Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In which I infiltrate Team Red and Team Blue and report my findings

I meet the most interesting people through my blogging and my columns for The Examiner.

Because I write about gun rights, limited government and free speech, I get invited to participate in conservative conferences and mailing lists. My advocacy of gay marriage, drug legalization and restraints on law enforcement get me invites from progressive groups. I don't think either conservatives or progressives truly think I'm one of them, but rather they conclude -- accurately I'd say -- that I'm a guy they can talk to.

I really haven't had a bad experience with my (mostly passive) participation in these groups yet. The individuals with whom I've corresponded, on both sides, come off as decent folks, even when they voice opinions that I consider to be fucking insane. I can chat with them, have drinks with them and otherwise interact on a friendly level. There's quite a wide range of opinion on both sides, and significant disagreement over some important issues.

But the collective teams are a different matter. As in most situations, individuals are easier to take than the herd. I'm going to speak in generalities here, because I've promised to not name individuals or quote conversations from any of the groups that have been kind enough to entertain me as a participant.

First of all, both teams, red and blue, have their holy doctrines -- areas in which disagreement is treated as heresy.

With conservatives, that seems to be abortion. I was curious, at first, whether gay marriage might be a lightning rod, but that's not the case. There are homophobic wingnuts, but there's a lot of tolerance, too -- most conservatives just don't seem all that worked up about who is bedding who, and only lukewarm over whether gays can formalize their relationships as "marriage" or not. But abortion is the untouchable tenet. If you're pro-choice, you get stripped of your American flag pin.

For progressives, the point of Holy Doctrine that will not be disputed is global warming/climate change. For folks who insist on describing their ideology as founded in reason and science, their treatment of the issue is awfully theological. Deviate from the script and you lose your membership card in the reality-based community (and your right to sport a truly awful hippy name, like that used by ... never mind).

Neither the conservatives nor progressives with whom I interact seem to know many members of the opposing tribe -- by and large, the opposition are treated as aliens encountered only rarely, and then, hopefully, on neutral ground. This social division may be why they're all so prone to delegitimizing each other's world views.

For conservatives, lefties are mendacious bastards who adopt any argument under the sun in order to further a hidden, totalitarian agenda.

For progressives, righties are soulless scum who've sold out to whatever corporation is certainly sponsoring their advocacy, and who would undoubtedly spin a 180 in their opinions if directed to do so by their Wall Street masters.

It seems that nobody could ever sincerely disagree.

And, of course, the opposition is always plotting. The righties better get their white-supremacist military coup in motion and depose Barack Obama before he successfully repeals the 22nd amendment and serves as president-for-life.

While they're not necessarily dominant, both conservatives and progressives have sizable subgroups in their ranks that are remarkably open about their authoritarianism and contempt for civil liberties. With the right, this was no secret during the Bush years, with war-on-terror cheerleaders applauding the Bush administration's detentions and wiretaps, and denying the use of torture by the government right up until they praised the use of torture once it was revealed (or else denied that waterboarding, sleep deprivation and beatings qualify as anything more than gentle roughhousing).

With progressives, I see declining respect for the idea of free speech. The pattern here is the same as with every other policy issue on the left: Point to how much "better" Europeans and Canadians are at regulating "hate speech" for the good of society, and denouncing free speech advocates as corporate shills. It's only free if you can be punished for doing it the wrong way, don't you know, and anything that pisses off the self-appointed regulators is the wrong way. That's quite a shift from the dearly missed days of free speech absolutism (and it seems to bewilder some of the more traditional preogressives).

As individuals, I repeat: conservatives and progressive bloggers and pundits in these groups are almost all nice folks I can drink with. As Team Red and Team Blue ... well ... I'm surprised they haven't already started shooting at each other.



Blogger UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 7/2/2009, at The Unreligious Right

July 2, 2009 4:55 AM  
Anonymous the infamous oregon lawhobbit said...

I dunno, JD, I went to school with a lot of Team Blue People and they didn't strike me as any more reasonable individually than they did in a herd.

Though law school may have been a filter such that only the true wingnuts were getting through. :D

July 2, 2009 7:57 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

I think law school might be a special case. The anal-retentive asshole population at BU Law in the early '90s was ... high. I'm not sure that's necessarily ideological, though they all did seem to think they should be running pretty much everything.

July 2, 2009 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Beege said...

Wow! Just when I thought that I was alone! As a rather staunch proponent of liberty, I find that my discussions with both sides have become considerably more strained as of late. I remember a time when I could have a reasonable dialog with those with whom I disagreed; truthfully, honestly listening to their arguments was what led me to the libertarian viewpoint in the first place.

Now, the mere mention that I do not agree 100% with the party line (whichever party they think correct) somehow negates any value that might be contained in my argument.

July 27, 2009 10:47 PM  

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