Fascinating Feedback (and Lack Thereof)

Yesterday, I dared to propose that it is a good idea to work on not demonizing “the other side” so much. I keep proposing that, and it’s never very popular, but I’ll keep doing it, because from what I’ve read and experienced, everyone thinks their side makes sense. That, coupled with the fact that most actual people are in the middle, not on the radical ends of the spectrum, makes me think we could find common ground AND still keep our personal beliefs.

Sometimes seeing things from a higher perspective is uncomfortable and not fun.

I wondered what kind of response I’d get (if any), and who I’d hear from. To my surprise, the first people who responded on my Facebook post were two of my conservative friends. Now, as Lee pointed out, conservative friends I still have on Facebook are either relatives or people I enjoy having rational discussions with. And sure enough, they posted rational thoughts that I enjoyed and learned from.

My second surprise was, given that I have a poop-load of liberal friends, some of whom are extra-extra liberal, I initially didn’t hear a peep out of them on Facebook, either in agreement or disagreement. But, whew, I did eventually get the kind of feedback I’d hoped for, from all sides, in private messages, email, and other media. I’d like to share a few wise words, which I’ll keep anonymous but colorful.

Both my husband and this friend agreed that polarization is profitable:

“There’s a lot of money being spent from both extremes to convince the people in the middle who are getting along and helping one another — making things work, that there are more people working against them than working for them.”

A couple of people privately said to me that they hesitate to consider moderating their approach, because it might mean saying you agree with them or giving up your beliefs. This friend was sharing a link to some additional useful content that helped them (sorry it’s behind a paywall), and then shared a perspective that sounded all too familiar to me.

 “I think for myself, what scares me, is that if I move to the middle, if I try to find common ground, that I endorse all the things that have been so shocking and repugnant. I don’t have to list them here, after the last four years we know them well. But this program [link above], filled with wise, revolutionary activists, helped me to understand that there is a BIG difference between looking for common ground and listening and accepting what is unacceptable. I’m going to buy it, so i can go over it again, in my own time. Not only are the ideas helpful, it amplifies voices that I don’t hear often enough and that I don’t know well, but want to learn more about. I’m embarrassed to say that only Van Jones was really known to me. Anyway, I recommend this. I’ve always fought against the Hillbilly Elegy mindset and I’m not advocating a glorification of the rural racism, ignorance and misogyny I grew up with in the Adirondacks. I stand very firmly against those things. But when I dehumanize people without understanding their complexity and see them as trash, then to paraphrase Van Jones, my trash becomes Nazi or QAnon treasure. We will never get anywhere with hate and divisiveness. Brene Brown says much the same. We want to shame and hate-because we are very angry about what we see and for VERY good reason. We should be angry. As Brene says, it would be great if shame did work, because we could then shame the ever loving shit out of some folks. But it never, ever works to change behavior, more’s the pity. Folks have to change on their own and feel their own shame. It’s such a challenge to hold people accountable, without dehumanizing and shaming. But, it can be done, I hope.”

Yes, oh yes. This is why I want to keep caring about everyone! Things are complex, and turning them into black and white doesn’t solve complex problems.

Another friend admitted that the other side’s claims scare them, enough so that my blog post also scared them. I totally get that. I have a feeling a LOT of the people who didn’t say anything were in this camp. Most of my friends probably are. I can’t deny that some of the things I learn are scary to me. I just have to note that some of the things I believe scare others. Sad.

I wonder if my all-American liver and onions dinner would scare many of my friends?

One of the wisest people I know concurred with me, which helped me feel like I’m not some kind of fool:

“…unless we respect the right of others to hold a conflicting opinion and can be comfortable discussing them with each other we will never achieve the peace we say we want to have.”

And thoughtful local friend echoed the above:

“…my standard is that if you can’t argue your opponent’s side then you don’t know what you really believe. Not enough people seek the ‘true’ or facts but just believe so much fake, half truth junk. And sad is the fact that too many have lost sight that we can all love each other and be friends, yet still live on different political spectrums. But alas, we have to try to squash and kill anyone and everyone that is not of the same like mind as ‘we’ are.”

 Here’s one more, from a blog reader commenting on my desire to be on the team with people willing to look at the big picture (check out his entire comment on my post from yesterday for a helpful, if sorta sad, UK perspective):

“I think the team in question is Centrism, rational, liberal but also skeptical and factual. It’s a devastating gap in politics on both sides of the Atlantic right now.”

Yes. When you are advocating for being in the center, it does NOT mean believing in nothing and it does not mean accepting everything each side maintains as true. Let’s work toward keeping rationality, skepticism, and factuality in mind, even if we come from a conservative viewpoint, and maybe we’ll find goals we can agree on.

