Long, deep talk with old friends the other day, reminding me of the healing power of being heard and of forcing yourself to hear things you may not like to hear because these are crucial perspectives you can’t come to on your own when you are impaired by pain. Good friends don’t always have to agree with you, though they often do, but they always treat you with care when you need care. A walk through the experiences they share sheds light that can reveal important, difficult things impossible to see on your own.
I forgot, in all the emotion of a long, complex talk about heartbreak and forgiveness, to make a point about my personal, visceral terror of an incoherent argument insisted on to the death.
In worldwide politics this kind of incoherent argument is made every day, insisted on by partisans and, spreading via “social media” able to gain millions of enthusiastic adherents almost instantly.
What is the argument against continuing to fund a program that very recently took millions of vulnerable little children, our fellow Americans, out of the living hell of poverty? The program seems to have done a great deal of good, cost a tiny fraction of the world’s highest military budget. What is the argument against helping the neediest and weakest to avoid a life that nobody, particularly a tender young child, should ever be forced to experience?
The arguments are all variations on Democrats “tax and spend”, liberty means no government “coercion” (unless you’re planning to murder a zygote or embroyo), Makers versus Takers, the president is a doddering dotard puppet, the Democrats are communists, socialists, liberals, it’s a slippery slope from a Child Tax Credit to forcibly closing all the Christian churches and confiscating all firearms, we are under attack by powerful Jews with a plan to dilute our vote by brainwashing millions of imported brown idiots to vote Democrat, the most powerful Democrats, and smiling, false-faced liberal monsters like Tom Hanks, are pedophiles, and child murderers, who drink the blood of the helpless kids they kidnap and rape, when they are not out aborting nine month old fetuses, looking them in their tiny eyes and sadistically slaughtering them in cold blood to prevent their baptisms.
The horror of such arguments, aside from the “argument” itself, is that they prevent agreement about anything you can actually talk about, let alone resolve, they preempt all reasonable discussion. No compromise is possible between fervent followers of the Prince of Peace and Love and Satan. Why Satan advocates for a program to take two year-olds out of poverty is a separate and complicated theological argument that no secular humanist could possibly understand. God is infinitely mysterious in His infinite love and mercy. Heathens, heretics and “humanists” simply lack any understanding of the higher realms of faith and divine justice. End of chat, have a blessed day.
It makes me sound old, I know, but there was a time, not long ago, when a president who was caught lying many times every day, and openly, angrily, disrespecting all law and democratic tradition, would be a villain who’d be turned out of office. He would lose reelection not by 8,000,000 votes but many times that, and after he lost he would not be able to convince millions that he’d won in a landslide, his victory stolen by LGBTQ, hoards of angry, cheating urban Blacks and woke college students, Muslims, anti-fascist terrorists, dirty recent immigrants, disloyal Jews, etc.
My biggest terror about the world today is that our lowest human impulse, to fight to the death for an insane cause when locked in righteous rage, has been monetized by people of infinite wealth and privilege who decide, strictly on the basis of how much more money they can make, that they will automate the process of spreading incoherent hatred that cannot be corrected by reasonable discussion. The “invisible hand” of the Free Market, you understand, protects their absolute right to do this.
If you remove the ability of people to argue about issues of mutual and public interest, on the merits, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a government policy, and replace it with legally sanctioned partisan incoherence (unlimited spending by billionaires and legally created “persons” to influence elections is guaranteed by the First Amendment now), we are close to done as a free society. It’s a coin toss whether we will soon stick a fork in our long, overcooked experiment in democracy, to protect, in perpetuity, the privileges our most privileged are entitled to.
That’s the piece I forgot to mention to my old friends the other day, not that it changes anything — how much it freaks me out trying to make a point to someone in my personal life who has closed their mind, insists I accept an incoherent narrative and stands on their demand to have me respect their right never to have the issue brought up again. In a world with so much anger, shapeless, formless and deadly, loaded gun anger that can be pointed anywhere, the only small comfort I can take is in carefully taking in and analyzing what’s raging all around us, understanding it as clearly as I can and finding small signs of hope in the details that point toward decency, fairness and Lincoln’s better angels of our nature.
With politics there is a widespread feeling of debility among those not in a rage toward authorianism, a learned, media-enforced helplessness and fatalism on the part of the great majority of our cynically, deliberately divided nation. We have seen over and over that corrupt officials and powerful criminals are not punished, except once a decade or so when a particular powerful person is ceremonially held accountable for some particularly heinous crime and sent to prison, to prove that not every such person is above the law.
In my personal life I have almost no tolerance for a senseless argument that I am expected to swallow without protest, an unappealable verdict I must never smart from the unfairness of or even refer to again.
But there are other ways of looking at occasional insistent incoherence among close friends, and they must be looked at with love and a patience that may at times seem superhuman. It is not superhuman if you are lucky enough to have kind, honest friends to help you understand the burden you are carrying and offer a way you can’t see in your hurt to take the impossibly heavy load off of your shoulders, off your heart.