Tuesday, May 26, 2015

You Label-List Me, I'll Label-List You

Remember that scene in the Princess Bride, when Vizzini had Buttercup (before she married Francis Underwood and became the first lady) at knifepoint and he told the Dread Pirate Roberts, “ I can't compete with you physically, and you're no match for my brains,” and the DPR responded, “It would appear we are at an impasse?”

I haven’t done it yet, but I keep meaning to make a graphic of that scene with those words in a meme-ish font to be inserted in just about every social media conversation about anything controversial or principle-related. Because they all eventually end in an impasse with both sides thoroughly unwilling to budge. Best-case scenario, it ends there. Usually, though, it gets nasty. Bridges are burned, nothing is gained, everyone sort of feels self-vindicated, but in an empty way.

And this is not limited to individuals. Whole organizations can get caught up in this sort of destructive impasse, horns locked and flaming darts flying. For example, I recently learned that the American Family Association had branded the Southern Poverty Law Center a “bigotry group.” They did it in the context of a “bigotry map” on their website, which breaks down a long, categorized list of anti-Christian bigot groups by state and lays them out for your information, or perhaps for you to  scorn or avoid, or whatever. Ironically, this is a move they snagged from the SPLC itself, who has their own “hate map,” which looks a heck of a lot like the AFA’s map and predates it by some years.

So, you call me a hate group, I call you a bigot. I’m on your list, but you’re on mine. And, of course, in our current climate, these words are basically the equivalent of F-bombs, in that they are the nastiest labels you can affix to your opponents.

I’m not being falsely humble when I say that I get the impulse. The reason I keep meaning to make the “It appears we are at an impasse” card is that it will give me a quick, clever exit ramp from such exchanges before I do essentially the same thing, only to a human being, not a faceless entity. And yet, I have to wonder if anything is really accomplished or if this is just a symptom of a sick public square, where the exchange of ideas is hamstrung by buzzwords and labels. I’ve got certain reservations about both those groups (although I certainly do prefer one to the other), and I have to say that the move of “You’re on my list,” “Well then you're on my list too” does absolutely nothing to alleviate those reservations.

And of course, someone might point out that Jesus seemed to put the teachers of the Law and pharisees on his own list in Matthew 23. All I can say in response is that, unlike Jesus, I’m an advanced sinner and when I add people to my list, it's usually because I’m striking back, returning evil for evil (I Thess 5:15), and trying to keep a detailed record of wrongs (I Cor 13:5). Which means, at least for me, there’s got to be a better way to deal with such things.

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I think stuff like this is exactly why some people decide to drop out of social media altogether. And having the thought in the back of your mind that "I'm not going to post this because I don't want to get into it with X" and "I'm going to block or unfriend X so I can post this and get affirmation from my other friends" means that more and more, we have only people who are most like us in our social networks. To some extent this happens naturally anyway, but I think that the way people interact on social media now it is more overt and leads to extreme points of view that just get people angrier yet. Moderate voices are so rare and are so often out-shouted. And even if you try to have a civil, logical discussion about something, the crazies always seem to take over and ruin your witness.