In Part I, I covered, in the most general terms, how I relate in moral terms to the American position regarding other countries. Long story short: the United States is not the harbinger of all things evil, but I do not condone a great deal of what we have done or are doing as a nation and, while I do not see myself as anything other than an American for the foreseeable future, my nationality is a point of personal embarrassment in that sense.
As we progress into Parts II and III, I intend to be increasingly more specific because the issues at hand become increasingly personal. They become less about one man’s limited, biased perspective of issues far greater than the self and more about interpersonal interactions where my perspective has more weight. Still, I think this macro background, which I’m writing more as a personal catharsis, must come first to explain the general reasoning behind the things discussed in Part III.
Thus we proceed into Part II, being an account of the national discourse in the United States and how it relates to my sense of morality.
The thing that I largely ignored in Part I was any reference to Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) – a mental health diagnosis I received some years ago (read about it in more detail in the link). The short version: I’m a perfectionist who determines self-worth in terms of my work and I subscribe to a strict set of rules and principles that one cannot attribute to religion or some other social institution. These things exist to an extent that makes day-to-day functioning difficult for me at times, bordering on paralysing in the most extreme cases.
Put another way, I have to overcome several obstacles on a regular basis. First, I have to meet my personal needs, which I approach in an obsessive way. One needs food, water, shelter, and so forth. While I have been working, full-time, for the last 19 years with a stellar record that shows no sign of stopping in the foreseeable future and I have a strong support structure of family and friends, I obsess about contingencies that might change that. My needs are met and yet unmet in that I am always reviewing ways in which my situation could change.
Second, I have to achieve my needs according to standards. “Whatever it takes” is generally not in my vocabulary. I have a line and I do not cross it, because crossing that line means cheating or otherwise being unethical, and achieving an ends that way is not an achievement at all. I will persist towards a goal, but I will only do so in accordance with my standards. We’ll discuss this more in Part III.
Third, though somewhat related to the second item, I do not regard the rules of society at their literal meaning alone. This is not to say that I have anarchic tendencies or a disdain for authority – quite the opposite. I have to understand the meaning and value behind the general rule so that I can apply the principle rather than the rule in a situation.
For example, if it were early in the morning and you came to a red light that was taking a long time to change, how would you proceed?
Some people might say that they would sit at the red light as long as it took, but their reason for obeying the red light was avoiding punishment by the authorities. I can understand that impulse, but this disregards the purpose of the light itself – public safety. The light exists to provide order to the intersection so that any people in or near that intersection understand how to proceed safely. The reason for obeying the red light should likewise be one of preserving public safety.
If public safety became superseded by another concern, say, for example, it was a red light in a dangerous neighbourhood where car jacking was common, then obeying the signal would be antithetical to the purpose of public safety.
This is what I mean by looking beyond the literal (“stop for red lights”) to the principle of the social rule. Honestly, I do not believe that all people are capable of that, especially as some seem incapable of dealing with the rules themselves. It’s a social irony in that these rules exist as part of the social contract to manage how all of the people in a society get along in various situations. They exist to manage the people most inclined to ignore or disregard them.
Again, I digress. We’ll come to that in Part III.
Right now I want to focus on things that are more general but a little closer to home than in Part I, such as our national discourse.
We have the obvious concern, shared by many nations around the world right now, about intense partisanship and the inability of many to bridge that ideological divide. If you are a liberal in America, socially there can be no tolerance of Trump supporters. To liberals, this is not a partisan position but a moral one, as the civil respect for ideas other than one’s own does not apply to policies that are egregiously malicious. I speak of things like banning travellers from predominantly Muslim countries, the separation of children from their families at the Mexican border, and failure to disavow acts of white nationalism properly.
I know, the Trump administration and supporters will argue that none of this is the case. That’s not the debate here – it’s a factual statement of why many liberals are not interested in “hearing both sides of the issue.” Right and wrong are not sides that receive equal attention in a debate. Plan A and Plan B are. Liberal and conservative are. Right and wrong are not.
Therein lies my first struggle. We currently live in a society where, all too often, we cannot have a discussion about anything because everything is partisan, and everything is so venomously partisan that the sides are right (Us side) and wrong (Them side). Whatever Them thinks is wrong because it’s Them who thinks it and their interest is not in improving the nation, it’s in furthering their perverted agenda.
It’s actually rather brilliant how the Democrat and Republican strategy of vilifying the other side was applied to the average voter.
One can raise individual exceptions, but generally the focus of a member of either party is the betterment of that party rather than the nation. They spend time campaigning for office, win their appointment, and then begin fundraising to help others win their appointments. Regardless of the ethics of the individual, this is what the political system in the United States demands of its members. In other words, I’m not vilifying your favourite politician as a power hungry demon of the political establishment – they may have a strong vision for the country, state, county, or municipality. They do, however, lose a great deal of time to campaigning and fundraising for one purpose: promote their party.
