There are any number of reasons to refuse friendship to someone.

They range from the practical to the personal and will certainly vary by individual.  Here are some examples:

Lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, cursing, getting too drunk, not getting drunk enough, being obnoxious, being dull, being too smart, being too stupid, being heartless, being homeless, farting in public, flirting in public, grabbing your ass, grabbing other people’s asses, being a junkie, being a jerk, getting you in trouble, getting other people in trouble, being unpopular with your girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father/friends, running with shady characters, running with the Rainbow Family of Living Light, being too dangerous, playing too safe, breaking your shit, taking your shit, giving you shit, talking shit, involvement in domestic spying for a barbaric totalitarian communist regime…

The list goes on.

For me, personally, most of these are not reasons, categorically, to not be friends with someone. Some are.  I do my best to be flexible, but I try to steer clear of any murderers or potential murderers who aren’t state-sanctioned, for example.

I’ll be friends with an army sniper, but I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Maybe that’s hypocrisy.

Or maybe it’s just a strict anti-cannibalism or anti-dead-person policy.

The following story struck me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that literature, as a scene, does not usually involve high international drama and espionage of this obvious a nature:

Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller recently went public with the revelation that the real-life inspiration for Atemschaukel, her latest anti-totalitarian novel about a homosexual man who is held captive in a Soviet gulag, turned out to be, in fact, an informant for the totalitarians.

No one was so shocked as Mueller.  Apparently she had no idea.  He was a man with whom she had become dear friends as they worked closely during her time writing the fictionalized account of his story.

From what I can tell, this man–his name was Oskar Pastior (he died in 2006)–had been granted some kind of amnesty when he defected–or was seized–to the west.

From what little I’ve read, it’s not clear whether or not he was in fact a communist sympathizer or whether he had no choice but to do what he did, but he is listed as a Securitate informant in dossiers and other corroborating documents.

“Over the years [Mueller] has clashed with Romania’s post-communist intellectuals with her remorseless campaign against former Securitate informers, demanding that writers and theatre people who were on the police payroll be unmasked and punished.”


This means that Oskar, at some point, was watching his friend–in whom he had confided the details of, potentially, the most difficult time in his life and who was writing a book about him and his heroic ordeal–call for his public revelation, humiliation, and eventual punishment (of what type, I don’t know).

Or, not his, really, since she didn’t know he was one of them.  She was calling for these things, but she thought she was doing it, in part, in his defense and for restoration of justice to people like him (including herself).

But he certainly must have known that had he told her the truth, she would have probably ended their friendship, certainly would not have finished the book (or at least not as planned), and may, potentially, have publicly outed him and destroyed whatever life he’d made for himself since leaving the world of political intrigue and espionage.

Or wouldn’t she have?  After all, what kind of friend would do that?  What kind of monstrous person would offer up her own friend for filleting at the hands of the post-communist public?  How blind must you be to basic interpersonal loyalties and friendship to serve up some one you care about, ostensibly, in the service of state and other relative strangers?

I mention Herta first only because the next consideration is much more obvious:  Were Oskar alive, we could–and should–ask him a series of nearly identical questions surrounding his time as an informant.

And I was thinking about it, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, sort out who was guilty of wrong-doing in that friendship scenario or if both were or if anyone was guilty at all.

What a clusterfuck.

Poor Herta for not being able to confront Oskar.  Poor Oskar, who will never have the chance to explain himself to Herta.

And it suggests a mundane question in fairly dramatic fashion:  To what extent do or should one’s political inclinations or political behaviors, past or present, affect whether or not we choose to be friends with them, interact with them, date them, or consider their experiences and their general presence valuable?  At what point do beliefs and behaviors nullify relationships?

We ask these types of questions with regard to people’s overall past and habits in a very general way, but I don’t hear people talk about them much in a political way.

This question is constantly at the fore of my mind.  I live, basically, in a liberal world.  Because of where I work, because I like to write, because I have what are likely academic ambitions, I am mostly surrounded by leftward-leaning people.

I don’t consider myself a victim by any means.  I interact with the people I interact with by choice and, I think, to my benefit.  This isn’t a complaint lodged against liberalism in the arts, and I don’t consider myself persecuted.

Nevertheless, it is something that I am aware of.  Just all of the time.  Whether or not and when it is advisable to reveal my political leanings, what the consequences might be, etc.

About 16 months ago, a meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin noted that people actively seek out information that agrees with them.  That is to say, they don’t necessarily fail to be exposed to different points of view just because they’re surrounded by like-minded people or because the information available is necessarily skewed.  People are not passive in maintaining and honing their views; they actively go looking for information and perspectives that allow them to go on “living the lives they’re living.”

And it appears to be true for liberals and conservatives alike.

The consensus seems to be that on items of political import, morality, and values, 70% of the time, most people will choose to hear views that agree with them.

Those most likely to seek out opposing views tend to be a) the most confident in their own views and/or b) in need of awareness of opposing views in order to defend against objections to public declarations of their own views (politicians, media personalities, etc.).

In turn, the people least likely to seek opposing viewpoints tend to also be the least confident in their own views.

None of this is altogether shocking.

But more to the point of Herta and Oskar, I have noticed–though few people are willing to state it explicitly–that there is at least some indication that a political lean may be, for many, among the friendship deal-breakers listed above.  That is, people actively search for and/or exclude others from their social circles based on whether or not those people agree with them, just like they seek out agreeable news stories and other types of information resources.  Strictly from my perspective, such sentiments appear to be on the rise.  Or they appear to be more firmly and less self-critically held.

If my impressions are correct–if they are true at all–I’m sure they’re true straight across the political spectrum.  Basic political behaviors, if not the politics themselves, tend to be fairly uniform across humanity, whether people care to admit it or not.

The conundrum is complex:  At what point do a person’s politics and ideology reveal in them some other, fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?  On the other hand, at what point does a person’s exclusion of others from their sphere of awareness based on politics and ideology reveal in them a fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?

Where is the line, exactly, between the personal and political, and what are the implications?

For example:  How has the value of a fictional account of Oskar’s story changed, given Herta’s revelation?  How has the value of his real-life story changed because of it?  And most importantly, is their friendship–Oskar’s death notwithstanding–invalidated?

On the topic, Herta hasn’t said much except that she felt slapped in the face and that she is now in a period of mourning.  This suggests to me that she has left or lost something some way or another, but only Herta can say what.

Last but not least, had Oskar been forthcoming with the information from the outset, would there even have been a book?  A friendship?

If an ideology is willful and can be synonymous with a character flaw, then does that mean an ideology IS a willful character flaw, and if so, what then? What might we do with such people?

My feeling is that otherizing–the act of identifying and alleging a dichotomy between “us” and “them” –is at the very heart of how Herta and Oskar ever even found themselves in the predicament they did.  It may, by some leaps (great or small, take your pick), be at the heart of the very existence of the USSR.  Between Herta’s otherizing and Oskar’s participation in Securitate otherizing, the stage was set for a karmic kill-strike of dazzling irony.

Maybe, in a way, they deserved the fate that befell their friendship.  Both of them.  Or maybe neither of them did.  Maybe they were both victims of something well beyond their control.

At any rate, it appears that the two of them, both separately and in their joint war against ‘the other,’ were eachother’s ‘other’ and eachother all along.

This essay used to end here.

I didn’t like it ending here because I didn’t think I’d made my point, but I wasn’t sure what else to say.

Then John Cusack posted a tweet leading to this article. He called it “strong, clear thinking.”

“We have to build that independent left. It has to be so strong and so radical and so militant and so powerful that it becomes irresistible.”

Militant, radical, powerful, irresistible.  “Left” is not the word that worries me here.

And just last week, at the dentist’s office, I picked up a recent issue of Time magazine with a cover story about the Tea Party’s rattling of the conservative establishment (and the political establishment, period).

There’s nothing too fascinating or groundbreaking in the article save one thing, and it is unfortunately treated as minor–a passing thought–by the article’s author:  The suggestion that the solution to extreme, reactionary conservative politics may be for liberals to create their own extreme, reactionary politics with the expressed intent of doing battle with the conservatives of a similarly pissed-off, bloodthirsty, and unthinking sort.

I find this progression troubling.  I find it troubling that some people believe and are increasingly fervent that the answer to extremism and reactionism is more of the same.  Escalation, basically.  A call to balkanization.  I find it wrong-headed and obviously so under almost any circumstances. I think most people–certainly most liberals and conservatives, asked independently of a discourse on politics–would find it wrong-headed as well.

But here we are.

I suspect that there will be no call for radical moderation. I just hope we can all still be friends.

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BECKY PALAPALA is the author of many unpublished poems, diatribes, and terse letters, which she holds captive in a homely tote bag in her bedroom. The poems that escaped can be found in online publication at Strix Varia, Paper Darts, and in other nooks and crannies of the internet. In 2008-2009, she served as a poetry editor for Ivory Tower. After an iliadic battle with higher education, Becky graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in the spring of 2010. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and dog on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, where she pines for her rivertown home and attempts to befriend the rabbit that lives in her yard.

133 responses to “Am I My Other’s Keeper?”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    About 16 months ago, a meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin noted that people actively seek out information that agrees with them.

    Sad, but true. Although I’ve found that the more confident I am in how I feel about a person, place, or thing, the more easily I tolerate competing points of view.

    It reminds me of the quote that (loosely) says that tolerance is about seeing things from another person’s point of view without abandoning your own. People have an extraordinarily hard time with this, I think because of the point raised by the article above.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      It was a long, hard-argued, tortuous road for me. But I feel like I’m getting there. The notion that when you expect someone to hold your same beliefs, or talk up the inherent value of your own beliefs, there’s at least some aspect of trying to convince yourself. Bartering for validation of your own experiences.

      Any time anyone is utterly intolerant of a particular view, especially if they react with uncommon vehemence to it, I automatically think that I’m not the person they’re trying to convince.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Great essay, Becky.
    It’s very interesting to me. I was amazed when I was in the U.S just how great the divide between right and left is. I was even more amazed that people were quite happy to state that they would NOT be friends with someone who voted republican. This kind of shocked me.

    In NZ, there isn’t a huge difference between right leaning and left leaning political parties, so I guess it is maybe easier to not be so black and white about personal politics here. Having said that, I know that I have myself come under criticism for my own political leanings with my close friends and colleagues. But again – right and left politics here are not so far apart in this country. It’s much more centrist.

    I personally would not choose to NOT be friends with somebody simply because of their politics. I certainly don’t agree with many of my own friends’ viewpoints on any range of matters -from abortion to religion to marriage to what they wear – but this makes for more interesting discussions in my opinion and I would hate for everyone I knew to think the same as me or vote the same as me or even dress the same as me.

    This is off topic a little – but there was a situation in NZ back in the 80’s when we basically had a civil war in regard to politics. We are a nation mad keen on rugby and our government decided to invite South Africa to play us on our soil. At this point apartheid was still very much in play in that nation and there were massive protests between police, rugby fans and protestors. NZ was at war with itself. Families were pitted against each other. Friends became enemies. It was terrible. Since that time, NZ has grown up and become a lot more tolerant about personal viewpoints and politics and that is a very good thing.

    Then again, what would you expect from a country whose second largest ‘religion’ is Jedi???

    Tolerance is the key. It’s the only option.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I think, what it comes down to for me, is that choosing to not be friends with someone based on their politics is simple.

      It’s simple, it’s unthinking, and, at the end of the day, shameful. It means you’re a zealot, basically. It’s naked hypocrisy, in most cases.

      And, honestly, I think that the vast majority of people in the country would agree with me.

      It’s a situation where the minority fringe is vocal to the detriment of the image of the reasonable majority.

      • Whoawhoawhoa. “Reasonable majority”? The majority of people are essentially unreasonable, irrational, illogical beings. We fall in avaricious love, declare war on people we don’t know, and covet basically only what we don’t have.

        It’s sort of what makes us human, no?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Politically, the majority of people are reasonable.

        • Politically, the majority of people have been steadily voting less for years.

          Also? No, I don’t believe that. Voting and political ideology are charged with pathos and emotion for most people. Hot-button political stances–abortion, immigration, gay marriage, the like–are rarely about reason and more often about appeals to family “values” and traditional “morals.”

        • Becky Palapala says:

          They ARE charged with pathos and emotion (redundant) for most people.

          But not just for the right.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Politically, the majority of people have been steadily voting less for years.

          Politically, the people have not had a ton of options.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Also adding that, in the big picture, as far as the two major parties go in the US, there really isn’t much of a difference, either.

      People just like to pretend there is.

      As far as clashes go, I remember the Republican convention for the last pres. election. It was here in MN. The lefty (and anarchic, to be fair) fringe went batshit and lit a bunch of dumpsters on fire, rolled them into the street, went goofballs and smashed a bunch of shops with bricks, then sued when the police shot them with rubber bullets for being rampant, aggravated vandals.

      Generally conducted themselves like thinking people. You know. Political protests are nothing new to the US. It basically comes into style when Republicans are in power, then becomes unbelievable and abhorrent if conservatives do it with Democrats in power.

