Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Columny



One of my recent Sunday newspaper columns got quite a reaction. So, this past Sunday I posted a followup:


Boy howdy, and slap me upside the head! My column about the South sure caused a fuss; and although the emails I got ran heavily favorable, people who took offense did so with, let’s call it, vigor. My favorite, in part, read, sic and sick, “We’ll keep all the Gas and Oil we produce and distribute Cargo from our Docks to only Southern States! We’ll Gladly send you all our Black that Y’all wanted to be free! We think that You and your kind should support Them and all of their unwed chilling and supply them with endless food stamps. I could go on and on but seriously YOU are not worth the Powder to Blow you to HELL!!! 
Hey, “our” North Dakota just passed “our” Alaska as the number two oil producing state; and danged if I didn’t propose trade agreements with them there y’allers. But okay: points for creative capitalization, and kudos for choking down a certain word. I tried communicating with the man, but never heard back. Same for nearly all the similarly-toned outreach I receive: so invested are they in hearing what they believe that any clarification or documentation I send their way falls silently, like the proverbial bear in the forest. (My “made-up history” comment, for the record, was about expurgating Thomas Jefferson from Texas textbooks; not a reference to the Bible, as one letter-writer concluded.) 
The feedback did make me wish I’d pointed out that the South is a net taker of federal tax money, while we liberal states are net givers. And I should have mentioned that it’s those same southern states who lined up like lemmings after our president’s reelection to demand secession, long before I reckoned taking them up on it. Funny things, those. 
It’s my fault. I can’t resist snarkiness, and love it when readers tell me I gave them a good laugh. That everything I reported about southerly shenanigans is true doesn’t seem to matter, especially when I hand critics an opening by sneaking in what I like to consider a witticism. People who take umbrage rarely address the actual points I make. Maybe I should run an experiment: forgo attempts at humor, make my message crystal clear and restate it a couple of ways, hypopolysyllabically. See if anyone on the other side is willing to have an old-fashioned back and forth. 
Somehow I doubt it. Nothing provokes silence like responding with a factual accounting and an entreaty to address it. Having done a little opinion writing before this gig, I’m well aware there’s no changing of most minds. I’ve tried to engage my detractors, and have generally responded to their emails respectfully. (Took me two tries, that one up there.) I have this silly liberal idea that enlightened conversation is possible with everyone, and that, presented with factual clarity, people who miss my point can at least be made to understand it, if not agree. 
But it’s not. It’s some weird game of catch: I arc an apple, the receiver pitches a potato. I lob a lymon, get back a tossed tomato. I separate lemon and lime and roll them back with a furtive wave and a tentative smile, comes another tomato, or nothing at all. And yet I manage to feel bad. I tell myself if I were more eloquent I could make that person see what I’m saying. Get them to agree? Not likely; though I confess to thinking it could happen, with enough time. Take climate change, for example: if ever there were a phenomenon for which the proof is overwhelming, that’s it. But the conversation goes like this: “You liberals think you can change the weather.” (Actual quote.) Then impenetrable silence. 
In med school, flexing our newly acquired vocabulary, we used to say, “Dyspareunia is better than no pareunia.” I guess getting flamed is better than being ignored. But I wish at least one person who disagrees would address the points I make and present a relevant counterargument. And if the arguments were convincing, I’d be delighted to say so in a following column. Meanwhile, a nice thing about columnists is that no one makes you read them. And when “The Herald” runs Charles Krauthammer (to whom the very existence of Barack Obama is so infuriating I worry he’s gonna pop a vessel somewhere) and Debra Saunders and Kathleen Parker, I don’t demand that the paper stop printing their stuff. In some circles, that’s called fair and balanced.
 
I guess not everyone agrees. The above appeared next to a letter to the editor that read, in part,

... Sid disparages the South as having an especially virulent strain of conservatism. For example, he broadly accuses southern Republican legislators of wanting a theocratic government that will prevent blacks from voting. The proof? None. He cites no real evidence, and obviously deems it unnecessary to do so. I guess that they are "southern" and "Republican" and likely disagree with him regarding religious freedom and race issues suffices to slander them as bigots. 
The underlying narrative is that conservative ideas neither require nor deserve fair or considerate treatment because conservatives are clearly ignorant and intolerant. The definitions of "ignorant" and "intolerant" are, conveniently, whatever liberals say they are ... which, apparently, do not include being openly ignorant or intolerant of conservative viewpoints. When conservatives subject liberal policies to empirical analysis -- such as asking why more racial equality hasn't resulted from 50 years of liberal "solutions" to inequality -- liberals dodge the question by casting aspersions on conservative motives and character. "Who cares if they're technically correct? They're mean!" 
Liberalism's claim to having a monopoly on the "facts" is supported only by its refusal to acknowledge contrary evidence.
What I find particularly instructive about the letter is the writer's claim that I provide no evidence; when, in fact, the whole point of the first column was the specifically mentioned action by the N.C. legislature to consider declaring a state religion. And although the format of newsprint isn't easily amenable to links, the reference to voting discrimination was based on actual quotes from southern state legislators, admitting -- no, bragging -- that their voter ID rules would make it harder for blacks to vote.

And I've written, both here and in the column, that I long for a truly conservative party. If the writer of the letter considers voter suppression and theocracy and science denial and rewriting history to conform to untruths "conservative ideas," he's a teabagger, not a conservative.

People hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see. I rant, yes, I do. But it's absolutely reality-based. And there's the problem, I guess.

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