Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Bigfoot, Moonbats, and Wingnuts Have in Common

Originally published at Absentminded Author, v1.


Just before heading off to slumber I made a horrible mistake: I waded too glibly into a hotbed of political lava.

I came across a thread in my Facebook timeline where a well-known tech writer had posted a scan of some handwritten "fan" mail he had received. The letter was written in all caps, which is how I handwrite. Unlike me, however, the author of the scrawled screed was a far right ideologist who had more passion than brains. He had unkind things to say to the tech writer, and the tech writer and his liberal followers filled a page with over a dozen comments about what an idiot this letter writer was, and, in due course, what idiots all right wing people are. They decided this foulmouthed gentleman was not only a Tea Party member, but also that all right wing people are hateful, violent people.

Now, I identify with many conservative issues, but I also identify with many progressive issues. I'm all over the political map and have a hard time finding any one party that I feel at home in. That is why I am officially an unaffiliated voter. I don't like partisanship. Politics is far too often about winning than it is about doing the right thing.

So I posted a comment about how both sides have unhinged ideologues and that I see political discourse in our country very much like shouting matches at sports events. I humorously wondered if the letter writer painted his torso up with an American flag and wore a rainbow wig while writing the letter. I mused he may have blown a vuvuzela before mailing the letter off.

Then the tech writer went off on me. I had dared to suggest the left could be unhinged, too.
I've had intelligent conversations with him before on tech issues, but it seems that politics is an emotional thing for him. He became disrespectful and condemning. He asked me questions, then answered them for me, then passed judgement on me. I've never experienced anything quite like it.

And I received his vitriolic reply on my iPhone just as I crawled into bed.

I quickly promised him I would document examples of left-wing unhinged hatred and vitriol later and then managed to fall asleep. Now I'm up and I'm supposed to provide this information, but I'm wondering what the point would be. It's not like he's going to be swayed by my argument.

Besides, I have better things to do.

At any rate, I will likely set a timer and quickly make a list of URLs for him to ignore, then go about my day. <- Notice how I set him up as a straw man so I could knock him down? It's very easy to condemn somebody when you state their argument for them. I did this to make a point. I have realized, however, where I and many others blunder when wading into political dialogue.

You have an inciting incident, then you have the reactions to that incident. Many people become quite heated in their reactions. They say uncivil things. Then other people wade into these events to either add their 2¢ or to try to calm everybody down, like I tried to calm the Facebook commenters down. The problem is that the newcomers are often responding to the heated rhetoric, not the inciting incident. Then they fail to mention that fact. The people upset by the inciting incident—roiled up by the discussions and firm in the belief that they are right—assume the newcomers' comments are referring to the incident, not the heated discussion. And hilarity ensues.

I've seen it happen time and time again, and I'm surprised I made the same mistake myself. I haven't waded back into the discussion yet, but I imagine many people will think I'm trying to say the hateful letter is no big deal, when I actually meant to say "Yes, this letter is upsetting, but you need to be careful when painting all conservatives with this ugly brush. Liberals can be ugly, too."

What occurs to me is how this type of classic misunderstanding and conflict can be used in my writing. It's not applicable to my current work in progress, but I have a story idea about a team of Bigfoot hunters that it would be perfect for.

You may not realize it, but there are very passionate Bigfoot enthusiasts who have wildly divergent theories to explain Mr. Big & Hairy. From the anthropological to the spiritual to the paranormal, they hold to their ideas heatedly. Taking my teen character and putting him into the middle of that battle of theories can be done more skillfully now that I realize how people get dragged into these stupid arguments.

Now I know how to get him into hotter water when he tries to calm people down. Now I know how to make the arguments splinter and become more volatile. It isn't just a matter of having them say mean things to each other. Realizing that they all believe they are in the right and understanding how they misinterpret each other will lead to more realistic, and if handled correctly, more entertaining conversations.

And now that I've gotten that all out of my system, I have a list of proofs to post and then my own work to focus in on. Next time I'll avoid political discussions before bedtime. You can't pat an angry dog on the head and not expect it to bite you.

Update: I've edited this to make some points clearer. I removed an irrelevant bit about local news, and expanded a section on how people might interpret my "calming" comment.