Dogma, or, parallel rants

Reading the comments at the end of an article on the new Texas Board of Education history standards, I encountered several delightful sentiments, propagated by both “liberals” and “conservatives,” such as

Nothing like creating history to suit the political values of a few morons with some power.

Congratulations Texas knuckledraggers!

Next thing the liberals will want us to honor all the Al Qaeda terrorists that have been killed.

The Bolshevik liberals and the lesbocracy are wielding too much influence in society and trying to indoctrinate the children to be little hate-America firsters.

As an educator, I blush with pride at such nuanced, well-crafted arguments. As a citizen, it fills me with confidence that such obviously talented and erudite folks have their hands on the pulse of our republic.

Grassroots political discourse, whether at work or the world at large, fascinates me, and I often avoid completing my obligations by wading through the discussion boards appended to articles on controversial issues. If I want the temperature of the populace on a given question, such posts shed raw, passionate insight about what people really think. Invariably, my discussion board reading yields, on both sides of the political spectrum, ugliness, prejudice, bile—the sort of rhetoric that distresses (and angers) EB.

Politically, many of the comments disgust me, but I find them invaluable because they remind me that no matter how polite people might be in public, no matter how reasonable they might seem in a face-to-face discussion, they’ll often harbor unspoken resentments that they take with them into the voting booth. The anonymity of the Web offers an outlet for such frustration and bias, lets the hidden anger burst onto the screen, and forces us to confront difference.

Unfortunately, while the panoply of voices reflects the diversity of the English-speaking world in all its repulsive and beautiful splendor, the degree of argument rarely rises above the level of what child development experts refer to as parallel play. The writers tend to use weak-sense critical thinking to advance their own agendas, and they frequently ignore contradictory evidence. The rare well-reasoned case (no matter what the ideological stripe) finds itself ridiculed and attacked with ad hominem arguments. In short, most of the writers exit with the same beliefs that they entered with, and true intellectual synthesis rarely occurs.

Many, such as Daniel Wood in this provocative blog, decry this phenomenon, and during every election cycle one reads commentary to the effect that “things are getting worse.” Well, while it’s difficult to argue that close-minded political partisanship aids participatory democracy, as a nation we’ve experienced it from the start. Dewy-eyed nostalgia for the golden age of political civility flies in the face of the tradition of anonymous political invective that the founders imported from England. In many ways, the anonymity of Internet discussion boards echoes the pseudonymous, hate-filled pamphlets and articles that checked the facts at the door. Before Swift Boats and racist push polling,  Alexander Hamilton was Tom Shit and Andrew Jackson was an adulterer whose wife was a bigamist. Ah, the good old days of Jefferson and respectful political discourse . . .

Of all the damsels on the green,
On mountain, or in valley,
A lass so luscious ne’er was seen,
As Monticellian Sally.

Yankee Doodle, who’s the noodle?
What wife were half so handy?
To breed a flock of slaves for stock,
The blackamoor’s the dandy.

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~ by Moldorf on March 14, 2010.

6 Responses to “Dogma, or, parallel rants”

  1. I agree this weak-sense critical thinking is nothing new. But just because our forefathers felt it poltiically necessary to lob invectives at the opposition, doesn’t make it okay now. I agree with your EB: the swift boaters make me anxious for this country.

    Have you ever bounced into those discussion boards you’ve mentioned to add logical reasonings to the soup?

    • The poor logic knows no political bounds, and many ignorant comments appear from those whom I agree with on the broader issues.

      After witnessing what happens to those who attempt to bring reason and evidence to the table, I prefer to remain at the voyeuristic level. Perhaps many do, which might offer some hope for our political future.

      I guess my larger point concerns the ubiquity of vile rhetoric in anonymous settings–technologically advanced or otherwise.

  2. Is that a pic of the alamo?

  3. Yes–I thought it appropriate because of the Texas school board history standards.

  4. This distresses me so much that I can’t even blog about it. Earlier this week, I was drafting a post about my aggravation with the homophobic ideals that lead Roy Ahsburn to hide, and be ashamed of, his sexual preference and that just recently lead a high school to cancel its prom (because a girl wanted to take her girlfriend). I was also thinking through why comments like those you refer to so often anger me to the point of silence. But again, I got into it and lost words. I think the problem is that I know those who would post such comments are not interested in thinking at all, and it really distresses me that anyone could seriously believe s/he is so unquestionably right that s/he can’t even entertain someone else’s perspective.

  5. Yes, lack of intellectual curiosity is beyond irritating to me, too. A certain breed of conservative (and liberal, too) finds compromise and synthesis anathema and tantamount to betraying their “core values.” Changing one’s mind when faced with new evidence gets transformed into “flip-flopping” (don’t get SH started on that theme) and moderates—characterized as wishy-washy people who don’t believe in anything—get purged. Ideological purity tests lead to exactly the kind of bizarre paradox of Ashburn voting against all gay rights legislation that passed his desk even as he struggled with his own sexual identity. Let’s hear it for flip-floppers everywhere.

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