ARRGGHH! Here’s what I MEANT to say to Phillip

This morning on a previous post, Phillip Bush said:

I think I have it straight, now: if you disagree with Brad’s position, you are guilty of being over-emotional. If you agree, you are being rational. Brad, you really need to let this one go. You like to talk about “left and right” and position yourself as someone in a calm, unemotional, rational center, but the truth that you have opinions on various issues just like anybody else. They tend not to divide in a partisanly-predictable way, which indicates that you think for yourself on each issue, and that’s certainly admirable. But we are all human, and every considered opinion by every truly thinking citizen (and you certainly are that, as are almost all the commenters here) is a combination of emotion and reason, at least as that individual sees it. You’re not immune from that combination of factors, and it’s argumentatively lazy to just dismiss someone’s disagreement as saying, in effect, “well you’re just emotional and I’m rational, so the argument’s over.” You were off base on the other thread on jfx’s comment, which was no less a combination of emotion and reason than your own reasons for endorsing our invasion of Iraq. Most conservatives who criticize Obama are NOT nutty “birthers” and practitioners of Obama-Derangement-Syndrome; and most who think Blair was a slick prevaricator on the war can’t be dismissed as purely emotional BDS-ers. (That would be at least half the planet in that case.)

I certainly don’t pretend that my opinions are devoid of an emotional basis: and for the record, going back to Mr. Schiller, my point was not that the right wing or the left wing is more prone to emotionalism or even rhetorical over-the-top-ness; but that anti-intellectualism per se is (at least at this moment in American history) a cudgel wielded in particular by the right. It’s inexact for you to say that Mr. Schiller was equally guilty of “the worst kind of anti-intellectualism”: that would mean he would be doing such things as criticizing Tea Party leaders for “sounding like a professor,” just one of the gibes (meant to be an insult, I guess) directed at our current President. Schiller was guilty of a lot of things, stereotyping and overgeneralization among them, but anti-intellectualism is a very different and very specific thing.

I’ve been running from meeting to meeting today, which is why I hadn’t posted anything until a few minutes ago. But I was here for about 15 minutes right after Phillip posted that, so I wrote a medium-length reply, and just as I was about to save it and run out… Google Chrome shut down. Then Firefox shut down. Then EVERYTHING ELSE I had open shut down, spontaneously. And my laptop started restarted itself, and just as I ran out the door screaming, I saw it was adding insult to injury by running CHKDSK.

Sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.


When I get back, ol’ Hal calmly informed me that he had taken it upon himself to download the following::

– Update for Windows 7 for x64-based Systems
– Security Update for Windows 7 for x64-based Systems
– Update for Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Junk Email Filter
– Security Update for Windows 7 for x64-based Systems

I’m betting none of it was necessary. And I don’t see why the blasted machine couldn’t give me heads-up first.

Of course, everyone here at ADCO will tell me that’s what I get for insisting upon being the only person in the office who doesn’t use a Mac. On that subject, and having just mentioned HAL, you might enjoy this Apple ad.

Anyway… if I can remember, here’s what I was going to say to Phillip… But first, I’m going to “Save Draft”…

OK, here goes…

Phillip, your initial observation — “if you disagree with Brad’s position, you are guilty of being over-emotional. If you agree, you are being rational” — is slightly off the mark. That’s not a hard-and-fast law of the universe. It’s more like a useful rule of thumb.

Insert smiley-face emoticon.

But you were dead-on when you said, “you have opinions on various issues just like anybody else. They tend not to divide in a partisanly-predictable way, which indicates that you think for yourself on each issue, and that’s certainly admirable.”

Absolutely! Thank you for getting that! Of COURSE I have opinions! This is an opinion blog!

And thanks particularly for the “admirable” thing.

But to elaborate… as I try over and over to explain here, I am repulsed by the left and the right, Democratic and Republican, as they are currently constituted — because I DO think hard about each issue, which means I don’t accept the pat, off-the-shelf packages that the two predominant ideologies offer.

It’s like cable TV. The thing I’ve always hated about cable TV is that they won’t let me choose, and pay for, only the channels I want. Not because it’s technologically difficult, but because it doesn’t fit the cable companies’, or the networks’ and channels’, business model. They force me to take channels I don’t want in order to get the channels I DO want, because they make more money that way (I think; if that’s not the motivation, someone please explain it to me).

