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Conservative Political Commentary

Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

posted by Bathus

At work, twenty minutes before the start of the Memorial Day Weekend:

Most everyone has cut out early. The few who remain are going through the motions. Cindy (not her real name) is doing a little non-work-related internet surfing (officially prohibited, but we all do it). In a voice loud enough to be heard all over the office, she announces with unrestrained glee, "Aha! I knew it! The Pentagon just admitted that they did flush the Koran. Now let's see if Bush apologizes to Newsweek!"

That's how our little chat began.

"Really?!?!" I said. "Hmmm? I wonder if that is exactly correct. There's been a lot of misleading stuff on the internet lately about that, a lot of misleading headlines. But even if it were true, I wouldn't worry about it too much. There's a war on, so some unpleasant stuff is bound to happen. Ridding the world of a few copies of the Koran is way down the list."

"Well, how would you feel if they [meaning, I suppose, our enemies] were flushing Bibles?"

"Except for hoping the pages might clog their toilets, I couldn't care less. It's only ink and paper. It's the ideas that matter. . . . On second thought it occurs to me that if the worst they did was flush Bibles, that would be an immense improvement over what they do now. Are you unaware of the horrible incitements and outrageous lies they publish, in their state controlled media, about Christians and Jews, the horrible things they do to Christians and Jews only because they're Christians and Jews? Are you unaware that Christians can be arrested in many places in the Muslim world for simply holding a religious service? Are you unaware that Christians and Jews are 'strictly prohibited from entering Mecca and Medina'?" I'm revved up now, so I keep rolling. "Compare that with the way we treat Muslims on our soil. Now, I admit there are way too many stupid people in America who would like to beat up the Pakistani guy at the corner convenience store if they thought they could get away with it. But we don't encourage those cowards; we discourage them; and we even have laws that increase the punishment for the scum who perpetrate these hate crimes. I think it's right to respect other people's religions (so far as they are respectable, and even a bit more than that). I only wish that liberals felt the same way about respecting Catholics and conservative Christians here in America, whom one liberal has called the Brownshirts of American fascism."

At some point along here, our co-worker Sally (not her real name either) had chimed in on Cindy's side. "We're no better than our so-called enemies. Look at all the horrible stuff we've done. Bombing their country. Starving their children."

As you might have guessed, this account of my chat with Cindy and Sally is not a verbatim rendition, but only the substance. You might consider it an unfair rendition, because it excises so many of the words Cindy and Sally actually said. So, for fairness' sake, here's a reliable synopsis of what's been left out: "Bush lied to get us into an illegal war. No WMD. Bush is stupid. Abu Ghraib. Bush is evil. Haliburton."

Me, trying to return to the subject of showing respect for other religions: "As a matter of political policy and social mores, we not only protect Muslims' right to practice their religion on our soil, we bend over backwards to avoid doing anything that would hurt their feelings. To avoid insulting 25 year-old Muslim males from Saudi Arabia by singling them out for special scrutiny, our government's strategery for preventing terrorist hijackings requires that a proportionate number of 80 year-old widow ladies must be strip searched before they can fly back home from a trip to see the great-grandkids. It is astounding to me that people get so up in arms about how we have to respect our enemies' religion in every jot and tittle when they not only do not respect ours, but want to kill us because of it. We aren't perfect, but on any scale that reasonably takes into account the way the world actually operates, we are superior to most, if not all, when it comes to respecting other people's religions."

Sally, who had a while ago completely taken over the discussion from Cindy, now retreats fully into the sanctuary of cultural relativism, wherein supplicants at the alter of moral equivalence render themselves immune to the compulsions of rational discourse: "Well, you can't judge whether one culture is superior to another because you can't know what it means to respect religion in another culture. They might have a different standard for what it means to respect religion, and from their point of view what we do is more disrespectful toward their religion than what they do to us."