How the last few months have left me. How about you?

Thanks

I really appreciate everyone who was brave enough to share their thoughts on a controversial issue. I’d love to learn more from you all. If you take the time to read this, I respect your opinion! This is how we build community.

What if You Don’t Want to Learn?

As a fitting start to Black History Month, I’ve been thinking about all the learning I’ve been doing during the COVID year. Much of it has been about racism, the history of race, and unconscious bias. It’s really opened my eyes about a lot of areas for growth in my attitudes and actions, as well as confirming things that have made me uncomfortable my whole life. I’m glad I’m going through all this, and feel more grounded in reality every day.

Harvey, under my desk, asks when it is going to be Black Dog History Month?

Now, I’m open to learning about this stuff, even knowing perfectly well that as a human, I’m programmed to detect “others” and be on guard for them. The book I’m currently reading (Sway) makes the point that just because there are things hard-wired into us doesn’t mean we can’t change. It also helps that I hang around with people who are also open to learning about this stuff, want equality for everyone, and are willing to work on it.

But, after hearing my sister tell a story about how surprised she was to find out that someone she liked lived in the alternate reality where many in the US hang out, I got to thinking about how many people are fine and dandy just the way they are, and are not open to changing how they think about others. Complacency seems to be pretty darned common.

I’m understanding more and more WHY the big divide in the US exists, from a big picture perspective. When you feel a real attachment to your “tribe,” where all your friends, family, and admired celebrities are, the last thing you want to do is not fit in. It’s a lot easier to tell yourself that these people’s beliefs are correct, good, and appropriate from you than to stick out like a sore thumb, get picked on, or even get ostracized from the group (which has happened to a lot of people I know!). Divisiveness pays!

I know that yelling your beliefs louder and louder is not effective in changing people’s views. Image by @FreedomTumZ via Twenty20.

There’s really nothing enticing about being open to changing your views, if all the rewards come from sticking right where you are. My current idea is that, if we want people to change, even a teeny bit, asking them to compromise probably isn’t the right tactic. There needs to be something in it for those folks. It seems to me that if there were some reward for being willing to learn about other points of view and maybe even changing your mind, people might be more willing to put in the effort and sacrifice some comfort for it.

I’m testing my hypothesis by trying to figure out what kind of reward it would take for ME to be more open to listening to the other side. One if family unity. I do listen to certain family members, because I want to keep them in my family more than I want to feel better than them because I’m on the “right” side. Another is satisfying my curiosity. I have always found it useful to figure out what some group is actually about when I have a strong gut reaction. That has helped me learn a lot about Islam, its various types, and the variety of ways it’s expressed. Now, rather than disliking a whole group of people, I only have an issue with a small portion, just the same as I do with Christians, Jews, and others.

Nope, a trophy probably won’t work as a reward. Image by @fabien.bazanegue.photography via Twenty20.

But, those seem like rather internally oriented rewards. I wonder if something more physical or tangible would help? What, like getting paid to learn all about Qanon (or whatever that is). That doesn’t work for me. I just want to know where all these ideas about people eating babies come from. I guess I don’t know elite-enough people.

So, I end up at a loss. I can’t think of any reward that would entice someone who’s perfectly happy as a racist, a sexist, a radical religious extremist, or a fascist to want to learn about what people over on my side refer to as “facts.”

Any ideas? Am I entirely off base? What could make people more open to learning about “the other” in their lives? Has anyone read a book that might guide me? (Like I need another book to read…not.)

When Is a Conspiracy Theory Not a Theory?

You may have read my post earlier in the week, about what to do as we move forward. In it, I talked about an article I’d read about some of the less credible conspiracy theories that are going on around the world right now. In response, my friend Marian asked me: “Your blog brings up this question for me. How were you able to determine that the conspiracies were false?”

loch ness
Where IS that Loch Ness monster, anyway? Photo by @dancing_on_rainbows_ via Twenty20.
drawing of V Putin
Only free Putin image I found. Image from @dancing_on_rainbows_ via Twenty20

Well, isn’t THAT a good question? Maybe something’s only a conspiracy theory to those who think there’s no way it could be true (based on no firm evidence), and that same thing could be just a theory to people who think it’s plausible (with the same amount of firm evidence). Take, for example, the theory that Vladimir Putin has a series of body doubles who pretend to be him on some occasions. The evidence for it is that he keeps looking younger and younger in photos. The people who discount it point out that one of his nicknames is Man of Botox (or something like that). So, either he’s conspiring to trick people, or he’s just a fan of cosmetic surgery. Who knows?

