Thursday, June 15, 2006

We are constantly invited to be what we are.

I'm going to start out by saying that I do not typically see myself as an idealistic person. My standard response to adverse circumstances is not to expect them to improve or even usually to work to change them but some combination of stoic acceptance and a using snark so that even if things are bad, they are amusing.

That said, I've been amazed by the cynicism I've seem from some of my friends when it comes to politics and I'm increasingly thinking that this trend is worthy of inspection.

When the war began, I remember saying things about not letting our fear win and always remembering that who we are as Americans is worth defending.

Trouble is, liberals are needing the same advice these days. I guess I first noticed a problem when I started to feel that liberals were frequently lying to me. The UUA Washington Office sent me an email claiming that the filibuster debate was about giving minorities "the right to speak" something that only even sounds true if you don't know what a filibuster is used for, I visited a local UU congregation where the "sermon" was a play about the patriot act that completely lied about what was in it, Micheal Moore talked about Charlton Heston giving a speech at Columbine then showed a clip of Charlton Heston talking about prying guns from his cold, dead fingers. Of course, the clip Moore showed was not the speech Heston gave at the time, but another speech. Heston's real speech near Columbine had consisted of a moment of silence, prayers for the dead and business meeting. It hadn't been evil-sounding enough.

I've written about these sorts of things often here and the defenses offered by liberals were remarkably few. One commenter here assured me that anyone confused by the Heston speech was stupid, and that's about it.

I guess I found it easier to live with when there was no explanation.

Now people who are going to UU churches, getting UUAWO emails and watching Michael Moore movies are on the whole pretty liberal. It's weird to me that we're so getting in to lying to our own people.


My most recent foray into this topic was earlier this week when I wrote about George Lakoff's organization putting a stolen Republican internal memo next to a carefully prepared public statement of theirs and told the credulous that it was fair to compare them. Now, I have a lot of respect for my fellow liberals. I think that, for example, if tobacco company A got ahold of an evil-sounding memo from tobacco company B and told people to compare tobacco company B's evil memo to their own sugary-sounding press release on the same topic, my friends would not be fooled.

The problem is that they trust George Lakoff.

I'm not sure I trust anyone on my own side anymore. Between Micheal Moore and Morgan Spulock putting out movies that are chock-full of lies and every other liberal organization with a bridge to sell me, I'm feeling increasingly lied to by my own party.

But apparently I'm supposed to be OK with that.

As a commenter wrote:

I don't feel I need to advocate for the Right -- they are perfectly capable of doing that themselves. I feel they are more dishonest about it than the Left. I don't say the Left is completely without fault, just more honest, because honesty is one of the Liberal values, and it is not on the list of Conservative values. Liberals are far more likely to disapprove of a lefty who is caught being dishonest than this particular group of "Conservatives" is to disapprove of one of theirs caught being dishonest. [I don't like to use the term "Conservative" for them because they aren't conservative.]

First of all, liberals DON'T disapprove of liberals who lie. Moore and Spurlock cried all the way to the bank. Has there been a large liberal movement to get them to stop lying? Nobody's told me about it.

But my central point is that I've heard this argument before.

Conservatives will tell you that we don't have to respect Iraq's freedom, or even our own, because only we, the Americans, value freedom.

Now liberals are telling me that they don't have to be honest with me because honesty is a liberal value.

"We're the good guys, so good that it's OK that we behave like the bad guys."

Does anyone doubt that extremes meet?

Aware that Diogenes is a bad role to play in American political life. But somebody has to.


Bill Baar said...

I'm glad you're playing the Diogenes role.

You'll make a fine one.

You nailed this one squarely.

Anonymous said...

Let me respond by telling the Russian folk tale (taken from the collection, Ride With the Sun: An Anthology of Folk Tales and Stories from the United Nations, 1955).

Here’s the tale, entitled “The Snake and the Dreams.”

In a certain land there was once a King who had a strange dream. As he slept he saw a fox hanging by the tail from the roof of the palace. When he awoke he remember the dream and couldn’t get it out of his mind. At last he called his ministers and counselors before him, asking of they could interpret the meaning of the fox hanging from the roof.

His advisors couldn’t help him. And as he recollection of the dream continued to trouble him, he at last commanded that there be a general convocation in the city, and that everyone in the kingdom should attend. His hope was that among all the citizens of the country there would be someone wise enough to give him the answer.

The people began to assemble. One of those who came was a poor farmer named Ivan. On the way to the city, he came to a rocky place where the trail was narrow. Lying in the center of the trail he saw a snake.

Ivan paused, and as he did so the snake spoke to him, saying, “Good day. Where are you going?”

Ivan told him about the king’s command.

“But what is the use of it all?” Ivan asked. “How can I tell the King what his dream means?”

