It seems as though people are judging others more and more by their political positions—their stand on particular issues or even specific bits of legislation. While this is certainly one point of reference, it might be more useful to look at how they treat others, both in person and in writing.
What initially got me thinking about this was an article in TheAtlantic (December 2017) tracing the personal history of a major neo-Nazi. The article included a discussion of what this man was like in high school. Some of it is perhaps not surprising—problems with drugs and destructive (and self-destructive) behavior. The surprising part was that his political positions seem to have been quite different.
“He often wore a hoodie with a large F[***] RACISM patch on the back…. [He] set up his own website, for a fake record label… that he used to dupe bands into sending him demo tapes. Here, his leftist leanings were on full display: He wrote posts encouraging people to send the Westboro Baptist Church death threats from untraceable accounts, and he mocked the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations.” (p.59)
The article doesn’t say whether he did anything of a productive nature toward reducing racism and homophobia—I’m inclined to doubt it. It sounds like his way of responding was to hurl threats at and mock the opposition.What interested me was that while his targets have flipped 180 degrees since high school, his way of treating them remains unpleasantly the same.
It seems to me that there has been an increase in the amount of public name-calling and general nastiness all around. One of the things we’re taught as we grow up is not to blurt out everything we think. Words can hurt. Treating others with respect requires that we consider the effect of our words before we speak.
Of course, there are some people who just don’t care whether they hurt others, and some people who positively enjoy upsetting people and making them angry (or frightened.) That says enough about their character right there. The neo-Nazi in the article seems to be one of those.
But I would hope there hasn’t been a sudden increase in the number of people like that. I’m hoping that what is happening is that people are getting careless, writing messages and posts and comments and so forth while in the grip of white-hot rage, and sending them off into the world without taking a moment to calm down, reread what they’ve written, and consider the likely effect on their words. Calling names will not change anyone’s mind. It can, however, lose you a lot of sympathy.
Could that be what’s happening? I started writing this, thinking that people can change their views on issues and even sometimes their prejudices (in both directions, apparently), but that maybe how they treat other people doesn’t change very much. It would be interesting to find some data on this. But now I’m hoping that people can change how careful they are with words. Hopefully for the better.
Till next post.