When I first thought of this post, I didn’t know what to call it. My intention was to recognize a conservative blogger for her courage and strength of character in withstanding a deluge of criticism from fellow conservatives.
I decided to take a generic approach because this post is no longer about the subject blogger but about a more widespread and pernicious phenomenon: The subculture of invective, dishonest hyperbole, and slash-and-burn character assassination that has metastasized into our political life, our media, and our online interactions.
This is not the first time your liberal (O)CT(O)PUS has defended a conservative blogger. Last year, another conservative blogger asked a fair question: Do we really want President Obama to fail? Since liberals and conservatives alike are riding in the same ship of nationhood, she asked, do we really want to sink the entire boat? An intellectually honest question, I thought, but not according to rabid reactionaries who accused the writer of spreading apostasy and treason.
Rightwing critics disparage the term political correctness as a Marxist plot whose aim is to undermine conservative values and impose social conformity. The linguistic argument is one more front in the so-called culture wars. Yet, the same rightwing critics employ a far more sinister version of political correctness. They make use of litmus tests to enforce ideological orthodoxy in thought, speech, and personal associations. They will not hesitate to browbeat fellow conservatives into submission with condemnation and excommunication. How ironic! The rightwing accuses the left of using political correctness to impose social conformity; yet, the same rightwingers use coercive means to enforce groupthink within their ranks.
This post has a background story in two parts. Part One begins with Shaw, our fellow Swash Zone colleague, who asked me to look after her weblog in her absence while she underwent cancer surgery. In due course, I enlisted mutual friends including one conservative writer as guest contributors. There were no constraints or guidelines imposed on any writer; and there were no objections from Shaw for any contribution on her behalf.
Part Two: This drama moves to the weblog of our conservative friend, who posted a simple holiday greeting, A Blessed Christmas to All. As expected, her comment thread filled with good wishes from followers of all persuasions … until a few days ago when one reader discovered her name as a contributor on Shaw’s weblog:
[Name redacted] said: “I saw your name on the Progressive Eruptions blog as one of the contributes [sic] to that FILTH (…) If you wish to be part of that commie-Marxist blog then so be it. That's your mistake and I for one won't be part of it or of this. And I hope that my fellow republicans [sic] will feel the same way.”To assuage whatever demons my invitation had summoned, I replied:
“[Name redacted], if you want to blame someone for putting [her] name on the contributor list at Progressive Eruptions, blame me because I am the one who invited her (…) The civil and respectful thing to do is give [name of conservative friend] an appropriate greeting in keeping with the holiday spirit. So be a human being, a mensch, and do the right thing.”The story should have ended here, but it did not. Within a day, another reader left this comment: “Goo [sic] there if you wish or if you must [[name redacted], but I will not be a follower.”
As chum in the water attracts predatory sharks, news of my friend’s so-called “defection” spread across conservative Cyberspace: “I too am disappointed in you [name of my conservative friend]. But like someone else here has said. [sic] we have to do what we have to do. And I too must do what I must do.”
When chatting with rightwing reactionaries, there is nothing to be gained in talking about helping a friend in need, about acts of kindness and compassion, about appealing to our higher angels, or pointing out what separates human beings from savages. There is no profit in mentioning freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom to associate, or in pointing out the shared American legacy that binds us together. Trust me: Every attempted outreach drew an inflamed response, as examples:
SLIME-BUCKETS … libtards … I’m sick of people like YOU … liberal holier than thou crap … The only standards liberals have are double standards … house flies … STUPID … the infectious horrible disease known as Liberalism … terrorist sympathizers … stupid and ignorant … filthy mouthed JERKS … take a hike … (O)CT(O)PUSSY …Returning to the subject of political correctness, liberals prefer the term cognitive linguistics to describe the framing effect of language and word-choice in shaping the attitudes and actions of speakers and listeners. In concept, the abuse and misuse of language contributes to negative stereotypes that can restrict the rights, opportunities, and freedoms of people. One goal of cognitive linguistics is to render pejorative labels as socially unacceptable, thus encouraging us to view individuals on their merits as opposed to stereotypes.
There are critics who regard political correctness as a “euphemism treadmill.” And there are defenders who view those dismissals as a distraction to avoid a debate about racism, sexism, and other forms of class discrimination and inequality.
In his book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, David Neiwert takes cognitive linguistics a step further:
Rhetorically, [eliminationism] depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic.In short, reactionary ideas and talking points have infected public discourse to such a degree that it is poisoning how we treat each other in our daily lives. It is a political subculture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of outright elimination of the opposing side through suppression, condemnation, ostracism, or extermination.(…)
It is by small steps of meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. We have the historical example of 20th fascism as a reminder. The Nazis … didn’t get that way overnight. They did this by not simply branding their opponents as the Enemy, but by denying them their essential humanity, depicting them as worse than scum – disease-laden, world destroying vermin, in desperate need of elimination.
On July 27, 2008, Jim David Adkisson entered a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killed two people, and wounded seven others. The shooter was motivated by hated of liberals, Democrats, African Americans, and homosexuals. A police search of his home found: Liberalism is a Mental Disorder by Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism by Sean Hannity, and other hate literature (source).
Liberal-bashing trolls harassed my friend on home turf and defiled her holiday message. Make no mistake. My friend has fallen victim to reactionary rhetoric as much as any liberal, or any other group targeted by this rabble. Perhaps one of her moderate followers said it best:
Seems your "friends" don't think you have the strength of your convictions. That you will somehow be "turned" or "brainwashed." That just by engaging with liberals you will be tainted and changed (…) How silly (...) She doesn't back off her beliefs. She knows irrationality when she sees it. She knows how to be a "true" friend (…) How many times has [she] asked her readers to cut the ad hom (…) you deserve better "friends" [my bold].Cross-posted from The Swash Zone.