September 20, 2005

ARGUMENT CULTURE

Jack Army is a saint of a blogger. He often points to views that he thinks can enhance grokking, not just stuff he agrees with. And he takes a lot of flak for it, as the extensive comments on another post about females in the military indicate.

I just finished reading the book The Argument Culture. Tannen's premise is that we set everything up as a battle in our society. Shows like Crossfire and Pardon the Interruption are typical examples of how people are pitted against each other to fight on TV for our entertainment. We live in a culture that values debate and naturally frames our issues as two warring sides (e.g. the battle of the sexes).

The argument culture urges us to approach the world--and the people in it -- in an adversarial frame of mind. It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done:the best way to discuss an idea is to set up a debate; the best way to cover news is to find spokespeople who express the most extreme, polarized views and present them as "both sides"; the best way to settle disputes is litigation that pits one party against the other; the best way to begin an essay is to attack someone; and the best way to show you're really thinking is to criticize.

This book was published in 1998; I'd love to hear Tannen's take on blog comment sections. She talks about the technology that makes email impersonal and incognito, moreso than any other communication that our parents/grandparents had before us. The comment sections on blogs takes this to an all new extreme. Fake names and fake email addresses make it possible for people to hide behind a cloak of anonymity...and to say whatever they want in order to win the argument.

Tim left blogging because of the Death of Civility, a theme I return to often here when the argument culture of blogging gets to be too much for me. When you read the comments section over at Jack Army's blog, you see how women behave in a way they'd never behave if they were face to face. The safety of anonymous comments gives them the guts -- or nerve -- to lash out at fellow human beings. And these are 1) all women who are 2) in or married to the military. They have common ground, yet the insults start flying from the safety of their own keyboards.

And Tannen is sure right that the issue of women in the miltary immediately becomes an "us vs. them" dichotomy. The comments section quickly breaks into two camps fighting against each other; instead of finding ways they could agree about women's role in the military, they focus on ways they disagree. Sadly, it becomes an "I'm all right and you're all wrong" type of fight, when in fact there could be a lot of grey area if they really tried to find it.

Interestingly enough, Tannen would say -- and I agree -- that this fight would probably never happen face to face. In a social setting, these women would find conciliatory ways to discuss the issue without labeling every female soldier as a slut and every military wife as a jealous hag whose husband is probably cheating on her. These women likely wouldn't dream of making that generalization publicly in front of women who belong in the opposite group, but they have no qualms about making those statements in an anonymous comments section.

It's fascinating really, this death of civility. And quite scary as well.


(Important disclaimer: I too am a blogger, and blogging lends itself to disagreeing; I am not an impartial reader pointing fingers at the women at Jack Army's blog. These are things that I just finished reading and need to digest some more and apply to my own writing, though I think I'm already averse to namecalling and flaming. I'm just surprised that I found such a telling example of this argument culture phenomenon a mere two hours after I finished the book.)

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September 12, 2005

ADVERSITY

It rained non-stop over the weekend, which is a real pain when you have a dog. I dreaded the moments when he'd go to the door and ask to be let out, because it meant raincoats and shoes and muddy puppy feet.

But that's the worst thing I have to deal with in my life right now.

From The 3rd World View (via LaRochelle via Poretto):

Bangladesh faces this kinds of tragedy [i.e. hurricanes] every year and still it is a developing not a stagnant country. The media do not propagate the courage and efforts many Bangladeshis show each year to start their life all over. If the calamities would not only be the central idiom of the media, the world could have learnt many tips for tackling these kind of calamities.

Daniel Brett writes a striking post "What America can learn from Bangladesh":

"Last year Bangladesh faced a natural disaster which was an altogether larger disaster than Hurricane Katrina and the casualty figures were probably lower than the casualties sustained in the New Orleans disaster. But the disaster was contained due to the survival instincts of the Bangladeshi people, their ingenuity in the face of adversity and their culture of hard work. Rather than shoot and loot, Bangladesh immediately used its modest resources to limit the impact of the floods before international aid arrived.

The fact that the economy was able to recover from the floods so soon is a testament to the ability of Bangladeshis to pick themselves up and go about rebuilding.

The Americans have never really faced such adversity...Bangladeshis place great importance to social and family ties and these have brought them through a multitude of natural and man-made disasters. Bangladesh's experiences show us that, in the face of disaster, money does not make society more cohesive or better organised."


On the whole, Americans know very little about adversity. When the husband and I were talking about this last night, he said that whenever he starts to feel like his life sucks, he remembers the people of Iraq. These are people who faced death threats and drive-bys, people who could be the only surviver in a vehicle attack and still come in to work the next day. These are people who love nothing better than clean bottled water; even folks as high on the food chain as the mayors would gush over a bottle of water, my husband said. He remembers these things when he starts to feel his priorities slipping.

I'm glad we live in a country where death and destruction aren't rampant, where the worst I have to deal with is a smelly wet dog. But perhaps it makes us short on the gumption it takes to overcome real adversity, the gumption our forefathers had to leave everything and come to the New World. That's a bad thing to forget...

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September 08, 2005

WHAT?

I'm not sure I think it's very fair that the New Orleans police worked their butts off for a week and now want paid vacation since the national guard showed up. The guardsmen were brought home early from Iraq, which means they've been working their butts off for a year. And the police get the all-expense paid vacations?

My husband worked every day around the clock for nine months before he was allowed two weeks of R&R, which were deducted from his vacation days. And the police can't work at this pace for one week before they need time off?

Apparently they need some days at home to sift through all the loot they stole from Wal-Mart.

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September 01, 2005

STEALING

I once dated a boy with a confusing value system. His philosophy on stealing was that if you don't safeguard your belongings, you deserve to have them stolen. He absolved the thief of wrongdoing and placed the responsibility of ownership squarely on the owner. If a store didn't have security cameras, how could thieves be blamed for taking advantage of such a system? I quickly realized that he and I would never have common ground and that the relationship was doomed to fail. How can you possibly build when mommy says stealing is bad and daddy says it's OK? There was no future in that relationship.

I was reminded of him yesterday as I watched the footage of the looting in New Orleans. I cannot fathom what was going through those people's minds. What made them think that it was acceptable to steal merchandise just because the windows were broken? In whose worldview is it OK to steal during a national tragedy? In a time when all feared for their lives, individuals were cashing in on misery.

CNN currently has a poll up: "Can looting be defended by neccessity?" Right now, the vote is split 45/55% towards No. But the problem is that many people weren't stealing out of necessity. We're not talking Jean Valjean and his loaf of bread here; we're talking cash and jewelery.

Looting broke out in some New Orleans neighborhoods, prompting authorities to send more than 70 additional officers and an armed personnel carrier into the city. One police officer was shot in the head by a looter, but was expected to recover, said Sergeant Paul Accardo, a police spokesman.

On New Orleans' Canal Street, dozens of looters ripped open the steel gates on clothing and jewelry stores and grabbed merchandise. In Biloxi, Mississippi, people picked through casino slot machines for coins and ransacked other businesses.

Someone shot a policeman in the head over this. That is not necessity; that is greed. That is stealing, justified in someone's warped mind because The Man was too busy saving lives to guard the stores.

That's disgusting.

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