I filled in as a moderator for the ConvergeSouth session titled "We Do Agree to Disagree," on Friday, and over the past few days that session has become the focal point of the conference's conservative critics. I've been thinking about it quite a bit, critiquing my own performance in my new role, and trying to find something coherent to say about it.
I mean, after all, didn't I spend years as a political editor and reporter? Shouldn't I have some insight into the topic?
And here's what I've figured out:
I can't say a single definitive thing about politics without coming across like a boring lecturer, a finger-pointer, a know-it-all jerk, an apologist or -- even worse -- all of the above.
So instead I'm going to ramble, get it out of my system, and move on. And to all my friends, because I love you, you're all cordially invited NOT to read this crap...
I wish the session would have gone better. I wish the participants (both liberals) would have focused more on the topic (it was supposed to be about old vs. new media, not politics). I wish I would have interrupted their political asides (my questions were media question, but since their backgrounds were in alternative political media, all their stories and asides wound up being political) by reasserting the theme that I'd stated at the opening of the session. I wish the far right wasn't so prickly and angry. I wish the far left wasn't so prickly and angry. I wish the country wasn't so prickly and angry. Same for me.
All that said, here we are.
We've talked this shit to death so many times online that I'm practically impotent with "Yes... but" considerations, and I think lots of people are in this boat. We see the general trends and we've got more-or-less informed opinions, but by the time you've stipulated all the possible exceptions and stroked all the necessary constituencies and acknowledged all the historical interpretations... Great Gawd, it's half an hour later and we still haven't SAID anything.
Whereas the people who've gone partisan just toss their grenades, accept any collateral damage as "c'est la guerre" boo-boos, and drive on to the next skirmish, emotionally unaffected because they've written off the opposition. They're not mediating political discourse -- they're participating in it. Different role. Certainly a more enjoyable role. And I'm all for having fun, by the way.
The easy thing to do is what so many of my friends have done: They just wash their hands of politics. Too ugly. Well, I get that. I get that it's an alternate reality. But claiming to be apolitical doesn't actually absolve us from the knowledge that practically everything we do has political meaning and implication. Recycling is political. So is grocery shopping, sex, consuming entertainment and embedding a video. Not explicitly, perhaps, but inherently, contextually.
Critics of mainstream media can be ridiculous in this respect. Some see EVERYTHING the traditional media does as politically motivated and intentional, and they'll quote intellectuals like Noam Chomsky in writing their critiques. But when it comes to the political content of their own views, their own creations -- nothing. No responsibility.
And maybe that's what it takes to be creative today. But it's not the way I want to be.
I don't want to tolerate political views other than my own. I want to value them. Because I know that the domination of any single ideology is a sure-fire recipe for misery.
But I don't want to spend my life as some mealy-mouthed moderator, either. Like Ferris Bueller said, trying to make everybody happy alway fails, "because you can't respect somebody who kisses your ass. It just doesn't work."
I remember the first ConvergeSouth, when conservatives were everywhere and THEY were the ones publicly indulging in triumphal partisan snark. Are we supposed to assume that the change in tone at the conference from 2005 to 2007 took place in a vacuum? That the reason there wasn't more conservative perspective on display is simply some failing on the part of the conference organizers -- community-minded volunteers all?
Even conservatives are unhappy with their leaders at the moment. So do you mean to tell me that bloggers -- whose egos are bound up in being "right" like nobody this side of Bill O'Reilly -- aren't going to be affected to some degree by the general belief that their movement is in retreat?
Well, I suppose you can tell me that, and you're free to believe whatever you wish. But you're going to have a hard time convincing anyone outside your immediate circle.
And I don't think we can mediate that. Not really. Not on the larger scale. Because the people who tend to speak up the loudest are the ones for whom politics isn't really the issue: It's just their proxy for all sorts of vague psychological and cultural pathologies.
You've met them. They're the people you try to avoid at parties. But if you host an online "political" site and you invite everyone, they're typically front-and-center, which means we usually wind up mediating the very voices that we probably ought to be ushering out the door if we were trying to accomplish something constructive.
I've come to think that the best political sites are places where left and right hash things out internally, rather than across party lines, and that's not a bad thing at all. The Democratic Party is really just a loose coalition of about a dozen natural constituencies, and the GOP is more or less a joint banner for three separate groups, each of which distrusts the other. So there's a need for a place where partisans argue amongst themselves, and I think THAT'S a positive development.
But beyond that, I think we have to make choices. Which is why Xark wasn't created to be a political site that talks about eclectic topics, but an eclectic site that includes politics. Because despite all our protestations, politics is a part of living. Sometimes it's serious, sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's local, global, national. Sometimes we collaborate. Sometimes we fight. Democracy is a muddy scrum, not pairs figure skating, and to me it's a better conversation if it includes people whose primary orientation isn't political.
In its early days, Xark was far more political, largely because 2005-06 was such a politicized era. How could you live in America in 2005, be interested in culture, and not deal with the Iraq War? With the implications of the Patriot Act?
But once "my side" broke up Washington's neocon suicide machine in November 2006, I found myself far less interested in politics. Not that politics isn't still significant. It's just that... well, the absolute crisis moment has passed. To me, the 2006 mid-terms were about the future of the Republic, and the bad guys lost. That didn't mean that the good guys necessarily won, but at least we didn't follow Cheney over the cliff. We're not actively at war with Iran. Democrats are providing at least some feeble oversight into the mismanagement of our war effort.
There's no conclusion to this post. Sorry. I've just kinda figured out that some of the dumbest, most regrettable sentences I've ever written have been dramatic rhetorical conclusions to thoughts that are a long, long way from completion.
(Images: The cartoon and the Xarkaganda are both mine; the original source of the photo is Sue Polinsky's Flickr stream...)