Extreme frustration

Longtime readers of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette know we don’t print out-of-state letters on the Voices page, but sometimes a message needs to be put out there. I believe this is one of them.

Cartoon by Randy Bish, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Cartoon by Randy Bish, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

W. Keith Brenton of Sylva, N.C., lived in Little Rock for more than 25 years. Keith, a copywriter and Web content manager whose kinda goofy sense of humor (quite a bit similar to mine) is very evident on his Twitter page, like me has gotten very frustrated with politics as practiced today.

He said that, in his life, he has met and known a number of “public servants of moral character, unimpeachable motives, and truly good nature. Some of them have chosen not to run for political office any more, and from the content of paid advertising and social media posts that I see all too often, I think I understand why. And it’s a shame we’re losing them.”

In his letter sent Friday, Keith noted that he had posted the following on his Facebook page:

“Dear friends,

“Some of you I will be blocking until after the election in November. It’s nothing personal between me and you, but it is something personal between you and some others. It’s your constant reposting of often baseless ad hominem attacks on political figures whom you appear to literally hate, though I doubt you know most of them, personally, at all.

Sure, mud runs can be fun, but mudslinging isn't fun for those watching it. Image found on F3Nation.

Sure, mud runs can be fun, but mudslinging isn’t fun for (most of) those watching it.
Image found on F3Nation.

“They’re not funny. They’re not charming. They’re not enlightening to the political conversation. They’re not elevating the level of public discourse. For some of you whom I consider to be Christian friends: They are certainly not Christ-like. They’re just hateful. They are attacks. They are personal.

“These are people who, like you, are fallible and have families. They are trying to do something in service to the public good, and you show them no minimum of respect for that. Go ahead and disagree with them on ideologies, philosophies, platforms, tactics, even genuine misbehavior in office or even personally—that goes to the issue of character, and it’s legitimate to discuss.

“But please cease repeating the smarmy comments and unsupported assertions and observations about appearance, age, gender, weight, race, religion, family, and all of those other factors over which that person has no control and no choice. They’re just hateful. This is a democracy. We need to be better than that.

“I look forward to rejoining you in the holiday season. I will miss you. We are still friends. But I want to think better of you, and I can’t right now.”

I can’t argue with that. I’ve long advocated moderation, but sadly, extremism—even though it isn’t the majority of thought—tends to get all the attention simply because it screams loudest. Extremism in anything—politics, religion, food and drink, etc.—seldom leads to good things.

Unless you think things such as rampant partisanship, war, paranoia, obesity or alcoholism are good. OK, excess chocolate has good points … as long as your name isn’t Augustus Gloop.

You'd think being in a chocolate river would be good, but not so much.  Image © 1971 Wolper Pictures / Courtesy Pyxurz.

You’d think being in a chocolate river would be good, but not so much.
Image © 1971 Wolper Pictures / Courtesy Pyxurz.

Things have gotten so bad in politics that even moderates who are only slightly to the left or right of center are painted as extremists, I suppose to make the true extremists seem less so.

For example, I think only one of the columnists on the Voices page could accurately be considered extremist, and it’s not John Brummett, who is a left-leaning moderate on most issues. I’ll let regular readers of the paper fill in the blanks there.

Can’t tell extremists and moderates apart? Here’s one huge difference: Extremists see no ideas of merit on the “other side”; moderates, who tend to dwell in reality, understand that good ideas can come from anywhere.

Extremism is a horrible direction to take for many reasons, and unfortunately, during election season, we find ourselves having to stomach more hyperbole as long as something can be considered true in some light (admittedly dim in some instances).

That said, let’s perhaps agree on a few things, which translate to arguments over just about everything from politics to religion to movie reviews.

You’ve already lost the debate:

If you have to attack the person rather than his argument. Making it personal just makes you look petty and your argument look weak. And, as Keith noted, it’s just hateful. So, yeah, keep the fake “Obama’s gay,” “Michelle had a sex change” tropes to yourself.

LukeSkywalkerquoteIf you can only make your point by stripping quotes of all context and rearranging them, making up quotes, or “enhancing” quotes by adding your own thoughts. Let the real quotes, in context and properly attributed, speak for themselves. If they don’t make your point, don’t use them. At least that’s what Thomas Jefferson said that one time.

If you have to refer to outdated statistics or debunked studies. If more contemporary data disprove your thesis, why are you still clinging to studies that might have sampling or other errors that make the results shaky? Are you just hoping no one knows about the more current data? Oops, did I just out your brilliant strategy?

Cherries might be tasty, but cherry-picked data are not. Image found on Medscape.

Cherries might be tasty, but cherry-picked data are not.
Image found on Medscape.

If you have to cherry-pick. Whether it’s climate change or what politician was responsible for the latest program that has people up in arms, your argument is inherently weaker if you have to pick your data points specifically to support that particular argument when an uninvolved observer would come to a different conclusion based on all the facts at hand. There’s a reason climate-change deniers use 1998 as their starting point in their favorite argument, and it ain’t because they’re so fascinated by that whole Monica Lewinsky thing.

And if you just start making stuff up? Like the dude in the KFC commercial says, I cannot help you.

In a world more connected than ever, we’ve become disconnected . . . from sanity, from perspective, from reason. We all want to be right and won’t even entertain the thought that someone else could possibly have a point.

Cartoon by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle.

Cartoon by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle.

How did we get to be such a paranoid and easily led people? Why do we make everything we disagree with a huge affront? Everything is not a conspiracy, and the world isn’t as bleak as some like to make it out to be. We’re right to be skeptical and question information we’re given, but there comes a time when you have to pick your battle. If all you do is question while ignoring the answers, you’ve accomplished nothing.

Except annoying the crap out of me.

All that’s been going on lately is just one more reason a functioning sense of humor is so important … if you think too much about where our stubbornness as a species has landed us, you might just decide that being a hermit isn’t such a bad idea.

... and this would be why I don't go to parties much.

… and this would be why I don’t go to parties much.









If Socks was still alive, I'd vote for him. His decisions would probably make more sense than most politians'. AP photo by Marcy Nighswander.

If Socks was still alive, I’d vote for him. His decisions would probably make more sense than most politians’.
AP photo by Marcy Nighswander.

I’ll let Keith wrap this up.