Not everything can be resolved through discussion. As my husband says, if the Pope and Planned Parenthood sat down over coffee, they will never agree about abortion. Yet, our society seems to be moving towards the ridiculous extreme that nothing can be solved by discussion. It seems that ad hominem attacks, ascribing the worst possible motives and being unable to conceive that anyone with whom you disagree is acting in good faith are all now normal.
This idea struck me forcefully this week after seeing reactions to the half-time show at the Super Bowl. I did not see the show myself (or the game), but there wasn’t any factual disagreement about the provocative nature of Jennifer Lopez’s performance. In a column I read on a site aimed at mothers, one woman wrote that the show was soft porn and unsuitable for a sports event targeted towards families. She did not call JLo horrible names, she did not say that anyone who enjoyed the show was a pervert, she simply said that this was inappropriate for any society encouraging more respect for women.
The comment section exploded. “You sound like the epitamy [sic] of helicopter mom [sic],” “It was the best halftime show of my life,” “Stop with the closed mind…” came from one side. Naturally, a few people took the opportunity to bash President Trump and anyone who voted for him, though he was never mentioned in the article. On the other side, many thanked the author for her words and shared her views.
A conversation it was not.
I have been reading a book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. I haven’t read enough yet to recommend the book, but in the early chapters, the authors expand on a principle of ancient Jewish wisdom that my husband and I often discuss: our feelings follow our actions far more than our actions follow our feelings. In other words, people who give up smoking often feel more ardently anti-tobacco than they ever were before they abandoned the habit. As the authors show, the more extreme our behavior, the harder it is for us to admit we are wrong. If, like so many Leftists today, someone supports movements claiming that President Trump is a dangerous man who must be stopped by any means before he destroys the planet, then it follows that the individual must drop friends and shun relatives who support the president. Only bad people would vote for someone who is so menacing. If these friends or relatives try to engage him in a fact-based conversation, he will not respond to the facts but will hunker down in his convictions. Thinking of himself as a good person is dependent on believing his thesis. Otherwise, he is a bad person for having destroyed relationships, insulting and offending people who meant a great deal to him.
Just like a serious illness causes one to forget minor health issues, the irrational hysteria about President Trump is masking the lack of calm conversation on all issues. If mothers, whom one can assume all want a safe world for their daughters, cannot discuss a halftime show without fury, how do we begin to restore civil conversation to society?
Could it be that the women who saw a 50-year-old star “strutting her stuff” as a form of female empowerment, know deep down that asking a 16-year-old boy watching the show not to have sexual thoughts about the girls in his class the next day is akin to asking a giraffe to burst into song? Anger has always masked insecurity. Conversing with someone caught in the throes of passion has never been possible. If actions beget fury, then, indeed, about half of us are forming a culture where discussion is impossible.