But for the shouting, we’d find some common ground
What we say, and how we say it, matters. Unfortunately, much of what we say today, especially in the public square, is intended to be derogatory, and you’d better believe it’s taken that way.
The result is that we have become more and more divided in our views, and less and less likely to try to understand the views of others.
We don’t agree on much in the United States these days, but we probably agree on more things than we want to admit. We just can’t get past the shouting to talk rationally.
Much of our public language is shaped by our politics, and modern politics is just plain toxic. We can’t be liberals or conservatives anymore. We are more apt to be labeled as radical left or radical right. There are indeed plenty of both, but if you sat down and talked with most people and got past the labels, you’d probably find that deep down, they fall somewhere between the two. You’d just never know it to hear our national and state politicians — and pseudo cable TV journalists — talk.
Even our home states are labeled. We’re either “red” or “blue,” depending on what state we call home. How is that helpful in having a national dialogue about anything?
For example, the overwhelming majority of Americans today agree that global warming is not only occurring but is being hastened by the concentration of greenhouse gases placed in the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. That’s about as sophisticated as most of us get with respect to the issue, but most of us do agree with that premise.
Try moving from there to solutions, though, and you run head on into ideological conflict and name calling. And it’s not a new phenomenon. Decades ago, those who were concerned about the environment were called “moose and goose people,” a label intended to show they thought more of wildlife than of human life. Today, the terms include eco and green, and they’re the kinder ones. Get anywhere close to either and you’ll be labeled, this time for favoring the environment over a roaring stock market and traditional jobs that might be lost.
Job shifts and short-term economic turmoil are legitimate concerns, but arguments so often become personal and politically driven that rational debate is impossible. For example, we oppose wind turbines because they’re unsightly, even if they are so far offshore as to be out of sight.
Vehicle manufacturers, including Ford Motor Co., are moving into the electric vehicle market, but critics are bemoaning the inability to “fill up” with electricity as quickly as you can with gasoline or diesel fuel. That will kill the innovation, they warn.
It may delay it, but it won’t kill it. Electric charging stations will be developed that can keep up, but meanwhile, critics prefer to frighten people away from buying electric vehicles so they can then say the effort to convert failed.
There are many derogatory terms not related to the environment, of course. There are “snowflakes,” a pejorative used for people who have an inflated sense of their uniqueness — and entitlement — who can’t deal with opposing views. Another is “woke,” a term originally used to describe an awareness of injustice, now used as a pejorative by those who say it’s an oversensitivity to injustice. We certainly can’t afford too much sensitivity.
Of course, there is misogynism, homophobia and, a new one for me — ableism. That’s a prejudice against the disabled, for gosh sakes.
One of the most widely used derogatory phrases these days is cancel culture. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it is, but basically it refers to ostracism because of one’s views.
These terms and many more have a common thread. They are all negative. They are all meant to label and divide us. Not a one of them is intended to unite us.
There’s a reason for that. We react to negativism. Many of us will even send money to persons who espouse our narrow views. And that, of course, helps fuel even more negativism.
John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.