      • “It basically comes into style when Republicans are in power, then becomes unbelievable and abhorrent if conservatives do it with Democrats in power.”

        This is the same stuff the Dems say in terms of Republicans complaining that anyone who doesn’t support the Prez is unpatriotic when their prez is in power, but then when a Dem prez is in power, opposing the presidential administration becomes an act of patriotism.

        I mean, the rhetoric is the same on both sides of that fence.

        I say more below . . . but really, this is one instance where it’s 6 of one, half dozen of another–both sides claim that the other tries to make their dissent seem trendy/innovative and the other side’s look criminally treasonous.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          it’s 6 of one, half dozen of another–both sides claim that the other tries to make their dissent seem trendy/innovative and the other side’s look criminally treasonous.

          Indeed. That’s kind of the point.

  3. “That is, people actively search for and/or exclude others from their social circles based on whether or not those people agree with them,”

    Except you barely ever agree with me. I honestly don’t know if I remember the last time it occurred. And we’re in the same social circle. Kind of.

    I think Jon Stewart was recently highlighted as an example of radical moderate-ism. New York magazine, maybe? Something like that.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I don’t agree, politically, with most of the people I consider friends. That was part of the point. I mean, I think I said it. Outright. Our differences are not in any way exceptional.

      It’s not about agreeing with people you disagree with. It’s about respecting them. Accepting that you don’t understand their perspective because you don’t share it. And not assuming, for fuck’s sake, that you have the market cornered on righteousness.

      I mean, that’s what you hate, right? So you want to DO it?

      If Jon Stewart, a comedian, is the great hope of moderate politics in the US, I don’t want to look. under fire and given the opportunity, the man himself is quick to pronounce what a fuck-off his show is. No one is allowed to be pissed at him because it’s a comedy show, he insists. Yet he is apparently a political force.

      I mean, in or out, Stewart?

      • Yeah, but that’s a disconnect for me, unfortunately. As a for-example, having a background in science enough I have a degree in it, I have difficulty respecting young-Earth Creationism. Factually inaccurate according to all known observable data.

        I think if you wrote “If Jon Stewart is a comedian and the great . . .” might be more accurate, because painting him solely as a comedian neglects other roles he plays and other functions he performs. When he took Crossfire to task, he was acting partly as comedian, certainly–it was hysterical–but also as satirist and commentator, not to mention critic of ‘journalism.’

        Perhaps his quickness to pronounce his show as a fuck-off is part of the act? I’ve never seen him insist no one is allowed to be pissed off at him. I’ve really only ever seen him say that commenting on social, political, and cultural absurdity is his job, and it’s unfortunate–and maybe even he’s sorry–if something caught in the crosshairs was dear enough to the viewer so as to make his commentary offensive.

        I’ve always read Stewart as all-in all the time. Playing his show as fuck-off might be more bluff than acknowledgement.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          All I know is that it’s a handy excuse for a man who finds himself on Crossfire.

          I mean, if your show is a fuck-off and no one should ever take you seriously or hold what you say against you or ask you to account for it, what the FUCK are you doing on Crossfire?

          God, I miss Dennis Miller. *sigh*

          I don’t care what you think about science. It doesn’t matter. The post isn’t about truth. It’s about treating people like human beings, even if they think the world is fucking FLAT.

        • It’s not. We’ve seen it from space. Made possible by fossil fuels because the Earth is sorta old.

          So far as I know, Dennis Miller is still alive. His material sort of lost it after September 11th, sadly. Like he got scared.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Alright, Will. Miss the point all you like.

          Have fun storming the castle.

        • Do you really think writers get to choose their point? They may aim at one, but it oft gets misconstrued. Some view that as their readers’ failure.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, since most folks have not failed to grasp it, I feel safe in saying that any failure is not on my end. Yes.

        • Nathan Pensky says:

          Hi. Hope you two don’t mind that I butt in. Nothing like someone’s unsolicited opinion to make an argument less argument-y. If I’m being rude, pleade don’t hesitate to tell me to shove it.

          Becky seems to be saying this: A) To have a point of view is important but B) one’s point of view should probably not be so strong as to make reasonable opposition impossible. C) Rhetoric assumes the “right” side of an argument, but D) rhetoric that doesn’t actually provide for an opposing side to its own argument is, most of the time, poor rhetoric. E) The (generally) “liberal” or “leftist” side of the current political argument is (generally) the favorable one, but only insofar that it does not fall into the mistake of the (generally) “conservative” or “right-wing” side of the current argument.

          Will seems to be saying this: A) Drawing attention to the fact of good rhetoric providing for both sides of an argument actually, in practice, tends to hurt one side or the other of that argument. B) In the current political climate, insisting that “liberals” should try and be good rhetoricians, in fact, actually helps “conservatives.” C) Trying to be good rhetoricians is fruitless since people are so often misconstrued. [D) In the previous point, Will invokes the literary term “Intention,” though in its original form it applies to literature, not to rhetoric or political debate.]

          I say: A) You both are right in different ways. B) We should try and figure what is write and wrong in a given argument, but C) we should also try and be good rhetoricians. D) When other people are being bad rhetoricians, we should call them on that, not on any of the actual points of their argument. Let us not muddy what we are arguing about. E) I think the whole Roland Barthes, “Death of the Author” idea never really held water, but, either way, it doesn’t really belong in an argument about rhetoric, which I’m fairly sure this is. F) Someone really, really smart once said that the best way to get smarter is to surround oneself with people who disagree with you. Actually, I think I may have seen that on The West Wing…

        • Nathan Pensky says:

          Ha, I misspelled “right” as “write.” Read into that what you will.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Oh, Nathan. Always feel free to butt in!

          But just so you don’t feel too uncomfortable or like you have to moderate too much, this kind of exchange is pretty normal for Will and I and has been for many years.

          We are happy in our misery. Or I am. I am happy in our misery. I don’t care what he thinks. 😉

          Anyway, I’m having trouble processing your post, probably in part because I don’t remember thinking that hard about what I was typing when I typed that stuff. Probably because there were a few Miller Lites involved. So now I’m sitting here going, “IS that what I was saying? What WAS I saying?”

          I try harder further on in the comments.

          I will revisit your post later. I really like that it is so tidy. Not even kidding. ABCD…I wish more people talked like that.

  4. I protested it was 99.9% peaceful says:

    Come on lets stick to the facts and not do the blanket brush thing, please Becky! As for other people looking on into this country there are no tanks in the streets. Militancy yes but no tanks.

    Approximately 10,000 largely peaceful protesters marched against the war in Iraq and 2,000 more to end homelessness and poverty.[32][33] They represented a number of organizations opposed to the Republican Administration including the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, the Teamsters, Code Pink, the American Indian Movement and the RNC Welcoming Committee.[34][35] About 1,000 people in place for the third major march, and the last to be sanctioned, were stopped on Thursday, September 4, 2008, by police because they attempted to begin their march after the time their march permit expired.[36] The Anti-War Committee, which supports nonviolent action and civil disobedience and had cooperated with anarchist groups, had organized and publicized the march to protest at the time of McCain’s acceptance speech, which was in violation of the court-approved protest permit time.[37]

    The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign march to abolish poverty on September 2, 2008Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty and 10,000 Ron Paul supporters attended the Rally for the Republic, a protest convention on September 2, 2008, held a few miles from the Xcel Energy Center at the Minneapolis Target Center in direct contrast to the Republican National Convention.[38]

    Several groups had been preparing to protest near the convention.[39] In early January 2008, protesters marched from the Minnesota State Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center in hopes of securing a protest permit.[40] The Saint Paul Police Department authorized the event, but only approved the permit through July 2008. On February 8 and February 9, 2008, antiwar protesters attended a weekend conference at the University of Minnesota to discuss the protests and antiwar rally.[41] On February 28, 2008, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the police department adopted new guidelines for the investigation of protest groups. The police department said that this did not have anything to do with the convention.[42]

    In early March 2008, the city of Saint Paul gave the first permits to protest organizers.[43] The city had said that it was not going to follow the “New York model” for protest security, referring to the tactics the New York City Police Department used for the 2004 Republican National Convention protest activity.[44] Later, on March 24, 2008, the antiwar group the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, sued the city, claiming their free speech and due process rights were denied by the vagueness of the permits which did not specify a permitted route for their march.[45][46] On July 16, 2008, a Federal judge upheld the terms of the permit.[47] And when the time came on September 2, 2008, police led the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign for two hours on a 2.5 miles (4.0 km) trek away from the convention which had been less than 1 mile (1.6 km) from their starting point.[48]

    [edit] Search Warrants and Arrests

    Police in downtown Saint Paul on September 2, 2008Before the convention began, search warrants were executed by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher[49] in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[50] Six persons who were a part of the organizing group, the RNC Welcoming Committee, were arrested when police executed search warrants on a handful of homes in Minneapolis and Saint Paul during the weekend preceding the convention.[51]

    Media outlets reported on several of the searches.[52] Given the nature of the probable cause for the warrant applications, a district court judge authorized no-knock warrants. Police entered the homes wearing body armor with weapons drawn, which is standard for no-knock warrants.[52] RNC Welcoming Committee members detained at the group’s headquarters, located in an old theater on Saint Paul’s West Side, were ultimately arrested by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher of misdemeanor fire code violations.[52]

    On the first day of the convention, a group of protesters stood in front of approximately 30 to 40 delegates from Connecticut in an attempt to prevent them from entering the convention. Paramedics had to treat 83-year-old member of the delegation for breathing problems when his credentials were ripped from his neck by a protester.[53] Additionally, a black bloc smashed windows of downtown businesses, smashed windows and slashed the tires several police cars, lit one police car on fire, and used a garbage dumpster as a battering ram against another.[53] About 12 protesters were arrested.[53][dead link]

    Minnesota Peace Team and police in Saint Paul on September 4, 2008During the convention’s first three days, more than 300[3] individuals were detained by police,[54] including journalists (AP photographer Matt Rourke was one),[55] healthcare workers and lawyer observers.[56] Some were released, but nearly half received felony charges.[56] Of these felony arrests, many cases were dropped or reviewed, some times for lesser charges, and about 21 were found to be prosecutable.[3] About 102 persons were arrested for unlawful assembly at a Rage Against the Machine concert in downtown Minneapolis.[57]

    Over the four days of the convention, more than 30 journalists were arrested while reporting on the protests. The arrests included journalists from national organizations such as AP and Democracy Now!, journalists from local radio and TV stations, as well as university journalism students and advisors.[58]

    Three journalists from Democracy Now!—including principal host Amy Goodman—were detained by police during their reporting on the protests.[59] According to a press release by Democracy Now!, Goodman was arrested after confronting officers regarding the arrest of her colleagues. The officers were in the midst of crowd control, and ordered Goodman to move back. She was arrested after refusing the officer’s orders.[60] all were held on charges of “probable cause for riot”.[61] Several news sources have criticized the arrest as unlawful and a violation of the freedom of the press,[62] and warned of the “chilling effects” of such measures.[63]

    The final protest march was permitted for 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. on the final day of the convention. This meant that the last of the marchers needed to be back on capitol grounds by 5 p.m. By 4 p.m., the march had still not left the capitol grounds. Understanding that the protesters were interested in being near the Xcel Energy Center when delegates were, police offered a compromise: march leaders were told that if they started their march before 5 p.m., police would allow it to continue past the permit time. March organizers refused. When the final protest march permit expired at 5 p.m., overpasses over Interstate 94 leading into downtown from the state capitol were closed. Two hours later when the final assembly permit on capitol grounds expired and protesters refused several commands to disperse, police used tear gas, smoke bombs, pepper spray, flash bangs, mounted police, paint marker rounds, and rubber bullets to prevent an antiwar march organized by the Anti-War Committee to march on the Xcel Energy center. This march would have been in violation of the court-approved march permits.[57][64][65] Between 300 and 400 people were arrested or held including 19 journalists, among them AP reporters Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski,[65] reporters from Twin Cities Daily Planet and The Uptake, and Paul Demko of The Minnesota Independent.[65][66][67] Total arrests of convention protesters numbered nearly 800, although only 15 cases resulted in criminal charges.[68] Several suits were started in U.S. District Court, claiming civil rights abuses by the St. Paul Police Department and other agencies involved in the RNC, particularly the Minneapolis Police Department and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.[68] Search warrants were still being granted into 2009 in relation to the events that transpired during the 2008 RNC.[69]

    [edit] Post-RNC convictions of protesters
    Bradley Neal Crowder of Midland, Texas, pled guilty in federal court on January 8, 2009, to one charge of possessing an unregistered firearm (as Molotov cocktails are defined under federal law) in return for prosecutors dropping two other firearm charges. Each of the three charges carried a maximum of 10 years in prison. He is still awaiting sentencing to between 30 and 46 months in prison depending on whether U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis decides that he played a minor or major role in the crime. Crowder has been in jail since his September 1, 2008, arrest for disorderly conduct.
    David Guy McKay, also of Midland, Texas, was initially released on bail on February 2, 2009, after his first trial ended in a hung jury. The case never went to retrial as on March 17, McKay accepted a plea deal and plead guilty to three federal felonies: possession of an unregistered firearm (Molotov cocktails), illegal manufacture of a firearm, and possession of a firearm with no serial number, in return for the government not seeking four additional sentencing points for “intent to use” the Molotov cocktails. Based on transcripts from his first trial,[70][71] McKay had a good chance of proving entrapment[clarification needed], but if found guilty, he could have faced 30 years in prison on the weapons charges alone. McKay is also currently in jail awaiting sentencing.
    A total of twenty-one individuals were charged with felony crimes. Three pled guilty and charges were dropped for two people.[72] An attempt at charging the RNC Eight with a post-9/11 Minnesota Patriot Act statute “609.714 Crimes committed in furtherance of terrorism” was also dropped.[72]
    Both McKay and Crowder were arrested based on FBI surveillance and testimony by former-activist turned informant, Brandon Michael Darby[73] and Andrew C. Darst, also known as “Panda,” “warchyld” or Killswitch. Darst is currently being charged in Ramsey County, MN, with two felony counts of first- and second-degree burglary as well as fifth-degree assault relating to a January 11, 2009, domestic disturbance.[74

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I appreciate your incredibly lengthy post, anonymous person, but I’m not going to read it until you have the nuts and basic integrity to tell me who you are.

