My husband bought me a bluetooth radio for my car, which renders the vehicle perfect in my estimation – an adorable, reliable, black VW with a peppy little five speed engine, heated seats, sunroof, cool storage system in the back, and a radio through which I can talk to my phone (of course, it also further enforces the notion that my husband is pretty damned awesome as well, but that’s a post for another time).
An INCREDIBLY awesome feature of this new radio (that I discovered entirely by accident) is that I can also listen to programming from the phone – my iTunes library, for example, or – and this is important – podcasts and internet content!
A week or so ago, I surfed over to Rachel Maddow’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. I’m a fan of hers, and while I can’t say I’m all worked up about her new book, I was interested in her interview; I think Terry Gross is pretty good at her job, so I end up listening to interviews with people I’m not particularly interested in (I’ve found myself riveted to interviews with blues musicians and stock brokers, for example), so finding the Maddow interview was kind of a no-brainer for me.
I was beyond delighted to find that I could stream this shit right to my radio, and I spent a couple of commuting sessions (I have a very short commute; don’t hate me) listening to Ms. Maddow talking about the military, telling how she got her first gig in radio, and explaining how she manages to maintain a profoundly polite and professional demeanor even while she interviews people whose views or politics stand in complete opposition to hers (even if you don’t like her politics, I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone can agree that she’s nice to all her guests – she doesn’t yell over them or speak curtly to them or call them names).
This last bit was something that I was particularly attentive to. It’s no secret that I have been struggling – over the last year or so, perhaps longer – with how (or whether) to manage relationships with people whose thinking varies drastically from mine. Ms. Maddow made the point that she approaches her guests from the perspective of an actual host, saying:
I feel like I am the host of my show in a couple different ways. Not only am I the person sitting there talking, but I am hosting people on the show as guests, who I am implicitly telling my audience are worth listening to. And so anybody who I bring onto the show, it’s counterproductive, I think, in terms of my relationship with my audience, for me to bring somebody onto the show and then say you’re not worth listening to, or you’re a waste of space, or I wish you didn’t exist.
While she is able to maintain a respectful and professional demeanor during her interviews, she’s not a doormat, either; she’s willing to call people out when they’re being hypocritical, or when they’re
outright lying not being honest with the facts:
It used to be, I think, that we agreed on the basic facts that we were fighting over and we had different opinions about them. Now I think we accept different sources of authority. And so, you know, you just heard in the clip there I was talking about Paul Cameron, who’s this anti-gay activist who has tried to appear to be an expert in the field. As he gets kicked out of every professional association in the field, he just moves on to new ones, hoping that somebody will give him their imprimatur of their expertise. And eventually I’m sure he’ll – if he hasn’t already, he’ll make up his own professional association and say that he’s captain and president of it. People can establish credibility and authority on their own say-so as long as nobody follows the trail and calls them out on it.
I have been bothered – really bothered – by my perception that people are more and more willing lately to simply disregard facts that challenge – or outright nullify – their vision or belief. Mostly, it comes in the guise of “I don’t like you or what you stand for (or your party affiliation or your religion or your skin color); therefore, I’m not going to believe what you tell me, even if I can see with my own eyes that what you’re telling me is true,” but there’s also the “it doesn’t match what my religion/favorite t.v. personality/political figure tells me, so I’m not going to believe it” flavor.
Here’s the thing, and I was having a bit of this conversation with CVRick the other day in another forum: I understand, really and truly, that there is NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT (despite what I claimed about my car and my husband in the introduction to this piece). If we get down to philosophical brass tacks, it could be “true” that none of us is actually experiencing anything; that, like Morpheus tells us in The Matrix, “If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” While I’m coming to appreciate less and less the meme that EVERYTHING is open to individual interpretation and judgment, I’m willing to concede that there’s no such thing as a simple answer, and elegant solution, or a perfect plan.
What’s driving me insane lately, though, is the idea that unless it’s perfect – unless there’s nothing distasteful or messy or inconvenient or inelegant or uneven about a system or a policy or a solution to a problem – then the entire thing can simply be dismissed out of hand as contemptible.
This afternoon, I found a transcript of the President’s address to the Associated Press. I also found a link to some of his answers to questions posed to him after the speech, and this particular quote stood out to me:
“I think that there is often times the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented — which reinforces, I think, people’s cynicism about Washington generally.”
I don’t think that, at least in some places, there IS an equivalence. I don’t buy that every opinion is equally valid; some people believe things that are simply – and provably – wrong. I reject the idea that people get to make up their own “facts,” or that they get to disregard the evidence in front of them because that evidence doesn’t reinforce their narrow worldview. I think that people who behave unethically – people who lie or cheat or misrepresent themselves or facts in order to make their case; people who willfully perpetuate their own ignorance because ” I believe what I believe, and that’s good enough for me” – I think that these people should be called out, held accountable, asked hard questions, and then, if they’re not willing to discuss issues like responsible adults, I think these people should be outright ignored. Stop giving them microphones. Stop putting them on talk shows. Stop interviewing them for news shows. Stop giving them a forum.
We need to stop telling people that their ignorance (and hatred and bigotry) is just as good as our knowledge (and compassion and brotherhood).