Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Questions that Could Use an Answer

The debate over the Cordoba House[1] has apparently become my big hot button issue, to the point where I have twice violated my policy against getting in to Facebook-related arguments over random shit.[2]  Here’s the new one.

A friend of mine posted a link to this article in the New Yorker.  It’s yet another one of those think pieces that points out that the arguments against the Cordoba House are shrill, bigoted, and ignorant and advanced by people who are shrill, bigoted, and ignorant.  It also helps to point out the divide in this country: there is an intellectual elite that is apparently “out of touch” with “real America.”  Unfortunately “real America” is a self-defined collection of reflexively ignorant morons.

Anyway, it turns out that my friend has a friend who is a reflexively ignorant moron who popped in to say, basically, “That’s interesting, but I don't [EDIT: oops, missed that word] see the author’s viewpoint.”

This hit my hot button.  I basically asked what it was about the author’s viewpoint that was flawed, seeing as how he pointed out that it’s a bunch of ignorant demagogues pushing a narrative that there’s going to be a giant mosque planted on Ground Zero when the reality is nothing of the sort.

There was also a humorous interlude when someone asked the friend of a friend if she’d actually read the article.  A response was up for about two minutes that snapped, “Did you read the article?”  It was deleted, I’d assume at the moment the friend of a friend realized she was posing that question to the author of the article in question.

Anyway, I then got the old, “Well I guess we just have to agree to disagree.”  This statement annoys me.  I articulated my annoyance by basically saying this:

We can’t agree to disagree, as you haven’t actually managed to articulate a position with which I can disagree.  All you’ve said is that you don’t like the idea of the Ground Zero Mosque, which is actually none of those things.

For the record, I’m going to use that first thought again.

My friend then popped in and told me to be nice.  This got me thinking about all the clucking over “tone” whenever the New Atheists dare to hold an opinion on things.  So I asked about it, basically saying this:

Why is it that being perceived as “not nice” is apparently so much worse than being perceived as an ignorant bigot?

These were, in all actuality, rhetorical questions.  I mean, they may or may not have received answers, but I’ll never know, since I dropped a friend and went to bed.  Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit.

Still, I think it’s a question worth asking over and over and over again.

Why is it that being perceived as an ignorant bigot is apparently a more desirable trait than being not nice?


[1]Better known as the (not) Ground Zero (not) Mosque…

[2]This, by the way, illustrates one of the things I absolutely hate about Facebook.  It’s what I like to think of as the “Two Degrees of Separation” principle.  You’re always within two degrees of seeing something massively stupid on Facebook.  Either you find out that your friends have moronic stances on things, or you find that their friends have them.  Hence my anti-Facebook arguments policy.

There’s also the minor problem that the vast majority of people you’re friends with on Facebook aren’t people you usually talk to.  So that random person you haven’t laid eyes on in, like, five years can continue to annoy you by proxy or they might have a random acquaintance who annoys you due to the Two Degrees of Separation.  It’s a pain in the ass.

It’s also why I have one less Facebook friend[3] as of tonight.  The mathematics are simple: I don’t think less of the friend in question.  However, I haven’t talked to said friend outside of this interaction more than, like, twice in the last three years.  I honestly don’t care if I ever see this friend again and her Facebook status updates don’t exactly make my life better.  So why bother keeping track of this person? And can I honestly call her my friend?

And if she doesn’t want to keep track of me, well, I can’t say that I give a shit about that, either.  Would I have known the difference if she had de-friended me?  Probably not.  I’m actually somewhat lost on the point of Facebook, really.  I’m reasonably certain that I could drop down from my current collection of over 200 “friends” to around 60 and it wouldn’t actually change a thing.  Except that the people left would be the ones I genuinely want to keep track of.[4]

[3]Actually, seven.  I figured I’d clean house while I was thinking about it.  I probably would have dropped several more, but I found myself discouraged from my task by the fact that Facebook has made it much harder to de-friend people.  Which is a really bizarre thing to lament, now that I think about it.  So I basically dropped the people who I'd really rather never see again in real life and a couple of people who I apparently went to high school with but who I barely remember and who keep inviting their entire Friends list to events I wouldn't go to even if I didn't live a thousand miles away from Chicago.

[4]Thus begins my Facebook rant.  It goes like this:

I have a policy when I'm cleaning my apartment.  If I pick something up that I haven't seen in a month three, look at it, and can't imagine wanting to see it again in three months I throw it out.  This goes for anything that lacks intrinsic or sentimental value (I will throw away some random trinket.  I will not throw away my signed vinyl pressing of Scott Lucas & the Married Men's George Lassos the Moon.  I also do not tend to get rid of books or CDs).  This was an exceedingly easy decision tree to work through before my last move.  If I looked at something and said, "I can't imagine taking this to Texas with me," it did not go to Texas.  Friendships are like this.  We stop talking to people for a reason.