      How’s that?

      You want to talk, we’ll talk. But I’m going to talk to YOU. Not your chickenshit alias.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Alright. My conscience is not going to leave me alone until I apologize for the “chickenshit” remark.

      Sorry. That was a bit much.

      After I began this comment, though, I got curious about who I was apologizing to. Suffice it to say, I was able to figure it out. The internet is a marvelous tool. Anonymity is a warm delusion.

      But I am curious. What made you think you needed a different alias for this comment?

      It’s a copy/paste. Why wouldn’t you just own it?

      You don’t seem to like me too much, and yet you keep reading. You shouldn’t punish yourself like that. And you especially shouldn’t post another eyesore like this again.

      • Matt says:

        I just find it funny there’s all this numbers for footnotes and then…no footnotes.


        Either copy them over as well, or edit them out entirely. The half-assed result we have here just looks sloppy.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          So random and unnecessary. And yeah, lazy. I mean, it’s copy/paste.

          It might as well be spam. Basically a non-sequitur, contributing precious little to the discussion and a whole lot of perturbation to me. By design, I think.

          So, you know. This isn’t a democracy. If obnoxious behavior doesn’t quit on its own, I’ll shut it down.

          New rule: Write your own frickin’ comment. Should go without saying, but so should “don’t pee in the pool,” and they have signs for that.

        • Matt says:

          When I get comments like these I usually just delete ’em. It’s not contributing to the discussion, it’s ugly, and it’s taking up space. So why bother.

          That said, there is a troll comment I’m letting sit at the bottom of my SeaWorld post, because it cracks me up every time I read it.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I’m a fan of the fair warning system.

          I’m big on fairness.

          The bitcher with a thousand aliases has been granted fair warning. But next time, basta.

    • Tawni says:

      I want a tricycle, and a dog who won’t chew my Hot Wheels, and a brighter future for America. I’m Ralph Wiggum, and I’ve been a good boy.

  5. Mary Richert says:

    Becky, there are days when I see your name on the front page, and I just think, “oh thank god.” Really. Today is one of those. Your writing is so SOLID. I feel like… when I read it, there are no weird pitfalls I might get trapped in. I love the concreteness of your logic. Considering that I deal almost exclusively in the abstract and metaphorical, I feel like if writing had gender/sexuality, our writing would be potential lovers. Or at least fuck buddies. Just sayin. They would have a tempestuous relationship as they would disagree on many things, but it would be a lot of fun.

    Can I get more creepy?

    Now, to address your actual topic. It’s amazing what a personal relationship can do to a person’s outlook on world events. One might think “fuck the military” until someone they know, respect and consider a very dear friend joins. Then they think, “Well, I don’t like war, but in reality, we need the military. How could we survive without it?”

    You raise such strong questions… I really admire that an appreciate it.

    My little description above is really very lacking.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks so much, Mary, for getting it. Really. I can’t express it enough.

      If my logic and your theory were single, I’m sure they’d totally get together. A romance for the ages.

      I like the idea of personalizing politics. I think it puts things in perspective.

  6. This is a fascinating piece, Becky. It raises more questions than it answers, as it should, and the personalization of Herta and Oskar’s friendship, which existed in a kind of “closet,” apparently, is compelling. In other words, was that relationship a lie because Herta did not know the truth about Oskar? Or, by contrast, was the relationship in some ways more true/intimate/personal because it was not clouded by the clutter of those ideologies?

    I have found myself, in the past number of years, growing increasingly intolerant of the “Right” in the U.S., and on one level it troubles me. I don’t want to be an intolerant person. I didn’t used to feel this way. And yet on the other hand, I increasingly have felt that real world issues that are deeply important–more important than my individual enjoyment of friendships or my social pursuits–seem to be dividing our country. It’s facile to think that every “conservative” is responsible for the things I find most objectionable, of course. And though I vote Democrat, I’m not a zealot for the Democratic leadership either. Increasingly, I have mistrust for anyone who feels strong affinity with either party’s leadership–though I also feel mistrust for those who claim to see “no difference” between the parties, or who disavow any belief that who controls the country’s leadership impacts real human lives.

    I am, I guess, extremely liberal, in a way that has little to do with party affiliation. So it’s a hard call. Is it just a matter of “opinion” for someone to say that gay people are choosing to be sinners and so shouldn’t have the same rights straight people enjoy? Is it just a matter of opinion to enter wars that change entire nations, and lead to thousands of deaths? This becomes a slippery slope. When is a difference merely “ideological” vs. truly harmful, criminal, or “immoral”? Who decides, and when? Horrible things have happened, of course, without the world rising up en masse to object, so how are we to know when something is truly that important, vs. just a bunch of rhetoric? I mean, there is a difference, yes, between stoning women, between genocide, between ritual clitorectomies, vs. the things happening in the United States that divide our so-called Right and Left. But it’s complex, and sometimes the divide becomes one of Intolerance/Apathy, in a way that seems lose-lose.

    Surely there are things that are important enough that to put them aside or ignore them seems a glib choice. And yet it’s also true that some of the biggest differences can only be bridged when two sides/people come to understand one another on a personal level, which requires–demands–that some people be willing to totally put ideology aside in favor of personal bonds.

    And I don’t think any one person should be judged as a representative of an entire group.

    But I also think it’s suspect when people say of their friends, “Oh, we just don’t talk about such-and-such, and so long as we avoid that topic, we get along just fine.” I’m not sure I believe that is “friendship” per se. I think sometimes avoidance and formality and status quo and cowardice can be confused with real relationship/intimacy. (Not saying this was the case with Herta and Oskar, but surely is the case with many folks.)

    It’s not even an issue of right vs. wrong. How do I know what’s “correct,” or if such a concept even exists in an absolute sense? I don’t believe in any god doling out those moral dictates from on high, so why is my opinion any more valid than anyone else’s? But I know what resonates with me, what I care about deeply. And I believe people need to take stands, and need to commit to things, and need to care. It takes a lot of courage to grapple with someone very different, with divergent views, who also cares deeply. In some cases, mutual respect can be found in those cases, when both people are willing to make the effort and take the risk. (I’m less sure this can be achieved by simply avoiding hot topics.)

    So this is all very provocative and worth discussing, without a doubt. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response, Gina. Truly.

      I think what’s lost, at some point, on both sides, is the recognition that however strongly you believe (and “belief” is operative, I think, as a salve to the notion of rightness and wrongness) in one thing or another, the “other” believes as firmly in his/her position and believes it’s the right thing to do to help people.

      The horror comes, I think, when we convince ourselves that an opposition’s motivation is out of destruction.

      We can believe their positions are destructive without thinking that their motivations are. I mean, I guess that’s what I’m getting at.

      The difference between sinister intent and earnest intent. I think that’s what both sides fail to see, and I think that’s what thwarts compromise, which is at the heart of moderation.

      • Greg Olear says:

        There were plenty of people in the South (and the North) in the 19th century whose earnest intent was to protect the “superior” white race by continued subjugation of racial “inferiors,” just as there are people now who earnestly believe that gays can achieve salvation through Christ if they only reject sodomy.

        Earnest intent doesn’t excuse moral wrong.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Indeed. And if you asked anyone in the North (or South) at the time, most white people, regardless of their politics, would have said that “Negroes” were inferior.

          Don’t be so naive, Greg. I know you’re not. Politics rarely have anything to do with morals.

      • I think you’re failing to acknowledge that sinister intent can still be earnest, especially when “belief” is operative as a salve to the notion of rightness and wrongness.

        Scientists don’t believe science. They know facts and have observed data. Stark contrast to “belief.” And to “rightness” and “wrongness.” What do either mean? Shouldn’t we be talking about accuracy and inaccuracy?

        I mean, basically, it seems like “treating other people as human beings” comes down to sort of shrugging when they’re acting based on flawed principles, where flawed principles means “factually inaccurate data.” Put another way (and extrapolated), it means encouraging people to teach Intelligent Design alongside scientific theories like evolution and physics?

        “We can believe their positions are destructive without thinking that their motivations are.”

        Sure. But we can also agree their motivations are flawed/misguided, no? Based on tenuous perspective only relatively connected to data at hand? Just because someone’s motivations aren’t destructive doesn’t mean that their actions won’t be, right?

        I guess it’s a chicken-egg thing. Which is more dangerous, position or motivation?

        We can agree Cusack is a bit misguided here, in terms of motivation, no?

        I’d say I’m not sure his position is destructive if only because what bearing have actors’ positions had on politics, and then I remembered Reagan, and thought, “Oh. Right.”

        Which isn’t to say I disagree with Reagan. Or even agree with him. I was, like, twelve, when he was in office. I was way more concerned with the Muppets at the time.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Hey. Will.

          Give up the science stuff and treat people like people.

          What is the matter with you? How is this point eluding you?

          There’s a nice way and a dickish way to tell people the world is round. Which do you prefer? Honestly?

          And if they insist the world is flat, there is a point at which you stop trying to change their minds and start trying to understand why they think that.

          Pretty fucking simple.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Yeah, Will! Fuck you for missing the point about being nice to people!

        • Becky says:

          Shut up, foreigner! Tend your own garden! This is about US!!

        • Simon Smithson says:

          No man is a Sisland.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I think you’re failing to acknowledge that sinister intent can still be earnest

          Not at all.

          Scientists don’t believe science.

          Yes. Yes they do. They believe it based on experiment outcomes and observation, but they believe it. I mean, you’re talking about epistemology, here, which is a major subset of religious study. “How do we know what we know?” “What are the different forms of knowing?” “What are the valid forms of knowing?”

          This is the territory you’re wandering into. What you’re handing me is the assertion that sensory observations are valid forms of knowing and that emotional, spiritual, abstract knowledge is not valid.

          When the question is concrete and sensory, sensory knowing is probably an appropriate means to an answer. But in order to accept that concrete/sensory is the answer, you have to believe the question is concrete/sensory in the first place. For example, for a lot of people, questions of evolution are NOT matters of science, they’re matters of faith, and a huge portion of the hostility stemming from a debate like that comes not from the presence or absence of evidence on one side or the other, but rather a fundamental misunderstanding about the types of evidence being offered and attempts by both sides to force or expect one type of knowledge to serve or suffice as another type.

          This is where it comes back to, circuitously, the point of the piece. If one is entrenched enough in his/her position, s/he will never be able to get that. Never be able to grasp the fundamentally flawed premise of the whole debate. Such a person is committed not just to his or her position in the hostility, but to the hostility itself.

        • “And if they insist the world is flat, there is a point at which you stop trying to change their minds and start trying to understand why they think that.”

          Well. You may. I mean, I suppose one could sit and analyze why people are holding this belief that the world is flat despite all evidence to the contrary. Me, I’d rather just go sailing around it. Which is to say, sorry, but I have way better ways I must spend my time, effort, and energy than in trying to figure out why other people are wrong about things.

          And no, scientists don’t “believe.” To believe means to have confidence without proof. Experimental outcomes and observations count as proof. One of the key tenets of the scientific method is that theories are either corroborated by repeated experimentation over time or disproven as false, and anything that’s a theory (gravity, evolution, thermodynamics) is basically a set of hypotheses that have, by experimentation and observation, been proven correct repeatedly over time.

          “For example, for a lot of people, questions of evolution are NOT matters of science,”

          Which is a problem, considering evolution is a scientific theory.

          I mean, I think I get what you’re saying, but what does “be nice to people” actually mean? I don’t get that there’s a nice way and a dickish way to tell people the world is round, or evolution is sound. I agree with you about escalation, and am totally on board with the idea that a “liberal” or “left” or whatever answer to the Tea Party is worrisome at best and pretty scary at worst.

