I haven’t done a link roundup in a while, due in part to a near-lethal combination of busyness and laziness. While I do not deny that laziness has always been one of my many, many charming personal qualities (and seriously people, I highly recommend it), a good deal of my most recent malaise is directly attributable to Thea, Goddess of Pain. Thea, you see, pretends to be something called a “personal trainer.” But I am on to her. She is actually a professional assassin, hired by some right-wing political operative no doubt, threatened by my magnanimous free assistance to Governor Martin O’Malley’s pre-presidential pre-campaign. Thea’s mission is to brutally torture me (no, not the fun kind) at regularly scheduled intervals until she finally sucks the last drop of life out of me. Oh, and it gets weirder: Thea is a dead ringer for Jennifer fucking Lawrence:
LEFT: J-Law. RIGHT: Thea.
So for several hours every week, my life is quite literally The Hunger Games: David Barton Gym. I tell you, it’s fucking exhausting. I look at a dozen open tabs in my browser that I would very much like to compile here for your infotainment, and I just think ahhhh gaaaaawd itttt’s tooooo muuuuuch as my cursor drifts listlessly around my screen. Eventually I say fuck it, and just close the goddamn window. ACHIEVEMENT: UNLOCKED.
But I came across an important piece that I really want to signal boost, so I’ve had an extra cup of coffee and am getting down to business. Greta Christina, atheist author and Godless Pervert after my own heart, has a piece up at AlterNet titled 7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand. As my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ well know, the Palace is home to the world’s preeminent research institution dedicated to the study of All Things Conservative®, in the hope of someday finding a cure. The fabulous Ms. Christina’s article is a handy resource, chock full of salient facts and sound reasoning, that perfectly captures the inconsistencies inherent in the supremely annoying fiscal conservative/social liberal position (“FC/SL”). It will make an excellent addition to our library.
Because Greta is a much nicer person than I am (well isn’t everyone? EXCEPT THEA) she gives FC/SLs the benefit of the doubt: her essay is addressed to well-meaning, bona fide social liberals who for whatever reason have just not thought any of this through. And for those who genuinely care about injustice and oppression—and are open to persuasion by evidence and reason—Greta’s piece will be powerfully compelling. As in: case fucking closed, compelling. But in my experience, such citizens are vanishingly rare (although certainly worth reaching with posts like Greta’s).
As she points out, self-professed FC/SLs are depressingly common. And she notes right up front:
You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues.
This is true as far as it goes, but I think these things are connected in another sense that warrants mentioning. Unlike Greta, you see, I operate under the assumption that the vast majority of those who claim to be FC/SL are not actually socially liberal, except on issues that either happen to suit them personally (e.g. legal weed) or don’t affect them at all (e.g. gay marriage). Instead, they are actually straight-up conservatives, with all of the reality-averse, empathy-deficient privilege denial and sense of entitlement this typically entails. Unsurprisingly, this view results in my taking a rather different approach to dealing with them than Greta does. Why, just the other night I could have really used a link to her piece, and thus spared myself the tedium of making the case, again, for why FC/SL is not fucking legit, to someone who will never, ever get it.
Allow me to set the scene:* My Amazing Lover™ and I were enjoying half-priced Martinis and dinner at a bar, and chatting it up with the bartender, a regular patron we know, and a semi-regular patron we did not. Semi-regular patron turned out to be the fiercely badass Karen Greenberg; it turns out I had met her at a 2010 conference I attended, The Constitution and National Security: The First Amendment Under Attack, at NYU’s Center on Law and Security—which center she founded and served as executive director until 2011. I had also come across her writing before, at Mother Jones and elsewhere. She is an exceptionally brilliant author (here, go read this, you’re welcome) and an accomplished legal expert on terrorism, national security and the rule of law. Karen had attended Chelsea Manning’s trial (!!!), so of course she was super impressed upon hearing about my national write-in campaign for Snowden/Manning 2016 on the FUCK YOU party ticket. To call our conversation interesting would be like calling Dick Cheney a little bit naughty. As great bar conversations invariably go, ours evolved and drifted through many topics on which we were all pretty much in agreement, including our terminally diseased media, racist police murders, poverty, disastrous US foreign policy, and—my personal area of expertise—the plague of conservatism.
At some point two young women sat down directly to my left and ordered drinks. When one of them went to the ladies room, the other (lets call her Roberta) took this opportunity to interject herself into our conversation with the breathtaking insight that “you know, there is another point of view.”
Not at this bar, there isn’t.
