I had the privilege of exchanging views with a very liberal democrat on another listserv. Herewith is the exchange. It did not start with anything I wrote, but we capture it in the middle, when Liberal Democrat is responding to other Republican commentators.
Liberal Democrat wrote:
I’d rather be smug than entertaining treasonous delights.
…. I have absolutely no shame in being a coastal liberal. We’re a key cog in how this Union stays together. Last I checked, it was the states full of coastal liberals that subsidize all the poor, downtrodden, and left behind conservative states that cry about how horrible the federal government is while they use all the services and infrastructure it pays for, hand out for the next round of transfer payments. Do I complain about those payments? No. I see it as the price of national progress and a hope that the next generation of Mississippi kids might not live in abject poverty, get an education, and maybe escape the crushing cycle that has kept many citizens of these states in perpetual marginalization, which is exactly where their right-wing political leaders want them.
I, for one, am fine with the moderating effect that our two party system has on marginalizing political extremism, and will gladly vote for Hillary in November. No, she is not my preferred candidate, but she is the only candidate qualified to be President. It is the outcome of compromise, just like it was when I begrudgingly accepted no public option in the ACA and less than ideal restrictions on Wall Street in Dodd-Frank. We can’t always get what we want. Somehow, there is a vocal minority who seem hell-bent on ignoring that reality.
But back to Crusty Conservative’s original point. I don’t think Twitter, Facebook, or traditional media should close speech because it’s abhorrent and it’s because of what I fear. I am not afraid of ISIS. I have not need afraid of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, or any other Hitler of the week we’ve had propped up as our enemy in the past twenty years. I am afraid of the next Timothy McVeighs and Dylann Roofs, the people in our midst who want to destroy our consensus in this country because they think they’ve been left behind by history. And they have, because they seem to think our greatest days are in the past and they’ll do what it takes to force us backward, where women, minorities, LGBTQ and non-Christian people are second-class citizens and the advantages of being born white and male were enough to succeed. That is what scares me and if we close public speech to what scares us, that speech will go underground and rot. At least we know who to fear when these monsters speak.
The last paragraph caught my attention. I ventured a reply:
I cite our worthy LD:
I am afraid of the next Timothy McVeighs and Dylann Roofs, the people in our midst who want to destroy our consensus in this country because they think they’ve been left behind by history. And they have, because they seem to think our greatest days are in the past and they’ll do what it takes to force us backward, where women, minorities, LGBTQ and non-Christian people are second-class citizens and the advantages of being born white and male were enough to succeed. That is what scares me and if we close public speech to what scares us, that speech will go underground and rot. At least we know who to fear when these monsters speak.
I would put it to people of this view that we all live and want to live in a reasonable, tolerant and dare I say liberal society. By liberal I mean freedom loving, not left wing conformist. At least I do. And you do too, else you would not be on this list. So in the contest between Islamist nutcases and nutcases like Dylann Roof, Anders Breivik, Timothy McVeigh (name a few more if you can), the clear and present danger seems to be coming much more from the Islamic direction than from fundamentalist Christian direction. At least the body counts seem to be a numerical expression of the scale of risk, and from what direction.
The question for the pragmatic among us is: Who has the most power actually to “force us backward”?. I would put it to the people who are more concerned with Christian and white-nativist reaction than they are with Islam, that they are straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.
My second assertion is that vastly more people agree with this view of mine than they do with the benign views of my colleague Mr LD.
My third and wholly superfluous assertion is that this group of people are becoming very tired of the net direction of society in the post-Christian world, insofar as what appears to be a tidal wave of Islamic reaction to modernity is ignored by the bien-pensant elites, while the lingering outposts of people unpersuaded by the world view of the New York Times are held to be the true enemy. To me this seems both mistaken as to fact, in a very large way, and to be the result of a failure to imagine what a truly alien political religious ideology Islam is. It is off the map, so to speak, and cannot be conceived. Since it is inconceivable, whereas Christian fundamentalism is a more familiar target, the enemy of my enemy is somehow imagined to be my friend. Here I speculate as to motive and am less certain than I am of the previous assertions
The gap between the bien-pensants (the well-thinkers, the morally superior) and ordinary opinion has seldom been wider, and the views of the ordinary people less tolerated by the morally superior, and held in greater contempt.
I have seen this past summer normally quite conservative (that is to say sensible, centrist, moderate, well educated ) people explode in rage at the effrontery, ignorance, cretinism, red-neckery of the less educated classes in daring to disagree with the least jot and tittle of the Official View. It is stunning to see the contempt directed at the lower orders by their social betters.
It will not end well, regardless of the outcome of the current US presidential election.
I have to disagree on the Islamic fundamentalism threat, however, as I believe it is wholly related to conservative American Christianity. Whether a crusade in name or in practice, the Christian west has used the infidels in the Islamic world for a millennium as a useful rallying point for unity and a distraction from more localized concerns.
But, look on the other side of the equation? How easy is it to teach western decadence when we abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion was repelled? How can you not be swayed by stories of the infidels’ crusade when planes drop bombs on your civilian neighborhood? How can you not be angry when your all-knowing occupiers failed to account for civil disturbances after de-Baathification in Iraq, leading to countless deaths? We applauded Arab Spring, but did little to nothing to help these countries transition to democracy and establish stability.