Same deal with the political parties, or the two main competing ideologies. Both Column A and Column B offer some ideas I like. But each of them also offers ideas I utterly reject. There’s no way I can buy either package and be honest with you, or with myself.

The problem is, our shared marketplace of ideas lacks a vocabulary for speaking of the way I think. I try hard to come up with a vocabulary of my own, using ordinary English words, but they so often run up against the problem that certain definitions and delineations are now assumed to be true by everyone, and my ideas don’t connect, even with very smart people. That’s because 24/7 we are bombarded with the political equivalent of Newspeak. If you’ll recall, the way Orwell conceived it, the goal was to reduce language so that it was impossible to express (and therefore, to a great extent, impossible to think of) ideas that were incompatible with IngSoc.

Well, today, the terms that most of us use for expressing political ideas are very limited terms handed to us by the two parties, their attendant interest groups, and increasingly simplistic news media, led by 24/7 TV “news” and the Blogosphere — all of whom find it in their interests to boil everything down to two choices — actually, two SETS of predetermined choices, so that once you pick one, everyone else knows what you think about everything.

I find this appalling. And I continue to resist it. And even though I’m not bad with words, I find it hard, like Winston trying to write half-formed heretical concepts into his diary, just out of sight of the telescreen. Only I’m publishing mine.

But it’s sometimes hard to express. And even when my friends and regular readers UNDERSTAND it, it’s hard for them to describe, because of our lack of that common vocabulary. So when Phillip says I “position yourself as someone in a calm, unemotional, rational center,” I know what he means, and he’s right to say it. But the fact is, I’m not in the center at all, although you’ll occasionally see me acquiesce to being called a “centrist,” just as a convenient shorthand.

But the problem with that term is that it implies that one MUST be on that one-dimensional line between left and right, and that if you ARE neither left nor right, you must be in the “center.” But I’m not. Sometimes I agree more or less with the left, and sometimes with the right. And sometimes neither the left nor the right is far enough out on its own wing to suit me. To paraphrase Billy Ray Valentine, when it comes to the political spectrum, I’m all over that place, baby.

I’m made this point before, such as on this post, and even back in my initial UnParty column. And in a variation on that theme, the Energy Party is all about taking the best ideas from left and right to do all we can to attain energy independence.

OK, I just went on at far greater length than I did on my failed comment earlier — perhaps out of frustration. And as I’ve written every word, I’ve been cognizant that if anyone is patient enough to read it all, he or she is likely to say, That Brad Warthen just thinks his thoughts are so far above everyone else’s that no one else is smart enough to understand him.

But that’s not it. If I were smart enough, I’d be able to explain it better, I suppose. I just get frustrated, because our common vocabulary HAS been reduced by people who have found it to their political advantage to do so, just like Big Brother, so I struggle to express what I truly think. Most people who are as uncomfortable as I am with the either-or paradigm just give up, curse politics, and walk away from it all. I don’t feel like I can do that as a citizen. I have to keep trying, whether I succeed or not. (And whether I get paid a salary to do it or not.) Which is why I’ve written all these millions of words over the years.

4 thoughts on “ARRGGHH! Here’s what I MEANT to say to Phillip

  1. Brad

    If it were a novel, I’d make it work out so that everyone understood my position in the end, and agreed with me…

    Nobody would buy it.

  2. Phillip

    Thanks for being so persistent against those techno-gremlins in posting this reply! I do understand that your views are more properly characterized as anti-partisan, or nonpartisan, rather than “centrist” per se. I was really just talking about the rational/emotional dichotomy and my request that we all (myself included) try to stay away from framing our opinions (or those with whom we disagree) in that context, because it often ends up being a way of trying to delegitimize someone’s point of view without actually arguing against it factually. As jfx pointed out, when one is talking about war, or the actual or potential expenditure of human lives, one had better be thinking both emotionally and rationally, and I think we can all agree that those on both sides of such a debate (as regards Libya, for example) can claim both emotional and rational bases for staking out their views.


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