Roberta proceeded to ‘splain to me—while the amazing conversation to my right carried on without me!—that her generation felt strongly about the truly grave injustice of having to pay so much in taxes. Yep: here we were talking about the travesty of food insecurity among impoverished children in the United States and civilian casualties of drone bombings in the Middle East, when thankfully Roberta piped up to set us all straight about the truly important problem facing our world: her tax bill.
I took a big slurp of my drink while I sized her up. She was tall, conventionally attractive, apparently able-bodied, well-dressed, with perfectly coiffed hair, tasteful jewelry, makeup and manicure. I can generally spot a conservative in the wild from five blocks away, and lets just say that this one definitely pegged the meter. Now, I don’t normally argue with conservatives without an audience (except when I do); it is, as Loyal Readers™ are well aware, the ultimate exercise in futility. As I have repeatedly, thoroughly and conclusively documented, conservatives are constitutionally incapable of recognizing when they are flat-out wrong and changing their minds accordingly. Perhaps it was the scintillating discourse that evening that had me firing on all cylinders (Karen Greenberg!), although probably it was the second Martini kicking in, but I let out an exasperated sigh and rattled off a couple quips in rapid succession:
-You know, if you’re fortunate enough that you actually see fit to sit here and complain about paying too much in taxes, you’re doing way better than the vast majority of your fellow citizens.
-I happen to agree with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”
-Unfortunately for the lower-my-taxes brigades AND for everyone else, there are certain functions a government can perform way more cost-efficiently and at a superior level than private industry can—like health care, for instance. But because of people like you, we all end up paying more and getting less rather than pay for things with taxes.” She started to say something about Obamacare (which I am sure I never ever would have heard before and which would have no doubt been stunningly insightful) but I cut her off. “Okay here’s another example: New Jersey’s roads are in such terrible disrepair that it actually costs drivers more in vehicles damage than it would to fix and maintain the roads by raising the gas tax. But nooooooooo, raising taxes is a political nonstarter, because waaaahhhh taaaaaxes. That sound you heard? That was your drive train being ripped off your car by a foot-deep pothole. But you saved fifty cents at your last fill-up! So, congratulations?”
“Well I’m just trying to inform you about my generation’s different point of view, which you may not be aware of, and it’s about paying high taxes,” she replied. “From, you know, the corporate side, people who work. I mean I’m pretty liberal on most things, but…”
Oh, no. Now she’d done it: FC/SL.
“Okay, first of all, you don’t speak for your generation. Any more than I speak for mine,” I said—and yeah, with a derisive snort. Because holy arrogant shitweaselry, are you fucking kidding me? “And as for your truly unique and super-special perspective that I might be unfamiliar with—lower taxes, smaller government?—it is the exact same point of view relentlessly broadcast via every major media outlet in this country since at least the 1980s. In fact I don’t see how it’s even possible for anyone to escape it, try as we might. I mean, you are just so, so, flat-out wrong.”
I started to turn away from her in the hope of rejoining the grown-up’s conversation (with My Amazing Lover™ and Karen Greenberg! Did I mention Karen Greenberg? KAREN. GREENBERG.). Alas, it was not to be: right at that moment Roberta’s friend (lets call her Kathy) returned and became instantly incensed with my irritated, weary tone and unvarnished disagreement with Roberta’s comically uninformed opinions.
“Wow, where do you get off talking to my friend like that?” Kathy practically spat at me. “You need to learn to tolerate other people who just happen to disagree with you!”
“No, I don’t have to do any such thing,” I said flatly. “See, people with opinions like your friend here are not just wrong about reality, they are destroying my country and making the world a lot worse. So no, I do not have to tolerate that.” Now I was actually becoming amused at all this ‘splainin, directed at me by two people I had never met and who don’t know the first fucking thing about me.
Kathy got even more torqued up, and said something about isn’t that what makes this country great, tho? that we can all sit right here and have a civil discussion even though we disagree, and how we can still all get along if we show each other respect and blah blah blah…NOPE.
“No, that is not what makes this country great—to the extent it even is great, which by the way I categorically dispute. And no, I do not have to or even want to get along with everybody. There is a lot of evil and suffering in the world, including on this very city block, so no, I do not have to respect people whose views and votes make things worse.”
“Are you calling my friend EVIL?! Wow! That’s just…so rude!”
All right, all right. I admit I was trolling them. A little bit. BUT I ONLY EVER USE MY ASSHOLE SUPERPOWERS FOR GOOD, PEOPLE.
“Well what I’m saying is,” Roberta chimed in again, apparently unfazed, “Is I just think when it comes to helping poor people for instance, that I should be the one to decide who gets my two dollars, not the government.” (Yes, she actually said two dollars. Jeezus.)