“There will be a reward for the man who gives the King the right answer, ” the snake said. “Promise you will share the reward with me, and I will tell you what to say.”

Ivan was glad. He said: “Certainly I will share with you if you tell me the correct answer. Half will be yours and half will be mine, and in addition I will be everlastingly grateful.”

“Then here is the answer,” the snake said. “The dream of the fox hanging from the palace roof means that there is cunning, deceit, and treachery in the kingdom.”

The farmer thanked him and went on to the city. When his turn came, Ivan was brought before the King, and he interpreted the deam as the snake had advised him. So pleased was the King with the answer that he gave Ivan money and valuable presents. But when Ivan was ready to leave, he said to himself, “Why should I share these riches with a snake?” And he returned to his village by a different road, avoiding the place where the snake lived.

Later, the King had another dream that troubled him. In this dream he saw a sword hanging from the roof. He sent for Ivan immediately, because Ivan had given so wise an explanation of the first dream. Ivan was now afraid, for he knew he had no special talents for explaining dreams. There was no choice but to look for the snake. He went to the narrow trail, but he saw no snake there. He called for him, saying, “Snake, come for a moment, I must talk to you!” He kept calling this way until at last the snake came out of his hole.

“What troubles you and what do you want of me?” the snake asked him.

“The King has had another dream,” Ivan said, “What shall I tell him?” And he told him the dream.

“I will give you the answer if you share the reward with me,” the snake said.

“I will share, I promise,” Ivan replied.

“Tell the King that the sword hanging from the roof is a sign of coming war,” the snake said. “Enemies are plotting against him within the kingdom as well as outside the kingdom. Bloodshed is at hand. The King must prepare to defend the country.”

Ivan thanked the snake and went on to the city. When the King asked him for an interpretation of the dream, he repeated what the snake had said. Again the King was deeply impressed with what he heard, and he gave Ivan many valuable presents.

But Ivan became angry at having to share with a snake. He came to the place where the snake was waiting. The snake said, “Now give me the half which is mine.”

“I’ll give you nothing but trouble!” Ivan shouted. He drew his knife and attacked the snake, which turned and fled into its hole. But just as it was disappearing, Ivan brought his knife down and cut off the snake’s tail. Then he went on him, thinking no more of the matter and rejoicing in his new wealth.

Time passed. A bloody war came, as predicted, but the King’s armies were victorious. Then the King had another dream. This time he saw a sheep hanging from the roof. Again, Ivan was sent for. And this time he was worried and afraid. “For,” he said, “how can I go now to the snake for help? I have deceived it and wounded it with my weapon.”

But he had no choice. So he went by the same path, and when he came to the rocky place, he called the snake until at last it came. Ivan told of his problem, and the snake answered as before. “If you promise to give me half of your reward, I will give you the answer.”

“I will do it,” Ivan said.

“Then here is the answer to the King’s dream,” the snake said. “The sheep hanging from the roof means that everywhere there now is peace in the land, and that the people are contented.”

Ivan went to the palace and gave the King the answer. So pleased was the King with what he heard that he gave Ivan more presents and money than ever before.

This time Ivan came back by the same route, and he found the snake waiting. He gave half of his presents to the snake, saying, “You have been patient with me, even though I have abused you. Here is half of what I received this time, and when I return home I will send you half of what I received before. Forgive me for the way I mistreated you.”

The snake listened, and he replied, “Do not feel too badly about what has happened. It was not your fault. the first time, if you remember the King’s dream of the fox, the land was full of deceit, hypocrisy, and treachery. You too were a deceiver, for you went home by another road so as to avoid me. But you were simply one among many, and deceit was in the air.

“The second time, if you remember, was a time of war, quarrels, and assassination. Cruelty was everywhere. You were only one among many, and your brutality in cutting off my tail was a brutality shared by everyone.”

“But now that peace hangs over us all, like everyone else you are generous and just, and you share your gifts with me. Go, brother, and may the peace of God remain with you. I have no need of your wealth.”

And the snake went away and disappeared into its hole.”

Chalicechick said...

"If when in Rome, you do as the Romans do, all you'll ever be is a poseur Roman wannabee"

--CC's lab partner in her high school oceanography class.

More seriously, off all the people you admire, which of them said "People around me are lying, I should lie, too?"

I mean, Bush was the one who said "People are solving their problems with violence and attacking unprovoked, so I should do it, too" but I don't think he's the man you're looking to emulate.

A Godwin's law violation here is really tempting, but I'll refrain.

Call it lingering Calvinism on my part, but I don't think Ivan got half the bitching out he deserved.


Chalicechick said...

Ps. Funny how nobody noticed the treachery or the war until they were looking for it. And they were only looking for it because the snake told them to.

