Monday, June 12, 2006

When Liberals Attack!

At some point Sunday I slipped into the Twilight Zone. I learned why it's often said that politics and religion should never be discussed in polite company. To wit...

While at my friends Adam’s and Christie's yesterday (for their daughter’s 2nd birthday celebration, no less), I was introduced to their neighbor, “Glenn.” Glenn, a hardcore liberal Democrat, purportedly enjoyed a good political discussion so Adam thought it might be interesting to get us together and let hilarity ensue. You know, toss a couple of cats in a bag and let the fur fly, that sort of thing.

Now, for the most part, I’ve retired from political discussions at parties. For one thing, it’s not really appropriate. For another, I grew weary of being that guy at parties who won’t shut the hell up about Really Important Issues. That’s what this blog is for. So while I will politely discuss any issue at all, especially when prodded by friends who understand my perspectives, I attend parties to hang out and enjoy the company instead of engaging in wild-eyed, spittle-flecked fits of apoplexy. Anyway...

Our discussion started out amiably enough. I joked how Sunday should be a day of rest from the vitriol and Glenn agreed. The topic of Real Time With Bill Maher came up, and I proffered my complaints about the program, the greatest being that I wanted more perspectives represented. Instead of elevating the discourse about issues and ideas, the show often unravels into partisan bickering that’s only slightly funnier than the same crap that’s dished out on Fox News or CNN. My take was that both sides (left and right) were wrong and I wanted to hear somebody, anybody, challenge them. At this Glenn grimaced, gritted his teeth, and asked about my beliefs. Naturally, I described my aversion to the state and its coercion, depredations, and initiations of violence, and how I instead favored the voluntarist, market-based solutions of anarcho-capitalism.

Well, this guy nearly shit his pants.

What I hoped would be a polite and respectful exchange of ideas quickly escalated into a full-scale browbeating. Generously, let’s characterize his reactions to my beliefs as “paroxysms of incredulity.” Bulging eyes, furrowed brow, little vein at the temples twitching. Glenn pretty much wigged his shit: his behavior was boorish, disrespectful, and condescending. And he kept cutting me off! More than once I had to politely say, “Please let me finish.”

It quickly became apparent that a fruitful conversation would prove impossible, partly due to his attitude, but mostly because we had no basis for discussion. There is little sense in arguing normative or philosophical differences. I've arrived at my beliefs through a careful process of introspection and exploration. I even explained to the guy that I’d been where he was: throughout my ideological odyssey I'd flirted with left liberalism, right-wing conservatism, and big-L Libertarianism. Finally I realized that Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism rang most consistently true with my morals and principles. If you think taxation is perfectly legitimate while I feel it's institutionalized theft, well, what's the point in continuing the conversation? We can't even agree on the moral basics here and frankly I'd rather not waste my time. I'm no evangelist. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind.

[Besides, Glenn's beliefs are the ones that have been deemed mainstream and "acceptable" while mine have been marginalized as "crackpot" or "extremist" (even though Glenn's ideas put into practice harm me a hell of a lot more than mine would do to him). Why bother getting worked up over a fringe ideology?]

Anyway, at one point he seemed to calm down and our conversation became temporarily civil. But the cease-fire was fleeting and, despite my efforts to defuse the situation, it wasn't long before Glenn was red-lining again. He challenged me to “name one anarchic society that’s worked,” while I countered by defying him to name one state that would gladly put itself out of business; it’s not like the state likes competition! At this he abruptly stood up, shook my hand with a “nice talking to you,” and stormed out.

Honestly, I don’t get this behavior, AT ALL. Liberals and anarcho-capitalists aren’t natural enemies in the wild. We both hold especially sneering contempt for the neoconservatives whose rumps so prominently occupy the seats of power, so his reluctance to seek common ground was somewhat baffling. And to act like a petulant child instead of engaging me in an honest, open exchange of ideas…well, what’s the point? Never in my life have I felt threatened by someone else’s convictions. Rather, it’s important to be challenged in order to examine your beliefs critically so that you are able to defend (or reassess) them. I’m honestly curious about what other people believe – why they believe the things they do. Isn't learning something the big reason for having a dialogue?

[Don't get me wrong: I do not extrapolate from this experience that most liberals are like this. Most of my friends lean to the left and they are all very bright, fun, and rational people. But that guy's behavior? Rife with douchebaggery.]

So that was the capper to an otherwise phenomenal weekend. If you ever want to debate me about political issues, please confine it to this forum, because after yesterday I am D-U-N done with that bullshit...