If I Ever Needed Proof that (Some) Liberals Are Intolerant . . .

At one of the colleges where I work, I often encounter a guy I've nick-named "Bitter Guy" (he is bitter about his movie scripts not selling--completely comprehensible!). For the purposes of this blog, I will continue to call him Bitter Guy although, yes, he does have a name, and I do know what it is.

He teaches a class after I finish my three classes for the day. Lately, when I've been over in the English building, I've encountered him waiting for his next class to begin, and we've discussed politics. He is a liberal--I'm a conservative libertarian plus I don't much care for political scandals, so I'm not usually ready to combat arguments about what scandalous things have shown up about a politician on the web lately. However, he is a reasonably rational human being, and I'm a reasonably rational human being, and we can usually at least exchange ideas. He can say what he thinks. I can say what I think, etc.

And sometimes the conversation gets downright hilarious. Today, I was complaining about how Democrats and Republicans use the whole "man of the people" approach, and he started doing this riff about how politicians tell stories: "Poor little Johnny with no legs crawled up to me, trailing blood and pleading, 'Oh, Politician, please help me . . .'" (Yes, I do think that is hilarious.)

Unfortunately, our conversations appear to be at an end. Towards the end of our conversation today, we were joined by a guy who works in one of the nearby offices, had overheard our conversations and couldn't contain himself any longer.

As soon as he started, I knew the reasonably intelligent and humorous exchanges I'd had with Bitter Guy were at an end. The new guy--I'll call him totally officious arrogant dude (Toad)--said, "I'm just wondering how they will rig the election this year."

Oh, yeah, conspiracy theories about elections, how fascinating. (Insert MAJOR sarcastic monotone.)

Then Toad started going on about how the computers in 2004 were rigged. I said, "But in Florida when they recounted the actual ballots, Bush won."

"No," he said. "The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, [etc. etc.] all said the votes in [x] states came out in favor of Kerry."

I was still naive enough to think that actually presenting my point of view/knowledge would be effective, so I reiterated that Florida counted the votes, and Bush won Florida, and a tiny article did appear about that fact. [Note: You may perceive that I confused the 2000 and 2004 elections although, for all I know, Florida recounted its votes in 2004 as well as 2000. Joe clarifies information about the 2000 election in the comments, and I comment on my confusion. Unfortunately, it wouldn't have mattered much which election I'd referred to: 2004, 2000, or 1824: Bush stole them all! Toad did not respond to my statement by correcting my misinformation--I doubt he knew my information was incorrect. He responded as follows:]

"Of course you would say that," Toad said. (Remember this phrase--"Of course you would say that": we'll be coming back to it.)

In any case, Toad's response was a huge clue that this was the type of conversation where Toad's "facts" are all legitimate (no matter how unlikely to human nature) while my "facts" are all tainted. Yeah, I've been here before.

I said so. I said, "This is going to be one of those conversations where everything Republicans do is evil, and everything liberals do is good, and I don't do those kinds of political conversations."

"No, it isn't," Bitter Guy and Toad chorused, and Toad started trying to tell me that I was misrepresenting what he'd said.

The ?monologue? didn't get any better. I kept making motions to leave (I should have just walked out), but every time I did, there was an insistence by both guys that they weren't being extreme, that Toad wasn't--as I claimed--simply throwing political statements around and politicizing everything. You can't have a conversation with a person who instead of responding to what you say--see below--puts political bars around it before moving on to his NEXT conspiracy theory.

For example, Toad said, "I'm willing to admit that [United States' democracy] was a failed experiment. I think Plato was right. I'm in favor of a benevolent dictatorship."

"Uh," I said, "I wouldn't agree with that," which was much nicer, I think you will agree, than saying, "You're one of the stupidest people I've ever met. What are you doing teaching here in a good community college? You should be teaching at some yuppie bastion of higher academe with other lame brains who think their freshman-level 'insights' about America are soooo sophisticated."

No, I didn't say that at all; I just said, "Uh, I wouldn't agree with that."

"Oh," he said, "of course you wouldn't."

Of course you wouldn't. Not "Why do you disagree with me?" Not even "Let me explain why I'm right in detail" which would have been excruciating (stupidity doesn't usually get much better in detail) but at least would have shown a desire on Toad's part to communicate, exchange ideas, and maybe learn.

