Author: Jo Cothren

Jo Cothren is a writer from Dallas, Texas. She now lives in Delaware, subsisting on student loans and wishful thinking. She blogs on a variety of topics, which include but are not limited too; language, arts, society, politics, and assorted misanthropy.

Thoughts from a melting snowflake

I don’t understand the point of insults. Not in an I’m-impervious-to-them kind of way, I have a pretty thin skin, but I don’t get what they’re supposed to accomplish. Especially in a debate where your goal is supposed to be convincing the other person you’re right and they’re wrong. How exactly is an insult supposed to help you in this endeavor?

I have a masochistic habit of reading internet comments. I never comment myself but I’m fascinated by the people that do.  And I’ve noticed a trend in the way that people deploy insults. They are used;

A) To hit a soft target. To insult a group on an article or post that is already negative towards that group. An insult that acts as ‘going in on the fun’ and that expects to find acceptance within the target audience of the post.

or

B) To derail the conversation. This insult will pop up from the ‘rival’ group to disparage all those who agree with the post.

Since I live in a liberal bubble and generally only see one side of each insult. I get the impression that conservatives tend more towards B. But this observation is likely highly influenced by a perception bias (seeing what I expect to see) and shouldn’t be trusted. Still, I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say that liberals call conservatives bigots, conservative call liberals weak, and both groups call each other stupid.  (the last insult is crowd pleaser favored by any corner of the political spectrum)

These insults NEVER change anyone. NEVER add to the conversation. And NEVER (I’m speculating here) make the insulter feel better for any longer than a second.

The reasons we use them are obvious. We’re mad and we want to hurt the people who make us mad. We have an opinion that we lack either the knowledge or the creativity to defend and so saying someone is Hitler is the next best thing. And last, and most importantly, knowing where you stand in the world is a scary and precarious position. If some belief is your foundation it is unsettling to find out that other people are capable of disagreeing with it. It can make us question ourselves and feel powerless. Insults seem like the best way to take the power back, or at least diminish the power of your opponent.

So, why do I bring this up?  Well, yesterday my typically safe observer status was taken away from me. I was insulted by someone in a private Facebook message. A man with whom I had had semi-regular, and previously public, debates with sent me a message with an insult about how I post too much on facebook. Fair enough, I do post a lot.

Thing is, this really came out of left field for me. For one, I hadn’t actually posted anything that political recently. Two, I thought this guy and I had an understanding. I knew him from the church I grew up in.. The church I attended when I was still devoutly Christian before I started to feel like someone who thinks that it’s fine for gay people to exist and for trans people to live as their true selves had no place in the fundamentalist Christian society.  I left the church because what I felt was right and what the church told me was moral no longer matched one another.

At any rate, I have always been determined to not be one of those lapsed Christians who gets their jollys talking shit about what they used to believe. I was determined to stay connected and to actively keep alive in myself what it was to hold those beliefs. It’s good to have some person in your life with whom you can politely disagree. Ultimately the world is a better place when thoughtful people engage in debate and make earnest attempts to understand the other side. I thought that that was our arrangement. I thought we respected each other. It was disappointing to find out that I was wrong. It hurt my feelings.

So, let’s go back to liberals being weak. I think this is based in the way we talk about offensive behavior. It can be hard to understand where we’re coming from when we often fail to make our argument passed the point of the offense. To quote Stephen Fry “You’re offended, so what?” We have to move the argument passed the what and into the why. But, on the other hand, to quote Louis CK “When someone tells you that you hurt them you don’t get to say that you didn’t.”

In light of this, I’ll explain my hurt feelings;

I don’t like the implication that my posts are so offensive to you, so threatening, so infuriating that you send a private message to try and shame me out of them. This is not an attack on some changeable behavior I have that’s annoying, like chewing loudly, this is a comment on an aspect of who I am. I like politics. I like talking about politics. When I post about politics it’s not to hear myself talk (on the internet). I’m hoping you respond, I’m hoping there’s a conversation because that is so much more interesting then me being mad in my liberal bubble. I don’t really care about sports. I have no interest in having a baby. I like talking politics. That is a fundamental part of me that if you don’t like then, unfortunately, you don’t like me. It’s not sold separately.

