Saturday, September 20, 2008

the divided states.

So. A few months ago I found that my USian family thought it highly socially inappropriate to talk about atheism. There being variety in the family between the devout and the rest of us, one that was upsetting to one of the Catholic children, meant the best course was for the non-Catholics to not speak of it and to distract non-Catholic young'uns if they tried to bring up the subject right before lunch.

It probably shouldn't've taken me so long, but it took the Palin trainwreck to show me that yes, really, this is how America works: you don't talk to people about your religious and political differences. Shortly after the Palin selection, a family member and I were talking to a family friend, someone who naturally she knew way better than I did. I said something about been creeped-out by Palin asking Alaskans to pray for a $30 billion gas pipeline. Caesar. God. It's creepy, that.

Family member says to me, warningly "He's a Republican."

Um, and...?

If I'm telling someone that I think a politician has said something obnoxious, why would it matter what their partisan views are? I mean, isn't that how you have conversations rather than echo chambers? Maybe there's some sort of upside to praying for gas pipelines that I hadn't seen but Republican Guy would know about and could tell me of. I got a conversation; he said that he thought Palin would make a good advocate for disabled people in the Whitehouse, and that's something he really cares about. I asked if he knew her record in that regard - none of us did, at the time - and suggested he check up on it, just because records are firmer than narrative guesswork. (Thanks partly to Kyrias, I later did, and guess what, she halved educational funds for disabled children in Alaska).

A few weeks on, and the trainwreck has seemingly run its course; lots of flying emotions and everyone's made their mind up - her favourability has fallen to near-zero.

Last night M watched Bill Maher's TV show and I saw a little of it too. I had never seen it before. There's no analogue to the US political media in Britain (reason #3515 why everyone hates the film version of V For Vendetta, that); the best comparison I could think of was if Private Eye was a TV show rather than a magazine. Or it's a bit like Newsnight but intentionally both partisan and humorous, rather than merely misanthropic. (I have a habit of describing US TV hosts entirely in terms of how they differ from Jeremy Paxman [vid, first 20 seconds contain NSFW language]. In that regard, watching Jon Stewart softball Tony Blair on Thursday night was quite painful).

Maher, to great applause, announced that many Americans support Palin because they are too stupid.

Two bloggers I read who've posted a lot of election stuff lately are saying the following:

The frightening part of this is that everyone thinks she’s so great, so much so that it seems like more people support SP than support McCain.

For crying out loud, she’s, if not a total psychopath who is incapable of speaking the truth, a total fake. She is not compassionate, the girl next door, or someone who will look out for the average citizen.

And for those people who posted on saying that they’re going to vote for her because her husband is hot and because she proves that women can have it all…I think you should all be taken out of the gene pool, pronto.

from Kyrias. (Admittedly Kyrias is a permanent resident of the USA rather than a US citizen. It is kinda funny that we talk about this crap so much when neither of us can vote here).

Well you know what America? You get what you deserve. I hope that when you're all cowering down in your fallout shelters after the nuclear exchange with the Russians, I hope then that you take a moment to question what your fault in all this is. I hope you ask for forgiveness.

from Combat Queer.

None of these were talking about extreme factions in the US, but about an alternate mainstream that really isn't much different in calibre from their own mainstream. As I said to Kyrias over IM later, some people have dumb reasons for voting for Obama too, such as the fact that everyone on his ticket is be-penised. Or that they believe some conspiracy theory about the US right. There are bad reasons on both sides.

So I. Do Not. Get It.

I don't get how you can assume that no one in your entire nation honestly disagrees with you - that no one simply has different priorities to you, or different feelings, that aren't any the less of yours. That their reasoning can be as good as yours and yet add up to a different result. That it's worth your time to degrade people, but not to engage with them.

It's the nonengagement that spooks me. Funny, I expect it on the internet, where everyone filters themselves via the path of least resistance into groups that are supportive and productive for them, where you don't have to constantly justify your 101s. I can understand nonengagement as a consequence of social behaviour. What I don't understand is why USians seem to hold it as an end goal of social behaviour. Why other views must be dismissed, shunned, or simply avoided just because discussion would be bad.

(Nora and Kyrias say there is no culture war. I can take their point on definitions, but what the hell is this, then?)

I got on this train of thought because of exchanging comments on my last post with Daisy, about the lack of deference for religion in the UK, and the expectation that such things are private. Yet in spite of that, it feels like crossing the floor to talk about God is far more common in the UK than the USA. Maybe the lack of deference means that no one is expected to be defensive about their personal opinions. (As ever, politically secular countries can be more religiously fervent and deferential than those which have established churches. The US and France have that in common).

And politics? People disagree. People are apathetic. There are partisan splits between rural areas and cities, between the English and the rest of 'em, between the rich and the poor. Some people pick a side and keep to it, others don't. There is a dinky yellow safety valve for when your side pisses you off. But everyone is equally subject to question, and all politicians are equally targets for mockery, having their record examined, and Jeremy Paxman. Brad Hicks thinks that there is some fundamental difference in terms of how moral codes are applied between the US right and the US left. I can't imagine such an idea being voiced in the UK.

And the idea, the one that Bill Maher was applauded for on the TV, that the people in your country who don't vote the way you think they should are just inferior to you? It's just plain ugly. What's really crazy there is how the US is so up its own ass about patriotism, and yet wont to applaud the degradation of half its people. Either half, any half, depending on the situation.

[fact: I totally did not understand some of the attitudes about presidents and the presidency in the USA until I read something, perhaps on CiF - CiF! - that said it's easier if you pretend that Obama and McCain are competing to become the Queen. That works. Totally. In a 'this place is on crack' way. It explains why no one pied the Shrub when he went to the Olympics, for instance. And maybe why Stewart wimped out on Blair.]

Finally, a few words I read on LJ earlier, related to that study that said that people disagree with each other because of their PHYSIOLOGIES, ohnoez!:

A moment to rant, because I'll never let something like this go by without a comment:

When you are part Cherokee Indian, and have German Jews in your bloodline, you get a bit sensitive when people start tossing about studies that show a genetic difference, an inferiority, in the people that they don't like.It's been used too many times to justify genocide. I don't buy the excuse, that it's a REAL study, with REAL results, or that you were doing it in all innocence. People have been known to FIND whatever they are looking for, if they skew the results enough.

[Kracken, qwp.]


Anonymous said...

Hello - it's knittinghobbit from LJ :)

You've hit the nail on the head (if I may use another Americanism, lol). I find it ironic, and frustrating too, that in the land that is supposed to value freedom of speech so highly, people are so afraid of being disliked or attacked for expressing their views. It's sad.

Thank you for posting this and for linking me to it. :)

Sarah said...

You know, you're absolutely right. We can't villainize each other, then act shocked and offended when we're villainized ourselves. We all do need to come together.

The problem is that it's very hard to come together with people who hate you. And there's a lot of hatred on both sides. Slowly, I believe, people will knit back together, but for the moment there are some real divisions in this country.