          I don’t know quite how to phrase this, but a question: if another person’s beliefs/opinions are ignorant, is it still possible to respect those beliefs? And the person? Because, parsing this, to say someone is ignorant could be as clinical/observable as saying that someone has a high resting heart rate or is left-handed; it just means that there’s something that person doesn’t know, right? Like, I’ve found, in general, that people to whom questions of evolution are not matters of science are frequently ignorant with regard to scientific theory. That’s not an insult; one can overcome ignorance through study leading to understanding.

          I’d be hesitant to apply adjectives like “emotional” or “spiritual” to knowledge. I don’t know what that means. I guess I find repeatable sensory observation over time convincing? I mean, I even think I agree that a debate like that has a fundamentally flawed premise, but I’ve always failed to see how evolution is a debate in the first place, but if I say that some people understand and others don’t, is that disrespecting people who don’t? Am I being not nice?

          Oh, also? I realize I didn’t mention I liked the post. The writer and her subject and their relationship reminded me of Stephen King’s Apt Pupil, for a lot of reasons. This is probably how such a relationship ends when not written by the American Master of Horror (tm, etc.).

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I don’t know quite how to phrase this, but a question: if another person’s beliefs/opinions are ignorant, is it still possible to respect those beliefs? And the person?

          Well, for me, yes.

          There are other things to respect about people besides beliefs and opinions and beliefs and opinions can be admirable or worthy of respect for reasons totally unrelated to their perceived truth value.

          I mean, shit. I think you’re deluded a solid half the time, but I still like you.

          This is something, I think, Will, that we will never stop clashing on. I mean, stomp your feet all you like, but “ways of knowing” is, in fact, a technical academic term in much of the liberal arts and social sciences, particularly women’s studies, sociology, philosophy (which is how it ends up in theology) and cultural studies. Used to describe the ways in which a person may come to know or think they know something.

          Can be scientific, can be emotional, can be cultural, can be all kinds of things. “Ways of knowing” has a long and storied history as a general theoretical area, generally arising from a time in which scientific-knowledge-to-the-exclusion-of-all-other-types was used to subjugate women, “inferior” races, and gay people. Because, I mean, hey. Who can argue with science, right?

          Look. I get that your background is in science. I don’t expect you to have the same theoretical background or perspective as me. But to dig in your heels and say scientists don’t “believe” is just an incredible contortion over semantics. It borders on a tantrum. They do believe. They believe their eyes, their ears, their computer models. They believe and trust in those things–and furthermore their interpretations of those things–to be accurate, to mean what they think they mean.

          Sometimes. Sometimes they trust them. I mean, a lot of the time, a scientist is among the least likely to express utter certainty about anything.

        • “I think you’re deluded a solid half the time,”

          I was going to say “Only half?” but then there’s that “solid.” I’d hope it’s higher. “Completely deluded” much of the time, in fact.

          So calling someone’s beliefs ignorant isn’t disrespectful, then?

          I get the “ways of knowing” thing, and where our perspectives clash; the moment you said “social sciences,” my first thought was “Right, the soft ones, that aren’t really sciences, exactly, more surveys and studies than labs and experiments.”

          But we agree that each has its place. I know science has limits. That’s why I’m a writer. Science can enumerate a sunset, but expressing one, experiencing one? So different. There are places where science explains things, and for everywhere else, there’s metaphor and poetry. Or something.

          We’re going to have to agree to disagree about that “belief” word. Your final sentence is most telling, and perhaps the one I’ve most agreed with you on in ages. Any scientists worth their salt should hesitate expressing certainty. Or, in my opinion (which as has been demonstrated, may be flawed), belief. Good scientists should never express belief, I’d think; I’d think good scientists should rather note that based on multiple experimentation and observations, this seems to be the case for certain circumstances, though there have certainly been recorded abnormalities and we are far from any conclusion.

          One could argue that’s just a long and complicated way of saying they believe something, and I guess maybe you have, and I disagree there, but only because of that nuance and semantics. Not sure it’s a tantrum, anymore than your continued argument for belief would be. It’s interesting how you ascribe physical qualities to my argument, though. My heels are on my desk, and the last time I threw a tantrum–

          Well. That’s a whole other story.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, I think “ignorant” is loaded. And I think that’s pretty well known. I suppose once you’ve offended someone by calling them ignorant you could sit and sort of blithely defend your word choice on semantic grounds, how you meant it literally and not the way most people in the world would take it, but on the whole, I think “ignorant” is by and large insulting, widely used as a slick synonym for “stupid,” and people would be unmoved by your semantic defense.

          And I’d argue that they’d have plenty of reason to be offended, especially if they’re coming to their opinions not from lack of knowledge but from a different type of knowledge, which is how we got started on this epistemological, “ways of knowing” thing.

          I mean, we’re back to that.

          I mean tantrum in that you’re being so final about it. Like, you’re latched on to this word, “believe,” like using it or not using it changes anything about what scientists know or can know or can assert credibility. (CRED (root): Latin & Italian credere, To believe. See also credence, credit, discredit, credulity…..These are science words, Will.)

          Anyway. You just have some kind of final vocabulary issue with the word. It gets your knickers in a twist. I don’t know why. It’s silly.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Hmm. Should be “assert credibly.”

  7. Greg Olear says:

    With regard to the former Soviet Union, I don’t know that any of us are qualified to judge. It’s just a sad state of affairs, that anyone must live under such conditions, and the story of the “betrayal,” if indeed that’s what it was, is sad, but nothing more, at least to me. The blame is on the state, basically, not the individuals.

    With politics, there is, and must be, a line. I don’t care if people are Democrats or Republicans, but there are certain principles that, to me, are inviolable. If you’re a Republican because you make a lot of dough and want to pay less taxes, great. If you’re a Republican because you want to rein in spending and have a strong defense, go crazy. If you’re a Republican because you think all Muslims are terrorists and all gay people deserve to burn in hell rather than marry in church or serve in the military, then we have a problem. If there’s one thing I won’t tolerate, it’s intolerance!

    • Don Draper says:

      I vote Nixon to keep prying G Men off my back..

      • Greg Olear says:

        As you should, Dick Whitman.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          I get it! I get the joke! I get a pop culture reference!

          Nicely played, Olear.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Thanks, Gloria. What you don’t know — what Becky doesn’t even know — is that, like Pete Campbell, I am privy to the identity of our comment board “Don Draper.” (Hi, O.)

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I so do not watch this show.

          I have no idea what’s going on.

        • Tawni says:

          My stomach was tight as I read the comments. You know I can’t handle conflict for shit. But I really, really love the points you’re making and the questions you’re posing about friendship and deal-breaking opinions or ideologies.

          I moved from very liberal Los Angeles to very conservative Oklahoma, and I find them both unpleasant in their extremity. It’s never nice to have another person’s opinion shoved down your throat, is it? There are a few issues that, despite my low tolerance for conflict, I will take a strong stand on, such as the rights/abuse of animals or children. But in general, I think I’m pretty “live and let live” by nature. When I avoid the friendship of a person with different political or religious leanings than myself, it is usually because I find them disrespectful or annoyingly zealous, rather than simply because I don’t agree with them. At least I hope that’s why. I don’t want to be a dick.

          Great writing, as usual. Your brain rocks, Becky. Thanks for pushing my brain to think a little harder. You’re like my intellectual personal trainer today. (:

        • Tawni says:

          That was comment was for Becky, and was supposed to go at the bottom. I have no idea what happened.

          I don’t watch the show either.

          I’m frightened. Hold me!

    • Becky Palapala says:

      But doesn’t it reduce to the individuals? I mean, Herta was acting as she did under the assumption that the people she knew would never be involved in such things.

      They were good people. She knew that. She knew them. They were good.

      She was just calling for the persecution of the bad people.

      The black hats, she thought. The inexcusably evil.

      One of her best friends.

      Shame on her for that. For taking such an inflexible, ugly, vindictive stance. Now she is forced to live with all she said against a man she respected.

      Serves her right.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Lliving under a totalitarian regime curtails individuality, is the problem. It removes free will and makes you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. In a perfect world, she wouldn’t have bothered about all that because the black hats wouldn’t exist.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          But she did this AFTER the dismantling of the regime.

          I mean, she couldn’t very well have done it while they were in power.

          That said, it’s true. And that’s what I was getting at when I asked if both were victims, made to behave as they did as a result of forces beyond their control.

          But nevertheless, with regard to black hats, I still don’t excuse–or fail to recognize, at least–that in doing what she did, she simply turned the tables. The black hat simply changed heads and the torch-and-pitchfork mentality, the actual problem, remained.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Fair point in turning the tables – and people usually fail to recognise their own hypocrisy in this – but then you get into a kind of abstractly utilitarian argument. The Soviets were fucking monsters when it came to political suppression through the Gulag – at what point do you start to think that at the end of the day more lives will be saved by suppressing those who would suppress?

          It raises the question of whether it’s justified to murder Stalin – because he was responsible for people getting murdered. An extreme example, but one that helps map the territory.

          But then you have to question, well, Jesus. Maybe Stalin thought he was justified. People usually tend to think they are.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Suppressing those who would suppress is exactly what communists thought–and said–they were doing. I mean, I can’t account for individuals, but as a group, that was the general M.O.: They were saving their country from capitalist oppression.

          This is my point. Presumably (history seems to indicate it’s so) it is as possible for anyone to fall into harmful/evil things in pursuit of righteousness as it is for anyone else. What it takes, more than anything–more than a lack of compassion, more than “evil”–is an inflexible commitment to ideology and a conviction that the righteousness of that ideology is so final, so black and white, it is okay to pursue it at any cost.

          That includes you, that includes me, that includes Soviets and Anakin & Luke Skywalker. I mean, we all run this risk. The post isn’t about letting people get away with murder or genocide. It’s about at what point we are doing the right thing and at what point we become whatever we’re trying to kill/eradicate/etc. When in trying to beat “them” we inadvertently join them.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I couldn’t agree more in terms of the dangers of ‘otherisation’, and sacrificing people on the altar of ideology – nor would I ever think you’re an apologist for murder and/or genocide… but in the absence of a proven infallible Divinity or a codified set of morals that the entire world, en masse, and 100%, ascribes to, from here until the end of time, I don’t think there’s a ‘right thing’ that can’t, at the end of the day, be proven to be subjective and arbitrary.

          So what do you do? Where do you delineate the point between righteousness and wanton-ness? It would be great if the highest cost involved would be a polite disagreement, but, clearly, in many cases, it isn’t. So what do you do then? Especially if you have the means to enforce your arbitrary and subjective belief?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          So what do you do? Where do you delineate the point between righteousness and wanton-ness?

          I think, like all things subjective, there’s probably a continuum of answers to this question, and a section within that continuum that most people would consider “reasonable,” even if the answers are not all the same.

          You know. There is no ONE line. But at some point, I guess, probably the point at which you feel contempt, hatred, and/or a general feeling that someone else is non-human or deserving of abuse, verbal or otherwise, when there’s a general burning in your chest that isn’t from too much hot sauce…you’ve probably found the dark side. I mean, there’s no list for this one, Simon. There’s no straight answer.

          My concern is that people–maybe as a result of desensitization or because their perception is that everyone else has jumped ship on reason–increasingly find the unreasonable reasonable. Or at least feel that they won’t or shouldn’t be held accountable for acting in an ugly way since all the people (especially the bad guys!) are doing it.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          “I think, like all things subjective, there’s probably a continuum of answers to this question, and a section within that continuum that most people would consider “reasonable,” even if the answers are not all the same.”

          What selection of ‘most people’ are we taking this sample of reasonability from? The people in my neighbourhood right now? In my state? My country? My culture? The website I write on?

          Because if someone from another time period or culture might see that as unreasonable… it’s cool to nuke ’em, right?

          There’s the rub. There’s no straight answer. And sometimes, that really, really sucks.

          This is one of the reasons why I like Jon Stewart’s rally so much. I was thinking of hopping across to DC while I’m in the States, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to swing it.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, I suppose I was thinking specifically of people who are alive now and are dealing in one way or another with negotiating the current political climate in the US, primarily US citizens, but also people who might not be citizens and are privy to and consistently follow the climate enough to know what I’m talking about.

          And no. It’s only cool to nuke the Japanese.

  8. Anthony Beonosik(lonely conservative in blue state) says:

    An Open Letter to My Liberal Friends

    I know you hate talking politics with me. You want to by my friend and keep politics out of it. I’m sorry to say, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Oscars. I don’t watch movies because I don’t like giving my money to people who are out to destroy our republic. I am interested in what is going on in our country. Call it politics or current events, call it whatever you want. I have two little boys and I would give my life if it meant they could grow up in the America I grew up in.

    Slavery does not exist in the America I grew up in. The civil rights movement was over when I grew up. I never in my life believed that a black person or a woman or a Mormon or a Jew couldn’t be President of the United States of America.

    The nation I grew up in provided Social Security and Medicare for our senior citizens and the disabled. The America where I grew up is a place where hard work is rewarded. The America I grew up in has safety nets like unemployment, food stamps, WIC, HEAP and a myriad of programs to help the down trodden. We also have churches and charities that do tremendous things for their fellow citizens. I often write checks to these organizations because I believe they do a better job of providing relief to people than our government does.