I don’t like that you felt like that message was worth both your time and your energy. When they say that it’s better to say something nice or nothing at all, you should listen to them.  The world is not better for that. That was a pointlessly mean thing, and it was beneath you. There is both an unfriend and an unfollow option of Facebook. I invite you to chose either of them in the future.

And last, it was patronizing. I don’t want to cry sexism. I am sure that this can and does happen to guys. But I am constantly being told by men with little to no acquaintances with me, what exactly it is I am doing wrong in my life. The fact that you think you know better is offensive. The fact that you think that an insult will shame me into behaving the way you think is best, is laughable. The fact that you are so convinced that you know best… The audacity that any human can decide how another human is supposed to act and feel, is ludicrous. Tell me I’m wrong! Present me with a ten pages essay illuminating every point of my wrongness, but don’t tell me to shut up and expect that to work.

The opinions I hold which don’t match yours infect your newsfeed and drive you to distraction, I get that. But let’s be real, either you don’t like me or you don’t like being reminded that there is anyone in the world who disagrees with you. In either case, there’s a better way to handle it.

Shouting into the void…

Like the people who say that protests are a waste of time there are plenty of people who complain that there’s too much complaining about politics on the internet. “Can’t we go back to baby pictures and funny cats” they say, and then something about how pointless it all is to rant online. And I get it, facebook is exhausting these days and we’d be better off calling or representative when we really want a change but also

Closed mouths don’t get fed. 

It’s an expression I used to hate, like ‘if you’ve got time to lean you’ve got time to clean’ but my dislike of folksy aphorisms aside, it is seeming truer by the day. Congress recently backed down on a plan to sell off public lands because of the hashtag #keepitpublic. Like it or not, in a world where a twitter troll is president, what’s trending is our direct line to the halls of power. It’s how we show we care and that we’re paying attention.

I’m sorry that Facebook is no longer a place expressly for engagement pictures. Facebook has been, I think, misunderstood in the past. People treat it like a friend’s house, a semi-private gathering place to be polite and to talk about safe things. But if that were the case it’d be a pretty crowded party considering all the passing acquaintances and former work colleagues in attendance.

No, Facebook is a semi-public space and in all public spaces where we are afforded with the ability to share ideas and anxieties, we should do so. That’s good citizenship, not just because of the current administration but in all democracies at all time. Being vocal is a part of vigilance and being vigilant is how we guarantee it remains the people’s government.

So maybe you think we don’t need vigilance, and maybe you think that this is all liberal backlash and paranoia. Maybe you think that political opinions should be kept to yourself and that what’s currently happening in DC will work itself out. Three things:

Three things:

  1. DC should not work itself out. It should work to please us. Leaving DC to its own devices is to say that every four years you put in an appearance at being a Democracy then you bail to the backseat and let yourself be driven wherever DC wants you to go.
  2. Liberal backlash it may, this is as much a problem with the Democratic Party as it is with the Republicans. But this is not paranoia. This is not normal. It is not politics as usual to have a man who bragged about assault as Commander and Cheif. Nothing makes that okay, not ever.  Nothing is normal about the audacity with which White Supremacists are becoming more vocal and violent. Nothing is normal about the authoritarian turn this country has taken.
  3. Every time you keep silent you surrender a little bit more of your autonomy.  To use another stupid aphorism; A stitch in time saves nine. The time to react is not after we wait and see but while we still have a platform and a voice.

I believe in this country and I trust our government to remain true to its constitutional mission. Because I believe in this country I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to share my concerns in every public forum available so that we keep communication going, keep engagement thriving, and protect our fragile democracy by being the demos which powers it.

So, I know that you’re tired of my anger and I’m sorry that I don’t have a baby to share pictures of instead. But this is my baby, if you want to know what’s happening in my life this is it.

As long as I have a voice I’m going to use it.

If you want to talk about what comes next, I’m game. Let’s talk about getting the Herbal Tea Party started. Let’s talk about making sure this remains the home of the free by getting people into office that want to move us forward. Let’s talk! Comment on my angry posts tell me how your feeling.