Nope. "Of course you wouldn't," he said. "I've been listening to you for a week."

So this guy has heard me talking twice about politics and has decided, based on those 60 or so minutes that he knows what I think and that nothing I say can surprise him because . . .

Hmm--let's think about this. Let's suppose this guy had heard me going on and on about how evil Bush is, how stupid Bush is, how much I hate Republicans for those 60 minutes or so, do you think it is likely he would say to me, "Of course you think that" whenever I made a statement?

Are you kidding? He would be fawning all over me. We would spend the hour between classes throwing bumper stickers all over each other and telling each other how much we hate the establishment--yeah, they stink, yeah, yeah.


From the beginning of the ?conversation? Toad had been very clear about his perspective, especially in comparison to mine. Plus, I've heard his tone of voice before. It's the tone pundits use to dismiss anyone who presents ideas they don't like without said pundits actually having to address those ideas or explain their own ideas.

So, once again, I tried to point out to Toad and Bitter Guy that I don't much care for these types of political conversations--mostly because there wasn't one. Toad wasn't listening to anything I said; instead, he was dismissing everything that didn't support his "Bush stole the 2004 election; McCain is horrible; Hillary is right about healthcare; American democracy isn't working; one of these days, the Republicans will declare marshal law" perspective. In fact, Toad wasn't prepared to even ponder that he might be wrong about any of his facts or that anyone's facts or perspectives might have validity. (My inability to be completely unreasonable is a handicap in this type of conversation. For all I knew, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal did print the articles Toad mentioned, and I personally accept those newspapers as more or less trustworthy sources. If I was less rational, I could have shouted, "We all know the New York Times is simply a product of liberal think-tanks!" which would have been the level Toad was arguing at. But I cringe at becoming the kind of person who would say that.)

I didn't say all of the above, but I did try to say some of it, and, yup, I was told once again by Toad that I was misreading what he'd said.

Then Toad made a mistake. He said, "I don't see how any woman could vote for the McCain platform."

And I got mad, really mad. I despise that kind of political platitude--the kind of thinking that says all women must function as a group and should think a certain way and should only be concerned about so-called women's issues.

I said so. AND once again, Toad tried to tell me that I was reading a stance into his statement that wasn't there. He wasn't making any claims about how women should vote!

But he'd already made the mistake, and I had proof.

I said, "So why didn't you say, 'I don't see how people could vote for McCain's platform? Why did you say 'women'?"

He was actually momentarily stymied, but Bitter Guy--who, I think, was trying to bring the conversation back to a rational level--said, "Here are the things I don't agree with about the McCain platform," and started listing them.

If the conversation had just been me and Bitter Guy at that point, I would had heard him out (as I had done during our prior conversations). But I was so fed up with Toad's disingenuous politicized pontificating, that I interrupted Bitter Buy after the third item.

"Yeah," I said. " And if I then told you that there were things about McCain's platform I agreed with, then you," and I turned to Toad, "would say, 'Oh, of course you do.'"

That, I told them--far less coherently and calmly than I am writing this--is just throwing political statements at people, and I don't do that.

What I really meant to say was "Toads who dismiss people who think differently than them without hearing out what said people actually think are self-righteous jerks," but it didn't come out that way.

"I don't do that," I said and walked out.

I confess I wish I was the kind of cool-headed person who could have wryly pushed the conversation to some truly extreme level and then shrugged my shoulders at the witlessness of it all. I wish I was the kind of cool-headed person who could have said, early on, "I know where this is going" and just left. Sometimes, I can be that cool-headed person, but it's really hard when one is faced when so much foolish self-righteousness within a five minute period! And after two years of grad school, I no longer feel obligated to put up with it.

The irony is, exchanging ideas with Bitter Guy was enough to get me thinking, "Maybe, I'll go the libertarian route after all." Talking to Toad makes me want to go out and vote for every single conservative and Republican candidate I can get my hands on--like those annoying anti-cigarette commercials that make me want to start smoking.