“Well, then your opinion is not reality-based.”
That really set Kathy off. “See? That right there? ‘Reality-based?’ That’s just rude and completely unnecessary!”
“Oh, is it? Well hear me out,” I said. “See, people have actually studied this method of individual charity and compared the results with centralized government programs that do the same thing, in the real world.” Kathy crossed her arms tightly and rolled her eyes. “And it turns out that, just like health care, it’s more efficient and effective for the government to do these things. By far. So when I say reality-based, that’s not rude, it’s data. This is information anyone can look up, if they cared to.”
“Listen,” I continued, “Your friend interjected herself into our conversation, with complaints about high taxes and other bullshit, so yeah, if I want to, I get to tell her why and how she is wrong. Disastrously, horrifically wrong, morally and factually. And you know what? If that’s rude, I really don’t give a shit.”
That shut Kathy up for a minute. “Oh. Well I didn’t realize that. I just came back in the middle of what seemed really rude…but okay, if she barged in and just started disagreeing with you, that’s different.” Why, I might even call it rude. You know, if I gave a shit.
And then the worst possible thing happened: Karen Greenberg came over to say goodnight. She was leaving! We hugged, thanked each other for a great night and said we hoped we’d soon cross paths again.
We got in touch the very next day, so all was not lost. Now we can plan to meet, or just see if one of us might be around when the other happens to be headed in the direction of those Martinis. Perhaps next time I will be free from the pestilence of ignorant conservatives who think they’re liberals setting me straight about what’s what.
As for Roberta and Kathy, things turned out all right there, too. After Karen Greenberg left, Roberta looked forlorn and stared morosely up at the muted TV. My Amazing Lover™, having lost his extraordinary conversation partner, saddled right up to her and they began chatting. I have no idea about what—I haven’t asked, he hasn’t volunteered, and you will not be at all surprised to learn that I don’t give a shit. There is nothing new about conservatives, or conservatism. Any of it. Ever.
Kathy, on the other hand, cheered right up immediately. As if a switch had been flipped, within no time she was acting as if I was her long-lost best friend, laughing up a storm and professing admiration for me?! Okay, player. Maybe there’s hope for you yet. I responded, “Pffffft. I’m nobody. You should have met Karen Greenberg.” We bought them a round of drinks, and they both hugged me on the way out, Kathy warmly and affectionately, then Roberta, stiff as a board.
I cannot always safely interact with conservatives as I did in this instance. Even when I can, I don’t always want to or have the spoons to do it. I am perfectly capable of diffusing, deescalating, or disengaging from such conversations at any time. But whether I engage because I am justifiably angered by a fellow citizen for holding forth as an unrepentant, inexcusably ignorant asshole and cannot in good conscience let it stand, or because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself—or both—it’s ultimately because I believe there must be a social cost for spewing this crap. As any social justice warrior will tell you, silence in the face of harmful speech, from rape jokes to racist slurs, is interpreted by both the speaker and bystanders as agreement and solidarity. While I do not think it is realistic to envision a future United States wherein conservatives have become enlightened, i.e. reality-based, in numbers significant enough to bring about anything remotely resembling an egalitarian social democracy, I do think it’s a reasonable (if daunting) goal to marginalize conservative views. To do that, we need to make social spaces conservatives have heretofore inhabited with impunity uncomfortable for them (for a change). If conservatism is as intractable at an individual level as racism and misogyny are—and there is every reason to believe that it is—then the best we can hope to achieve is a culture in which conservatives realize it is in their own best interests to shut the fuck up. After all, their own interests are pretty much the only thing that has ever motivated them.
But lefties will rarely confront conservatives on their bullshit directly, while the reverse is manifestly not the case. Liberals are more likely to take a live-and-let-live-go-along-to-get-along approach, to patiently explain reality when conservatives spout irrational nonsense, to cling to the barest thread of common ground when the whole fabric of society is burning, to be nice. And for better or for worse, this tendency is even more true of women and girls because of the way we are socialized.
Well I’ve come to the conclusion that nice is overrated. Good is where it’s at. Maybe, just maybe, Roberta will think twice before she pukes that tripe up the next time.
IRIS VANDER PLUYM:
MAKING THE WORLD
OR AT LEAST THE BARS IN THE WEST VILLAGE
A BETTER PLACE
ONE CONSERVATIVE ASSHOLE AT A TIME.
*Although I have reconstructed it to the best of my recollection and without much embellishment, the conversation reported herein is not a verbatim transcript, given the time passed and the fog of Martinis. I will note that I almost certainly write more coherently than I speak in casual conversation, but this is the essential gist of the evening as well as I can communicate it.