Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gay hating vs. Troop hating

I remember an episode of the Colbert Report where Tim Robbins, and actor and anti-war activist who has produced an anti-war play, arrived to be interviewed. Stephen Colbert says to Robbins, "I have a two part question…What is the most favorite move you’ve acted in and why do you hate the troops?" Tim Robbins laughed. It was a ridiculous example of an accusation wrapped in an un-answerable question wherein you must attack the premise in order to answer it.

Now in regard to the Iraq war, it made me cringe when those on the right accused those who opposed the war of "hating the troops". It is true that opposing a war may have some negative consequences for those troops in the midst of the war in the form of propaganda for the other side, less money and support for the effort on the home front etc… But that's a very far cry from "hating the troops", which indicates that one has a malignant intent to inflict harm and difficulty on the troops or harbors a willful and cavalier disregard for their well being.

Some people have a conscience that believes that confronting a problem of leadership in the war is worth some of the secondary negative consequences for the war effort that may result from being vocal. Some people believe that these consequences are to be avoided during the midst of a war. These are both rational position of conscience and it is important for either side to recognize the other as a valid position of conscience, even if there are substrata of worldviews at work in each party that are profoundly alien to the other.

I remember John Stewart in his interview with John McCain who appropriately called the charge of troop hating a "cudgel" to suppress a dialogue that our nation needed to have. The charge of "troop hating" does not allow for a nuanced position that allows for an individual citizen in a democratic society to voice a concern that says, "I think that there is a problem with the war and the way it is being prosecuted." I've often thought that the charge of "troop hating" was an attempt to allow incompetent war bureaucrats to hide their incompetence behind combat boots. Dealing with the rhetorical and philosophical dimensions of society and war is a huge topic that I will deal with more in depth later.

Suffice to say for now that the charge of "troop hating" is leveled by those who have a peculiar worldview that says that any vocal opposition to a war in the midst of a war is fundamentally immoral and twisted. For one who harbors this worldview to ask another person who vocally opposes the war "Do you hate the troops? The answer is "Yes. -- if your worldview conflates war opposition with troop hating." Here, "Do you hate the troops?" is not actually a question in search of an answer but a self-referential worldview disguised as a question seeking confirmation for its own existence.

The same problem that characterized the right in regard to the troops is now the characterizing the left in regard to gay marriage. If I support Prop 8 do I hate gay people? The answer is Yes – if your worldview conflates Prop 8 support with gay hatred. Nuanced positions on the topic need not apply.

The accusation of "hate" seeks to utterly obliterate any speck of validity of any position of conscience of the other side. The accusation of "hate" is toxic to dialogue and has benefit only in the short term as the rhetorical equivalent of a rhetorical spear thrust in the phalanx war. The charge of "hate" may win a battle temporarily in a climate where people are too afraid to be labeled as "haters", but it will not ultimately win hearts and minds. When people resort to throwing "slogan bricks" at each other, they have eschewed dialogue and are scarcely worthy of being afforded with a civic matrix that supports dialogue, which is what a democracy is.

No comments: