Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dumbing down the discourse

The UW-Madison and its College Republicans played host to Fox News pundit and conservative blogger Michelle Malkin this past Friday. Naturally, there was a lot of hubbub leading up to the event. Some folks thought it was insane to even bring her here to speak, expressing shock that anyone of a more liberal persuasion would attend. The talk itself then involved several shouted obscenities from certain members of the crowd (a fact little commented on in the press, as far as I can tell), both during her talk and throughout the Q&A that followed.

This should be unacceptable for all parts of the political spectrum.

I understand, very well, the frustration of those with more left-leaning feelings. It certainly seems like factions of the far-right have hijacked the discourse and the law in this country, and many of them certainly don't shy away from ad hominem attacks and mudslinging. This makes it especially infuriating when they then, when faced with similar tactics, see fit to cry foul as though they themselves are without sin.

In the end, though, someone has to take the high road. Simply because your opponent stoops to a certain level doesn't mean that you should, too. This goes for the left, right and center. Interrupting someone, whether it be during an organized event or regular conversation, is rude and petty. It will do little to advance your point, and plenty to turn others off from hearing you out when it's your turn to speak.

I disagree with most of the positions Malkin takes, and as much as said positions tend to offend my sensibilities and occasionally fill me with rage--apply this to most conservative pundits, really--I would be extremely disappointed with myself if I ever let that anger bubble over into trying to silence their voices. Doubly so if that involved shouting "fuck you!" and "racist!" at someone during a rally or speech (with the except of a Neo-Nazi group or something).

I think it's safe to say that the majority of people--right, left and everything in between--want a better life for themselves and their children/families. We want to feel relatively safe, and to be free to pursue our own goals. We want to be heard. If there is to be any real progress, we need to elevate the level of discourse: do our best to restrain ourselves when we feel the (natural, but not good) urge to sling mud in order to discredit our opponents. Try to see where the other guy might be coming from. This doesn't mean you have to agree with them--Lord knows a little partisanship can be a good thing from time to time. But it should mean that we never stoop so far as to try to restrict someone's free speech, or to crassly interrupt them when they are speaking.

You know the old saying: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."


The CDP. said...

Inturrupting someone is a far more unforgivable sin than being a liberal or conservative. I don't know if I can think of anything more rude or annoying, regardless of whatever ignorance was spewing from the guest speaker's maw.

ellie said...

The best way to deal with blowhards and creeps is to ignore them. Scrape them off like the ticks they are and move along.
The other way that I think works great is to laugh at them, using humor as a tool to disarm them.
But I don't think intterupting someone screeching out lies or hate is an unforgivable sin. Rude, maybe, and pointless when you consider that the Ann Coulters and Malkins and Barking heads like Bill Orally and Rushbo feed on the attention.
But what do I know, I'm just one of those flaming liberal unpatriotic dykes destroying marriage and human society.....

Critical Badger said...

Just so you know my live blog was the first media source -- and for a time, the only -- to report on the obscenities.

freelunch said...

Haven't people like Malkin already dumbed down the discourse by lying and misleading people? Do they have an inherent right to have their nonsense listened to as if it is true? Why?

Emily said...

CB - Always much obliged to the service you do for campus.

FL - My opinion is that yes, indeed, Malkin has contributed to the dumbing down of the discourse. My message is as much for her as it is for those people in the audience who saw fit to scream at her during her talk.

Look, it's up to an informed public to make sure misinformation is strongly countered, but that shouldn't involve shouting "fuck you!" at someone. That's not going to convince anyone that you're right. And despite the fact that I disagree with 99% of what Malkin and co. say, it is their opinion and they have every right to express it.

There is a difference, though, between expressing a disagreeable opinion and spreading outright lies. It's called slander/libel, and we have good laws in place to deal with it. It's up to us to exercise those laws, of course.

krshorewood said...

The best approach is to let her stupidity speak for itself.

Prime Director said...

"progressives at Madison continue to use fascist tactics"

Do you really know what fascism means? I would encourage you to read up on Germany in the 30's and 40's, as well as Italy and Spain. Then come back to here and tell us that we're fascists.

Yes, I really know what fascist means.

I've read up on Germany in the 30's and 40's, as well as Italy and Spain.

I've come back here to tell you that shouting down and otherwise abusing a speaker who has been invited to deliver an address is a fascist tactic, one that was employed by nazi students in the 30's to purge the universities of jewish, classical liberal and other dissident voices. Perhaps it is you who should spend a little time researching the history of fascism on campus.

Emily said...

In case anyone's wondering what the heck PD is talking about, it's a reference to the comments thread on this article at dane101.

It may take you awhile to get through all of that.

PD - I took issue with that statement because it made the blanket accusation that all "progressive" at the university were using "fascist tactics" - which is not remotely true. Is shouting down and otherwise abusing an invited speaker a shitty thing to do? Yes, and I made that clear in my comments and in this post. Does what happened at the Malkin speech count as "fascist tactics?" I'm not sure it quite reaches that level, but I'm willing to concede that similar harsh tactics were used by Nazi sympathizers.

I should have more carefully phrased my rebuttal to point out what I felt was the absurdity of accusing all Madison progressives of using fascist tactics (and, as is implied, of being fascists themselves--which, for anyone who knows anything about the history of fascism, is in fact completely ridiculous).

The Lost Albatross