ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
A little while ago, Dan
suggested in jest that I ought to start an "Ask Mark" advice segment
which I found quite amusing. Then suddenly, my email box rang with an inquiry from Rutgers historian Judith Klinghoffer
( also posted on her HNN
blog Deja Vu
) posed to her by a reader:
"A few months ago, I made a new friend who is an activist for numerous progressive and left-wing causes (I live in Nevada, where he runs a statewide advocacy group which focuses primarily on environmental and social issues). My friend and I have agreed to disagree about politics, and although we occasionally engage in friendly little debates, the tone and content of these debates is always civil and respectful, and they usually end with one of us saying that we hadn't thought about the issue that way before. As you might imagine, though, most of my friend's friends, relatives, and coworkers are very far left politically.
This hasn't been a problem yet, but it was the other night. He invited me to a dinner with his ex-wife and his daughter and a writer who was visiting from San Francisco. I knew the writer had very many left-wing views, and I was nervous about the dinner because--even though I consider myself a moderate (more liberal on some issues, more conservative on others)--I was the closest thing to a conservative at the table. The writer didn't know this about me, though; the writer just assumed that everyone at the table shared her political views. (And everyone else at the table shared most of them.) And so, very early on in the evening, she started making statements which I found
either offensive or outrageous. I didn't argue with her, but I sat there quietly most of the time; I only challenged one point of fact at one point during the dinner, and that was a minor point. The next day, I e-mailed my friend to tell him how uncomfortable I had been at the dinner, and how offensive I found some of his friend's comments. We are still discussing the matter.
What did she say? I won't bore you with too many details, but I have two examples that struck me as particularly offensive. At one point, the subject of congressional pressures on PBS to provide more conservative voices came up. The writer said something to the effect that requiring more conservative voices on PBS was like asking Pol Pot to present a positive view of genocide on the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour. Later on, my friend's daughter was talking about the small college she attends, which has a very liberal environment. She said that something like 90% of the students at the college voted for Kerry and that conservatives were such a marginalized minority there that she felt a bit sorry for them. The writer responded: "Don't [feel sorry for them]! They can always move to Texas." I could go on with more examples, but I'm sure you get the idea.
What I wanted to ask you is how do you handle such situations? I'm sure you've been at dinners or events where people are holding forth or making similar kinds of claims and statements in your presence. When people who claim to be liberal and open-minded make such intolerant attacks on those whose views differ from theirs, do you have a tactful or clever way of calling them on it, challenging them,or disagreeing? Or do you just write them off as hopeless cases and try to avoid spending much time in their company?
I'd appreciate any thoughts you've got on this matter!"I responded in email:
" Dear Judith,
Your friend's friend the writer strikes me as being afflicted with the self-referential stupidity of the incurious. Or at least the grating combination of self-absorbtion and ideological certitude. The problem isn't that this writer is left-wing but that they are an overbearing boor.I find humor to be helpful coupled with taking one of their points to the ridiculous logical extreme in pointing out that they may be in, fact, stretching things.
Of course they might very well lack a sense of humor too but usually the demonstration that you understood their point better than they did is usually enough of a shocker to make them think twice about what they are saying."
There you have it. My first ( and most likely last) installment of Zenpundit posing as Ann Landers.