We all know Wahhabist clerics are breeding this hate, but no one wants to mess with the flow of oil from Saudi, so it’s almost American policy to let it bleed. And don’t get me started on Turkey, where European islamophobic policies and the unaddressed Syria threat has let it drift closer to religious-based totalitarianism.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East and Arab World–Bahrain, UAE, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi, Morocco, to name a few–and seen both the good and bad with my own eyes. They’re still humans, still just trying to survive. They love American movies and music and, based on the Popeye’s at Amman’s airport or the Dunkin’ Donuts in Dubai, some enjoy our weaponized cuisine, but are vastly under -educated as to who is inhabiting our countries. If we spent 1/10th the money on cultural engagement as we did on military ones, both to show them our values and counteract the nutbag imams, we’d be in a different world. But, for the most part, Americans stay here and they stay there, and the only cultural references point Americans have is screaming idiots on Fox and CNN telling us how much they hate us. That’s a horrific foundation for dialogue.
I am just not as easily convinced that the creeping Islamic threat is any worse than when it was in Spain or on the steps of the Holy Roman Empire. I am convinced that, as you said, it is alien enough to Americans–who generally only had a two week crash course in Islam during high school and still think history ended after we won World War II–that it’s still a useful crutch to rile us up and I think we’re afraid to learn that our “enemy” is not that much different than us on Maslow’s hierarchy. Parents in Virginia two years ago pulled their kids out of class for learning about Islam and Arabic script, like the language, script, and the Koran are Instant Soup-style indoctrination. That is just fear and ignorance. We are afraid of the unknown, even if it’s knowable, and I think it makes it easier to dehumanize 1/5th of the world because of it.
The greatest risk our children have from Islam today is, as it was for our generations, one thing: Al Gebra. As it seems, fear of complex math is at the center of Republican tax policy. 😉
As for our Republicans, I wish we had a Canadian-style Conservative political party. I miss the pre-Newt GOP, one that wasn’t so anti-science and anti-compromise, even if I could not align on its policies.
My final response was this:
Thank you for a civilized and well written reply.
I remain unpersuaded that the main issue of our time is somehow American ignorance, or policy errors. They exist, and Americans in their ignorance keep making errors, as any nation does. Perhaps the US elites have been making more than their fair share of late, and this is the subject of the election now underway.
In respect of Islam you wrote:
“I am convinced that, as you said, it is alien enough to Americans–who generally only had a two week crash course in Islam during high school and still think history ended after we won World War II–that it’s still a useful crutch to rile us up and I think we’re afraid to learn that our “enemy” is not that much different than us on Maslow’s hierarchy.”
I recall a liberal American official at the FCC one time complaining about Republicans, insofar as their world view and knowledge came from one book, the Bible.
I admit the justice of that critique. One book is not enough.
But we have had a Reformation, and its subsequent wars and reorganization of the European state system; we have religious freedom, we have social freedom, we have a large measure of political freedom, even if, in your view, it is used in error.
Muslims in Islamic countries have none of these things. They still hold, in principle, that all necessary knowledge of the world, comes from one source only, given one time to one prophet, indelibly, indisputably, inerrantly, and that not a word can be revised or re-interpreted. Exclusive reliance on the Koran for guidance in all matters has led to social, intellectual, political and economic stagnation across the Islamic world. When they had strip mined the contributions of the previous Christian, Zoroastrian, pagan, Buddhist, and pre-Islamic intellectual accomplishments, they were culturally unable to generate new insights because inquiry is haram, forbidden. Most of what we call Islamic contributions to knowledge were pass-throughs from previous cultures.
At the same time, they were promised that they would be the final revelation, and that in principle and by right, they would be the conquerors of the world by now.
So they are caught in a gigantic cognitive dissonance between what they believe they ought to be doing, that is, governing the world, and as a part of their regime using its non-Muslim women as their sex toys, on the one hand, and the fact that they are at the back of the class in every dimension of accomplishment. A UN report of 2004 or thereabouts, and written exclusively by Muslim intellectuals, pointed out that the people of Finland, population 4 million, produced more absolute GDP than 77 million Arabs produced in non-petroleum exports. The economic value created by Finns, population 4 million, was greater than the economic value created by all of the Arab world, excluding petrochemicals. Arabs are excruciatingly conscious of their inferiority, and many seek simple answers, found in the Koran, as to what is to be done. Its name is jihad.
So here is my second point.
Weighed in the balance against the 1/5 of humanity, a large proportion of whom seem to be stuck in the cultural assumptions of tribal Arabia in the 6th century AD, or who wish they were so stuck, then purely domestic squabbles among the citizens of the US do not seem to carry the weight or importance that many Americans think (or believe passionately) that they have.
My observation is that a serious engagement with the issues requires one to step back from exclusively and parochially US partisan concerns. Even if we assume that Republicans and Democrats say largely true things about one another, we do not engage the relevant question or questions. It is of very little use to suggest to an American that they see things in excessively partisan terms. You are likely to get your head shot off. Especially in a presidential election year.
I am ducking behind a wall as I write. Thank you for an entertaining discussion.
LD’s response was a cheerful paean to the valour of the Finns, in which we were both agreed.