I think I'm probably drinking gin this afternoon. Gin gets me glum.
Warning: Rambling thoughts on an extended interaction with a far-right pundit below...
There was a guy in my wife's master's cohort at uni - the type of guy who's just really toxic politically. It's tough to characterize him; I'm not sure I've met many people like him, and I've definitely not interacted with them like I did with him.
So he's all up in far-right news cycles, consuming memes and half-truth news stories and re-hosting them on his Facebook page. He's been doing this for months maybe years. He's not the type to keep to himself, and his social media is an extension of the types of conversations he has in person. Nearly every person in his cohort tried reaching out to the guy to get him to tone it down, or at least get him listen to some even-keeled opposition - I think they figured if they were thoughtful and articulate, he'd come around to some type of rhetorical moderation.
And that's the thing too because this guy is approachable. He's pretty kind and at least a little polite in conversation, but his ideas are so fucking noxious that every person who tried talking to him eventually gave up.
And it's not just his ideas, it's his conversational style. He fact-checks nothing. He researches nothing. He doesn't believe in statistics. He doesn't trust academia. Conversations with him are pages and pages of vitriolic opinion-vomiting. It's tough to handle.
It's not just that he sources Breitbart and The Daily Caller for nearly every story (Fox News is moderate to him); it's primarily that he gets his ideology from memes. Not kidding. His Facebook history is full of fucking memes - and I've got to reference Dawkins here for the literal and original meaning of meme, because the sourced knowledge this guy has on politics is insidiously hard to pin down. His news feed is full ubiquitous, pint-sized ideas and fact-checking every meme he's ever come across and internalized is a herculean effort. Impossible, even for him - i.e. you can argue him into a corner, get him to agree, and 3 days later he's sharing the same exact shit again.
He dropped the program at the recommendation of the faculty and director for reasons unrelated to his politics and entirely related to his academic performance. He lost ties to all the cohort except my wife, who kept him added (but unfollowed) on Facebook because she loved the drama of seeing some Lib-missionary get offended, argue with him for hours, and bite the dust in frustration.
I'd never met him in person, only heard stories about him. I ended up friending him and starting a dialogue with the specific idea that I'd just try to figure out what he was about - not attempt to "convert" him politically, just see what his version of the far-right was.
The conversation was wide-ranging and long - months-long. I started talking to him in February this year, and I cut ties with him last week. That's what I want to talk about here (at "the bar"), and if you've made it this fucking far, "Congratulations!" because you've got every right to throw whatever you're drinking into my whiny, doom & gloom face.
This conversation with him took me to a dark place; if I'm being honest, I talked to him for too long for my mental health. He's representative of a massive demographic in America, and that started to weigh on me existentially. Point me to historical bipartisanship; point me to political indoctrination; point me to religiously-branded Conservatism; fuck, point me to the horrors of the Democratic party too. I've read almost all of it, and if I haven't then I'll read more gladly. But I'm convinced the American politico-intellectual rot will not heal.
For sure, nationally-speaking we'll keep on chugging along, I guess. That's what a nation-state does. But this guy has been failed. He's been ruined. What the fuck do we do about that?
1. Do we drag him along, forcing healthcare down his throat, mandating tax reform in his interests, fighting the FCC for him, and offering his daughters birth control and prenatal options?
2. Do we involve ourselves personally, talking to him for months, reasoning him through his own warped thought processes, educate him on how to research and fact-check?
3. Do we let him rot?
tl;dr: To what extent is it our individual civic duty to try to reconcile with political opposition?
I started talking to him out of curiosity, and it ended with depressive horror. I wish there were a better way to explain my experience. I'm going to go actually drink now :)
This is insightful. I've experienced it. I have not put my finger on it before but you have the most of it.
I work with a couple die hard conservatives. They are lonely people in Hollywood; there's a contingent to be sure and they're insular as fuck but the overwhelming majority of Hollywood liberals are in fact liberals.
One of the things I've noticed in discussions with them (careful, respectful, well-bounded discussions) is that the conversation is not built around ideas. It's built around factoids. It's built around totems. It's built around memes.
These ideas are not, in and of themselves, coherent components of a greater philosophy. They are not arguments. They are touchstones. They are bookmarks in an internet search of alienation, secret handshakes of cultural identity.
A funny thing happened when Trump won: they got cranky. Keep in mind: I know people who worked with Trump. a lot. Had I gotten here a few years earlier I totally would have been crew on The Apprentice. He's a known quantity around here and yeah - it's a right-wing conservative orgazmotron. But at the same time, with Republicans owning the house, the senate, the executive and the judicial, the world should be perfect, right? But they knew - they knew - it'd be a long way from perfect. Theirs is a philosophy of opposition, particularly here in liberal Hollywood, and it wasn't so much that they were right, it's that everyone else was wrong.
HERE's MY THINKING
We don't drag him along, we live our lives and do the right thing. We don't assail his ideas hoping that eventually something sticks. It's an oppositional mentality and so long as he wants to oppose, it really doesn't matter what he's opposing. They're a tribe that want everyone else to lose. They don't really know what that looks like, but they want it really badly.
This is the way cognitive dissonance works: it starts by feeling uncomfortable so you ignore the sources that assail your worldview. Then it pushes you into an insular place because you're retreating from information. Then you lose sight of reality because you're working so hard to keep up your microcosm. Then one day it snaps - and it snaps hard. And now you're a disillusioned searcher.
Trump and the modern conservative universe is about the purest form of cognitive dissonance challenge you could ask for. He's not a conservative by any stretch. He's leading the party towards the reductio ad absurdum place the liberals always joked about - Trump literally defended Nazis. And they have nothing to build on, and their efforts to tear down are failing.
There's going to be a reckoning. There's going to be soul-searching. And we'll need to welcome them back.
but not yet, goddamn it