Once one no longer cares to take more than a cursory glance at a subject, or position with which they disagree, their credibility in all things becomes suspect.
Studying politics can be, at times, extremely satisfying, and fascinating. At other times, it can make me want to punch concrete walls until my hands break. I’m prone to using incendiary rhetoric (to appropriate a liberal buzz-phrase) in my writing, and I’m not ashamed of that, because I have taken the time to study, and understand–to the best of my ability–the beliefs of my opponents. My harshness doesn’t come from a lack of understanding, it’s simply my way of conveying, in short form, what I believe to be true, with the intensity the subject matter requires. It’s a rhetorical tool. What makes me want to punch walls is when I hear incendiary rhetoric coming out of the mouths of people who take no time at all to explore the opinions, or ideology of those with whom they disagree.
A few days ago, a friend of mine came over, and the first thing he said was: “Did you hear what Rush Limbaugh said about Robin Williams?” Immediately–knowing my friend’s political background, and listening to the tone with which he asked me the question–I knew it was going to be a misinterpretation of some kind. I responded with “What did he say?” I know, classic. Then he said this: “He [Rush Limbaugh] said that Robin Williams killed himself because of his liberal beliefs.” Needless to say, I smelled something fishy. I then asked my friend incredulously “Did he actually say that?” My friend then took to Google to look it up. Of course, the reality of what was said was not remotely close to “Robin Williams killed himself because of his liberal beliefs.”
But the conversation didn’t end there. From what I could tell, once he found the transcript, my friend only read the paragraph from which his misinterpreted notion came. At most, he skimmed a bit more of it. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he did read the entire transcript (he’s a quick reader, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt); it still didn’t seem to change his mind about what Rush said. He was still pissed. I read the entire transcript, and this is what actually happened. In response to a caller’s question regarding the political machinations behind the media’s coverage of the suicide, Limbaugh made the point that despite having it all, Williams was dying inside. Limbaugh talked about the media’s focus on celebrity deaths, and how it can sometimes be a bit too much. He mentioned how the glorification of suicide could be dangerous. He also mentioned how the whole situation relates to the liberal world view, cynical, and pessimistic, and that that attitude can lead people into bad places. He did not blame the suicide on Robin Williams being a liberal. It was a much more complicated, and nuanced idea of how world views are woven into our lives–because, ya know, he’s a political pundit. He was pontificating on a question relating to media coverage.
I made that point to my friend, trying to clarify what was really said, and his response was that things are only political because people make them that way (in this case, that was his attempt to indict Limbaugh). At this point, he was becoming argumentative, and I was becoming depressed. I let it go, and a few minutes later, my friend said: “Rush Limbaugh’s an idiot.” I replied with “No, he’s brilliant,” but there was no momentum to be gained, so I didn’t pursue it further. Just for review, so you can see that I’m not insane, the following is a partial transcript of what Rush said:
“This really is an example of the dedication the media has to pop culture events and how important it is in the eyes of their audience. Whereas in Washington, the media thinks the world is on fire because of what’s happening in the Middle East, your average TMZ viewer thinks the world doesn’t make any sense anymore because Robin Williams committed suicide…The thing I worry about, I really do, they’re making such heroism out of this that I hope it doesn’t inspire a lot of copycats by people seeking the same kind of fame…I think there was, on the part of media and Hollywood, genuine affection for the guy that is driving it, but there is politics. If you notice the coverage is focused on how much he had, but it wasn’t enough…Now, what is the left’s worldview in general? What is it? If you had to attach not a philosophy but an attitude to a leftist worldview, it’s one of pessimism and darkness, sadness…I mean, right here there’s a story on the Fox News website. Do you know, it says right here, that the real reasons that Robin Williams killed himself are he was embarrassed at having to take television roles after a sterling movie career. He had to take movie roles that were beneath him, sequels and so forth, and he finally had to do television just to get a paycheck because he was in so much financial distress. He’d had some divorces that ripped up his net worth, and he had a big ranch in Napa that he couldn’t afford any longer and had to put up for sale, and a house in Tiburon that he couldn’t afford anymore…He had it all, but he had nothing. He made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside. I mean, it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the left has. Talk about low expectations and general unhappiness and so forth. Right here it says that one the contributing factors to Robin Williams deciding to kill himself was ‘survivor’s guilt.’ It’s in the headline.”
Rush’s argument here is not that Williams’ liberalism made him kill himself, but that the general worldview of the left is not a healthy one, that materialism, and cynicism may have contributed to Williams’ overall personal issues. As I mentioned before, it’s a nuanced pontification about media, the liberal worldview, and a celebrity. But that’s not what my friend wanted to see. He just wanted to be angry with Rush Limbaugh because he thinks he’s an idiot. He wanted to feel good, because being upset and indignant feels good.
This interaction perfectly encapsulates the way in which the left argues. They are extraordinarily under-informed, yet they have strong and often emotional opinions. They claim to hate incendiary rhetoric, yet call Rush Limbaugh an idiot based on what they heard second hand. They refuse to consider context so long as someone they hate is in the line of fire, but when it comes to arguments against them, or those they look up to, context is suddenly key. They blast conservatives for missing the alleged nuance of Obama’s speeches, and interviews, all the while missing the nuance of their opponent’s arguments. They live in a world of gray, but when Rush Limbaugh says something, everything suddenly becomes black, and white. It’s a world of inconsistencies. It’s doublethink.\
It’s this attitude that scares me. My friend is not a dummy. In fact, he’s very smart. But his intelligence is rendered impotent so long as he refuses to take more than a cursory glance at the positions of those with whom he disagrees. Intelligence is useless without proper perspective. Indigence is a drug, and it keeps people from exploring issues to their full extent.
My friend may still believe that Rush is an idiot, but at least he knows that Rush didn’t say that Robin Williams killed himself because of his liberalism. Had our interaction never happened, his failure to investigate further would have had him believing an outright lie.
I just worry. What else does he believe because he doesn’t care to understand, and investigate the positions held by those with whom he disagrees?