June 11, 2009


I may come off forceful and set-in-my-ways here on the blog, but I assure you that I'm not like that in real life.  I rarely speak my mind, especially not in polite company.  I never reveal my true opinions and values to strangers.  It's part of that dilemma I've been writing about for five years:

When we get emails like this, or when our co-workers praise Fahrencrap 9/11, what is the proper response? I can't help but think of a passage from The Demon-Haunted World:

Imagine that you enter a big-city taxicab and the moment you get settled in, the driver begins a harangue about the supposed inequities and inferiorities of another ethnic group. Is your best course to keep quiet, bearing in mind that silence conveys assent? Or is it your moral responsibility to argue with him, to express outrage, even to leave the cab -- because you know that every silent assent will encourage him next time, and every vigorous dissent will cause him next time to think twice?

Sagan ends this section with "Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom." I just don't know what to think anymore. On the one hand, I think that some people will never see what I see, no matter how articulately I might lay it out, and it's not worth my sanity to try to beat them over the head with Truth. On the other hand, people are going to be voting next month based on bullcrap like this email forward on the draft, and unless we make a serious effort to counter the media and the junk science, we run the risk of losing President Bush.

And I'm starting to wonder if maybe I oughtn't dip my toe into impolite waters.  If maybe I should start speaking my mind in public on occasion.  Because five years hence, I still feel as frustrated and impotent as I used to.  I still walk away incensed and wishing I had spoken truth to premise.

Yesterday I heard two separate diatribes against The Rich.  They were offhanded things, premise things, deemed uncontroversial by their speakers.  Both assumed that their listeners would chime in and agree that the world is economically unfair and somehow the scales need to be righted.  I never chimed in with anything, just tried to ignore both interlocutors and change the subject quickly.  But looking back, I wish I'd replied. 

No, as a point of fact, I do not believe that, since we are all created equal by God, it is a travesty that most of the world's wealth is held by so few.  Nor do I believe that our current economic crisis was solely caused by greedy CEOs.  I also don't believe that your boss should have to give up his Mercedes because you think he doesn't do as much work as you do.  Nor am I horrified at the thought of someone making a "three-digit salary" (It was obvious from context that this person meant "six-digit," which leads me to conclude that, really, you might want to rethink your argument that you deserve more money than your boss.)

Absent actual evidence, I am not inclined to automatically assert that The Rich don't deserve their money.  I will not side with you in thinking that life is unfair and you know how to fix it.  I do not share your delusion that you are a better arbiter of how much money people should make than the free market is.

I think next time I might cautiously speak out and see how that feels, because I remain dissatisfied with my long-standing policy of avoiding controversy and thus having to suffer through others' treatises on How The World Should Work.

What I really ought to start doing is following Sean Hannity's lead and wide-eyedly asking, "So what you're basically saying is 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need' then?"

And point out that you, with your fancy cell phone and comfortable house, better watch out you don't reap what you sow, because I am sure there is someone else in town who thinks you don't deserve your five-digit salary.  Those who fall middle-class should tread lightly on the class envy issue, for they have more riches than the majority of the people on this planet.

I will update the first time I speak truth to premise.  Gulp.

Posted by: Sarah at 07:05 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 Preach it sister! I've started doing the same and I have found that people are more ameanable to bringing down the level of rhetoric to something resembling reasonable discussion. Unless of course there is no actual thought process and they are just parroting a sound bite from TV or the Net. Then they change the subject.

Posted by: Mare at June 11, 2009 09:08 AM (HUa8I)

2 Cassandra at VC had an interesting discussion somewhat related to this - about politeness.  I usually don't say anything in these sorts of situations because I'm trying to be polite.  But in reality, I get angry because I feel that others are not extending the same courtesy of polite behavior to me. 

And why am I not deserving of polite behavior, anyway?

Anyway (I do have a point here), one of the commenters pointed out how well the Brits handle this sort of thing with their ironic/sarcastic replies and I thought, "Well, yes!  That IS a good way to respond and get the point across without being a total asshole!"

The problem is that one actually has to be good at it...  Practice, I guess.

Posted by: airforcewife at June 11, 2009 09:26 AM (NqbuI)

3 I don't  know if you heard this at work or not but if you did you might comment on the fact that a place of business that teaches arts and crafts is only  possible in a society that has some people with enough time and leisure to take advantage of it. Without having a certain level of income a business such as that could not be supported.
I got into an accidental  facebook battle with friends of a niece yesterday. They are your age or older and think socialism is the way to go.  You really cannot argue with people who make their politics their religion. I didn't mean to, but a flame war was started and I just backed out and apologized to my niece for getting involved. at all. One of them actually stated he thought socialism was the only human way to be. Okay. He is getting what he asked for and very pleased with it. But I could not stay silent, I know how fascism got started in Germany. Hitler was put in place by the National Socialist German Workers Party, socialsm by any name, and they thought it was just awful I would say so. Hitler was a fascist and a dictator; so he was, but he started out a socialist. Facts are facts.

Posted by: Ruth H at June 11, 2009 09:58 AM (hBAQy)

4 I tend to evaluate the usefulness of piping up before doing it.  (Notice the "tend," LOL...)

Is this person actually going to think through what I'm considering saying, and is it worth going there with this individual?  Do I know enough to lay down the right case for what I'm thinking & feeling?  Am I in a good enough mood not to get all unpleasant about it and thereby obscure *what* I'm saying by *how* I'm saying it?

If not, then I tend not to pipe up.  (I promise, there have actually been times! ;-) )

Also, in a FB example, I don't comment on "so-and-so became a fan of Obama" because that's a happy thing - for them.  Building instead of destroying.  I feel strongly that we're entitled - and should be encouraged - to express our opinions and thoughts in a "fan of" way; building the right things will overcome building the wrong things, eventually.  If, OTOH, they post an article or note that unfairly *attacks* something, (e.g.: how Glenn Beck is a lying racist encouraging massacres at immigration classes), or wants to have a discussion, I tend to pipe up, especially in defense of something I feel very strongly about. 

The issue also makes a difference.  Injustice and issues essential to defending our God-given rights induce me to more courage and dialogue than purely political discussion.  Fair criticism is okay; disagreement is okay; but when there's something dishonest or outright destructive of our liberty, I have a hard time letting it stand.  And I don't think I *should* let it stand.

But I still try to be civil.  At least I think I do... ;-)

Posted by: kannie at June 11, 2009 11:55 AM (5XpA4)

5 Great thoughts Kannie.

Posted by: tim at June 11, 2009 03:41 PM (nno0f)

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