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I became embroiled in a mini-controversy in a diary last night, one which I feel is disturbingly representative of a coarsening of opinion on this site. I read a diary by a popular diarist. It was a diary that I was in almost complete agreement with, What I did not agree with was the use of the allusion of cockroaches scurrying for cover. I attempted to have the offending language removed by way of a Kosmail appeal to the diarist. I was dismissed, but "thanked for my concern". And so I HR'd the tip jar. There was another comment the diarist made that referenced roaches, but since I could only HR one of them I chose the TJ.

As a result I was accused of HR abuse and had a number of comments telling me how wrong I was because of what sleazy people the Walkerites are. These people criticizing me and calling this HR abuse miss the point. We are discussing fellow human beings, no matter how flawed they may be. They are HUMANS, not animals, not insects, not some lower life form. What is considered the appropriate things to do with cockroaches? Exterminate them.

Now obviously, the diarist wasn't imploring their readers to exterminate members of Walker's cabal, but the use of dehumanizing language starts us down that road regardless of their intent. We are at a very ugly time in US political history right now. The right wingers are itching for a fight, a real fight with bullets and dead people. Ramping up the hatred on the left will do nothing but help feed their desire for conflict.

We, as progressives, are supposed to be better than this. It has traditionally been the authoritarian hatemongers who have used these kinds of attacks on their political opponents - people like Limbaugh and Hannity. When we descend to their level then we are no better than them.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    Free: The Authoritarians - all about those who follow strong leaders.

    by kbman on Sat May 17, 2014 at 10:05:56 AM PDT

  •  I'm reminded of a conversation years ago with (4+ / 0-)

    the drummer of the band I played with. We were in Key West and someone mentioned the large number of street people who lived there. I commented that I had a practice of giving a dollar a day to some randomly chosen homeless person. Our drummer reacted with revulsion, saying something along the lines of, "Ewww, why would you do THAT?" (Yes, he really did say "Ewww" while making a nasty face.) It was evident from his words and delivery that he felt nothing but contempt for these people. He came from a very affluent family and had never wanted for anything in his life that he didn't get. And it was clear that he saw these folks as being sub-human, not deserving of even being acknowledged. They were just scary, wild, dangerous scum of the earth to be avoided at all costs.

    I went off on him a bit with my liberal indignation at his callousness. I told him that EVERY human being deserves to be treated in a respectful and dignified manner, regardless of their station in life. I told them that many of these people were US veterans, many were people who had previously productive lives until some event knocked them into poverty. I also told him that my donations to them were my way of contributing to the local community, giving to those who needed it most. None of this appeared to matter to him. They remained the scum of the earth, and I was crazy for interacting with them, much less giving them money.

    I see the same dynamic at play here, though directed in roughly the opposite direction.  

    Free: The Authoritarians - all about those who follow strong leaders.

    by kbman on Sat May 17, 2014 at 11:07:11 AM PDT

  •  I had some mixed feeling about rec'ing your diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kbman, LilithGardener, Paragryne, Wee Mama

    because the use of strong metaphor to describe the behavior of others is not something I would HR, as you did.  Corrupt politicians behaving like cockroaches or leeches is language I would find acceptable as reasonably descriptive based on behavior.

    Why I chose to rec' your diary is because the use of the term "cockroaches" is particularly resonant to me because of its use in the Rwandan genocide, by Hutus to describe Tutsis - not as a critique of the class privilege of Tutsis under the European colonial rule, but the simple and direct equation of an ethnic or tribal group with insects to be hacked to death without hesitation.

    It's why we don't use "Final Solution" without appropriate pause because of its historical implications.

    I can say that I have, probably more than I would care to tote up, have also used thoughtless language here and in other places.  So, I am a culpable as anyone else.  

    But I rec'd you because I do agree that words are powerful.  Words are resonant.  Words have historical context.  And we must always be mindful not simply of our intent, but of the unintended impact those words and our use of them may have on others.  We live in a shared world; and not simply action, but words, too, have consequences.

    Have a good day.

    "Out of Many, One Nation." This is the great promise of these United States of America -9.75 -6.87

    by Uncle Moji on Sat May 17, 2014 at 11:47:49 AM PDT

    •  We are all works in progress ... (4+ / 0-)

      I used language during the previous administration likening them to cornered rats. Hell, I used to post at a site that referred to Bush as a smirking chimp. I have, since that time, come to see the use of dehumanizing language as inappropriate in all circumstances. And for several years now I have HR'd comments that cross that line. In this case, I attempted to resolve things privately and was rebuffed. So it goes.

      Free: The Authoritarians - all about those who follow strong leaders.

      by kbman on Sat May 17, 2014 at 12:19:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's good to keep speaking up (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kbman, Paragryne, Wee Mama

        in all of our ways, however different, we seek the same thing - thoughtful, respectful, historical, passionate use of language - especially in disagreement - to advance a more just, equitable, and compassionate society.