One wants to scream, "So you think killing Christians and Jews for being Christians or Jews might qualify as a respectful way to treat people of those religions?!?!?" Instead, I try to tone it down. "How can you suggest that it is more disrespectful of us to allow them to practice their religion than it is of them to prevent us from practicing ours? That conclusion cannot be supported on the grounds of a difference in cultural standards. Support for that conclusion requires a double standard. Besides which, if your cultural relativism were true, we shouldn't pay the slightest attention to Muslims when they accuse us of being disrespectful because they can't judge what's respectful or what's not in our culture."

When a liberal discovers an acquaintance happens to be a Republican, the reaction is well nigh universal: "You seemed like such a nice person!" Thence from Sally, out of the blue yet predictable, the coup de grâce, "I'm shocked to hear you talking like that. I just can't believe it. You always seemed like such a nice and smart guy, but now it turns out you're [sneer and gasp] a Republican!"

Yours truly is not what he seemed, "nice and smart," but implicitly the opposite, "evil and dumb," i.e., a Republican! To which I want to say, "How f*cking original, you ignorant sl*t!" But instead I give Sally my stock answer, "Yes, it is true. I am a dastardly red-state-Republican-moron. I know it is shocking how I've been deceiving you all this time. But there you have it. I just have to try to learn to live with myself."

If a workplace conversation ever reaches the point when your interlocutor intimates the shocking discovery that you are mean and stupid, further discussion will get you nowhere fast. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of conversation that no one in his right mind gets into at work. It's just too risky, too disruptive to inter-office relationships. Sometimes I can't resist rising to the bait when it's waved in my face, but I really do know better.

So I start looking for a graceful exit.

I retreat and offer a truce. "You know, Sally, I think we are just going to have to agree to disagree. Our positions are just too far apart, and us talking about it is not going to do any good. Anyway, we really shouldn't be having this kind of conversation at work, and it would be very wrong for us to let politics mess up a good working relationship since we all get along so well on everything else."

Sally, a decent rhetorician, assumes the victorious posture. "So you're afraid to talk about it."

"No, Sally, it's not that I don't have arguments to offer. It's just that I see my words begin to fall on deaf ears. I think we comprehend each other as well as we both want to on this subject. You think Bush, whom you probably hate, is a dummy who lied us into an illegal, immoral, and unwinnable war to create a pretext for stealing oil, enriching Cheney's friends at Haliburton, curtailing free speech, and accusing good liberals of being unpatriotic. (Have I left anything out?) I disagree to an extreme degree. We've gone through enough of the basic points on either side that I think it's safe to conclude that nothing you're saying makes me think I should change my mind. And I'm pretty sure there's nothing I can say to change yours. So we'd best just not discuss it."

Notwithstanding that only a few moments earlier she had condemned me with that most vile of epithets ("Republican" viz. "stupid and evil"), Sally now ascends to a huffy superior position of righteous indignation. "You don't have the right to accuse me of hating anybody. I don't hate anybody. I respect the president because of the office he holds."

Well, that's generous, if true. Yet somehow I don't believe Sally respects the president, just like I didn't believe Mark Fuhrman when he said he never used the N word. But I swallow my disbelief and reply, "You are right. I was wrong to say that you hate Bush. I'm sorry I said that, and I want to take that back. But I really do think that there's no point in us arguing over this anymore."

So ended my talk with Sally on this particular subject. I shall never be so foolish as to take it up with her again. I have been around long enough to know how deadly can be any workplace political disagreement with a member of a doubly protected class, a female of color, who aggressively hefts a large chip on her shoulder. I'd like to keep my job a while longer, along with whatever remains of my reputation as a "nice guy."

However, a few minutes later (a little out of earshot of Sally), I was not so unfoolish as to pick things back up with Cindy, whose announcement had kindled the conversation. She was sitting at her computer surfing the internet. "Cindy, I'm still wondering what was the source of your story that the Pentagon admitted flushing Korans? There's been a lot of confusion about what's actually been reported."

It just so happened Cindy had the web page still open on her desktop (discretely hidden, of course, under a window with something that looked like work). The source of the story was a lefty chat board at Democratic Underground or some such site. There in large bold letters a helpful lefty poster had hyperlinked the title of his entry: Pentagon Admits Flushing Korans. Cindy clicked the link to open the original news item, slightly differently titled, Pentagon admits to Koran abuse.

