So last night I got Capital-Letter Mysterious about a Thing that I might start using LiveJournal for. It's kind of laughable, because in a way it's the simplest thing in the world, and yet it's weighing on me. I am looking around at the world right now and I'm not liking what I see. This isn't terribly new, but the degree is new. Donald Trump honestly has ushered in what I think is a very, very scary trend of thought. He is fomenting a wave of hatred that is like nothing I've ever seen in my lifetime. Creating and spurring on paranoia, as well; λ and I were just having a discussion last night about what under the canopy you're supposed to do with people who believe that every single major news outlet in the country is in collusion with the Clinton campaign to hide the truth from the American people. You can't believe anything anyone except Trump and his surrogates tell you. Isn't that clinical paranoia? I have read about Trump supporters who have been sent to psych wards for homicidal ideation and been really pissed off about it because what they say and think is no different than what every Trump supporter says and thinks. What do you do with that? The paranoia, the fury, the hatred?
I am terrified of Trump supporters, but to be honest, I am almost entirely out of patience with the way that a lot of liberals, including myself sometimes, respond to them. Look at how stupid they are! we say. Look, look how ridiculous, look how dumb, look how offensive, these mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers left over from the Pleistocene era. They are racist to the rotten core, their hearts pump curdled blood spiked with venom, they are a shouting, cursing, scrabbling, red-faced horde of morons led on by their own personal orange-hued Pied Piper. If we interact with them at all, it's to score points off them. We make fun of them, point out how stupid they are, then high-five the people who agree with us. We’ve given up on thinking of them as fellow human beings with real concerns -- how can we focus on that when they are being so awful? Trump is the worst and his followers are the worst and we need to take the presidency and the House and the Senate and then they will be rendered effectively voiceless, which is good because they seem to be mainly using their voices to scream racial slurs and "#MAGA". The problem is with them, them and their hatefulness, them and their racism, them and their hero-worship of a monster.
I couldn't write this so passionately if I hadn't lived it. But I'm growing tired of it now, and frustrated. Something has been rising up in me over the last few months, a sense of -- this can't be all there is. We can't stay this polarized, this hateful, this dismissive of 40% of the country. Hillary is probably going to get elected but Trump's supporters will still be out there, probably watching Trump TV, cheering him on in bitter tones. Convinced the election was rigged. Convinced they have been shut out of the paradise whose doors Trump would have thrown open for them, if Killary hadn't stolen the election from him. Trump will not be as dangerous to the country on Trump TV as he would be as president, but what he has set in motion, this rolling boulder of hatred and divisiveness, is not going to go away if November 9th sees him writing the least gracious concession speech in US history.
I want to be kind.
That's what it's been coming down to for me lately. I want to choose a different path. I want to stop dehumanizing Trump supporters, stop reflexively dismissing people who disagree with me. I want to talk to those people like they're not idiots, even when they're talking like they are. I want to see how far kindness and openness and a nonjudgmental approach can take me. It might take me precisely nowhere. But I want to try. I don't think I've ever consciously tried that before, except in scattered bits and pieces here and there.
I like to start things with round numbers, with fresh page-turns, so that means I would like to start this on November 1st, about a week from now. And to be honest, there are a lot of directions I could take this in, but I'm kind of thinking the best test there could possibly be is comments sections. They are seething cesspits of the worst aspects of human nature, and I want to see what happens if I go in calm and assuming other people are arguing in good faith, attempting to change minds (and at least leaving open the possibility that my own mind will be changed) instead of taking out my resentments and aggressions on people who think Hillary Clinton has had 200 people killed. I've tried this a little in recent months, as I've been getting increasingly frustrated with the normal tenor of online conversation. I had a conversation with an "All Lives Matter" person that actually went pretty well. I got in a conversation about reproductive rights that ended up with each of us treating the other like a human being. That's mostly what I want anyway.
This isn't just about kindness, of course. I'm not that naïve. It's kindness and rationality (equally difficult to use effectively in these situations) and, crucially, psychology and guile. I have been reading articles about the best ways to convince people to listen to you when you're disagreeing with them, because we've all seen what happens when, to take a non-Trump example for a moment, you tell an anti-vaxxer that there's no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. They dig in harder. They believe it more. This has been shown in multiple studies. When you challenge someone's beliefs, you are challenging part of their self-image, their understanding of themselves and the world around them. You have to be incredibly careful how you do it, or you're going to make things worse. And most people don't have that kind of time or energy to spare on randos in comments sections. I get that.
But I look at discussions where people are saying, for instance, that 14 women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual abuse because they want attention. And I want to say -- what? Are you seeing the kind of attention they are getting? Why would anyone want that?! I see people who question why these women are just coming forward right now and the answer seems so clear to me and if I have the spoons for it, isn't it my duty to try to talk them around, try to make them understand, try to defuse this anger that's being channeled toward these women?
Carefully. So, so carefully.
When I came up with this idea one night last week -- I couldn't sleep, was stewing over this, and slowly something began to cohere in my mind -- I thought I would engage in one discussion per day that I would normally roll my eyes and use the block key on. I thought I would try to ramp up slowly, first on conversations like the "All Lives Matter" one -- where I was pretty sure from the start that I could talk her around if I worked at it because she didn't seem like an unkind person herself, just an oblivious one -- and then, as I figured out by trial and error what the best ways are of talking with people who disagree with you, talking to people who are angrier or meaner or more set in their ways. I have to admit I'm kind of quailing as I think of that later stage. How do you talk to hardcore white supremacists? What happens if you try to bring a breath of fresh air into the fetid wankfests on 4chan?
I don't know. I just know I want to try. It may not be all one-comment-discussion-per-day; there are lots of real-life things I'd like to talk about that fit within the theme of being kinder and reaching out more to people I would normally laugh at. But this is where I'm at right now, and this is what I want to try to do. And one comment-discussion-per-day seems like a good attainable goal, so, I guess, stay tuned. I'll probably be sharing commentary and screenshots. At minimum I hope to gain some insight into the best ways of talking with people who disagree with you. At maximum... well, maybe some people will be different at the end of this. Me, at least.
I wish I were certain that everyone reading this isn't laughing at me.