I had a lovely chat with a friend and colleague today; our conversation ranged all over, from basketball to politics to theater. He and his work colleagues had a scare yesterday; someone brought a gun in his backpack to their office, and while showing it to another worker, it went off. The gun owner was hurt badly (the gunfire hit his hand) but thankfully no one else was injured.
Naturally, the incident has prompted a lot of social media chatter about gun control, but most of us, I think, are just relived that it wasn’t the mass shooting I’m sure some of the employees thought it was when the shot rang out. Ironically, this happened at our local NPR station, where they have recently been reporting on proposed legislation to allow firearms on our university campus.
After reflecting on this scary event (and recapping the Badger victory over Michigan), we spent some time talking about how learning and discovery are the foundation of a civilized society (my pompous words, not his). It’s safe to say, without putting words in his mouth, that we both believe that when we learn about new people, new ideas and new philosophies, we become better people, and therefore our society is better.
Then, I got home to an email from my dad about a man named Ben Carson, who gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast recently. I’d never heard of him, so I looked him up. I found links to his speech on a variety of conservative media websites (nothing on the liberal media sites) with variations of this headline:
Conservative Dr. Ben Carson speech upstages Obama at prayer breakfast
Usually, when I get emails with links like these from my dad, I tend not to read them (sorry Dad). They make me sad and angry. Sad because they remind me how divided we are as a nation, and angry because I tend to take the commentary personally; according to much of it, I am an unpatriotic, morally corrupt ball-buster who wants to destroy America. Since I am none of those things, and I value my mental health, I tend to steer clear of such guaranteed blood pressure-raisers.
I was going to ignore this one, too, and then, thanks to our “learning” conversation earlier, decided to give it a try. Here’s the link to the speech, from the mostly non-partisan YouTube. The speech is about 27 minutes long, but worth a listen if you’re lazing about, like I am, on a gloomy Saturday.
The speech is interesting. It didn’t strike me as particularly visionary, but that’s beside the point. At the beginning, Dr. Carson railed against political correctness, citing as an example the debate about saying Merry Christmas. Since I have a particular opinion on this issue (I like to say Happy Holidays, and I get pissed when people think I’m being “too PC” by doing so), I started to tune out, but then I shook myself and said “No, Jodi, think for a second. Listen.” And as I did, I discovered that yes, Dr. Carson was railing about PCness, but also about the fact that we cannot seem to have conversations with people who have different opinions without being offended. This, I can relate to.
The speech went on to tackle other things; Dr. Carson’s “solutions” to healthcare, taxation and the national debt. I use quotes because he wasn’t proposing real policy, but ideas. I love ideas. I love ideaology. But studying foreign policy in undergrad taught me that ideology isn’t reality. Matching one to the other is the real work of living and governing.
But I digress. You might be wondering where I’m going with this ramble. I am too. I guess what I find most interesting, and discouraging, about this whole episode is that this speech is being hailed by conservative media as a vertiable bodyslam of our President, a grand episode of boldly tossing conservative ideas into his face. And because I read those intros, I expected it to be.
Maybe I’m not interpreting it correctly, maybe I’m being naive and missing the subliminal messages, but it didn’t seem like that to me. It seemed like a smart guy, with strong opinions, expressing them. So why did these sites portray it as a conservative victory? Do they know something I don’t? Or do they just know how to push the buttons of their readers so they go into the speech hearing what they want to hear, and interpreting it through a narrow lens?
I could make myself nuts with this stuff. Seriously. But the bottom line is this. I listened to a speech by a “conservative” and found myself not disagreeing with the speech itself, but with the interpretation of it.
So I am left wondering; does a gun-related incident always have to lead to a discussion of gun control? Can anything we read, hear or see these days be interpreted in a non-partisan, non-divisive way? Are we ever going to get to a place when we are just able to just discover something new, without being told how we should feel about it?
This blog post has taken me hours to write, because I want to be sure it’s correctly articulating my thoughts, and politics is such a scary thing for me to write about. Interestingly, as I sit intellectually struggling over this, I’m also texting a friend about going to see a marvelous Broadway musical tonight. It occurs to me that this is why I love the arts; truly good art doesn’t interpret for you. It lets you make your own judgments.
I’m gonna go with that, for tonight, and decide that I’ve given Fox News, Dr. Carson, and politics enough of my brain power. For now.