So I asked Cindy, "Where does it say the Pentagon has admitted Korans were flushed?"

"Well, it says the Pentagon has admitted there were incidents of Koran abuse."

"Yes, I had heard about that. But I heard those incidents were few and relatively mild. Where does it say the Pentagon admitted Korans were flushed?"

"Well, I think it says an FBI agent said they were flushed."

"No, I don't think that's quite what it says. Can you read it to me?"

"It says, 'At a Pentagon news conference, Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, who commands the detention center in Cuba, said a prisoner who was reported to have complained to an FBI agent in 2002 that a military guard threw a Koran in the toilet has told Hood's investigators that he never witnessed any form of Koran desecration.'"

"Yes, that's what I was guessing it might say. So all that we can be certain of so far is that a terrorist suspect has alleged that a Koran was flushed. But now it looks like he's recanted that claim."

"Well, he's a prisoner under U.S. military control so who knows whether he's able to speak freely."

"Yes, but we do know he was at least allowed to speak freely enough for the FBI guy to record his original allegation. It's really up to you whether you choose to believe a terrorist suspect more than your own government. But back to the point. That was only an allegation. What we were looking for is the part where the Pentagon admits Korans were flushed."

"Well, it doesn't exactly say that."

"Looks like you have to read a little beyond the headliine."

"Yeah, I guess that's different."

There's hope for Cindy.

posted by Bathus | 5/29/2005 04:52:00 PM
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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Another Sip of Latte
posted by Bathus

Because it tends to encourage a more pleasing arrangement of wrinkles, in lieu of frowning I've learned to smile when I receive an invitation to self-reflection and find enclosed in the same envelope the standardized text of another lecture about "oppression" . . . especially when the teaching on oppression (abbreviated and second hand in this case) originates from a man who commands $15,000 a pop for the 120 public speaking appearances he makes each year.

I enthusiastically accept almost any honest invitation to reflect upon my own vices and virtues and how these have harmed or helped my fellow creatures. Yet my exceedingly impure blood, besides muddling my skin to a lovely shade of tan, also seems to have made me immune to infections of collective guilt. As a result, lucky me, never have I felt the urge to purge my guts in the convulsions of that contemporary hypochondria.

But I do talk with my liberal friends about oppression all the time. It's one of their favorite subjects. And though, as I said, I do not myself indulge in the mass hysteria, I always want to indulge my friends. Our conversation on this topic usually takes place in comfortable surroundings--a restaurant, a coffee shop (other than Starbucks), one of our own artfully yet modestly decorated living rooms, etc., with some fine music in the background and an inspiring beverage on the table in front of us. Notwithstanding our eschewal of Starbucks for a less globalistic purveyor, the typical setting tends to exacerbate their confusion because they wish oh so much to be able to think of themselves as oppressed. Yet in such circumstances, it is very hard to consider oneself oppressed unless one intends to assert how oppressive it is to have been served a latte at not quite the proper temperature.

Inasmuch as we are not oppressed, the alternative must be seized upon: We are oppressors. Yes, such is the perverse psychic refuge to which liberals always retreat in circumstances wherein, though they wish to remain faithful to the sacred religious tenets of victimology, it would be ludicrous to claim a heroic status among the oppressed. Theirs is a world divided between oppressed and oppressors. And because so few, if any, of them have ever truly been oppressed for more than the briefest moment, the only possible solution is a cathartic confession that they themselves are among the oppressors.