        It's why I rec'd your diary.  Your voice is important.  


        "Out of Many, One Nation." This is the great promise of these United States of America -9.75 -6.87

        by Uncle Moji on Sat May 17, 2014 at 12:47:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I applaud this effort to address some problems (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kbman, Uncle Moji, Paragryne, Wee Mama

    with hetoric at Daily Kos.

    When we descend to their level then we are no better than them.
    I'm reccing. Even though I disagree with your conclusion I applaud your effort and the approach you've taken here.

    "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” — William Arthur Ward

    by LilithGardener on Sat May 17, 2014 at 12:42:56 PM PDT

  •  Dehumanizing enemies is an all-too human thing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, kbman

    Authoritarian personalities, both leaders and followers, do it for group cohesion; they build their own identity as a group on the foundation of who they exclude and demonize. Sometimes it is the only thing they have in common as a group to hold them together.

    The targets serve two other purposes as well. A) they are scapegoats for the failings of the leaders and the group - i.e.: "Obama only won the election because ACORN stole it for him", "the mortgage crisis blew up the economy because the government made banks give too many mortgages to those people", and so on. B) The threat of being declared an 'other' is used to keep followers in line and silence dissent. "If you're not with us, you're against us."

    The thing is, all groups do this - the key difference is how far it goes and whether the group's basis is positive or negative. The admonition "Hate the sin, but love the sinner" is a way of remembering that we are all sinners in some respect, but the possibility of redemption is one we should all aspire to. "We pray for mercy because we would all be fools to pray for justice."

    That being said, I always try to remember I'm dealing with  humans in any case, because on this entire planet you will find no other species so vicious, depraved, untrustworthy, stupid, violent, and just plain evil as human beings in all their 'glory'; and that includes the 'good guys'.

    The darker impulses of our nature are still there because we still need them. It's what gets the heart pumping, the adrenaline flowing, provides the irrational imperative to 'man the barricades' and fight to defend our interests - even in the face of death. Emotional appeals work, because they reach us at a very deep level - and it's one sure way to motivate people to act, whether for good or ill.

    No one knowingly chooses to be 'evil' - what we choose is to believe are things that make us 'right' and others 'wrong', or more charitably, 'mistaken'. It's when we make those choices on the basis of things that aren't so that we fall into error and 'sin'.

    As part of the self-identifying "reality-based community", I'd hope that A) I've made the best effort to have my facts straight, and B) have made sufficient allowance that I never have ALL the facts and even with them, can still arrive at the wrong conclusions. To be human in the ideal sense of the word is to know that I am fallible, yet strive to rise above it and do better when I stumble.

    To be human in a less ideal sense is to act without ever questioning one's assumptions, to assume those who disagree are not worthy of consideration, and to double-down on those beliefs even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. In the case of such people, dehumanizing them is redundant because they've already done it to themselves. They have abandoned reason for unthinking emotion. They've chosen to limit themselves and their understanding of the world to something small enough for them to grasp without having to think. They want the rose but can't deal with the thorns.

    You can only deal with them accordingly. You don't have to hate them back, but you don't have to disregard the  consequences of their choices either. The word "human" encompasses a broad range of contradictory impulses, some noble, some not. There's another reason we form groups: survival.

    There are people who ARE real threats, and the "us versus them" choice is inescapable. "Neither can live while the other survives" is sometimes not an overly dramatic statement, but is rather a simple statement of fact. We can tolerate opposing views, but not to the point where they demand we commit suicide to accommodate them. Especially when the people we're dealing enough are so paranoid, they think it IS a matter of their survival. And they may be right, because to give up their beliefs would mean giving up who they believe they are. Appeals to reason are not going to work, because it's something that has little reason in it - but a lot of emotion.

    The art of civilization is building a society where ideally such choices would not have to be made, while recognizing that it is an ideal that we are inevitably going to fall short of from time to time because we are human, not angels, not logical machines. How we deal with such occasions is the greatest test we and the civilization we are trying to build may ever face. We can't avoid conflict; we must find ways to channel it into solutions. Sometimes those solutions come with a heavy price.

    150 years ago, it took the blood of thousands of people to settle what kind of country America would be. (And let's not forget that one side in that conflict actually did class an entire group of people as less than fully human.) It would be hubris to think we've gone beyond such things, and folly to think it couldn't come to a similar pass again or that we could avoid having to choose a side.

    All we can do is prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and do what we have to do. Wisdom is knowing what that is - and it's a quality in too short supply.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat May 17, 2014 at 03:45:03 PM PDT

    •  Shorter version (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Dehumanizing opponents, enemies, what ever you want to call them is a mistake in this regard. It interferes with your ability to think clearly about them.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sat May 17, 2014 at 08:17:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We have to be the change we want to see. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thank you.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat May 17, 2014 at 05:48:44 PM PDT

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