I was engaging a former classmate in the normal banter we have on social media these days. He had posted a joke about Joe Biden being mentally incompetent. I simply pointed out that Biden’s opponent (who this classmate obviously supports) is at least equally incompetent, so perhaps it would be best to leave well enough alone.
His response was actually on point. He was telling a joke about Biden and he is certainly allowed to do that. Moreover, there are certainly more than enough jokes at Donald Trump’s expense on social media. Who knows, maybe someone could find one of mine if they look hard enough. I was ready to concede that point when someone decided they wanted to jump into the conversation.
Normally,, I wouldn’t bother with something like this because it is so ridiculous, but I thought it highlighted the thought processes that we see nowadays in a number of different places. This person said that I had invited a clown to our 25 year high school reunion, so no one should pay any attention to what I say. That clown was apparently my wife since she was my date. So, let me walk down amnesia lane so point out the mental gymnastics involved.
Getting the Facts Wrong
I did speak to someone dressed as a clown. That was one of our classmates. The person who made the comment obviously didn’t get the chance to meet my wife. So, they basically assumed that the classmate (that everyone should remember) was somehow my date.
Now, how does this relate to argument in general. Well, as Saturday Night Live once joked, you take two half truths and that equals the full truth. At least that is the National Enquirer rule of journalism. A number of the things we find on social media these days are devoid of the whole truth. Notice I’m not talking liberal or conservative here. This is just a common thing we see. This by itself is not that big a deal in the sense that people have been doing it forever.
When you can’t beat em’, insult em’
I can take the slings and arrows. I guess the idea behind the comment was that either I was obviously gay, obviously silly, or God knows what. That much I don’t care about. People can call me whatever name they like if it makes them feel better about themselves. However, it degrades our politics and it degrades public discourse.
This has gotten worse recently and we can point fingers, but I think we all know who the main culprits are. There is a subtle difference between calling someone’s ideas as stupid and calling them stupid. Unfortunately, most of the discourse here is not subtle. We move beyond the stupid and into things that have little to do with what has been said. I think the experts call this ad hominem attacks, but I might be having a senior moment.
The insult is the first sign of defeat. There is room for people to make jokes as comedians do, so this is a fine line. One’s comments usually have to be germane to the topic. What does a high school reunion have to do with whether Joe Biden is senile or not?
Attacking Someone Not in the Conversation
This is where I did get angry. My wife is not involved in this conversation. The person in question has never interacted with my wife. How does he or she know that my wife even shares my views? Maybe she is a Republican than wants to vote for Trump. Why does she need to be called names?
We’ve seen this before. The best moment of Ted Cruz’s political career was when he stood up for his wife and father. Unfortunately, that courage didn’t last. Yet, when it did people on both sides stood up and cheered. There is something depraved about slinging mud at innocent spouses and children.
These are the three dimensions of mud slinging we see on social media these days. We see it in the news and in public life. Hopefully we can get to the point where we can move beyond these kinds of cheap tricks. Maybe we are destined to continue to devolve. Yet, we can all hope for our better angels to prevail.