    I’m sick and tired of listening to Bush bashing. Eight years – enough! Was he perfect? No! But when you bash the man who gave you what you want it gets really annoying. He angered his base to try to please you people and nothing was good enough. He expanded the federal government to provide prescription drugs for seniors. Isn’t that something YOU wanted? He did more for AIDS victims in Africa than any other human being on this planet. Isn’t that something YOU wanted? Oh and guess what?! If you want to have an abortion in America you still can! He only tried to reduce the number of abortions.

    President Bush was bipartisan. He reached across the aisle to pass No Child Left Behind with your hero Ted Kennedy. He worked with your party in his attempts at immigration reform. That failed because of a groundswell of opposition from the American people! President Bush cut our taxes, yours and mine, not just the rich. And talk about inheriting a problem, it was the pacifism of the prior administration that brought about 9-11. 3000 of our fellow citizens, from all walks of life, died on that day. President Bush had bipartisan support when we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Presidents don’t get do-overs but apparently senators do. And just how brave was it for an Illinois state senator to oppose something for which he had no say?

    President Bush kept you safe even though you would prefer to get blown up by a terrorist than allow our government to listen in on terrorists’ phone calls. He protected not just Republicans and Christians, but Democrats, libertarians, independents, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists and scientologists.

    You can blame Mr. Bush all you want for the current state of the economy, but you’re wrong. Should he have tried to rein in the Fed on monetary policy? Yes, he should have. But didn’t you benefit from those low interest rates? President Bush (and John McCain and Alan Greenspan) warned of the problems with the housing market and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They tried to increase regulation and guess what!?!? They were stopped by Democrats! Look it up if you don’t believe me.

    So President Bush inherited a problem that was decades in the making. He had to “chuck free market principles” in his attempts to shore up the financial markets. He wasn’t trying to nationalize the banks, he just wanted to apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. The second half of the $700 Billion TARP came at the request of then President-elect Obama. President Bush did him a favor. I guess the way the Clinton Administration handled the transition left a bad taste in his mouth.

    To sum things up, President Bush was a center-right president. He is not a radical right winger. Far from it. The way he’s been vilified by the press and the Left is a disgrace. Honest criticism is one thing, what they’ve done is entirely different.

    So how is your Messiah doing? Let’s see…..the new admin came out and said that Gitmo detainees don’t have Constitutional rights. Hmmm….sounds like Bush. They’re ramping up troop levels in Afghanistan and bombing villages in Pakistan. Hmmmm…..not so hopey changey.

    Since election day millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Have you ever stopped to think that employers saw what was coming and decided they had to cut back? The stock market’s been in a death spiral since the election. Again, investors saw what’s coming and said “no thanks”.

    When it comes to privacy, who knows if terrorists will have privacy under the new administration. We do know the ones who won’t have privacy are you and I. Did you know the Porkulus bill signed by President Obama contains a provision allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to release or sell your medical records? Well, it does! Look it up! That’s what you get with a president who outsources his duties.

    If you’re a socialist, fine. Be brave and come out and say it. I won’t even debate you. What’s to debate? Socialism has been tried and has failed around the globe. What makes anyone think it will work here? We’ll find out soon enough. Newsweek didn’t have the ‘nads to do so before the election but now that The One has ascended they can come right out and declare “We’re all socialists now!” Congratulations. You win!

    If you aren’t a socialist and you just think the Democrat party is the party of little people, then you may need to wake up! They don’t care about you. All they want to do is make more Americans dependent on the government in order to cement their power.This is not the party of your parents and grandparents.

    And by the way, Lincoln was a Republican. The Civil Rights Act came to be thanks to Republicans. It was Ronald Reagan, a Republican, who made Martin Luther King, Jr. day a national holiday. The only Senator who was a member of the KKK was a Democrat – Robert Byrd. We have equality in our country. We just don’t have a guarantee. No government can guarantee equal outcomes. Oh, sorry, unless you’re a union member or work for the government. Then you’ll be just fine. Hopefully nepotism will take care of your kids.

    If you think federal spending was bad under Bush why the hell aren’t you outraged at the spending The One did in his first month in office? At this rate we’ll be totally bankrupt in six months. But hey, maybe we can put off paying the bill until our kids grow up.

    I believe our republic is being destroyed. I am angry. I am angry at every American that didn’t take the time to find out what they were voting for. I am angry at the media for not informing the people of what they were voting for. I am angry at Hollywood for debasing our culture. If they want to solve all of the world’s problems why don’t they voluntarily give up 85% of their fortunes to help the little guy? Instead they’re lining up at the bailout trough.

    So if I offend you I’m sorry. This is who I am. There are times I have to keep my mouth shut and for the most part I do. But why should I listen to people talk about what they do and be expected to shut up about what I do for countless hours day in and and day out for nearly no pay? If that’s what you expect of me you never were my friend in the first place. I don’t do this out of love of the Republican party. I do this out of love of my country and I don’t want the last best hope on earth to disappear before my children get their chance in life.

  9. Gloria Harrison says:

    First of all, you’re my friend. And you and I are – much to your surprise, I’m sure – quite different. But also very similar. Which is why we’re friends. And we’ve had our shake ups. But, at the end of the day, you don’t violate my one rule for whether or not I want someone in my inner circle: you’re not a douchebag. You don’t violate the “don’t be a douchebag” rule. Which is to say, your moral compass seems to be generally working, you’re interesting, and you’re not so invested in your own thoughts and beliefs that we can’t have a dialogue.

    I have a dear, dear friend. He’s in his mid-sixties. He was my regular customer during a brief stint as a bartender in 2004. He’s a cop. (For the record, that’s not a deal-breaker for me in general. I’ve known some lovely cops.) Specifically, he’s a federal marshall who leads investigations on sexual predators. His job is dirty and ugly. He’s been a cop of all sorts for forty years or more. He’s a hardcore conservative. He calls me his little socialist friend (which isn’t totally inaccurate.) Our ideologies oppose one another as much as they can. Yet, every few months, he and I get together, drink some beers, and disagree with each other. We make each other laugh. We hug at the end of the night and part ways until we see each other again. In the meantime, we email or text occasionally simply to check on one another’s well-being. I love this man. He, too, doesn’t violate the don’t be a douchebag rule.

    I think it’s not only okay to be friends with people who don’t think just like you, but also it’s critical. Now, if your friend is out and out lying to you they’re breaking the rule. You don’t deceive your friends. That’s just unfriendly.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      What if your friend has a really, really good reason to deceive you? Like, for example, your politics are fanatical and vindictive enough that you may abandon you as a friend and ruin your life in pursuit of them, no matter what good you try to do now?

      I don’t know.

      I don’t like a domestic informant. I think that’s some shameful, ugly shit.

      But I don’t blame him for keeping it from her. I mean, she wanted to string up people “like him,” regardless of what they were up to later.

      Even, maybe, if they were helping to write her book.

      Not that she knew that.

      What a mess.

      I think it’s not only okay to be friends with people who don’t think just like you, but also it’s critical.

      Yeah. What you said.

      • Gloria Harrison says:

        What if your friend has a really, really good reason to deceive you? Like, for example, your politics are fanatical and vindictive enough that you may abandon you as a friend and ruin your life in pursuit of them, no matter what good you try to do now? I would say this doesn’t qualify as friendship, but as deceit. And morally reprehensible. I mean, unless this guy’s life depended on befriending this woman and telling her his story. Which it doesn’t sound like it did.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I don’t do that.

          I don’t know, I guess. I just don’t do that.

          I don’t set rules like that. I just assume that the people around me have issues and pasts that they’ll reveal to me as they see fit.

          Does it make any difference that he died unexpectedly? Maybe he would have told her.

          That’s what’s sad about it, you know?

  10. Gloria Harrison says:

    Also, it’s totally unnecessary to break up with John Cusack. IMHO.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      He’s full of loony-toons.

      I don’t know.

      I’ll still go to his movies, but I think he’s gone Hollywood.

      Like, “I’m insanely rich, and I trust the government to dole out my money (most of which I secret away while telling middle America how much they owe the po’ folk), but if a fan writes and asks for $500 dollars, I’m disgusted.”

      Shut up, dick. Just. Shut. Up.

      • Matt says:

        He’s really kind of an asshole in person.

        When they were shooting The Runaway Jury in New Orleans in ’02, he (and Piven) used came to the club I was working at several times. He came in one night with a group of people, ordered a bunch of food (the kitchen had to re-open to accommodate him), ran up a big tab….and then walked on it. And because of Louisiana’s various service industry laws, my then-girlfriend – who was his server – had to eat a large chunk of the loss. Ended up costing her about $400 for the night. In effect, she paid to work for him.

        That said, I still love the hell out of High Fidelity.

  11. Matt says:

    A friend of mine once asked me, “What’s the difference between friendship and true friendship? A friend won’t tell. A true friend helps you hide the bodies.” He was joking, of course, and using an extreme example as the source of the funny, but I think he had something of a point: part of actively being friends with someone involves forgiving the defects of their character – or rather, the defects as you perceive them.

    I’m an atheist. My best friend, while no longer considering himself a Christian, was raised as one (Baptist, I think) and still believes in a higher power. Even though we now live in different cities and see each other only rarely, we still talk at least once a week. There isn’t a taboo subject between us. I can’t imagine not remaining friends with him, but I CAN imagine how empty my life would be – or how narrow my horizons would be – without the enrichment brought by this decade-plus running dialog. Likewise, the people who’ve been like surrogate parents to me are pretty staunchly conservative, and I can’t fathom for a moment the idea of dropping them from my life–nor, I’d wager, them the idea of dropping me.

    Just because they don’t agree with me on everything (sometimes, it seems, anything), that doesn’t make them bad people. Sadly, though, it seems that this idea is anathema to a large chunk of American citizenry – or at least, the most vocal fringe elements that seem to be directing the tone of national discourse. Of course, the sheer cognitive dissonance might be enough to make their small-minded heads explode.

    Have people around who agree with you all the time is, well, dull. I’d rather a spirited – even heated – debate over bunch of buddy-buddy backslapping or nodding-head demagoguery. My understanding of the world is broadened and bettered by the relationships I have with those who disagree with me.

    I’m kind of simpatico with Greg in terms of being intolerant of intolerance, bigoted towards bigots, etc. I’d like to spend about as much time with a raging homophobe about as much as I would a militant vegan, which is to say, none at all. As you mention, extremism to any degree, left or right, isn’t the answer to anything. I’ve certainly been an extremist in the past, of course. Deeply intolerant of drug use. Zero forgiveness for infidelity, even if I’m not the cuckolded party. Guilty as charged. But somewhere along the lines, I just realized (not sure why, or when, exactly), that I’d rather try to approach the things I don’t like or don’t understand from a position of compassion rather than scorn or anger.

    Which is not, as you say, easy. At all. But worth trying, I think.

    To bring it back to your lead-in question, probably the most outright deal-breaker for me is the breaking of trust. I’m (nowadays) willing to overlook a lot, but once you’ve lost my trust, it’s next to impossible to get it back. You screw around with my girlfriend behind my back? Fuck you, we’re done. We’re dating and you cheat on me? Ditto. No second chances. Yes, I understand that your infidelity is the result of your own insecurity and that you realize you’ve got issues you want to work through – but I’m not the schmuck who’s going to help you do it.

    Regarding Oskar and Herta, I think I’d need more information before weighing. Having just recently watched The Lives of Others, I’m certainly not inclined to be sympathetic towards informants – but then, I know enough about the methodology of totalitarian regimes to know that, as you mention, Oskar’s participation might not have been voluntary.

    And who knows, perhaps maintaining a friendship with Herta, contributing to her writing what amounted to a screed against people like him, was his own form of penance for his past actions.

    • It’s interesting you mention being an atheist and friends with a Christian. I’m an atheist, too, and I’ve never really had Christian friends, or at least none who openly call themselves Christians. My girlfriend, however, is, and it’s never been an issue. We’ve talked about it maybe once or twice, and it is certainly interesting to do so. I feel that talking with someone who agrees with you can be pretty gratifying (as Becky mentioned, we like to hear what we already think/believe) but there’s something great about hearing from someone who either differs in opinions, or whose opinion is formed for different reasons.

      I think I get along with Amy because she isn’t a hardcore Christian, and like you said, it can be tough to get along with extremists. I used to have a couple of Christian friends – ok, now I’m realising my first paragraph contained an oversight, but I’ll leave it there – who would pray for me every time we met. I loathed that. But they were great to talk to. It’s nice having a bit of banter; seeing the other side of the debate in a friendly way, rather than have it shoved down your throat (which is something the religious side does, but of which atheists are also guilty).

      • Becky Palapala says:

        The religion/atheism arena is a particularly fruitful area of discussion w/r/t this topic.

        I mean, virtually no one is willing to shout as loudly as a religious zealot or an anti-religion zealot. Almost no one is as categorically furious with their perceived enemies as same.

        To anyone with, I think, an ounce of sense, the similarities in their approaches to belief are obvious–the big white elephant in the room.

