Political Diplomacy

The phrase “political diplomacy” should be redundant, but politics in the large, as it were, is characterized by misunderstanding, polarization, and demonization – especially on the Internet. I’m interested in what we can do to have more civil conversations, regardless of disagreement. I think this would result in more changed minds, but perhaps this is the problem: no one wants to risk changing their minds.

The immediate context for this post lies in the comments for this article. The author, Tom Levenson, told me:

Not trying to achieve readership from the “scorned” as you put it. Trying to galvanize action against them. I’m never going to persuade Mr. Esk and his ilk that they’re clueless bigots who need to rethink their position; I can work to marginalize them politically and culturally, which is what this kind of post is aiming to do.

The phrases “Mr. Esk and his ilk” and “marginalize them politically and culturally” are the operative parts here, and I think they represent a disconnect in how Mr. Levenson is considering politics. But he’s not alone; this seems to be the unspoken prevailing idea on the matter.

Who are Mr. Esk’s ilk? I assume they are those who agree with him, which seems to be much of Oklahoma. Keeping that in mind, to marginalize someone politically and culturally means to diminish their influence by causing less people to pay attention to them.

Who are paying attention to Mr. Esk? Obviously his ilk are, but Mr. Levenson is not concerned with them. Perhaps some people in Oklahoma are not aware of Mr. Esk’s statements, or aren’t alarmed by them. The only others would be those who already condemn Mr. Esk’s statements (mostly in private, because left and right have annoying taboos against calling out their own).

Then it would seem that Mr. Levenson wants to be listened to by people from Oklahoma. This seems like a well-advised start, then (emphasis mine):

Today’s case-in-point comes from the grea batshit insane state of Oklahoma, where we meet this fine primate:

Surely people in Oklahoma will be more likely to listen to Mr. Levenson after he lumps all of Oklahoma in with Mr. Esk. If someone in Oklahoma is not offended, they probably already agreed with Mr. Levenson that their state is crazy and dislike Mr. Esk.

But I’m skeptical of Mr. Levenson’s apparent belief that Mr. Esk’s ilk are impenetrable to reason. I was once a fundie (likely Mr. Levenson’s biggest gripe against Oklahoma), and I had some pretty crazy ideas. I associated with several secularists online, and slowly began to think for myself. I now recognize the patience they exercised by engaging me.

I also recognize the abrasive secular personalities who helped perpetuate the negative image of secularists which I had been given (not entirely intentionally) by my religious leaders. Mr. Levenson, and most other politically involved people, perpetuate similar stereotypes – likely because they also hold such stereotypes of other groups.

These images discourage us from listening, because they replace understanding of people. Instead of getting to know someone, we just refer to our images in order to engage them. But someone who doesn’t listen has no place expecting to be listened to. And indeed, Mr. Levenson seems to acknowledge this; I just don’t understand whom he thinks he’s talking to.

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