I left the church I grew up in with absolutely no intention of going back.  Yet I'm still connected to that church because I'm Facebook friends with a lot of people who I went to church with.  I'd like to keep a connection with a few of them, but that sub-set of people I knew from church and still want to talk to is significantly smaller than the full set of people I knew.

For these purposes I can divid my Facebook friends list in to five buckets.

Bucket 1: People I like and want to keep an active relationship with.

Bucket 2: People I like but just want to be able to contact if need be.

Bucket 3: People I don't care about, but once did.

Bucket 4: People I barely remember and can't fathom why I am "friends" with them.

Bucket 5: People I have come to actively dislike for one reason or another.

At a rough estimate, approximately half of the people on my Facebook friends list fall in to Buckets 3-5.  This wouldn't be that big of a deal if Facebook were just a contacts list.  But it's not.  It's a social networking site.  That means that you find yourself either actively or passively networking with people you aren't actually friends with and then you find yourself networking with their friends.

The big question is, "Why bother?"

Facebook is basically a daily high school reunion.  My ten-year reunion rolled around last fall and I didn't go.  I had other things to do that particular weekend, specifically dogsitting a hyperactive schnauzer and the Illinois Storytelling Festival.  However, even if I hadn't had those other more important, time consuming things to deal with I would not have gone to my ten-year reunion.

Why?  I didn't like most of the people who I went to high school with and have forgotten a lot of the rest.  The ones that I did like I can still get ahold of.

I'd also hazard a guess that I wasn't missed.  I was a fat, poorly socialized nerd.  Most of the people I went to high school with probably don't remember me and probably didn't miss me at the reunion.

If I can't be bothered to go to my high school reunion, why would I want to see Facebook status updates from the people I'd see there?  More importantly, in what universe would I consider the people there my friends?


Michael Mock said...

I just put a similar response to the same topic - the Mosque (community center) at (a couple of blocks from) Ground Zero, not Facebook. And almost the moment it went up, I had some crank pop by to ask if maybe the Russians would let "them" put up a mosque to "celebrate" the Beslan School Hostage Crisis.

Really not how I wanted to start my morning...

Chris said...

In 299, then, there was a story that the Emperor took part in a divination ceremony, but the attempts by his haruspices[3] came to naught and the Christians were blamed. These were, specifically, Manichaeans, who were connected largely to Persia.

From your previous post. It occurs to me that a parallel can be found in using the actions of a dodgy, possibly heretical Muslim sect largely connected to Saudi Arabia as an excuse to try to ban the building of mainstream Masjids all over America. And so it continues.

Geds said...


Yeah. It's not a fun way to end the night or start the day. Also, is it just me or is the Cordoba House thing somehow worse and more contentious than anything that's come before? It might just seem that way to me because it's a specific hot button.

But, by the same token, this is the first case where the Tea Party types aren't trying to block a Civil Right, but actually take away a right and actually seem to have traction. That and the fact that the rhetoric is easily disprovable and I can literally come up with no excuse to honestly assess the situation and come away with any conclusion other than, "We should allow this to happen and leave it alone." It scares me that we have to have these fights.


Yeah. There's that. Funny how the more history you read the more today looks like yesterday.

The only real difference seems to be in who controls the boot and who possesses the face.

PersonalFailure said...

Why is it that being perceived as “not nice” is apparently so much worse than being perceived as an ignorant bigot?

Because once you've run out of actual, relevant arguments, all you're left with is "stop being mean to me!"

DagoodS said...

Here I was almost about to ask you to be my friend on Facebook…Now all I see is my face in a bucket!

The interesting thing about Facebook (to me) is how it causes culture clash. We have a group of Real Life friends, and to keep those friendships we tend to temper our statements, or be more forgiving, or engage in careful conversations.

Then we have our internet world where we bash and fight and argue and call some unknown blogger named “Bugger” names.

Along comes Facebook and some fellow we were friends with back in the College Age Group at church says something really…well…stupid. In Real Life we probably would ignore it (for decorum’s sake) and move on. But this is the internet. Where we disagree. And respond with argument, cites, backing and careful thought.

I don’t know about you, but many times I have seen status updates, like on this topic, and it taunts me from the Computer screen.

“I’m your former friend/acquaintance/golfing buddy.”
”But this is really stupid and it deserves a response!”
“You wouldn’t say anything to me in person.”
”But there are numerous reasons why this is utterly sun-revolves-around-earth wrong!”