        But not just an elephant. An elephant in clown make-up. Perhaps a tutu.

        Because there’s something comical about it. The lack of self-awareness on both sides. The failure to recognize or accept the similarities in the styles of discourse, the prosthelytization…all of it.

        I think, again, the vast majority of religious people and atheists are basically moderate. Religion or lack thereof is a pretty personal thing at the end of the day, and most people get that, I think. But again, it’s a case where two very vocal fringes are lobbing grenades at each other over a middle majority who really has no choice but to duck and cover. Trying get people like that to shut up…you’d just as soon herd cats. You know, or they’ll lob a grenade at you. Either way.

        • I think that one of the most amazingly funny things I read this year was the Jehovah’s Witness magazine complaining about atheists who can’t keep their opinions to themselves… Yeah. Really. That’s the ultimate in lacking self-awareness.

          The truth in it is that there are, of course, douchey atheists who shove their atheism in the faces of religious people. A perfect example came yesterday when the the news services were reporting that atheists knew more about Christianity than Christians. I read that and laughed and thought about posting it on Facebook and whatnot. I find that atheists tend to know the Bible because a) they’ve been forced to read it and learned what a tremendous pile of shit it is, and b) they want to know their stuff so they came defend themselves against religious people. There are few feelings more satisfying than being assaulted by a proselytizing Christian and then beating them in a theological debate. It’s immature, but fun.

          I chose not to, though, because that would make me, well, a douchey atheist. I love being an atheist, and I love being able to defend my heathen ways against pushy “believers” but I have no real intention of posting smug comments on Facebook when some of my “friends” are really into the Bible. Yeah, I might question their gay-bashing posts now and again, but there’s no need to provoke them with aggressive atheistic douchism.

          You say moderate. That’s one of my favourite terms, and something I grew up around. The media and internet tells us that there are extremists everywhere, and maybe that’s true. Maybe I just don’t find myself associating with these people. But yeah, I know a lot of moderates. Unfortunately it’s always the people who talk loudest that get heard (and have the least to say). These fuckers are the ones causing problems and I wonder if moderates will ever gather and bring sense to the world.

        • Matt says:

          I have more to say on this, but it’s starting to overlap with a piece I’ve been working on, so I’ll bow out of this part of the conversation for the time being.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment, Matt. I am almost…ALMOST to the point in my life–having met enough different kinds of people, having had my own past bigotry and bigotry against bigots come back and slap me in the face enough times–that I can almost say that nothing I might encounter in a normal lifetime is necessarily a deal-breaker for me.

      I mean, everything case-by-case, at least. Never say never.

      I guess life’s too short. I’m not any good at holding a grudge, despite my fairly short temper. I get mad easily, but I have to work to stay mad. I don’t want to waste my energy like that. I can’t imagine who could possibly be worth it. Who could be worth my working to keep myself feeling shitty. Tending my spite like a thornbush garden. Stinkweed garden? Poison ivy garden? Some kind of garden full of nothing but nastiness. That’s Dark Side stuff. I don’t have the stomach for it.

      In my opinion, I guess, an idea…an ideology…no matter how extreme, is not necessarily enough to warrant a person’s exclusion or expulsion from my life.

      I suppose to what extent and in what way people exercised those ideologies, to what point they expected affirmation from me for those ideologies or expected me to conform to their ideology, to what degree they accepted, in turn, my–potentially diametrically opposed–ideology, all these things would factor into my willingness/ability to look past whatever their issue was. Even bigotry.

      So, I suppose, the question emerges, “Does that mean that I’d be friends with a homophobe, a racist, a sexist?!?!”

      And I think the impulse, in order to appear appropriately pious, concerned, and righteous, is to say no. That’s what you’re supposed to do. But the reality for me, and probably for a lot of (I’d wager most) people in here, is that I am already friends with people like that. I’m related to people like that. And I won’t be kicking them out of my life. Because they have other things going for them. I can’t put some kind of draconian ethical ideology above a living, breathing person I care about. I like to think that’s my policy. I like to think that’s the right choice.

      And if they have other things going for them, isn’t it likely that other people do, too? If a relative can be a homophobe and still a good, kind loving person, I have to think other homophobes might be good, kind, and loving people too, even if I think they’re misled.

      So what I’m saying, I guess, is that for sake of logical and moral integrity, if I were to hate one person simply for being a homophobe, I would have to hate all of them. And I’m not prepared to do that. I don’t have the energy, and I don’t think it would help a thing.

      • Matt says:

        I think for me, these days, it comes down to something rather like a cost v. gain analysis than any particular ideological or behavioral characteristic. How am I benifiting from this relationship? How am I – or others with whom I associate – being harmed by it?

        I mean, I tend not to befriend people who are overt racists/homophobes/religious zealots etc., largely because the people who tend to be most openly so swing towards the extremist side(s) of things. The quality I find most interesting in a person, is an open-mind, the willingness to engage in the give-and-take of ideas rather than shouting, finger-wagging etc. The willingness to say, “You know what? That’s an interesting point. I hadn’t considered that.”

        One of the friends I mention above is something of a homophobe, but not aggressively so. She’s more of the Not In My Back Yard type. She might have voted on Prop 8 (her right), but she’s never campaigned for anti-gay causes or acted in hostility towards a gay person. She just finds homosexuality…distasteful. But in the time we’ve known each other, her stance on the matter has softened for various reasons, the largest catalyst being when a person she’d known and loved for almost twenty years came out as gay. This individual told my friend that he’d been really afraid of doing so for a very long time largely out of fear of how she might treat him once she knew. This more than anything, I think, drove her to reevaluate her stance on the matter.

        I doubt she’ll ever support gay marraige. But that willingness, even bedgrudgingly, to question the nature of one’s own position on things is a commendable trait in a person, regardless of where they stand originally.

        Wish I’d come by it a few years earlier than I did.

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    Damn it. I’ve run out of time tonight to engage properly with this piece and the discussion, but I want to, because it’s something that strikes a chord with me, and I think it’s an interesting and important thing to be aware of – please see this as an IOU for a longer and much more involved comment.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I’ll hold you to it.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        The problem is that the rabbit hole of compassion and understanding rarely ends quickly. And it’s a rare human being that will follow it all the way down. Especially because then you have to grit your teeth and monitor your own basic human instincts.

        It’s like Bill Hicks famously said: ‘If you’re Christian… forgive me!’

        Who actually turns the other cheek these days?

        Especially when you do it and someone actually does turn out to have knuckledusters strapped on?

        Because people usually do things for reasons. They believe things for whatever reason, they act on those beliefs, and yeah, a lot of the time, those acts are fucking horrible. The human race has a lot to be ashamed of and shuffle its feet awkwardly for. For some reason the Brazen Bull crossed my radar a little while back. A bull that you got to roast people you didn’t want to exist in. According to record (Wikipedia), on the orders of Hadrian of Rome, Saint Eustace, his wife, and his children were placed in this bull and a fire was set, roasting the people inside to death.

        At what point do you say, fuck understanding, if I had a time machine and a sniper rifle, I’m going back to waste Hadrian, because understanding doesn’t justify roasting children alive?

        Again, an extreme example. But, again, it helps map the territory.

        What of belief? The classic case, as illustrated above, is of how annoying Christians and atheists can both be when they start to preach, loudly and vocally, and militantly, at the unconverted.


        Gets on my nerves, that’s for sure.

        But what if you had a cure for cancer, and you could give it to someone with cancer, and they didn’t want to take it? Would you get to a point where you were grabbing them by the collar and shaking them and yelling ‘Fucking take this! You fucking idiot! Just take it!’

        Because that’s often what people are doing. They’re trying to reach eternal life and salvation – or mortal awareness and human understanding. I don’t agree with pulpit tactics… but on that level, I can understand the motivation. At what point do I stop accepting a person on the basis that they engage in behaviour I can understand?

        It would be great if disputes and disagreements could be settled easily, or put aside and left to peter out without consequences. But humanity’s proved itself pretty bad at doing that in the past.

        So what do you do? Try to stamp out the believers who’ll act on their beliefs in the most violent ways possible? Say, people who target abortion clinics? Try to engage with them and understand them, and talk them out of their actions? What if they refuse?

        Why not prosecute them according to the laws set by the government? Fuck you man, I didn’t vote these guys in. They’re destroying the country.

        It’s a goddamn minefield. All I can say is, I think you’re right, and to label people as ‘other’, and to decide that the solution is escalation, is, at the end of the day, unproductive. But to declare open season on understanding means that people will be allowed to enforce decisions that are morally wrong, based on (basically), the Golden Rule, which I would cite as a better ethical code than any religious commandment.

        It would be nice if we had the capacity to find a middle ground.

        But I’m not sure that’s human nature. At least, it’s not human nature when we congregate in giant numbers.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          But to declare open season on understanding means that people will be allowed to enforce decisions that are morally wrong

          Not even a little bit.

          Understanding why a person might want to kill someone else and treating him/her accordingly doesn’t mean you ignore that they’ve killed someone or, if they haven’t yet, encourage them or allow them to do it.

          That’s a huge leap, for which I see no justification in the post or anywhere but that works quite handily in pursuit of restricting the marketplace of ideas and, ultimately, allowing people to treat others quite poorly under the excuse that an idea is basically the same as the action, so in addition to locking up people who actually bomb abortion clinics, let’s lock up the people with ideologies that are similar or remotely similar, or, heck, how about everyone who disagrees with us, since they all pose a threat to the moral/ethical righteousness which we advocate and are inflexibly committed to.

          I mean, that’s how the progression goes. That’s how you get a Gulag. Do you see what I’m saying here?

          Just because you treat someone who holds what you believe to be an abhorrent ideology with respect and approach them with the sincere attempt to understand where they’re coming from and accept that they have the right to hold an abhorrent ideology and may even have good–or at least understandable–reasons for holding it doesn’t mean you condone it. It doesn’t mean don’t continue to advocate or vote against their view. It doesn’t mean you don’t tell them you disagree. It is also perfectly okay to not write off someone’s entire character just because of the ideological aspect of it. That’s what I think, anyway.

          Curiously enough, all this compassion and understanding requires quite a bit of turning off compassion and understanding. It’s essentially a logical, ethical (insofar as ethics is a branch of philosophy and, therefore, logical)–not emotional–question. It’s about, in large part, acknowledging the potential for or presence of tautologies masquerading as differences in political discourse, among other things.

          As far as Hadrian goes, no. I don’t advocate killing him. Don’t you know about the Butterfly Effect? Chaos theory? Doing so could, potentially, kill thousands of people more than the handful he roasted. We can’t know. Better to leave the time machine in the garage.

          That said, honestly, you’d be hard pressed to find any world leader (especially in the ancient world!) who can’t be held accountable in some way or another for some kind of atrocity. Even Queen Elizabeth had her own cousin beheaded. I’m not going to stop admiring her.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          “But to declare open season on understanding means that people will be allowed to enforce decisions that are morally wrong

          Not even a little bit.”

          I don’t know that I agree – that being said, I think we’re actually on the same page, it’s just we have different understandings of ‘understanding’, and what the consequences of ‘understanding’ comparative moralites would be.

          And I don’t subscribe to the belief that an idea is the same as an action, but I think it would be foolish to ignore the concept – and reality – of causation between the two.

          I think there are many, many cases where ideas inform action, and I think that if I was to grant someone complete understanding, it would extend to an understanding of why, to them, a given action, based on their ideas, is valid. If I then prevent them from taking such an action, I’m denying the validity of their original idea, based on what I perceive to be the greater validity of my own ideas.

          Which to me, is saying Well, I understand you’re doing what you think is right… but it’s not as right as my right. So… you’re not allowed to do it.

          Does that make sense? I guess my question is, how can I say ‘You’re not allowed to do the right thing,’ whatever the ‘right thing’ is, unless I’m prepared to say that I’m bang alongside the idea of declaring my (ultimately subjective) morality to be the right one?

          And if I have the adequate means to enforce that belief, then I can do absolutely anything and still be morally A-OK. It would be awesome if humanity’s highest level of enforcement under this scenario would be polite tea-room conversation… but history proves it really, really isn’t. What if I can’t talk someone out of an action they want to take based on an idea they have? What if force is absolutely the only option – as some people will believe it to be?

          Again, these are extreme examples, not a dispute between two friends over where to go for dinner tomorrow night.

          In reference to the Hadrian example, at what point do you become complicit in the roasting of children, if you have a time machine? What reward is worth the risk of incurring the wrath of the Butterfly Effect?

          [Note, this may all read like word salad. I’m anxious to avoid a misunderstanding or logical mis-step that would lead to a miscommunicated debate, so I’ve been going back and forth and trying to get this right for a while now. I hope I haven’t accidentally mashed my ideas and my expression of them together hamfistedly]

        • Becky Palapala says:

          If you’re looking for an easy answer to any of those questions, there isn’t one.

          There’s nothing I can tell you, Simon. You’re just going to have to feel it out.

