Thursday, June 08, 2006

Political Dissonance

Recently I’ve been visiting the blog of a soldier stationed in Iraq. I find his view on things over there very interesting, and he's a very good writer. Not to mention how helpful I find the descriptions, slang, and other real-world bits and pieces he offers up in a context I personally will never have the opportunity to experience (and for that, I thank him since I don’t believe I’d want to experience such a thing as war). Mil blogs are a great resource to those of us writing mil roms.

Yesterday, however, I was very much turned off by his rant against basically anyone who wasn’t like him or didn’t agree with his personal political world view. He’s staunchly hard-right conservative, with all the George Bush worshipping, anti-liberal-hippy-do-gooder bashing and media conspiracy theory pushing it involves. I found his post offensive not so much because of his beliefs – I’m a firm believer that everyone is entitled to believe as he or she chooses – but more of his overall attitude towards those who disagree with him. He claims to be a hard-core American, but I guess I find such intolerance and outspoken hatred of fellow Americans who are using their own freedom of speech to disagree with him more than a little hypocritical. Not to mention his convenient forgetting of American history in which the French had a big hand in helping the colonials out back in that first Revolutionary War, resulting in a United States of America in the first place and thus making any reminders of how the U.S. saved France’s butt from the Nazis during WWII kind of...well, not only arrogant but completely tasteless and ignorant. Regardless of what France is doing now, the past is in the past, and all debts have been paid.

All of this is not to air my disgust with this guy and his views (although, hey, it’s my blog and where else can I do it if not here?) but rather how what he thinks and believes and how he chose to express it really got to me. Long after I turned off the computer having determined maybe I wouldn’t be haunting his blog so much after all, I lay in bed fuming. And wondering how this country manages to keep going when so many of us seem to be so completely divided on such key issues. And what could this guy’s life have been like to have him end up where he is, while I’m so different.

Which led me to realize that, as a writer, I think it would be completely impossible for me to depict a character who held viewpoints so fundamentally different from my own. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine writing a character who sounds like this blogger. While I can understand some of what he’s saying – and even agree with bits of it – I don’t really like him very much. I would never be able to spend an entire book-writing’s worth of time in his company, listening to his rhetoric all the while wanting nothing more than to tell him to shut the hell up already.

I do think I have the ability to deviate from my own point of view to a certain degree. I have no problem writing characters whose religions differ from my own. I’m okay with people who are more conservative than I am or people who are more liberal than I am. I don’t get reality TV, the WWF, or jazz, but I can understand there are people out there who do. But when the needle hits the extremes, I balk. I simply don’t know how to put my own mind in a place where I can understand such attitudes. In fact, when I do go there, these characters tend to take on a more villain like-role in my mind and in the story. These people become cartoons, someone I can’t take seriously or who I use as an example of how not to be. They are never, ever the heroes or heroines in my story.

Is this the way it is with most writers or do I have a serious design flaw? Do most writers revolve a pre-determined circumference away from their own moral center, unable to reach beyond into the dark corners where their own understanding comes up empty? And if they are able to break free and write real people who think 180 degrees away from their own beliefs, how do they pull it off?

The only chance I have of working against my own belief system is when I build a character from the ground up. Rather than starting with a “Republican, pro-life, NRA card carrying member, homophobic middle-aged man”, I have to start with a child who had experiences in his life that made him turn towards a certain state of mind. I have to avoid the labels on the back end that make me want to back away slowly, my hands raised to ward off danger. I end up with something along the lines of yes, my hero is a member of the NRA, but that’s because his father was killed by a gun-toting maniac while the hero looked on helplessly, and the hero vowed he’d never be that defenseless again. There have to be concrete experiences for the reasons my characters turned out as they did rather than simply that they born into that sort of family and that’s what they were taught to believe.

No matter how I get there, I have to like the person I end up with. No matter what my characters believe – even if it does differ from my own beliefs – I can’t dislike them fundamentally. I can’t view them as boorish louts who insist on hoisting their own opinions on everyone they come in contact with and then vilifying those who don’t agree with them. I don’t have the ability to write ugly Americans unless it’s to make fun of them, and if that makes me a bad writer, then I suppose the title fits.