But if how your feeling is that I should shut-up, sorry that’s not happening anytime soon.

Yearning to Breathe Free: The letter I sent to my Senators

The following is a letter sent to my Senators (Chris Coons and Tom Carper) regarding the restriction on immigration from majority Muslim countries.

Dear Senator,

I know that you are fighting for us. I know that the current political situation in this country has given you no shortage of issues that need your attention and your energy, but I implore you to consider one more. Yesterday, our president signed an executive order restricting refugees and immigrants from primarily Muslim countries. As you know, conflicts in the Middle East have displaced millions. It is the human rights crisis of age and we cannot fail to meet it. These are human beings in need of the security and stability of a home.

We used to be a nation that cared for vulnerable people. We used to be a country that was guided, not by fear and selfishness, but by the moral certitude that what is right is worth defending. I believe in this country and I believe that in the hearts of the majority of its citizens there is still a desire to be a place of refuge, a safe place in a dangerous world. To shut our doors now is to give in to an irrational fear. We condemn the victims of violence because we are afraid. We would rather hide behind our borders than live up to our principles.

I think that we are so much better than that. I know that we have the strength and courage to be the nation that stands up to bullies and protects those they prey upon. I believe that we cannot claim to be a great nation while we allow our enemies to dictate the limits of our generosity and we shrink behind walls and xenophobia. Those who seek a home in this country are our allies and to deny them that home based on their religion is an affront to our legacy as pilgrims and peacemakers.

I know that you are already hard at work for Delaware but I ask that you take a stand on this issue. Please make public your disapproval of this cowardly order. Please be the voice for the people of Delaware who believe that this nation of immigrants is still open to all who are “yearning to breathe free.”

Thank you,

So what’s the point of protesting…

Today the brand new president made statements accusing journalists of fabricating his feud with the United States intelligence community despite the evidence on his own Twitter account. His Press Secretary also used his first full day on the job to attempt convince the American people that the photographs of the inauguration were lies and warn news outlets against casting the president in an unfavorable light.  This is the beginning of the post-truth era and this is why it is so important and so wonderful that over a million people around the world went outside, gathered together, and rejected that narrative.

Every time there’s a major protest movement I hear the same comments from both the opposed and the apathetic…. This is pointless. People with signs do nothing, change nothing… And, yeah, the world after the Women’s March is still pretty much as it was. The people in power remain in power and the things that they threaten remained threatened. But fatalism is the refuge of people who either don’t understand how human society works or are choosing to respond to criticism by delegitimatizing instead of acknowledging it. People with signs don’t magically change the world because that’s not how anything works and if you think that a sudden utopia is the only outcome that would make protest worthwhile then just… what is wrong with you?

But people with signs gathering together is powerful and important because it is fellowship. Today the Women’s March was a physical reminder for progressives in this country that we are the majority. Actually seeing crowds emboldens us, empowers us, and makes us harder to lie to.

1984 depicted a world in which power controlled truth. Winston Smith is alone until he finds Julia. I won’t spoil the ending but the book does what books are supposed to do and gives the reader a visceral understanding of what it is to have no truth of your own and how even two people joined together by a mutual complaint can be a threat that power takes seriously. As anyone who’s been gas-lighted will know, the first thing an abuser does is isolate you, the second is convince you that only they know what’s best. Knowing for a fact that you’re not alone and knowing that the problems you see in the world aren’t figments of your imagination, that is not nothing. That is not a pointless show.

So, the day after our president said “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America” we gathered together to remind ourselves that peaceful dissent is not just our right but our responsibility. A democracy must remain responsive to the ideologies its people. It is against the foundation of this country to proclaim that its government is above reproach. We have to remain critical. We have to stay engaged and demand the space to express both our love for this country and our anxiety at its direction. We don’t need to have a perfect answer, we don’t need to have a hive mind like solidarity, we don’t need anything other than signs and the space to gather and share our concerns.

Societies build their ideologies slowly over time through community contact and conversation.  That’s why we protest. That’s why we keep protesting. Not because we have all the answers and the magic recipe for the perfect world but because in this very imperfect world we need each other now more than ever.

