November 7th, 2016


A lament for the 2016 election

[Warning: long discourse follows.]

Social media is a weird place for me.

I enjoy being out there and exchanging ideas with folks.   I got dragged into blogging and Facebook by my students --- or, more exactly, wanting to know what my students were saying about me behind my back.   (Thankfully, they say the same things behind my back that they say to my face.)   And I've found it an intelluctually enriching experience.   I'm thankful to them for putting me out here.   (Y'all know who you are.)

Part of what makes this so enriching for me is because I have connections in so many worlds.   Professional, recreational, spiritual, biological, historical ... my "friends' list on Facebook is vast and diverse.    Such connections have allowed me to learn far more about different things than I could've otherwise imagined.   I regularly read people with completely different opinions and life experiences than mine, and I'm better for it.

But I also know that I'm a semi-public figure.   Oh, don't get me wrong, I don't have any over-inflated sense of my own importance.   But I do hold leadership roles in many organizations.   And I realize that lots of people read what I have to say through the lens of those organizations.

This can be a good thing.   I've used the "bully pulpit" I've been given (and, yes, it's a really small one) to try and highlight ideas and causes and philosophies that deserve greater discussion.   My frequent readers know the causes that I tend to highlight, most often dealing with "education" or "logic" in a broader, extended sense.   Occasionally, folks will send me a note letting me know that I've caused them to stop and think for a few moments; there is no greater compliment for a teacher.

And then we come to the 2016 presidential election.

Having my feet in so many different worlds has made this election more painful than many.   I have seen, first hand, how badly divided our country is.   I see each community in which I stand talking about this election, praising their candidate and demonizing their opponents, as if everyone within the reach of their comments shares their zealotry, and ignoring any possible outside information that might imply their candidate is wrong.

And I see this in every community.  

Which makes it hard for me to be sitting in the middle.   Because I see both sides.   And any attempt to speak to one side about the other results in anger.

I've come to use my social media presence as a means to give voice to certain voiceless causes.   Partially, I do this because people are listening and, for some bizarre reason, think that my opinions have merit.   But partially, I do this because there are times when it is important to stand for the voiceless; merely the act of making the statement shows identification with those on the outside.

"Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me."   (---Matthew 25:40, loosely paraphrasing)

But I feel like I can't say anything about this election --- at least not on social media.   As other wags have noted, the chief effect of stating an opinion these days is not to convince anyone, but merely to piss off just about everyone else,

I've lost church friends over the last few years because of opinions I've voiced on Facebook --- real friends, not Facebook "friends".   I have few enough friends as it is; I don't want to lose any others.

I teach students every day.   I can't afford to present an image to them of someone who doesn't care about them.   And certain political and religious opinions, if voiced, would lead to exactly that incredibly inaccurate conclusion.

I can't afford to stand with the side I've chosen in this election, because, if the polls are to be believed, the only thing that will accomplish is to piss off at least half of my social media followers.   Worse, if I try to take a nuanced, moderate position, I'll piss off three-quarters of them.

I know this because I've tried.   Any small steps I've taken towards engaging in intellectual debate on the candidates in the 2016 election have been met with the same old tired responses.   The amount of grief I've encountered isn't worth the effort.

All because we can't find a way to disagree agreeably.  

In academia, we have a tradition: attack ideas, not people.   It leads to results that must look quite strange to outsiders.   I may present at a conference and have my ideas viciously torn apart by my colleagues, only to break bread with those same colleagues later that evening.   Because the greatest respect my colleagues can show for me is to point out the flaws in my ideas, so that I can make better ones.

(Okay, sometimes academics suck at that, too.   But we at least recognize the ideal, and strive toward it.)

So ... as much as I feel like I should make my political allegiances known in this election, I won't.   Tomorrow I will hide in my voting booth and color the bubbles of my selections in silence.   I will feel like a coward.   But there seems little else left.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  (---2 Chronicles 7:14)

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