But I've gained more insight into why (some) liberals believe--KNOW--they aren't intolerant despite all evidence to the contrary. It isn't just that they think "my liberalism = tolerance" as I've postulated elsewhere. Rather, they honestly think that belittling another person's perspective isn't intolerance. Toad honestly seems to believe (or acted as if he believes) it is his god-given right or gift to humanity to trot out his political extremism and dismiss all other perspectives from a discussion. Of course, I'm right! I'm doing you a favor by making sure you know how right am I! If you question my tolerance, it must be that YOU are intolerant. If you call me on my intolerance, you must be reading your own intolerant paranoia into my statements. Nothing I say or do could possibly be close-minded--after all, I'm a liberal.

When Goldberg pairs liberalism with fascism . . . he isn't wrong.

Regarding Toad's implicit chauvinism: I address that here.


Joe said...

Toad has it backward. The New York Times led consortium of eight news organizations found that Bush would have won.

One scenario where Gore would have clearly won was if they had done a statewide recount using only valid, fully punched cards. (Especially ironic since Gore and his team explicitly rejected this option.)

Kate Woodbury said...

I just realized that I got the 2000 election confused with the 2004 election. One reason I got them confused is because of how Toad referred to the 2004 election: "I went to bed thinking Kerry had won and woke up to find he had conceded." I made the leap to thinking he was talking about the 2000 election since that is the only election, in my memory, where any misunderstanding persisted for more than a few hours (and the 2000 misunderstanding was caused by the news media more than anything else).

There was no misunderstanding re: Kerry. I watched the entire election night, and Kerry conceded right on schedule--as soon as the majority of electoral votes were in. I guess this is a case of "I want the Republicans to be evil; therefore, I judge they are evil even when there is no evidence."

Which means that yes, he thinks Gore should have won 2000 too. And yes, I was fairly sure (but I didn't have any proofs at my finger tips) that reputable news organization had shown that both elections were run fairly and the electoral college did in fact come down in Bush's favor in both cases.

I think Toad belongs to the "If things don't come out the way I think they should, it must be because an evil conspiracy is preventing them from coming out that way"--I sometimes wish Obama would win just so I wouldn't have to listen to this kind of whining for the next 4 years.

ZZMike said...

Liberals in academia? Who would have thought it?

"I confess I wish I was the kind of cool-headed person who could have wryly pushed the conversation to some truly extreme level..."

That takes a few years of strict discipline, the kind found mainly in Buddhist monasteries. Perhaps the quickest road to enlightenment would be to consider these types as simply intellectually challenged (to use their jargon), and treat them as small boys not yet reaching the age of reason.

One problem is that they usually come at you unawares - in the middle of some other topic - so you're caught off guard. The trick is probably whenever one of these types approaches, give the order to "raise shields".

I cringe at the thought of what sort of teaching goes on in their classrooms. "Today we'll take up 'The Wife of Bath's Tale' and see how it's an example of male oppression and the subjugation of women and how it informs our view of the Bush administration as a hegemon of the oligarchy."

Kate Woodbury said...

ZZMike wrote "One problem is that they usually come at you unawares - in the middle of some other topic - so you're caught off guard."

I was a secretary for three years at a state university; all staff members belonged to a union although you did not have to be a full member (pay dues, etc.). There was a pro-union woman on staff who could weave the union--and the university's horrible treatment of the union--into ANY conversation. If you mentioned you were looking for a job, "Yup," she would say, "that's what happens when the university doesn't pay its employees enough money!" If you mentioned you liked working for the university, "Well," she would say, "you would like it better if you joined the union and got the university to stop doing . . . " X, Y, or Z.

I couldn't imagine living in a world that was all about what the university did or didn't do for me lately--so I never joined. But I often feel that people who try to foist their political agendas on me in passing think exactly like the pro-union woman. Everything from their jobs to their pets to grocery shopping has a political context and can lead to political pontifications. I like discussing politics from a "how about those politicians" perspective; I don't really get the "I think therefore I am political about atom in the universe" mentality.

BTW, one of my online students recently thanked me for not bringing up politics in the classroom. I have tons of opinions about essay writing that I force willy-nilly on my students, but there's no place for political agenda making in a composition (or literature) class.

a calvinist preacher... said...


Cherndawg said...

"disingenuous politicized pontificating"... lol... I love it!