Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Observations from the Middle

Today was Tax Day. It was also Tea Party Day for a whole lot more people than I would have reckoned on especially in this political backwater (approx. 200, .7% of Houghton County population). It also marked the first time I have ever participated in a rally, march or political statement other than signing the occasional petition and regularly voting even when I had to hold my nose to do it. Oh, I have also occasionally written letters to my elected representatives which not a one of them have ever deigned to give me the courtesy of so much as a reply by form letter. Needless to say, I have felt a distinct lack of political empowerment and been disinclined to expend energy in what appeared to be an exercise in futility and frustration. Combine that with my family's philosophy of keeping one's head down and not doing anything which might draw attention from the 'powers that be' and the mere act of stating an opinion by being intentionally present at a politicalesque gathering takes on significance. The fact that I married a relative political activist might have something to do with me having a little more faith in an activity like this.

What I found disconcerting though is that although I agreed marginally more with the average participant at the Houghton Tea Party, and probably Tea Party attendees in general, than I do with the majority of my friends who say, attended essentially anti-Bush rallies in the last 8 years, I still found myself occupying a middle ground which is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and increasingly disparaged. It seems that if you indicate that you agree with one or a few opinions that is held by a specified group then it is assumed that you agree with all of the opinions that are perceived to be held by the members of that group. At the risk of sounding petulant - it's not fair, it's not accurate, and I protest! OTOH, I am not the type of person who feels that I can convince the myriads of people who have fallen into this type of binary thinking that they are in error.

I am growing very weary though of being neither fish nor fowl and there being very little understanding or acceptance of those of us who live on the land in between. For instance, just because I tend to dress modestly and rather plainly, strongly defend my right to keep and use firearms, resent outside interference in the way I choose to live my life, including many of the policies that are supposed to help society - from seat belt laws to registration of livestock and vegetables, believe that life is treated too cheaply in our society and find some measure of value in conservative values and ways of living to name a few of my conservative positions; it is assumed that I promote the idea of the US as a Judeo-Chrisitian nation, am anti-abortion, couldn't possibly be a feminist or in favor of same-sex marriage, or open alternative sexuality for that matter, believe that nature is here to be dominated and utilized by man with his convenience and 'needs' being paramount, resent social assistance programs and couldn't possibly support socialist goals. There used to be a time when people got to know people and find out that they didn't necessarily fit into nice pigeon holes but our frenetic society doesn't allow for this anymore. The same attitude that draws us to the technology most of us use daily (cell phones, text messaging, email etc.) to make our lives more efficient has promoted a mindset towards shortcutting everything - including dealing with people. If we know one or at most a few things about somebody then there is a tendency to think that no further exploration is needed and we can move on to the next person, issue etc. This shortcutting has led to the devaluation of people as individuals and treating them accordingly.

Another part of the equation is the increasing radicalization of our society in religious, social, political and many other forums. This tends to include promoting disdain or outright hatred of the other side and this, combined with the tendency to pigeon hole people, breaks down tolerance and makes it very difficult for someone who holds opinions and attitudes from both sides to function in social situations without either 1) being willing to argue or 2) being willing to sit silently while those around you lambaste things you value that they don't agree with. If you request a change in topic they either 1) treat you like you're being unreasonable or 2) want to argue the issue under the guise of asking why you want to move on. Although I'm pretty good at it, I don't enjoy confrontation and I just want to socialize with people who share my interests in the particular topic at hand; ie. if I go to a seder or Shabbat services or a circle or a medieval or artistic event I don't want to have to deal with having a social issue/political/religious debate. I believe that social, political, religious etc. discussion and debate is important but people should be able to engage in social interaction without being afraid of either confrontation or dismissal.

I am not advocating that people shouldn't be able to talk about issues but I pine for the days when our society had better manners and less inclination to pigeon hole people. I want to be treated as an individual person, not a member of a political party, social class, ideological group etc. and be able to interact with all types of people without having to enter a room wearing psychological battle armor.

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