The expectation is that, if I were a decent fellow, I should join in their communal confession. The more civil of my liberal interlocutors apprise me of my probable guilt with a gentle and generic hint about the need for self-reflection: “we must always remember to look for injustice in our own lives and in ourselves as well.” But when the conversation takes this inevitable turn, I have an unfair advantage: my skin is more often than not a shade darker than theirs, and in every case dark enough to make them hesitate to overtly accuse me of oppressing anyone. I am similarly blessed with friends who are, for the most part, financially better off than I am, or at least have better and more regular incomes. If you knew my meager earnings, unlikely ever to be supplemented by substantial gift or inheritance, you would probably want to enroll me in the lists of oppressed. My liberal friends in their generosity stand willing to enroll me on the slightest evidence. But I'll have none of it. I've chosen this paltry life, I enjoy it, and I refuse to be classified as oppressed. I refuse that appellation not because I'm too proud to admit my lowly condition, but because I simply ain't. As to my being an oppressor, the truth is, as I have discovered after extensive self-examination, I am a tolerably kind and considerate fellow, if I do say so myself, and at all events rather powerless to oppress anyone.

It is impossible colorably to accuse me of being an oppressor except in the most theoretical and attenuated sense. You can try, but you will look mean and silly in the attempt.

So here I am, neither obviously an oppressor nor obviously an oppressed. But, with their lattes growing cold, my liberal friends take the predictable tack. While I am not obviously oppressed or oppressor, I am, they patiently explain, guilty (probably unknowingly) of collaborating with the oppressors. At this I do take offense because a collaborator is to my mind perhaps worse than an active oppressor, doing the same harm but with cowardice or laziness. The implication is that I am either a disgusting race-traitor or a feckless idiot. But wait a second, other than shopping at WalMart, what do I do differently than they that makes me a quisling? As it turns out, not much of any consequence.

So now we play tit for tat. For every sin of mine, such as my venal WalMart shopping, I can point to an equal or more egregious sin of theirs: they drive a car bigger than mine, work for a corporation, work in management, eat non-free-range chickens, wear leather, etc., ad nauseam. The list of sins is endless, and consequently, the conversation often takes a nasty turn downward at this point.

In the end the main difference between them and me comes to this. My liberal friends have confessed their sin of oppression, while I have not. I suppose that means they will be admitted by grace to a liberal heaven and I shall not. But, aside from that curious result, I swear to you there's hardly a dime's worth of difference in how we live our lives from one day to the next. My real sin, the only one that distinguishes me from them, is that I think differently than they do.

So I am desired to confess to a thought crime, and that really does make me begin to feel oppressed.

But another sip of latte makes me feel better.

Sadly, their next sip of latte doesn't seem to have the same effect on my liberal friends. Instead it makes them feel even more guilty. And then I see resolution forming in their tensed brows. Because I have pointed out how little we seem to differ in the way we actually live our lives, they are going to go out and do something--to prove me wrong, so they say silently to themselves, but in reality to absolve their guilt: recycle more scrupulously, attend a rally, sign a petition, work at a food bank, march in a protest, take public transportation. If you’re a liberal, you know the drills.

On a moment's reflection, I realize I've done them no good. I've succeeded only in pushing them deeper into their undeserved self-loathing, which the ceremonial scourgings and sacrificial rituals of the liberal religion of victimology (e.g., sorting the trash for recycling, marching in a protest, riding the bus, etc.) will not long relieve.

Their lattes sit there practically untouched, they have clammed up entirely, and I am beginning to feel guilty about making them feel guilty. This is not turning out to be the relaxing evening we had all hoped for. My wife is glaring at me. I want to make amends. “Look” I say to them (and I really do mean it), “you are a good and kind person. One of the best I know. Otherwise, I wouldn't be your friend. We are all doing the best we can. I honestly don’t think you oppress anyone and neither do I, at least not on purpose, so let’s forget this social politics bullshit. It's hard to know how to change the world; even if we could, it's hard to know what's the best way to go about it. No matter what you try to do, these things can get so screwed up. You treat me fair, better than I deserve considering how obnoxious I can be sometimes, so I know you try to be fair to everyone. And you are a great husband, wife, mother, father, teacher, friend, etc. It's not wrong at all to put most of your energy into those things. That's how the world gets changed for the better. Geez, with all this yacking, we've let our coffee get stone cold. I'm gonna go get us some fresh ones. Whadya want in yours?”

posted by Bathus | 5/03/2005 12:39:00 AM
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