped extend his life to 90.”

    I refer to this post to reinforce maleeper’s point: The Medicare debate was as contentious in 1965 as the healthcare reform debate is today. Medicare was created because the elderly could not secure private insurance coverage. Today, Medicare is universally accepted: It benefits those who once fought against it.

    This was my own pitch on behalf of healthcare reform several months ago.

    My point: Change never comes easy. In the heat of debate, it is easy to get carried away and dismiss opponents with name-calling but sometimes, in the heat of exchange, we hurt people who do not deserve to be hurt … leaving bitter feelings.

    Let me approach my concern from another perspective. In any psychological support group setting, the role of a facilitator is to prevent cross talk that would result in one group member judging or attacking others. The operant word is “safe.” Although a blog is not a psychological support group, there is an implied obligation to conduct a “safe” forum for the benefit of all participants.

    That is why we do not tolerate trolls, and I am with Captain Fogg 100%. If a troll abuses any of us, we have a right and obligation to keep this place clean.

    Briefly, I want to amplify something I said earlier:

    Right now, I feel empathy for Pamela because I know she is just as troubled by hate speech as the rest of us … and has very few places to go to escape it.”

    At her own blog, Pamela has begged, pleaded, and admonished many of her own readers. She deletes vitriolic comments. Her readers do not respect her comment policy and do not respect her wishes. There is a sad irony here: Pamela is not “safe” in her own place. That is why I feel a special obligation to at least make sure Pamela feels “safe” here.

  25. There are so many great comments I’m not sure where to begin. So forgive me if I’m out of order! And thank you again Octo, this time for explaining my plight. It has been, let’s say…difficult at my place with the trolls. One would think that when dealing with adults one wouldn’t have to admonish them like children. I have better results with my 12 yr old! One thing these trolls don’t seem to understand though; they are becoming an embarrassment to Conservatives!

    Captain, I like your analogy of “it only takes one to start a fight”. In real life I do hate that the school yard bully doesn’t get what he so deserves! It’s not right that the kid who defends himself gets into just as much trouble, when it was the bully who started it. I tell my boys all the time, “Don’t start the fight, just finish it. And don’t worry; I’ll be there against the entire school!” Now they better never START a fight!

    I believe that right is right and wrong is wrong, too. But sometimes my right is someone else’s wrong. I guess the problem with the right and wrong analogy is a person’s perception. In math we have 2+2 = 4. That’s a fact. No one can dispute that. But let’s say, for example, I have a German Shepherd and I say German Shepherds are docile dogs and great with kids. Another person says, no, they are aggressive and hate children. There are some experts who agree with me and some who agree with the other person. We have a conundrum because there is no clear defined answer. Experts and dog owners are torn on the subject, so who is right? Not a great example, but an example nonetheless. Which brings us to the perception factor. I think a lot of what we encounter encompasses perception.

    Captain and Octo, you both brought up good points but used different terms. Labels and Stereotyping. They are destructive. Just as when we were children and bullied with terms such as 4-eyes, Metal Mouth, Freckles, etc., today, as adults with differing opinions we STILL must deal with bullies. Here in the blogosphere I use a term called “cyber-muscles” others use “cyber-bullies”, or we say “trolls”. They all mean the same thing. They are mean-spirited people who have no regard for the feelings of others; no respect. And none of us here have any use for them. These people see the “label” Liberal or Conservative and immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s bad; and therefore the person behind the “label” must be bad. They don’t bother to judge the PERSON, only the “label”.

    Elizabeth you asked how does one talk with someone who is unreasonable, for lack of better words. I think we all face this problem. When I find myself in this situation, I steer away from it, because I just KNOW I am going to be wasting my time. That may sound like a cowardly way out, but I’m not going to steer this unreasonable person into reality or reasonableness. Talking with people like that just makes ME crazy! In Blogland, I will ignore, delete or respond in a fashion that leaves no room for more commentary. I just refuse to make myself nuts. I’d much rather discuss with people of substance even if they don’t agree with me. At least then I might learn something.

    Again, Octo you brought up another point that I try to strive for. However, you used the word “safety”. I’ve used “civility” in the past. But I do like the word “safe”. People should feel safe to blog on another site without fear of being attacked. I shouldn’t have to fear the comments either! In the morning I ask myself, “Who’s mad at me today?” I mean, really! It’s MY blog! Should I have to feel anxiety at reading my OWN blog? Or feel anger when someone attacks one of my friends? I don’t have to tell you how much I like Shaw, you know. And Truth has become a good friend, too. And it really makes me mad that people think they can use my blog as a bashing zone. No one should feel they aren’t SAFE to post at my place. I really like THAT word, Octo; it leaves more of an impact.

    Which has given me a good idea for a new post...but I have a few errands to run first.

  26. Pamela D. Hart:

    I don't allow trolls at my blog. I do allow people who say things I disagree with, but, except for trolls, not many folks I disagree with wind up there.

    I have a reputation, well deserved, for being extremely nasty with people who come to other blogs that I frequent to drip their venom. Anyone who has a legitimate argument and wants to be civil will receive the same from me as they get. If not, well, I'm not ceding the ground just because they're nasty.

    Like you, I do not argue with that sort of commenter. Unlike you, I will play their game, unless I don't value my own participation in the blog.

    Back when I was a Cath-O-Lick I was not very christian. Now that I'm an atheist, I just try not to harm folks simply because I disagree with them.

  27. Apropos of a point in the above post, the GOP dumps a moderate candidate in favor of the more right wing candidate:

    A moderate Republican whose candidacy for an upstate New York Congressional seat had set off a storm of national conservative opposition, abruptly withdrew on Saturday, emboldening the right at a time when the Republican Party is enmeshed in a debate over how to rebuild itself.


    Ms. Scozzafava had been under siege from conservative leaders because she supported gay rights and abortion rights and was considered too liberal on various fiscal issues.

    The Republican National Committee, which had strongly backed Ms. Scozzafava’s candidacy, issued a statement applauding her decision and announcing it was now supporting Mr. Hoffman


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