Here’s a less charged example: I’m a Philadelphia Flyers fan. I stand by that team whether they are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Arizona Coyotes, whether they are the Stanley Cup favourites or out of contention by December, whether it’s pre-season or Game 7. If the last place Flyers go into a game against the first place Capitals, I do not say, “Washington is the better team, so it’s better for hockey that they win this game.” I scream until my voice is gone hoping for a Flyers win. If the Flyers start a year 0-81, I expect them to win that last game.
This is sports. It’s entertainment and recreation.
To apply that same fervour to politics is insane. “Republicans are evil and I want to see them fail.” No, they should represent an alternate view of the issues and 100% of this country should demand that. Same with the Democrats. Same with any party wishing to be taken seriously, though right now no other party is mathematically serious.
When the nation takes a fanatical approach to political parties it can no longer be said that anyone is putting principles first. I know some of the liberals reading this may take exception to that statement because, “Clearly the Trump administration is off the deep end here,” but if liberals become so enthralled by that idea that they will permit the Democrats to do anything that does also become a problem. This is precisely why Democrats must hold their members accountable even if the Republicans will not (it needs to be sincere and not a political stunt, and it’s beyond the scope of this piece to get into the political scope of these issues).
I know I am not offering solutions, but:
1) I do not have any, nor is that a requirement. One does not have to know that the capital of Canada is Ottawa to know that it is not Tbilisi.
2) The point of this piece, again, is to highlight the impact that the national discourse is having on the individual and not to hash out the specific debates of said discourse.
For example, I do have thoughts on gun violence and gun control. I want to see a more robust qualification and review process to increase accountability, as well as better mental health care treatment options and education reform in general. I also understand the Death Wish-esque argument that one should be responsible for defending one’s own property because law enforcement is useless until after the crime occurs. We don’t have a police officer stationed in-home to prevent against a break-in, but the average citizen has the right to possess the means to protect against it themselves.
Though here I often circle back to my earlier concern: there are plenty of people with whom I do not trust that decision. People have too many prejudices, especially in a situation where they perceive a threat. Certain people are more likely to be the victims of gun violence – that isn’t a mistake. We do need a social police and justice system to prevent a vigilante sort of state where people act rashly and inappropriately.
Sometimes the discussion is constructive. Usually the discussion is nonsense. Proud gun owners see me as a threat to their gun ownership and want nothing further to do with my liberal thinking. Liberals sometimes view me as too soft on the issue.
This brings me to my second struggle. Sure, the vitriol between two ideologies is intense, perhaps more so now than ever. What I find far more toxic, and a direct result of it, is the vitriol among like-minded individuals when a member of the in-group adopts a position that is not in line with the group.
I rarely fall victim to this because my discussions with others are diplomatic. If I sense someone else closed down, the conversation ends. They can have the last word. They can throw insults or cast aspersions. Whatever, sometimes people just need to vent and sometimes people are doing it precisely for the rise. In either case, it’s not worth playing into the fray.
However, some criticise the lack of engagement with these trolls. “Stand up to this fool so people know we aren’t going to take it.” Other people don’t care, at least in the sense that they have already made a decision about the situation. They agree with the troll or not, and my position becomes a drop in the ocean. The troll does not care unless I engage, as that is precisely the troll’s purpose. The original speaker could use the support to know that people out there are behind them, but there are ways to do that other than clapping back at every troll on the internet.
Do you respond to the trolls? That’s fine. Continue to do so, and you will even receive my support for it. I see the benefits of it as well as the detriment.
Do not get on my case for not spending my time responding to people and bots whose sole interest is wasting my time and worsening my mood. After however many messages and hours wasted, they will feel happy and unchanged. The original speaker and I will be annoyed. It’s a fool’s errand for me and I self flagellate enough without this brand of abuse.
This applies across the board. I have watched people who agree on 99% of matters fall out, not because the 1% is a principled sticking point but because of how one of them voiced their opinion about something. It could even be part of the 99%. Worse still, sometimes it could be lost in the tone-dampening atmosphere of the Internet or poor articulation on the part of the speaker. I have had to intercept a few friends on their way to raging out at me because they read a sarcastic or ironic comment as literal.
It puts me in a situation where I must choose between the relationship and the belief, between broadening my understanding of an issue through discussion and building a larger and larger echo chamber because the only peaceful voices are those in complete agreement.
Ultimately, it all comes down to individuals. That appears in the final instalment, Part III: The Man