The Facebook status of a young relative made my day this morning.

She had posted a Huffington Post article by LaMonte M. Fowler, and I was not surprised that what he wrote rubbed me the wrong way. Nor was I surprised, from other things she has posted, that she commented, I agree with everything written here.

It was the remainder of her comment that so thrilled my soul:

If you don't, awesome. Let's have an open and civil conversation about that. Maybe one of us will change our minds. Maybe not. Let's find out!

Open and civil conversation. It's what those who visit here frequently know I've been advocating since before I started blogging over ten years ago. Indeed, it's what this blog is officially about. (Though I confess the blog frequently meanders here, there, and everywhere.)  Most of all, it's what I find pitifully lacking in our political and social media conversations—and what our society needs so desperately. On top of it all, this call for reasoned discourse comes with a bright, young enthusiasm you can all but hear in her words.

(Maybe I just have a tender spot for bright, enthusiastic, young voices. I'm missing the grandchildren I had to say goodbye to yesterday, not to mention the ones I left behind in May.)

Well. I shouldn't be building up such high expectations for this "open and civil conversation."  In truth, what it has done is inspire me to write reams and reams of commentary on the article, 'way too many words for a decent Facebook conversation. 'Way too many even for a single blog post. That smacks more of pompous monologue than conversation. But writing is the way I think, and at least it is something in response to Stephanie's happy challenge. I hope she will forgive me for giving her a torrent when she asked for a glass of water.

 


 

Dear Stephanie,

I’ll take on your challenge, because I’m thrilled someone wants an “open and civil conversation.”  If you’ve followed any of what I’ve written, you know I’m appalled at the lack thereof in recent times. (Yes, I know there were plenty of other times with such lack of civility, but these days, if there’s less tar and fewer feathers, there appears to be more genuine, irrational, virulent hatred.)  I think the writer is rude in places, but he’s a whole lot less rude than most of what I’ve read expressing similar points, so I’ll be grateful for what I can get.

I’m not going to try to change your mind, or anyone else’s, on the issues raised.

Not that I’m one of those who believe truth is malleable, different for one age, one culture, or one person from another. Truth matters. I’d be a fool if I didn’t think that what I believe is true. Worse, I’d be a dishonest writer. But I’m not trying to change your mind, at least not directly, because that’s not my job nor my privilege. The mind is a sacred space. Besides, however convinced I am that I’m right, I may, actually, be wrong.

What I hope to do is to take some of the author’s points and show a side that he doesn’t appear to appreciate. I’d like to show the humanity of those he considers “stupid,” “not a nice person,” and one of those who “should not be dressing themselves or caring for children.”  In most cases, I believe he’s setting up straw men, or at best stereotypes, taking as representative those who use extreme rhetoric in order to make a strong point, or to inflame others, or—as he himself suggests—to entertain. The problem with this is that if we waste our time and energy distracted by these straw men, we are likely to miss the real points that real people are trying to make.

Fowler's article has so much meat in it, so many points where I think him simultaneously right, wrong, and misunderstanding, that I'm going to walk through it, one small step at a time. To begin:

We don't need to take America back. No one stole it. It's right here...you're sitting in it. Chillax.

Who, besides the above-mentioned entertainers, crafty politicians, and inflamed mobs wants to “take America back” as if we needed some violent, citizen uprising? When people I know mourn the loss of “America,” it’s the loss of e pluribus unum—an America built of many peoples, cultures, ideologies, and opinions that was, nonetheless, one country. Of course that ideal was only poorly realized in practice, but it was the ideal. I’m not sure it still is.

An artist friend of ours, who lives in France, made the point all the clearer to me. The French, she said, are shocked when they visit the U.S. and see the aggressiveness with which people flaunt their “identity.”  In Paris, one’s identity is French.

Or as a young man in The Gambia told me, “We have Mandinkas, we have Wolofs, we have Fulas, we have Muslims, we have Christians, but you cannot see the difference, because we always do things together.”

Switzerland has four national languages, and their German is divided into one language for writing (High German) and countless others for speaking that change significantly from one city, or one mountain pass, to another (Swiss German dialects). Yet their Confederation is most definitely Swiss: the best of France without being French, the best of Germany without being German, and the best of Italy without being Italian, but overall, absolutely and proudly Swiss

I grew up in an America that had that spirit, where being an American was a cherished identity, a responsibility, and a goal. Take back America? I agree with Fowler that it hasn't been stolen, exactly, but it is certainly being ripped apart, and that's nothing to chillax about.

To be continued....

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 19, 2016 at 11:22 pm | Edit
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