I hope some of the ripples caused by today go on to inspire change. I hope people begin to take an interest in local politics, pay closer attention to federal politics. I hope that not just the democratic party and people on the left, but that independents and those on the right who reject this post-truth dystopia we seem to be hurtling towards will feel emboldened by this reminder that we are the majority and we aren’t going anywhere.

He is my President, but I don’t have to like it

Number one rule; respect the office, not the man. I believe in our government. I trust our constitution and the checks and balances it ensures. I believe that we must, if we want to preserve our republic, honor the greatest achievement of that republic by continuing the tradition of a peaceful  transfer of power.

At the same time, it is not an over reaction to be terrified that the man might do the things he expressly said he was going to do. It is not melodramatic to be heartbroken that someone who brags about sexual assault, is lauded by the KKK, and advocates violence against his critics is the man I have to now have as president. A man I wouldn’t even want to be on the same bus with is my president. It is not an overreaction to mourn for this planet and the irreparable damage that will be done to the climate by the man who denies the consensus of science and the majority of world leaders. And it is not irrational to fear for the future as our president will surely, willfully, gleefully even, neglect to address the greatest human rights crisis of our generation and leave the victims of extremism to whatever perils on the baseless, heartless fear of their religion.

I think about all the people who visited Susan B. Anthony’s grave on Tuesday, ecstatically hopeful that by the day’s end a woman would finally break that last glass ceiling. It’s easy to feel defeated by this. This feels like a serious blow to progressivism. It is a serious blow, but we are down, not out.  Remember, Susan B. Anthony never voted. Think of all the civil rights defenders who died before they saw their dreams come to fruition. Think of those who were fighting in times when popular opinion was so much against them that they were lightning rods for constant unabashed hate and vitriol. And yet they kept on fighting. They were standing up when they were the minority, we are the majority, we are the popular vote. Maybe we have grown lazy, maybe 8 years of a progressive icon, a wise and honorable man at the head of our country has made us complacent in our causes. Maybe that’s why not enough of us got up and voted on Tuesday.

We need to tend our wounds and regroup, we need to assure each other that we are all still here and still believe. That is what I hope these demonstrations are about, expressing to ourselves as well as to the rest of the world that progressivism is still here in America because we need to feel that hope right now.  But I hope these demonstrations are not a futile exercise in wishing things were different, in wishing for our druthers, and begging for a do-over.  The election was not stolen from us, we lost. Now we have to find a way to recover, move forward, and keep fighting. We also have to find a way to heal.

The good that might come from this is the bursting of the progressive bubble, the one that protected us from recognizing that those in opposition to us are not the stupid or the evil. They are wrong, not evil. And we don’t persuade them from their wrongness by vilifying them. This nation is too polarized to continue to function. We have to rethink our rhetoric recalibrate our message and truely become the politics of understanding and acceptance that we have always pretended but rarely suceeded to be. The unexamined vilification of the opposition is what has taken us to this point. Let’s be active, let’s be motivated, but let’s also be civil. We can no longer play the game of emotional politics in this country, if we want to do good and do good together we have to start to reason with each other and make reason above all else the greatest political virtue.

We are now the opposition. We are probably experiencing some of the same emotions that were felt by others when Obama became president, those emotions which looked irrational to us then. We should recognize now that to wallow in them will do us very little good. The republican party has made hay off of the myth of its own oppression (despite controlling congress), the ‘war on Christianity’, the ‘loss of American values’. Don’t let progressive values become empty those buzzwords, continue to believe in them because they are right, not merely because they are opposite. Don’t let MSNBC become the new FOX as we all bemoan the strawmen who oppose us, we must continue to present reasonable arguments for the progressive cause.

There will be so much more to say about this is the next four years. And I’m sure I will often be angry and emotional and not follow my own advice. I know that I will not remain silent while the marginalized suffer I will use my privilege and whatever other powers I have to push for progressive aims. I don’t know what else to say, there still remains so much to be seen. Just keep believing, we’re stronger together.

Here are a few speeches from progressive champions who faced greater opposition than this, to encourage you throughout the coming weeks.

Harvey Milk

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Robert Kennedy

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Make the impossible possible.

Love,

Jo