          Well…that’s not true. I can tell you something. I can tell you what I think. I think, in the absence of a time machine, the Hadrian issue is a non-issue. But should a time machine materialize, I will be more than happy to go toe-to-toe with you on whether or not we should use it to kill Hadrian. Why, of all the monsters and fiends who have lived and died on this earth, we should target him, I would have trouble with (the answer is because he’s known to history and, more specifically, to you, as far as I can tell).

          Life is dirty business. It’s full of heartache and suffering and as long as we live and die, that will be the case. But you can make it slightly less dirty and hurtful and hateful by not taking rigid, condition-less stances against other people.

          Which is, no doubt, given the opportunity, the same thing you would say to Hadrian.

          As far as causality between ugly thought and ugly action? No. The relationship is correlative, and sometimes not even that. Sometimes people have a good thought that turns into an ugly action.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I don’t think there are any easy answers to those questions either.

          Hadrian was just an example, one that had crossed my radar recently, so I used him. But it could be any example of humanity’s inhumanity to humanity.

          I don’t think there’s an 1:1 ratio of ugly thought:ugly action, or good thought:good action. Life is far more complex than that. But I think there is an argument for thought:action, and I think in questioning what action to take in reference to a prior action, it’s important to look at prior thought, especially when defining or debating morality.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I sort of feel like you’re trying to rationalize hating/denying/dehumanizing/excluding/writing off people based on ideology, and I can’t help you with that.

          I disagree. I just do. But I can’t control what you do.

          Have it your way. Like Burger King. That’s the beauty of free thought, free speech. But in taking a democracy up on those things, you grant them to everyone else. Even jerks. And you can choose to allow them or disallow them from your life. That’s your prerogative, too.

          But I think there is more to be learned than lost by trying to understand even jerks. If you disagree, of course you are free to proceed as you see fit.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Really? I’m interested in what it is I’ve said that makes you feel that way, because to me, there’s nothing in what I’ve said to give that impression.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, past conversations are probably informing me here. I mean, I know you’re sort of blase/blithe about negating people from your life based on political considerations (+/-), so that’s probably interfering with my perception. As is knowing that you’re increasingly interested in asserting order and process and rules (lists!) in your life.

          I mean, I’m spoiled by the knowledge that you’re seeking the concrete, in a lot of ways.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          You mean the people I blocked for three weeks on Facebook? No, everything’s cool there. We discussed each other’s point of view, and now we’re friends again. No dehumanisation here.

          Order and process and rules and lists are awesome things. But I’ve found in my seeking of the concrete that it’s best to use them to shape and work with reality, rather than seek to completely define it. Like the willow that moves with the storm rather than the oak that gets blown over.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Like the water that, in its ability to be flexible and move around things–to give way against the immovable–shapes, changes, and forms the immovable rock and all of its surroundings?

          Ah, the Tao. I love it. I really do.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I’m suffering bad punctuation there. The water changes both its surroundings and the rock. The rock’s surroundings aren’t the point… But then again, the rock’s surroundings too, I guess.

          How is it that I’m lecturing you on being water again?

          This is silly. You should have this all locked up.

  13. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    I don’t know. I’m the lone liberal in a family full of conservatives, some of them extremely so, and we all get along just fine. So maybe there’s hope for the larger body politic? Great exploration of the subject, Becky.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks, Cynthia.

      That’s kind of it.

      I mean, I got around to it somehow in my comment to Matt. The extrapolation of acceptance from personal relationships to the larger body politic doesn’t seem to translate for a lot of people. Or doesn’t occur to them. Or something.

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Ah, I have more to add, but I think I’ll wait until I don’t have a two year old running around dusting the floor with raw oatmeal and handing me live bugs, etc. I’ll be back later when I can sound semi-smart and half-way focused!

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Hey! I’m back! Okay, so it turns out I’m no more focused nor smarter than before (nor more caught up on the comment thread), but I’ve been thinking more about your astute piece nonetheless. AND I gave it a proper reread. Go me! Here’s what I’ve decided. The body politic needs a middle child. The only reason my big, crazy family gets along despite major differences in beliefs, politics, etc., is because the middle child (me!) holds it all together and keeps everyone calm. Middle child, I tell you. That’s the answer.

        As for the friendship issue. This reminds me of the Mel conversation we had going on in which Simon and I decided Mel was off the list of 80’s action legends. I’d actually prepared a comment (which I’d saved in Word because I am also a virgo in addition to being the middle child), but it had seemed everyone had it covered by the time I got to it. So here it is, my response which I am copying/pasting from my own file and not from some lame-ass wikipedia entry w/ numbered footnotes to nowhere:

        “This is why it’s always better not to know too much about artists. I wish this wasn’t true for me, but alas the more someone advances in douche-baggery the more hurtles there are for me in separating that person from their artwork or performance and appreciating it for what it is. It’s not impossible, but they’d just have to be really, really good at what they do (like Christian Bale). If it’s an actor for example, that person would just have to be convincing enough to get me to see the character rather than the actor who jumped like a lunatic on Oprah’s couch or pelted a hotel employee with a phone or something.”

        I’d say this is true, in a way, for real-life relationships. Someone may have enough redeeming qualities to override my ill opinion of them I might have formed based on … whatever that might be. The fact they clip their fingernails in a movie theater, say. BUT, I’ve never refused to get to know someone or outright rejected anyone as a friend. Because I’m the middle child, and that’s just not how we roll.

        There. Now I feel better. I hate it when all I can offer someone some days is a really short comment ….

        • Becky says:

          Now you’ve got me thinking. About birth order and conflict resolution. Technically, among my full siblings, I am a youngest child. There are only two of us. But we’re 12 years apart, so technically, according to a lot of psychologists, we’re both only children as well.


          My parents also took on a number of “foster” children. Not in an official capacity. Like, they just took in relatives’ kids when those relatives were having trouble. One of those foster iterations consisted of my folks taking in two of my cousin’s kids who were younger than me. I was 14 at the time.

          My sister was long gone on her adult life at that point, but still, I had an older sister. So there’s an argument to be made that in some way or another I am a youngest child, an only child, an oldest child, AND a middle child.


          I wonder if this has something to do with my fluidity in this matter. I haven’t found much else to explain it. I mean, I’m not a patient person by nature. I wonder if national politics really are some kind of allegory for family/kinship relations. I mean, family relationships, anthropologically speaking, are the most fundamental unit of human social interaction, right? It wouldn’t be weird for that to be some kind of compass. For there to be a correlation.

          And now, suddenly, my title takes on a whole new meaning.

  14. Irene Zion says:

    Good piece, Becky.
    I don’t do politics if at all possible.
    Can I be your friend?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Sure! But you don’t have to do politics. I mean, the piece is designed to be about relationships, too.

      I was trying to be sneaky.

      People seem mostly interested in the politics aspect, but that doesn’t mean you have to be.

  15. jmblaine says:

    I think
    you made
    people think
    which is always good
    I too know
    nothing about politics
    except that it seems
    we mostly fuss and rage
    about the external
    to keep from dealing with the internal.
    It’s the tea parties within
    we should really concern ourselves with.
    But I’m weird that way.
    But to reply I guess
    I’m friends with people who
    make me laugh & think
    & challenge me & aren’t too uptight
    & boring & – well there’s just an
    undefinable chemistry sometimes?
    I hope I always have friends who
    don’t see things the way I do.
    World gets small that way.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Doh! I saw this, then kept getting distracted by other, more contentious comments and didn’t reply.

      Shame on me.


      It’s the tea parties within
      we should really concern ourselves with.

      I’d go along with that. On any number of levels.

      Yeah. I think there’s just a chemistry. I think that goes for all relationships we choose to be part of. I guess I was just wondering what people’s feelings are about what could be powerful enough, ideologically or in someone’s past, whatever, that could override that chemistry. And is it like a policy for them, like a procedural thing that if X is revealed, then Y, or is it something that just turns them off–turns the chemistry off?

  16. Judy Prince says:

    Becky, your post has brought up plenty of rooms for debate, which you’ve handled wonderfully. I seem to agree with everyone. 😉 Yet, finally, I come to some personal conclusions, thanks to your post and some great comments:

    1) I’m incredibly relieved to live where, for most people, free speech is accepted and practiced.

    2) I wish more of us would practice free speeching, free debating. Many of us are too timid, too concerned that they may hurt someone’s feelings, and unpracticed at discussing issues thoroly without launching personal attacks. It’s partly our own fault, and partly the culture(s) we live in.

    3) Constant training or modeling for everyday debate/discussion/argumentation (not just the formal debates) taught/practiced in school would be a valuable aid personally as well as politically.

    4) Most of us have family and friends whose views are antithetical to ours, but we’re able (mostly) to let them have their beliefs without blasting them for it, and we even love (some of) these people.

    5) It would be useful to let someone know that (s)he has said something that directly insults our beliefs. Learning HOW to tell the person that her/his comments are obnoxious to us is key. It’s not easy, but it is good to learn how to do and to do it.

    6) I am far more judgemental than you, Becky, and regularly reject folks (though seldom my already-friends) for believing things I think are harmfully stoopid. “Harmfully” is the important word there, and it is indeed a difficult thing to figure out whether a belief is harmful or whom it is harming. There’s the rub, innit?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I’m a big advocate, I guess, of ideas.

      Even harmfully stupid ones. Though there is some distinction (as discussed with Simon above) to be made between thought/idea/belief and action.

      Harmful thought and harmful action are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for one another.

      That is, one does not necessitate the other.

      The notion that one is synonymous with the other is generally what is being sold when propaganda is in play.

      The synonymity of action and thought is a logical ruse, but often a deft and convincing one because it preys upon our suspicions and fears about people who we perceive to be different from us. It’s a ruse that encourages people to treat perceived enemies just as badly as they claim their perceived enemies are treating people. I mean. It’s a dirty, dirty game. Nobody’s perfect, of course, and people will make us mad from time to time, but at least trying not to play the game is better than giving into it, I think.

      • Judy Prince says:

        “The synonymity of action and thought is a logical ruse, but often a deft and convincing one because it preys upon our suspicions and fears about people who we perceive to be different from us. It’s a ruse that encourages people to treat perceived enemies just as badly as they claim their perceived enemies are treating people. I mean. It’s a dirty, dirty game.”

        I agree with that important point, Becky. People will paint others’ propaganda as effective prelude to others’ actions. They’re like propaganda terrorists.

        One partial take-away, though, to your reasoning that harmful thought and harmful action aren’t necessary and sufficient conditions for one another: Thought precedes its action. The thought may be as fleeting as an ice cream cone in this week’s L.A., even surreal, but thought necessarily precedes every act. It is that link which makes folks, whether conscious of the linking process or not, so scared of certain things people say and write.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          But it’s also the relationship between, saying to someone “I could kill you right now,” and actually doing it. Which is why it’s so important to approach either case with an attitude of “I’m going to figure out which I’m dealing with” rather than, say, calling everyone who ever thought they’d like to kill someone a murderer.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Saying “I’m going to kill you right now” and doing it is a separate though related issue to the causal connect between a *thought* and its resultant action. If what one says is exactly what they’ll do, we’d have no problem locking up lotsa folks, and we’d probably encourage folks to speak their minds. 😉

          Here’s where you put your finger on the main issue with the effective example you’ve used above, Becky:

          ” . . . it’s so important to approach either case with an attitude of ‘I’m going to figure out which I’m dealing with’ rather than, say, calling everyone who ever thought they’d like to kill someone a murderer.”

          Thank goodness you have the wisdom and patience to try to sort out what folks say from what they’re likely to do and that you see that the two are not the same, though they may turn out to be the same in some cases, unfortunately.

          Doubtless part of the difficulty in this conundrum is that we, effectively, need to know our “enemies” and our friends who don’t agree with our beliefs. Otherwise, we’re, as you point out, likely to see them as the dangerous “other,” as you so rightly stress, which is what many of them already think we are.

          And, naturally, the tension escalates.

          I suppose what frustrates me the most, in political situations, is that people will highjack relatively benign stances and neutral terms such as “family values” or “right to work,” and coolly play them for their own game’s ends. That is the sticky political-power world I fear the most: People who manipulate others’ emotions for their own gain, of whom propagandists are only one faction.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, you know. The more I think about all the different things I’m talking about and trying to advocate and saying I think are right and advisable and best-practices all around…the more I realize that what I’m really advocating is critical thinking.

          Some people seem to think “critical thinking” means thinking really hard about ways to insist & rationalize that they were right to begin with.

          But my general feeling is that critical thinking is about being critical towards one’s self and one’s thoughts and one’s assumptions and conclusions and emotions as much as–more so than–it is about being critical of anyone else’s.

          That’s a huge part of what I’m stressing, I guess. It’s sort of upsetting to me that, as a result of–at least in part–the political climate in this country, I felt compelled take up such an elaborate story/discussion/essay in pursuit of a point that should, theoretically, go without saying to anyone with half a brain under sane circumstances.

          But that’s what politics do to us, you know? Make us act like people we aren’t, really. At least in some respects. Perfectly smart people act stupid and crazy, perfectly kind people act mean…That’s the sort of thing we should resist allowing to become habitual. It’s bad policy.

          Changing how we approach others who think differently than we do may be just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a fairly huge one.

