Retaliation is not a political argument in favor of your cause
I have been surveying the headlines of the latest mailbomber, a man who has been caught mailing bombs to critics of President Donald Trump. Once again, we are treated to a display of violence in response to people expressing their politics. I also note that numerous politicians are saying that violence has no place in politics, and I agree with them, but none of them are calling that man who has been mailing bombs, a terrorist.
As someone who once participated in political debates in social media, I can say from experience that there seems to be more verbal reprisal than honest debates in social media. I suspect that more than a few of those debates have led to in person confrontations as if the threat of violence would change anybody's mind.
Politics is the art of getting along together, in peace, in large groups, usually called a "country". Getting along, is a skill that we learn from our parents. Speaking your truth about what it means to get along, is a part of how politics works. I say what I believe I want, and you may say you agree or disagree.
But most of what I see in politics goes something like this:
Me: This is what I believe to be true.
Others: No, you're wrong, followed by insults.
Me: Here is how I verified the facts. Sources provided.
Others: No, your sources are incorrect. More insults, followed by opinion and hearsay.
Often, I see people sparring together, as if somehow, scoring points with insults, character assassinations and threats will sway the peanut gallery. As if every insult, loaded with endorphins, is fun. But I know from my own experience, that it is not fun to be on the receiving end of an insult. I have since learned to consider the source, and that I can make a choice about how I feel in response to an insult.
I have also seen how arguments, particularly on Facebook, escalate to the point where every other word is an expletive. By that point, there are no facts left to discuss. By then, it's a pissing contest, and little progress, if any, can be made.
But there is something else that we should be discussing. That is how we even get to the point where we believe that violent reprisal is necessary in politics. I suspect that more than a few people have been raised to believe that might is right. One of them is that man who was mailing bombs to high profile critics of Donald Trump. Where does a man even get the idea that such an act, if it were successful in killing someone, would prove his point?
To boil it down, I have seen, and continue to see, people punishing others for having an opposing point of view. Punishment, in whatever form it may take, is not an argument in favor of your cause. Not through insults, not in a sarcastic presentation of facts you may know to be true, not in threats or physical confrontation and certainly not in armed reprisal. We're just talking about our opinions here.
Yet, as this country becomes more polarized, more people are prone to violence in order to settle some political score, when violence doesn't even come close to solving any political problems, unless you want to silence your opposition. And let the record show, that conservatives can be every bit as violent as liberals.
This article is not intended to say one side is better than the other. This article is to say that we learned to punish others for having a different, even opposing position in politics, from someone. That someone is usually a caretaker, a parent, a mentor or other important figure in our lives.
Don't talk back to me.
How many of us have heard that from out parents?
If you complain, I will give you something to complain about.
How many of you have heard that from your parents?
That's enough, young man. Now go to your room.
10 minutes in the corner!
This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.
All of that I have seen just for having a difference in opinion with one or both of my parents. And I'm not the only one. This isn't to say that parents are bad. This is to say, if we want to find peace through politics, we really need to get a handle on our parenting practices.
People get the idea to silence their political opponents from their parents, caretakers and other important figures in their lives. If we learn that we can use insults, threats and physical confrontation to silence or neutralize our opponents, then we lose the ability to articulate our needs without force.
Every day, we are working to meet our own needs, and since we live together, we are dependent on each other to get our needs met. We must negotiate with each other to get our needs met if we're going to live together, in the same house, the same neighborhood, the same country, the same planet. Politics is about that.
This is why I strive to err on the side of peace, every minute of every day. Even in political discourse, I know that an insult is not an argument in favor of my cause. In political discourse, punishment is not an argument in favor of my cause. A threat of punishment, harassment or physical confrontation can never, ever be an argument in favor of my cause.
I am thinking of the "fake news" issue, too. So much censoring, so much retaliation, so much waste. So much effrontery to the 1st Amendment. Is it true that the people who are to be swayed by the fake news are incapable of thinking for themselves? The best response to fake news is to show evidence that contradicts that "fake news".
Likewise, the best response to a political argument you oppose is not insults and threats, it is evidence and ideas in support of your arguments. Retaliation, in any form, by anyone, assumes that the person on the business end of that retaliation should not express him or herself. And this is the problem with American politics, we think that retaliation is an argument, when it is not, and never could be.
If we must live in fear of retaliation for our politics, then we will fail at the art of living together. For it is when we are able to say what we mean, and get our needs met, in peace, that we can learn what works and what doesn't.