Viewed through this light, Ivan seems pretty suggestible, an easy pawn of forces larger than himself. How easily the complacent little bastard is lead to believe that evil acts are meaningless when everybody else is doing them too.

Again, lingering Calvinism, but I hope Ivan enjoys his earthy riches. I suspect the afterlife will be a bumpy ride.

Geez, one would think that humanity would have learned a thing or two about listening to talking snakes by now...

indrax said...

I've been surprised lately by my own level of cynicism regarding politics. I can only describe it as 'complete'.

For all the clips showing bush lying, there are at least as many that show clinton lying. I think it's silly to think that honesty is more a part of one side.
The left/right dicotomy is a part of the problem, it makes you think there is a difference.
I stopped caring which party won a long time ago, before bush. Elections do not matter to me, and I'm seriosly considering not voting anymore.

Anonymous said...

The origianl post was like this:
I don't say the Left is completely without fault, just more honest, because honesty is one of the Liberal values, and it is not on the list of Conservative values.

you left out the emphasis on "more".
The only Dem reaction to Jefferson I've seen has been embarassment and condemnation, whereas the Repubs defended or ignored indictments of their people. Sure you can point to people who are liberal and not honest. My point is they are fewer and less drastic lies. It's a difference of degree.
People who think there is no reason to vote because there is no difference between the policies of the right and the left are not paying attention.

p.s. in the Bible story, it was the snake who was telling the truth and the god who was lying. God said they would immediately die if they ate the fruit. The snake said they would gain wisdom. Who was right?

Anonymous said...

Between Micheal Moore and Morgan Spulock putting out movies that are chock-full of lies

What were the lies in Supersize Me? I don't recall having heard that one.

Early Riser said...

Ugghh... if have to hear another voice on the left trotting-out the “BUSH LIED!!!” canard, I'm going to puke. There is an important difference between lying and being wrong. When Clinton deceived his wife, his family, his closest staff, judges and attorneys about Monica, it was lying because he knew, as a matter of fact, that he did have relations with her. When Bush said that he thought Iraq was in possession of WMD's, he was expressing his (and just about everyone else's) opinion on an unknown. Just think about it: a smart politician only lies when he or she is pretty sure there is no way to be caught. Was the CIA wrong about WMDs? Yup... so were the English, French, Russian & Israeli intelligence services - not to mention the fact that Clinton & Kerry are on-record basically saying that they believed Iraq had WMDs.

Listen… I’m a libertarian and I have several issues with the Bush Administration. That being said, I believe that the Left (especially those that have BDS – Bush Derangement Syndrome) has been playing fast & loose with the truth. They have gone off the same deep end as the Clinton haters did. Intellectual honesty can only exist when you seek to truly and honestly understand your opponents’ positions… and I don’t mean assuming that they are evil or mentally ill.

PeaceBang said...

I thought the snake was going to bite him in the face and say, "what did you expect? I'm a snake?" But that's the end of a different folk tale, I just can't remember which one.

I think Ivan's snake was a bit too pansy-assed for me. He should have wrapped himself around Ivan's neck and squeezed until his eyes bulged out.

But that's just me the Calvinist speaking. I would NEVER tell that story in church unless it is to lambaste it. Talk about moral relativism!

I'm so very tired right now - what am I doing on line?

fausto said...

What's all this handwringing and shame over residual Calvinism?!

Since the topic of this thread has to do with being honest about who we are and not allowing ourselves to be snookered by dishonest normative narratives, let's remind ourselves please that Unitarianism is in fact a special case of New England Puritanism. Always was, always will be.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It's where our abiding concerns for things like personal authority in moral discernment, and the imperative of personal action in public morality, come from. I'm responsible for my own behavior, you're responsible for yours, and together we're responsible for the justice of the entire society. Those are Puritan ideals, forged in places like the First Church in Boston, now UU.

We've been snookered by unreliable historical revisionism if we allow ourselves to believe, or tell, a facile UU tribal origin myth that omits that very important part, or if we allow ourselves to be ashamed of the Calvinist side of our moral identity.

If you need a refresher course on the Calvinist foundation of our living tradition, go back and read Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter and Melville's Moby Dick. Both are thoroughly imbued with Calvinist premises, and are also thoroughly Unitarian. That's not an internal conflict, though, but a seamless union.

fausto said...

kim asks:

p.s. in the Bible story, it was the snake who was telling the truth and the god who was lying. God said they would immediately die if they ate the fruit. The snake said they would gain wisdom. Who was right?

Both were right. God did not lie. They gained not only the knowledge of good and evil, but also mortality. They were banished before they could recover their immortality (and thus become divine, possessing both moral knowledge and immortality) by eating of the Tree of Life.