Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Arrogance Thing

If I had a body hair for every time I read some clown with a webpage spouting off about something he or she knows absolutely about, I’d be a terrifying, unsightly ape beast rampaging the countryside with an unquenchable thirst for blood! Or, to put it another way, if I were a terrifying, unsightly ape beast rampaging the countryside with an unquenchable thirst for blood and a bunch of ill-informed opinions to share, I’d decorate my website with military kitsch and spend my work breaks devising ever more extreme rhetoric to cover up the fact that I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about. To me, that’s basically what the “blogosphere”, particularly the right-wing side of it, seems to be: a perpetually rageful klatsch of people who think that ideology is a substitute for expertise, who prefer passion to perspective, full of slander but with no standing.

Call me an elitist, but I don’t think being an avid and uncritical reader of the conservative media qualifies anyone to be a commentator on economic policy, immigration law, or anything else. Perhaps there are experts on these things who also happen to be conservatives, but then I can just read them and not waste my time with the second and third-hand “me-too-and-you-liberals-are-fuckers” hordes. The world is a complicated place, with complicated problems: too often people allow their political beliefs to step in and serve as their security blanket against the confusing, inscrutable universe. Ideology, after all, can be accessed by anyone, while actual enlightenment takes a lot more work. At one level, this is the sort of thing that rubs against the democratic American hide: I’m essentially saying that Joe Average’s opinions are not as valuable as those of Dr. Joseph Tweedcoat, Ph.D. Part of me---the deep-down Marxist, perhaps---resists this formulation, while the rest of me feels it’s not just sound, but necessary.

Let’s take the Middle East as a convenient example. I can, and occasionally do, express my opinions on what goes on over there. At the same time, however, I try to do this in such a way that makes clear that my thoughts are not going to be particularly profound or well-informed. I don’t want to preen as an authority on the matter or pretend that my gut feelings are comparable to inarguable truths, in other words. This is not just simple modesty. Over the course of my entire life, I’ve probably read no more than thirty books on the Middle East and, at most, maybe a few hundred news and magazine articles. I have read nothing that can be described as “scholarly”, however, and I do not understand Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, Kurdish, Turkish or any other local language. While this ignorance cannot and should not prevent me from having an opinion, it does limit the pool of facts and perspectives my opinion is drawn from.

What I prefer to do is consult people who have spend their lives living in, writing about, and/or studying the Middle East, and then use my critical thinking abilities to feel my way through the disputes and controversies between them. What I try not to do, however, is reduce a whole huge section of the world to a few glib sentences, a few childish stereotypes, and a few half-assed policy recommendations. It is wise to be suspicious of those who want to pull the simple out of the very, very complex and leave it at that.

If only the right-wing would be so circumspect. You don’t have to search very far to find some cubicle commado calling for the invasion of Syria, the bombing of Iran, the dispossession of the Palestinians, etc., etc. Most of these blowhards aren’t qualified to call football plays, much less make foreign policy. They seem to believe that these issues are pretty much the same as a new marketing proposal or shipment of widgets at their work—to turn out alright, all the world has to do is follow their commands. It strikes me as arrogant.

Of course, conservatives aren’t the only ones who do this sort of thing. Certain liberals are also quite accomplished at it. I prefer to ignore them. Right-wingers, however, seem a lot more comfortable in their Barca-lounger Sun Tzu slippers. For one, they’ve had a few decades of talk radio to break them into the Great Art of Babbling Nonsense. For another, they’re running things nowadays, which gives them a big headstart in the “turning prejudice into unquestionable wisdom” race. I would hope, however, that when the United States elects leaders more in line with my views, that I wouldn’t give up my independence and dignity in a futile quest to prove myself right through their glory. It seems like a terrible fate—to straddle the world, farting hot air all over it.