“Do you want me to report you to other people who you actually might care about?”
”So pick the nicest, yet pointed argument, and leave off the name-calling.”

Then I do. Then they get mad. Then I have one less friend on Facebook. (As my current total is around 65, those numbers hurt!)

I try to be careful and avoid these interactions. But sometimes internet-me compels me.

Big A said...

About 8 months ago I had to unfriend a cousin of mine on facebook. I liked her and enjoyed talking with her, and she and I had no problems. Unfortunately one of her facebook friends was one of those beyond-psycho homeschool her kids for jesus types. After a debate came up concerning childhood vaccinations (something she was, of course, against because some hack doctor on the internet said vaccinations were bad) she then made it a point to basically e-stalk me anytime I made a comment or had a discussion with my cousin.

Figuring I didn't need this aggravation, I was forced to defriend my cousin because her "friend" was a total bitch.

GailVortex said...

Also, is it just me or is the Cordoba House thing somehow worse and more contentious than anything that's come before?

I think because the facts of the matter are so straight-forward and completely NOT what the Palin/Gingrich Axis of Evil are ranting about, the demagogery and the Total Journalism Fail are highlighted.

If I could ask Sarah Palin one thing, it would be how she squares bald-faced lying with her Christianity.

Geds said...


And, of course, there's the problem where, "Insisting you offer a coherent argument," is conflated with "meanness."


Yeah, those interactions are exactly why I have a no-Facebook arguing policy. Oddly enough, though, my other Cordoba House argument came when a friend from college put up a status that basically said, "If you disagree with the building of the mosque, then you're an ignorant bigot."

One of his friends replied with, "Then I guess I'll have to side with the ignorant bigots."

I then posted, "Well, at least you're willing to own it." This then devolved in to basically the same conversation as the one I articulated, but no one told me I had to "be nice," precisely because we started from the understanding that the guy was siding with ignorant bigots and was wrong. Funny, that.

Big A:

Oddly, I wouldn't expect to get Facebook stalked on this one. And I'm still a bit surprised I de-friended the "friend" in question. But although I like my former friend just fine, I also don't care that much to see her latest pictures hanging out with some people I may or may not know and hear about whatever the hell it is she did yesterday.

Also, when you've got two friends who don't know each other arguing and you choose to take sides in such a way where you say to one friend, "Stop it, you're being mean to my friend," well, that sets a hierarchy. And that tells me where I stand.


Well, there's that, too.

Also, I wouldn't expect an honest and coherent answer. Probably something about mama grizzlies who are also lipstick wearing bulldogs or something.

GailVortex said...

My comment was "if I could ask her one thing."

I failed to mention the expected response would be word salad.

Michael Mock said...

I've heard at least one suggestion that it's basically just a cold-blooded bit of political calculation. Basically, the current Republican politicans can't get elected on their actual positions - tax cuts for the rich! abolish Social Security! - so they gin up a genuine faux scandal to generate outrage, and try to run on that. In other words, "Don't worry about what I'll do when I'm in office, worry about those scary Muslims who want to do something *really* offensive."

Then, of course, they trust that the electorate won't bother to check the facts, and the media won't bother to educate anybody about the actual situation. Damn the torpedos and full speed ahead! And you know what? They're probably right.

I'm depressed just writing that.

The Everlasting Dave said...


Hey, it worked 6 years ago. And as far as I can tell, most people aren't any smarter today.

David said...

There's a certain of the population that loves their binary oppositions, subtlety be damned! I want to think that this is a remnant of Cold War ideology, but I suspect that this thinking has been around forever, and always will be.

It's always seemed ironic to me that, before 2001, the right had nothing but antipathy towards urban America in general and New York City in particular. I wonder if it ever pains them to think that by making such a big deal over the "mosque" issue, they are tacitly acknowledging that NYC, that new Babylon, is actually a part of this country?

Geds said...

Michael and Dave:

I'm beginning to fear that by the 2016 election we'll be looking back fondly on the good old days of 2004 when people actually put thought in to their voting process.


Assuming they're planning far enough ahead, I strongly suspect that, assuming the Cordoba House is built, that'll be a sign to withdraw. Those Islamofascist Commie Big City Libruls just don't listen to Real Americans and should be abandoned to their fate. The right wing has a bad habit of winning no matter what side they start out on. I suppose it helps that they don't bother to acknowledge all the times they were wrong.

Janet said...

So... exactly how polarized can a society become before it erupts into riots and civil war? My biggest worry about the economy is not for my financial security, but the fear that my malcontented neighbors will set upon each other like starving dogs.