I read this lovely article by Katherine Goldstein on Slate of all places yesterday. It is about how the gloating of the "liberals" as she put it over President Obama winning a second term has gotten completely out of hand. I totally agree with her, and I'd like to add my voice to the mix.
I was shocked to see it on Slate because in my opinion, Slate is part of the problem. Slate is still one of the publications that gave not only lopsided reporting when it came to the presidential candidates (and it did it in 2008 as well), but also gives free reign to all of the bullies. Just read all of the snarky comments on Goldstein's piece.
Of course we have free speech, and of course Slate and everyone else (they are hardly alone nor are they the worst of perpetrators) has little choice but to put all of the nasty comments up. Some places moderate their comments and those sites have a little more comity in their interactive discussions. Even on my own little corner of the world, I've decided not to print bullying comments on this blog. It is just unnecessary while making an important point for others to be name calling, shaming and ridiculing if they have a different opinion. If you think differently, explain why!! We might all actually learn something in the process. Seems to me that the bullies are trying to take away our free speech by silencing us. Are we going to let them?
To the larger point here, I guess I will sound like an old fuddy duddy, but the coarsening of our social intercourse is just really sad, the passing of an era. My husband tells me that social interactions have always been coarse, and he's probably right. And I can't believe what I am saying, but my parent's generation would have never allowed us to speak to them or anyone else that way. We would have been severely punished for 1) not respecting not only our elders but anyone else and 2) for flaunting and disregarding the proper rules of dealing with other people.
You know, we thought that THEY were the fuddy duddies for saying such things, and we have spent our lives rebelling against their teachings. The down side of what they were teaching is that by not speaking about things (and to us it seemed like we were not allowed to speak about ANYTHING worth talking about) was to prolong and even encourage some really bad stuff like racism and sexism.
But as both the Hindus and Confucius have taught us, everything becomes its opposite, and right now our freedom to express ourselves has developed a really bad downside as well. It has so polarized our nation that we continue a race to the bottom to see how low we can go, how broke we can become, and how the meaning of being an American and what we stand for is a conversation between two groups ready to bayonet each other to death. You can't express any opinion whatsoever anymore without their being a slash and burn contest to define how horrendous and horrible that person is for saying such a thing. The writing and the commentary is often not even about a person's ideas but more a race to see who can do a better job defaming.
This cultural phenomenon is really weird when you think about it. On the one hand we are expending a huge effort in the schools right now to highlight and correct one of the scourges of our society, bullying. Bullying has always been there, but as a culture, we have finally decided to fix the problem and for good reason. Bullying can destroy lives. Bullies have committed murders. Bullying can leave emotions scars that last a lifetime and can stunt people's growth. You can google "why people bully" and get 54,300,000 entries on the subject if you'd like to read more about it. But getting back to the weirdness of it all, we are spending time trying to eliminate bullying while at the same time we have almost sanctioned a contest to see who can be the biggest bully of all in cyberspace.
In an evil sort of way, I have been in awe of some people's almost depraved talent for insult. It is astonishing how many ways you can find to debase someone. It has become a sadistic pleasure for many, and for awhile I thought that I should brush up my nonexistent skills in that department. But anymore I just see alot of very angry and no doubt unhappy people trying to bolster themselves by using their talent and creativity lashing out to pulverize anyone they can. Another irony here is that while people were enraged about the possibility of the U.S. using torture techniques, a form of that very same torture, verbal torture and abuse, was growing and thriving in the petri dish of cyberspace.
Which brings me to the whole sore winner thing. I am glad that Goldstein wrote her article. She is dead on right. There are alot of sore winners beating their chests and jumping up and down on the vanquished. To be honest, I thought the syndrome was much worse in 2008. But even though she is late to the party, Goldstein makes a fine point of at least trying to understand the anguish of the followers of the losing candidates this season. Much of the philosophical underpinning of western civilization goes back to the teaching of a simple but perennial concept, that of the Golden Rule which says do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The idea is that before you open your mouth, put yourself into the other person's shoes and think about how you would like to be treated in the same circumstances. I think even the atheists out there would give this viewpoint some serious thought.
I don't think that Obama has ever been really good at bringing people together. In my opinion, after such a contentious and almost equal primary in 2008, he would have been extremely wise to have put Hillary Clinton on the ticket as his VP to show he was serious about unity and bringing people together. Since he didn't, it has been the cause of endless speculation as to why he didn't, most of it putting him in a bad light. He hounded the Republicans mercilessly when he won. There was very little talk of bringing all of the American people together, and it backfired on him in 2010 when the Democrats lost big. I read an article in the Washington Post this morning with I think a GREAT idea written by a bipartisan duo suggesting that the solution to the looming "financial cliff" might be found by putting a group together headed by Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney, both of whom have great track records in this area. This gesture would go a long way in healing the wounds of the election and bringing people together.
Although an argument can be made that the president won a huge victory on Tuesday, I beg to differ. His campaign concentrated on winning the electoral vote, yes. But my guess is that with few exceptions, Americans voted their consciences and as a result the popular vote victory was decisive but slim. We are a divided country. It would be extremely helpful if the president would make some magnanimous gestures, a continuing series of them, to show that he takes seriously that he is president of ALL of us, not just of some of us. And it would also help if he issued a "no gloating" directive to his supporters the way that Bill Clinton did in 1996. I hope he can show he has that in him.
In the meantime, what can we do about our discourse? I know that the internet/social net bullies will just tell the likes of me/us to stop whining. That maybe it is all a joke---can't you take a joke? But it is they who have a few lessons to learn. What good does it do for our country if we keep demeaning one another for our beliefs? Why not try to find the common ground and move ahead? The fact of the matter is that just like in my childhood the niceties gave protection to the racists and sexists, our freewheeling discourse has given solace to the bullies among us who are taking us down an equally treacherous path. Where will it end up? Who knows. But those of us who think that the cheapening, coarsening discourse among us isn't a good thing need to speak up regardless of political ideology. And I have to give Katherine Goldstein some credit for piping up about it in a place where she knew it wouldn't be well received.