The way I see it

When Sarah Palin spoke of her affinity for the “Joe Six-packs of America,” I envisioned the millions of people who believe that an opinion expressed by besotted barflies has a better chance of validity than one presented in a doctoral thesis. Their premise is that anything beyond rudimentary knowledge overcomplicates decision-making, and that the resultant loss of clarity leads to liberalism. I heard it presented in church from the time I was in diapers. “Better to be poor all you life than go to a secular university, read the godless filth that godless professors call literature, study their godless science and their godless philosophy; and lose your soul.”

Led by conservative talk show hosts, the Joe Six-Packs are on the ascendancy. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Medved, Lars Larson, and Michael Savage, are well known to me because I used to listen to them for hours each day. I quit because, despite their appeal (commercial talk radio is based on personality; public talk radio on issues) and their entertaining theatrics, there was no attempt at fairness. Their tactic was to trash the enemy, no matter how blatant the illogic or skewed the facts. If you believe your listeners are morons, there’s no need to make sense; and the fact that such talk show hosts are immensely popular implies that their assessment of their audience is largely correct. NPR at least tries to represent all sides, giving them time to answer questions, and prohibiting them from talking over one another.

Yesterday, I heard the leader of the Christian Coalition, and, as with a great many conservatives nowadays, I felt embarrassed for him. If there is any intelligence or integrity on the part of the most vocal segment of the right, I’m unaware of it. They seem to believe that democracy is great as long as they win, but if they don’t win, all bets are off. Then it’s time to “take back America,” and this would appear to leave room for pretty much anything—except working for the common good. Other than hysteria, I don’t know what the right has going for it. Unfortunately, hysteria seems to be serving it well, and that is a hard lesson to swallow.

After I wrote the above, I visited a blog in which the owner was bemoaning the lack of compassion on the part of those who oppose health care reform. One reader wrote that she was among them, whereupon there was unleashed against her the most vituperative torrent of abuse I have ever seen on any blog. Another reader and I spoke against it, thinking that, surely, others would join us. They did not. In fact, they joined in the name-calling, ending any possibility of a rational discussion. Even though the dissenter gave up after being called a parrot and a hate-filled bitch, one reader complimented the forum on its openness to opposing viewpoints—after all, no one had been physically beaten.

Experience has taught me that it is a rare day when either side to a debate has a monopoly on righteousness, yet how much sadder is that lesson when the worse cruelty is inflicted by those who claim to be on the side of compassion? Islam calls itself a religion of peace, yet how many people will be murdered today amid screams of Allahu Akbar? The second tenet of Christianity is to love your neighbor as yourself, yet how many millions of their neighbors have Christians killed, tortured, or ostracized? So would it be, I fear, with “compassionate liberals” if they had the power. The worst atrocities are always inflicted by those who think their side represents everything good and the other side everything evil.

Where my species is concerned; no enlightenment is possible, and no lasting good can ever come. For every gain there is a loss, and we extol the Gandhis and the Kings loudest when they are dead and can no longer threaten our smugness. Our lives are so very, very short that I should think we could do better. Perhaps, we are still too evolutionarily primitive. Perhaps, the truly compassionate are but aberrations. I cannot think it otherwise, and I despair.