I’m very much not a religion person but I don't make assumptions about individuals who are firm believers. I have plenty of experience with converters pestering me with the humid enthusiasm of late-night infommercial salespeople on cable TV. I’ve been woken up on Saturday mornings by those conversioneers and also by really decent people willing to listen to my respectfully delivered alternative world view. And I’ve known people who believe in their cosmic narrative as deeply as I believe in mine who have an almost identical worldview with my own but we express it with different vocabulary and imagery.
I have some knowledge base – though not expertise – in Judaism and Christianity and their histories and in the dynamic of belief. I think it’s important when discussing something significant to make an effort to speak the same language. When I discuss religion with a believer I describe my metaphysical worldview in the lexicon, as I know it, of the person I’m speaking with. I’ll refer to God to describe natural forces and offer my interpretation of scripture or what we see in the world by referring to a scriptural context. Even when disputing what I feel is a fairy tale, I make sure that person doesn’t feel defensive or insulted. I feel no interest in converting anyone away from a belief that might bring stability.
But as soon as I feel a conversion push, whether from a Jehovah’s Witnesss or a Hasid, I’ll raise the temperature of my presentation or move along. But most of those exchanges are really fun and there’s a unique type of intimacy I feel when mutually enjoying the company of an alien perspective. Especially considering how combustible religious debates can be.
Discussing political worldviews from opposite ends of the universe seems to be a whole lot harder. It tends to go straight to tension. My guess is that it’s due to the now complete segregation of news and information media thanks to Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. It wasn’t enough to offer a thoroughly biased right wing framing of every news event (as Ailes admitted). By constantly defining actual news venues that do actual reporting as the Enemy of America, a national atmosphere of distrust and outright loathing has been cemented into our society.
We’re not just people with a different point of view, now we’re an enemy. A standard practice on Fox News would go like this: the Lefty guest might suggest that Iran and other Muslim countries in the Middle East have a few valid beefs with the US because, for instance, we were instrumental in overturning a democratically elected Iranian government and replaced it with a brutal dictatorship because the Iranian people we there to serve American interests. The Fox anchor’s practiced response to that well-documented fact would be, Why do you hate America? As though we can’t disagree on foreign policy and also be aware of our role in creating the problem. That accountability thing.
Fox News is the paradigm for using conversation as an explosive. The Lefty is given the role of the asshole which is a standard character in every TV reality show. I’m sure that’s understood. Part of the surcharge for a successful career as cable news authoritative guesser.
It would be useful, I think, for all sides of everything to check in on other’s info media to get a sense of the narratives, internal logic and vocabulary of the alien world view. The goal isn’t to convert the other side but to try to regain some degree of imtimacy with the people we share a nation with. There are areas where agreement isn’t possible but it’s very rarely an existential threat. Every week now there’s a new War on something or other.
If Charlottesville means anything, it’s a preview of the civil war Murdoch and Ailes toiled so hard to formulate for fun and profit. I have no fantasies that a conversation with a alt-righter is doable, but I wonder what a non-screeching exchange, with no expectation at persuasion would be like. That doesn't mean avoid the issues – just don't attach a mission to it. It's the mission that sends the conversation to frustration then passion then rage.
— Polar Levine, News Goo Dissection, August 21, 2017
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