Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Reader writes "you've been gamed"

Wauwatosa mayoral candidates, trolls, The Better Angels of our Nature

A reader wrote to chastise me for allowing folks to “smear” Kathy Ehley. Because no one stepped in to denigrate Pete Donegan, that’s the effect of the uneven response, he said.

I don't think I allowed anyone to smear anyone, but the reader deserves a response.

So I ask you: when you read an anonymous comment that was written to provoke or that is, how can I say this politely—ridiculous--do you give heed to what it says? When the blogger (that would be me) points out that the claim is untrue, do you ignore the facts and remember only what the commenter said? Do you decide to believe untruths?

I’m laying odds that most of you are better readers than that. I’m betting you use reason better than that. I’m betting you’re smarter and more reasonable than that.

And if you aren’t, nothing anyone says will make a difference.

In the marvelous book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker sets out to show how much violence has declined, and why. That’s right: violence has declined. Our beliefs and perceptions that it’s on the rise have no basis in evidence.

What’s violence got to do with it? Our thinking and moral reasoning, our moral and ethical expectations, have risen. And thinking better, being smarter about things like stoning women and beating children and torturing soldiers leads to better behavior. That’s why we get so exercised when we hear about it happening. We’re better at spotting wrong-headed (or just wrong) and goofy stuff.

Despite the continuing inexplicable popularity of Rush Limbaugh and the antics of some anonymous posters in blogs.

The sophistication of our political discourse, Pinker shows, has actually increased. The problem lies not in what is being said more of the time but in the spin and our increasing reliance on sound bites, chosen to reduce complex ideas to bones thrown to dogs.

And comments can be like that: bones thrown to dogs. Do you leap, even when it's poisoned?

Likely, our fear that “the other guys” are both more stupid and venal than we are, capable of far worse things, is equivalent to our fear our children will be snatched. In fact, if you wanted your child to be snatched, you’d have to leave him outside for 750,000 years, statistically speaking. It’s just not a justified fear.

In this case, the “far worse thing” the commenters accuse able candidate Ehley of is that Tom Ament has her yard sign. Which is likely true. So what? A candidate’s job is to get elected and secure all the legitimate votes he or she can.

The other terrible thing Ehley has been accused of is signing a recall petition, which she did not do. That accusation matters because it’s a deliberate falsehood. For lies, we should have no tolerance.Or for those who tell them.

That aside, in a free society, signing a petition, too, should be a so what?

I stopped the comments speculating about friends, relatives, others signing “The Petition” because it’s just the wrong kind of speculation to bother with. We are surrounded by decent people who have different ideas about who our governor should be, and why. So what? Dear loyal reader, even for you I won’t reproduce that speculation here.

But back to the rest of you. I know  the better angels of your nature will nudge you to reject all foolishness you hear when it comes to elections. And that you're delighted there is so little to object to in our candidates that the trolls have nowhere to go but. . .there.

Well, most of you, anyway.

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