Yesterday, again, two friends came to blows on my Facebook page, spitting venom at eyeballs with all the deadly intent you might expect from opposite ends of the political spectrum. I usually log on and discover this kind of brouhaha past its beginning, when verbal fisticuffs have already drawn some first blood, but not so late that I couldn't put a stop to it. With few exceptions, I leave the floor open.
I am mostly OK with this. This must completely baffle some of my friends, since I -- and the great majority of them -- are dyed-in-the-wool liberals. (Honestly, I am lucky that George W. Shithead and I will never come within arms-reach of each other, because I would not be responsible for the white-hot blind rage that would put me in a secret prison for a long, long time.) The arguments can sometimes get quite ugly, depending on the viewers' sensitivity: nothing most people would allow in their own homes, and just the kind of devolvement that causes me to leap for the off-button on the TV. I've blocked and deleted conservative "nutcases" in other online arguments, so why don't I now?
The short answer is that I'm still listening.
This is not because of my deep belief of the old truism “give an idiot enough rope and he'll hang himself” -- though the saying has applied in a past situation or two. Try to bring biblical fire and brimstone into the discussion, for example, and any intellect I may have powers down like the Tin Man in the rain. That's when friend-deletions happen.
By the process of elimination, I no longer have those kinds of unthinking, party-line, Fox News mouthpieces among my friends -- at least, not that I know of. The remaining conservatives seem to be intelligent and articulate. I don't think they are homophobes or racists, for starters. Their reasoning for being conservatives must be outside the realm of anything I have yet heard; I don't understand it, not at all, but I want to. I may later decide they're whack jobs, but I don't know yet. Two in particular: One told me early in our Facebook re-acquaintance that he was "the original compassionate conservative" (wow, there's a concept I haven't seen or heard in years). The other makes it known repeatedly he doesn't like the extreme crazies desperately in need of Thorazine, or something -- the Tea Party et. al.
In the spirit of ethnographic confessions, I admit I'm watching as though they landed their spaceships in my living room and offered greetings from Planet Claire. I am fascinated as any anthropologist would be given the opportunity to understand another life form. In truth, I have not heard one word from them yet that helps me understand. I am looking at them with one slitted eye, thinking "You must be just plain greedy? Greediness -- that's it, right?" But until I get some indication they want to eat human babies, I'm still listening. I have to. I need the hope. To the very last minute, I need to believe we can do better, we can show our children better, maybe leave them something more than ashes. Call me that current dirty word "peacemaker;" call me an appeaser in the face of war; call me a bleeding heart, to a fault; call me a hopeless champion of hope. But those two maybe-non-crazy conservative friends of mine peep up from time to time, saying just enough to suggest a surprise -- perhaps something outside the Tea Party line.
They might be waiting for their chance, like me. Friends may have noticed me dropping a bizarre, repeat comment into comment threads involving both factions over time, what on its face might seem the strangest failed segue: "The difference between Left and Right is in how we do a cost-benefit analysis." People probably wonder what the hell? I am waiting for someone to ask me, "Just what do you mean by that?" Because I think, when the Tea Party et. al. has snuffed itself out along with most of the entire planet's environment, "the cost-benefit analysis" will be how the remaining, hopefully reasonable two sides rebuild some kind of working relationship with whatever is still left. You see there the limits of my hope: I am listening for what can be cobbled together, after the fall.
But that's just an illustration of how I wish the debate would get to something constructive, a blog for another time. If everything is as broken as it seems to be, then maybe it's up to the rest of us half-way reasonable diplomats to get on with it, and prepare for what happens after the Empire is laid to waste. Until the day when our two sides get down to such intensive therapy -- maybe when the unicorns slide down rainbows, bearing flowers for all -- there will be times when the conversation devolves. I really don't know what else to do about it, if I am to keep listening.