Of course, there are much darker, scarier and less provable conspiracies, like QAnon (not linking to that!), who killed JFK, whether there are dead aliens in Area 51, if the moon landing was a hoax, etc. Here’s a handy list of some popular ones. Some seem silly, some seem plausible, and some may forever be theories. It’s the “conspiracy” part that concerns me. I’m fine not knowing stuff. I don’t know a lot of stuff, and one of my firmest beliefs is that there are many things we humans haven’t figured out yet that might make confusing things more comprehensible.

area 51
I can’t believe I didn’t drop in when I was in the area. Image by @lovnjeeps via Twenty20.

A conspiracy implies that there are forces out there hiding things from others, or even that certain in-groups are privy to information that is hidden on purpose from everyone else. At least QAnon is nice enough to leave breadcrumbs for their minions, right? Neither the Illuminati nor the Liberal Media Conspiracy have sent me their clues, though, and I am bummed.

Turning back to Marian’s question, I think it’s easier to prove something is a conspiracy than it is to prove the theory’s veracity. I think we’re just not going to know until they trot out that alien, or whatever. That’s fine. People can choose not to believe things they don’t have good evidence for, or they can choose to do so, if it makes them happy.

It may not matter one bit. It’s what people DO.

The important thing is that we differentiate false claims with evidence to prove their falsehood from unproven theories. That seems to be a real issue in the US right now, where you say something enough times that it’s declared true, or lies don’t matter if you say them with enough conviction.

What I’m trying to get at here, as I type as I think, is that conspiracy theories that aren’t harming anyone really aren’t a problem. When enough people believe there are conspiracies going on, even with no evidence, and they take action that harms others…that’s why I’m worried. I’m afraid I see that as a possibility in the near future. Just because you can’t prove a conspiracy theory is right or wrong doesn’t mean it can’t be very dangerous.

We’ll see. Did this make any sense at all? Do you have any comments to steer me toward making more sense? I’m open!

Moving Forward

First, thanks for your interest in my stories about my past adventures. I expected to get about twelve people to read yesterday’s post, not the actual number! It’s a Blogmas miracle! This makes me think that I may want to write up some memories every week or so. First I have to go plow through some photo albums, half of which appear to be in Austin and half in Cameron (oh the problems of having two houses, lol).

Here, to show you how happy I am, enjoy a photo of me from…a long time ago? I have no idea when this was taken.

While I do have more memories to share, my thoughts this morning got all derailed by reading a couple of posts on conspiracy theories and code words. First I read a cautionary piece on Facebook by Jim Rigby, my favorite Christian minister. He talked about the importance of not thinking that the issues the US is dealing with will just go away with a change in the presidency.

He also provided a handy kind of “dictionary” that helps in understanding what you’ll hear certain groups (conservative subgroups) of people saying they believe in, versus what the underlying implications are. Here are a few juicy ones:

“Elites” is a term of derision. It is not generally applied to the plutocrats who pillage our nation, but is reserved for stigmatizing and marginalizing anyone with expertise.

“Family values” is a term of reverence for the patriarchal hierarchy.

“Religious liberty” is a term referring to the “right” of Christians to impose their religion on non-Christians. If Muslims try to have influence in the public sphere they are accused of trying to bring about shariah law, and Jewish activists are smeared with tropes going back to the Spanish Inquisition

“Christian persecution” is a term often using actual persecution against Christians in other countries to pretend that Christians are being persecuted when not allowed to rule THIS land.

Jim Rigby, link below

You can read the whole thing below.

I’ve gone on and on about how vital it is to take into account the facts (yes, that means things that have really happened) about race relations here, like Jim Crow laws, lynchings, jerrymandered voting districts, educational inequities, housing inequities, yadda yadda. There’s a boatload of it. What I liked about Rigby’s piece is that he spelled it all out so succinctly (considering it’s a boatload).

Oh look, some flowers. Let’s breathe and enjoy them.

Then, I happened upon a great article from The Economist that you can’t read unless you sign up (grr). It talked about conspiracy theories around the world. Whoa, I had no idea how widespread and crazy some are. Did you know Putin has numerous body doubles, so he can live forever? On the other hand, apparently gays are trying to take over his government, even though they have no power. And there were weird ideas from Japan and other places, too.

Conspiracy theories are just fine, until enough people are convinced they are true and start harming others. I’m keeping an eye on them!

Sorry to be such a downer today. I just want to say that it behooves all of us, no matter what “team” we are on, to make sure we are basing our opinions on what it actually happening, and to not hide in our safe little circles. Everyone needs checks and balances, so let’s be responsible.

More flowers, the last of my autumn decorations. I got one bouquet to last well over a week and become multiple smaller ones. Happy December!

Back to cute stories later. At least I shared some fun photos.