In the end, for me anyway, it’s not so much the beliefs a person holds but rather how that person chooses to express them. Like I said above, I do think that everyone is entitled to believe what he or she chooses. I do not, however, believe that those people have a right to inflict their beliefs on the greater public, nor to I think that hatred and intolerance towards those who are inclined otherwise is acceptable. You get a lot further with me when you respect my viewpoints while making valid, non-judgmental points to support your own cause. Calling me pro-abortion (and implying that I think abortions are to be carried out willy-nilly and just because some goofball forgot to wear a condom but no big deal) just because I support a woman’s right to choose doesn’t do much to make me want to listen to why you feel abortion is wrong.

Telling me I’m anti-American just because I question some of the decisions my government has made sure doesn’t make me want to consider the possibly valid reasons why you disagree with my viewpoint.

It’s all in the delivery. It’s why they say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Them old wives, they knew a few things.

2 comments:

Trickish Knave said...

"I do not, however, believe that those people have a right to inflict their beliefs on the greater public, nor to I think that hatred and intolerance towards those who are inclined otherwise is acceptable."

How unfortunate that you are opposed to freedom of expression when the message is negative. I question your definition of "infict" when the person is using a blog- a far cry from the forum's used by celebrities to voice thier views.

After reading Buck Sgts. post a lot of it seemed tongue-in-cheek to me, in disfavor of the French, but the message wasn't hate speech and certainly nothing to lie fuming about in the middle of the night.

History does play a role in current affairs and although France helped us out with our independence it was because they hated the Brits too- self-serving compliance perhaps?

He claims to be a hard-core American, but I guess I find such intolerance and outspoken hatred of fellow Americans who are using their own freedom of speech to disagree with him more than a little hypocritical.

As a member of the military i can identify with Buck's post when it relates to the attacks from the left. My responses are the same when I encounter an opposing view but what I call candor you misinterpret as hypocracy. I can never understand why some people are opposed to people being opposed to people.

You cannot "get" what people like us talk about when it comes to strong issues and that isn't our fault. You cannot fathom how people like us end up with our point of views, like we are the end result of some Dr. Morrow experiment.

"You can disagree with people, but be nice about it." Is that it?

Since this folowing quote sums up so appropraitely how I feel and my attitude towards people who share your point of view I will let it speak for itself:

"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have more responsibility here than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. I know deep down in places you dont talk about at parties, you don't want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then question the manner in which I provide it. I prefer you said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand to post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!"
-Col. Nathan R. Jessup
Commander Ground Forces, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

firefly said...

Which led me to realize that, as a writer, I think it would be completely impossible for me to depict a character who held viewpoints so fundamentally different from my own.

Sure you can. They're called villains. You can do a perfectly good job of portraying someone who is your opposite, as long as their outcome in the story reflects your values as a writer.

As for trickish knave, if I hear one more argument about how the regular military preserves "freedom," I am going to scream out loud.

The regular military is there to do the government's bidding. It is not there to "protect freedom." The last time military action protected any US freedoms that were really in danger, it was colonists who used their own guns to defend their own homes. It was not, repeat not, the modern US military, in any way, shape, or form. It's so ironic that military men, who go through training that basically brainwashes them into order-taking machines, have somehow usurped this whole idea that they're needed for "freedom."

Freedom is preserved by thinking, critical citizens who scrutinize the government's every action and push back when the feds try to take things away. It is not preserved by jackboots who can only take orders from on high.

Just when exactly was the last time a soldier died protecting someone else's freedom, rather than furthering the government's purpose, regardless of how the people, the real employers of the military and the government, wanted things to be done?

Question for you, trickish knave: if the military is so good at protecting us, how is it that the only airplane that did not hit its target on 9/11 was brought down by CIVILIANS, and the Pentagon, which was full of soldiers, suffered massive damage?