        • Judy Prince says:

          “It’s sort of upsetting to me that, as a result of–at least in part–the political climate in this country, I felt compelled take up such an elaborate story/discussion/essay in pursuit of a point that should, theoretically, go without saying to anyone with half a brain under sane circumstances.”

          I think you’re echoing what a lot of folks are thinking, p’raps unconsciously, Becky. Yet I don’t think we or our country or our political system are unique in this political mess. One thing seems evident, though: We’re all affected by it, so it’s a good idea to try to see our way through it with level heads and honest hearts.

          What you’re tackling is massively important. You initially presented it in this post as a factual narrative, which was an excellent way to draw readers into the issues rather than have them run from what seems like yet another analysis of the maddening political world.

          USAmericans have many divisions of thought, not just “us” and “them”, Republicans and Democrats. The 2-party (which is what we effectively are) system exemplifies, philosophically/politically, the problem. In another area, journalism, we’ve been taught to think there’re 2 sides to everything, which sounds fine and solid and logical. But the facts are that there’re more than 2 sides to everything. The journo representation of “Red” states and “blue” states, is an easy categorisation to splatter on millions of individuals, and it builds yet more faulty duo-only thinking.

          It may be true that we mainly think in two veins, politically, here in the USA, but within those presumed groups are people who carry more wisdom and understanding (as well as ignorance) than the 2 boxes they’re put into.

          I find that knowing a people’s “stories” (experiences, preferences, motivations) frees me from some of my knee-jerk assumptions about what “category” they may fit into. But most of the time I want to shriek at people whom I think are wrong-minded (meaning that they disagree with my views). Patience, Judy, I keep telling myself.

          Writers, it is said, have more power than politicians……and more power than powerful folks.

          Hence, may you never tire of cutting through the living fables of our days. We need to be awakened, to see some thought-paths through the mad forest. We need to identify the habits of our thoughts and how they take hold of us. We need to separate people from their ideas and then put them back together again differently. We need ombudspeople. We need to believe in our ability to work through situations that others have grown jaded about and have abandoned as impossible. We need help. We need practice.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          “We need to be awakened, to see some thought-paths through the mad forest. We need to identify the habits of our thoughts and how they take hold of us. We need to separate people from their ideas and then put them back together again differently.”

          I concur. Amen and cheers to that. And I like thinking of Herta and Oskar as a fable. Cautionary tale, morality tale, whatever.

          I like to think of it that way. I mean, it’s real. They’re real people, so it’s not really a fairy tale, but neither are we really talking about the real people. The symbolism, the representation, the allegory–like in fairy tales–is what’s key.

          On a somewhat unrelated note, I really adore folk tale/folk life as a general area of study and contemplation. It’s fascinating. I briefly considered it as an area of graduate study as a way to merge my anthropological and literary interests, but decided that in the long run, it was even more likely to leave me flipping burgers than an MFA or PhD in English.

          Le sigh. How’s a girl get paid to just sit around and THINK these days?

        • Judy Prince says:

          Becky, your “somewhat unrelated note” is totally related. I’ve been thinking about what you might want to do for an advanced degree, but didn’t factor in the folk tale/folk life interest. I’ll bet Irene Zion would have some thoughts on this.

          How about your proposing a you-tailored major field for an MA or PhD at the university of your choice? One of my son’s friends did it years ago, and he came out wonderfully. He, like you, is creative and brilliant and an excellent writer.

          I once read (and wish I’d saved it!) that people get jobs that have little relevance to their university major field. So, hey, you could create your own major field, then create your job afterwards. I love it!

          Of course, I thought of your teaching at a university. Not a bad idea, ya know? 😉

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I don’t know if I have the stomach for it. I’m facing a good deal of pressure from friends and family to head into academia, but I’m afraid of two things: Hating everyone I have to deal with on a daily basis or worse, becoming them.

          Then again, I should not paint academics with such broad strokes, etc. and I know that.

          But regardless of the individuals involved, I’m seriously, intensely distrustful of institutionalized higher education, despite my not inconsiderable debt to it. I mean, there’s the “change it from the inside out!” notion, but the whole institution is sort of set up to break people of crazy ideas like that.

          I’ve got some weird notion about keeping my brain “pure” from that kind of pollution. Quixotic, I know, but I feel like academia would wreck me somehow. Or I’d just get fired eventually. I don’t know. My fate may be sealed, regardless. I’m 32. I’m running out of career options.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Becky, you know what someone responded to a woman who at 40 said she was too old to start med school: “You’ll be 47 whether you’re a doctor or not.” (I might be off the facts a bit, but the main idea’s there)

          I well understand your ideas about academia, but, then, I think the same thing prevails in most workplaces, and I p’raps proved that fact by getting fired from most of my jobs, even twice from one of them.

          I’m rather grateful for the many jobs I’ve had, though. As with husbands, you learn valuable things from each. 😉

          You did seem especially appreciative of the uni prof you wrote about for your first TNB post. His teaching and presence were really important to you.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          AH. But he wasn’t a Uni prof.

          He was a community college prof. and my two favorite instructors where there.

          Maybe that’s the key. Maybe I need to work some place like that.

          Then when Harvard or Columbia or some place like that tries to hire me away, I’ll tell them to bite me. I’m staying here with the hoi polloi.

        • Judy Prince says:

          HAHAHAHA! Yes, tell Harvard and Columbia to bite you, Becky! Love that.

          How about getting your advanced degree here in England or somewhere in Europe—-or wherever most anthropologically and folk tale-y turns you on? You can wed your curiosity to the location and churn out some awesome research and writings.

          Ask your community college prof faves to give you some suggestions about all of this.

          OMG, I used to LOVE “mature” (older than 18 yr old) students! Purposely schedule my teaching to evenings and Saturdays in order to get the students who had families and jobs. Went home every single day smiling like a lunatic, no matter the back-to-back 3-hour classes.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Becky, you may find this interesting. It’s American anthropologist Laura Bohannon’s article about West African Tiv tribe members’ opinions on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”:

          Rodent’s a bit of an expert on Laura Bohannon and recommends the article.

  17. D.R. Haney says:

    The more polarized this country has become, the less interested I find myself in politics.

    I have a Yahoo! account, which means that every time I check Yahoo!, I’m barraged with idiotic “news” stories, many concerning celebrities, and sometimes I take the bait and click, and I always note the comments, which invariably include a few along the lines of: “You liberals…” I mean, it could be a story about Lindsay Lohan tripping and falling on the red carpet (and that would be typical of Yahoo!), but it will still generate name-calling derived from Fox News, or the ever-weepy and sanctimonious PC opposite.

    But it’s usually more of the former. At the same time, in my personal experience, the left-leaning are more prone to shunning those who aren’t of the faith. At one time, I toyed with contributing to Open Salon, but I quickly realized that I would never be welcome there — as if the copious hate mail that rolls in after every Camilla Paglia Salon column hadn’t already been clue enough. Either you subscribe wholesale to the Official Dogma (TM) or you’re a non-person.

    I’ve never had to de-friend such people, since, when our differences, however slight, became apparent, they were first to take action.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I think Camille Paglia is great.

      I get a lot of shit for that. From people you’d think wouldn’t mind Camille Paglia. And especially wouldn’t mind a conservative saying she likes an avowed Democrat.

      She’s an excellent case-study. I think she’s like a….a….what’s that thing called, in chemistry? The chemical you introduce to determine the nature/type of another chemical? I’m drawing a blank. Anyway. She’s one of those.

      She tends to elicit the strongest, most indignant reactions from people who are more ideologically rigid, more emphatic and closed-off to competing ideas, no matter the side of the aisle they’re on. She can’t be trusted, basically, to tell people what they already think (of liberals or conservatives), in any case. So, as a result, I guess, maybe people feel betrayed. Like, they went looking for affirming information and weren’t able to get it.

      They’re frustrated. Ideological blue balls. Cock blocked.

      Anyway. I don’t know that liberals hold their views any more rigidly that conservatives, but I agree that there is something about their surety in the morality of their beliefs that allows them to rationalize being more closed-off from people with disparate ideologies and to become that way at an otherwise more moderate spot on the political continuum. I can’t quite think of why that might be. I could offer some possibilities, but I don’t want to start a riot.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Catalyst! That’s the word.


      How could I forget that? It’s early. That’s my excuse.

  18. 1. Because we’ve moved to a new city recently, my wife and I have had an unusual number of “couples dinners” with people we don’t know. It’s been an eye-opener. Intellectually I would like to think that I am equally comfortable with those who agree with me as do not, and, in fact, relish listening to views that challenge my lazier assumptions. But the truth is that I mostly prefer to be among those with whom, after a glass of wine, I can utter a buzzed dogmatism like “Anyone who feels in the unfathomable ease of 2011 that they are able to make informed moralistic judgments about what people did to survive during the Soviet era need to spend a few months eating their shoes in a lightless Gdansk holding cell first” without worrying about offending them. Easier done if we all voted for Obama.

    2. I attended a Rainbow Gathering once. Can we still be friends?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      1. Mmm. Perhaps. But provided your guests were following the Palapala method for not being a whiny dogmatist, they would allow you your buzzed dogmatism. Because they would stop and think: “He’s buzzed. He’s frustrated. We’re all allowed a little dogmatism from time to time. The more important question: Does he, in fact, advocate and intend to pursue the actual feeding of shoes to people locked up in Gdansk?”

      2. I think so. I used to buy my know people who bought acid from them. They were alright. And mostly not contagious.

  19. Ben Loory says:

    i like having friends with crazy beliefs. that way there’s always something to laugh about. the really sad thing is when people have no beliefs, or think their beliefs are the truth. then it’s just a drag, cuz i mean, come on… if there were facts, and we were rational, the universe would be a rock. and rocks aren’t really very interesting if you’re trapped in one.

    i also like having friends who cook, and/or like driving me around.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I, too, prefer to have friends who cook. I hate cooking so much.

      Words cannot express how much I hate cooking.

      Anyway. Yeah. I want people to believe in things but not be dicks about it.

      How hard is that? Like, not to be a dick? Just don’t be a fuckin’ dick. Don’t get so caught up in your shit that you’re an asshole. Simple, I think. Makes perfect sense to me.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I want to change the name of this post to “Don’t Be a Dick.”

      • Dana says:

        Seriously. Wasn’t there a recent post with that title? Deja vu!

        I read this piece the other day on my tiny little iTouch and started reading through the comments (they don’t seem to nest on mobile devices) and didn’t want to comment until I’d read through everything. But now it’s grown into a monster and I don’t even know where to start. So, I’ll just say, this was a very interesting read and it got me thinking about being less judgmental. I do have friends that hold opposing views, but generally they’re not the ones I hold closest.. except for my mom.

        • Becky says:

          I don’t know if there was. Maybe. Maybe a Smithson title? I don’t have the energy to look it up.

          I mean, there are any number of reasons why you might not be super close with people who have a seriously divergent ideology from their own, and a lot of might just have to do with not having a lot in common with those people. I mean, I’m not friends with a lot of people who agree with me politically for that reason. If you don’t have much in common, you just don’t.

          Anyway, my big thing is not excluding people for ideological reasons alone. Not being cruel/rude/dismissive based on same.

          Like, I think Duke is right. I think left-leaning people are more likely to see excluding right-leaning people as some kind of moral or ethical imperative. But that doesn’t mean that the concept is limited to left-leaning people. How great would the world be if conservatives were more respectful? I mean, that’s a constant refrain on the left.

          My point is that the catch is that liberals have to be more humane, too. Which seems like a weird thing to have to tell liberals who generally pride themselves on their humanity. But it tends to fall short when it comes to people of rightward political list. All very messy. But made no cleaner by escalation.

  20. Richard Cox says:

    I’m so late to this that the conversation is basically over, but one thing that stuck out for me is the other ways you might be divided into “us” and “them” besides just political views (I’ll admit I haven’t read all the comments).

    You write, “At what point do a person’s politics and ideology reveal in them some other, fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?”

    Well, I enjoy certain music that I cannot possibly admit to a new friend because of the character baggage that is associated with such preferences. I’ll only talk about my fringey-cool music proclivities until I get to know someone, because to admit I own every Def Leppard issue commercially available (and plenty of bootlegs) will likely earn a designation in said new friend’s mind that will not necessarily be accurate. Because of preconceived notions about certain music and the fans of said music.

    We definitely do, as humans, look for reasons to divide and reasons to congregate. And then ironies like the one you wrote about above serve to demonstrate how simple our rules often all, simple in a bad way, meaning with these big brains of ours we ought to be able to do better.

    So why don’t we?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Own your Leppard, Richard.

      Like I own my Neil Diamond.

      Do not conform in order to be non-conformist.

      Stand out! In your Leppard-print spandex!

  21. Excellent piece!

    I have found that if I spend time working with someone, and we’re working toward the same goal, that I will always connect to and like the people I’m working with no matter what their politics, opinions, etc. This has happened to me so many times that when I meet someone with whom I totally disagree with politically, I just jump in my mind to the time/place where we’d connect and assume that I’ll like him/her eventually.

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