Friday, 28 July 2006

Homophobia is a much-abused word

Homophobia is a word that gets thrown around much, much too often. That's quite a distinction for a five-syllable word; most overused words are, like, totally, well - short.

Its various synonyms are equally overworked: gay-hating, gay-bashing and probably a few others that won't come to me now. I don't deny that homophobia exists - it does. And like any hatred of any class of people, it is repugnant to me. Where I start objecting is when the term "homophobia" enters the conversation as soon as you express any moral objections or concern about homosexuality.

This is unjust. I have real concerns about SUV's, but I don't hate the people who drive them. I'm truly not suvophobic. Hmm, maybe I am. OK, I'm not SUVodriverphobic... Neologisms are obviously not my forte.

My doctor has expressed concern about my weight - she really doesn't think it's good for me. Somehow, I've managed to accept that this is not an indication of deep, fanatical hatred on her part towards overweight people.

But far too often in discussions about homosexuality, any expression at all of the idea that it might not be normal or desirable, brands you immediately as homophobic, and you are promptly labelled, boxed, and dismissed. The person you're talking to has concluded that because he knows "A" about you, he automatically knows "B, C, D" and all the way to "Z." And what he knows about you is that you are a hate-filled, intolerant, sign-waving, unthinking fanatic.

Stop and think about it a moment. Doesn't this have all the earmarks of bigotry and prejudice? "Prejudice" means to pre-judge someone. On the basis of a shred of "evidence", the entire case is wrapped up, judged and sentence is served.

Don't try to protest. It won't work. If you try to tell people that you have homosexual acquaintances, colleagues, relatives; that you live and work with them with perfectly amiable relations; that your skin does not crawl when you see them; that you genuinely care for them but are concerned about their lifestyle - well, save your breath. You are too obviously obsessed with hatred to have the right to speak.

You are a victim of bigotry, but there is no tribunal that will accept to hear your case.

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Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Comment policy

Profanity, blasphemy, and gratuitous personal insults of anybody at all add nothing to the discussion and will be deleted. Outrageous and offensive opinions are usually left up, as long as they are expressed with a certain amount of self-control. I ask everybody to behave with a minimum of respect and courtesy, towards me, other commenters, and political and international figures. Vehement and even contemptuous disagreement will be tolerated if it's expressed in a mature fashion. I am the one who gets to decide what that is. When in doubt, ask. Comments are at the moment unmoderated and will remain so unless it becomes necessary because of troll attacks or other unforeseen conditions.

I will also tolerate comments whose main purpose is to attract traffic to your own website if they make a credible pretense of contributing to the discussion.

Monday, 24 July 2006

The toxicity of American political "dialogue"

I have led a sheltered life. TV stopped being an important part of my life when I was about 12 years old, a fact for which I will be forever grateful. Spending my formative years with my nose in books, news magazines and newspapers instead of having my eyes glued to a TV set has made a world of difference. TV encourages passive absorption; the written word encourages analysis.

This carried over into my adult life. To this day I have never had cable TV. But last week I spent in a hotel in Pennsylvania, and when we didn't have something better to do (relatively seldom), my husband and I flicked back and forth between CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. On top of the two previous weeks spent cruising the American political blogosphere, the experience was decidedly unsettling.

Everything I have been seeing leads me to the conclusion that the state of American political dialogue is positively toxic. Everything is classified as conservative or liberal, right or left, and is stated in stark, black and white terms. Polarization is extreme and the other side is invariably demonized, with cheap insults being thrown around in a manner reminiscent of schoolyard taunts. Televised interviews (on both sides) make no pretense whatsoever of objectivity, with the interviewer generally stating at the very beginning of the interview which conclusions he or she had already drawn, and blatantly leading the interviewee to support those conclusions. I've often fulminated at biased reporting on CBC and BBC, but they are rank amateurs at spin. American news channels do not report, they wage war.

Peter J ran an article on Blogcritics earlier today on this very subject, lamenting the division of political discussion into right and left:

This, no doubt, will cause underlying confusion and automatic extreme resentment to any one who holds a different opinion than they on the one particular issue that they ponder. The result is, rather than being able to carry a meaningful discussion with someone on any issue, the person indulges in a useless diatribe. The result is that one person loses sight of the subject and enters a contest where there is no longer an issue, there is only a belligerant (sic) attack, and even though they may share same opinions on other issues, there will never be resolve, only more bitterness.
My delight at his perspicacity was short-lived however. He blamed this state of affairs on the current administration, an analysis with all the intellectual depth of "the Devil made me do it." Seriously, does he really expect us to believe that everybody, both famous and obscure, who holds a political opinion has been pressured into extreme, unthinking positions by George Bush's Republicans? This is just demonization done more subtly. Each and every political commentator, from the guy at the corner store to the heavy-hitting blogger to the talking heads on TV has to take personal responsibility for replacing thought with labels, analysis with polemics. There is no political administration in this world that can force me to become an unthinking automaton spouting political dogma instead of a thinking, intelligent person, trying to understand and analyze things on my own.

I'm not too sure what has brought American political culture to this point. Is it the lack of a viable third political party, or the melting pot mentality that equates unity with conformity? Does Canada's history of two founding nations make us more capable of accepting someone profoundly different as still being one of us? While we certainly have our share of toxicity in public debate, in general we are much more open to considering a new idea, instead of trying to simply paste a label on it and dismiss it.

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Sunday, 23 July 2006

The time has come

to finally talk of many things...

In a recent Maclean's article, Stephen Miller, the author of the book, Conversation: A History of a Declining Art was interviewed. As far as I can tell from the article, his book is a rather depressing account of how any meaningful conversation is becoming a rare commodity in modern society, plagued both by excessive electronic interaction and the "Oprah-ization" of conversation, in which a conversation consists of one person "sharing" and the other person being supportive.

I think it makes conversation impossible, because when people use the word "share" - after all when you share some food with someone the person isn't supposed to say, "Oh, thanks for giving me this pie, but it's terrible, I don't like it" - it just casts a blanket of excessive politeness on the conversation, and then disagreement is seen as a personal attack.

This hit a nerve. How often have I felt compelled to listen to someone spouting what I considered absolute nonsense - and all too frequently dangerous nonsense - and yet felt unable to say a word, knowing that any such word would be taken as highly offensive? It's a Catch-22. I really don't want to be seen as endorsing what has just been said, for varying reasons of varying intensity, yet I feel that speaking up will be counter-productive. I am not going to win anyone over to another way of thinking if I am seen as an oaf and a jerk for not being "supportive".

And how often have I seen in the eyes of a listener (or worse yet, missed it) that he or she just isn't buying it, but that there is no way they will say a word because they fear conflict? I would so much prefer it that they question me. How else are we going to learn from each other?

Hence this blog.

Here I am going to say all the things that "polite society" normally compells me to keep under wraps. I will take controversial stands if it suits me and I will - more rarely - go along with majority opinions when they make sense to me.

You are invited to join me in this not-so-polite society by agreeing, challenging, opposing, expanding or questioning. I won't take it as a personal attack. Unless, of course, it is, in which case I will delete it shamelessly. Profanity and genuinely offensive stuff will also get sent straight to File 13. Everything else will be interpreted as an attempt to come to a better understanding together.

As the title of this blog suggests, I will speak of many things: ideas, movies, books, social controversies, and just about anything else that catches my attention and seems to be worthy of mention or debate. I hope you will consider some of them worthy of conversation.

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