The Fake Controversy: How to Start a Fight

I’ve been coming across a lot of posts recently that are aimed at starting a fight, written with the intent of inciting anger and outrage.  I’ve noticed two techniques that the controversy mongers consistently use to raise the blood pressure of their readers.

The first is to make a false connection between two unrelated issues.  Back in early winter I saw a post that said that refugees shouldn’t be taken into the United States until every homeless veteran was given food and shelter. There was no discussion in the argument about how a stymied Congress would come up with the money to help vets, but that wasn’t the point.  The intent of the message was to cancel out concern for refugees while allowing the authors to hide their callousness behind a sanctimonious stance.  Homeless veterans were simply used to create a wedge issue, and any expressed concern for their welfare was meaningless lip service.

I saw a post yesterday that made a disingenuous connection between a proposed raise of the minimum wage and the low level of military pay.  The author claimed to be a military man who was outraged that “burger flippers” would earn a lot more in a year than a soldier, Marine or sailor if the minimum wage was raised to $15.00 an hour.  His anger was based on his assumption that any job in the military should be compensated at a higher rate than an entry level civilian job.  I thought that it was odd that the soldier was advocating that current poverty levels be maintained in the civilian population.  Wouldn’t a charitable man cheer the possibility of a minimum wage raise and argue for higher pay for members of the military?  He must be aware that the Pentagon’s budget is bloated with waste, and that some portion of the defense funds could be directed to increase the salaries of our noble fighting men and women.   And why didn’t he think things through and come to the realization that civilian workers contribute more to national defense when they earn more money and pay more taxes?  And isn’t he going to be leaving the military at some point?  Wouldn’t he be heartened to know that the worst job he could find in the civilian job market would still pay him a living wage?  I suspect that our angry soldier is either a fool or a fictitious character.  But in either case, a wedge issue was created out of thin air once again.

The second technique is to attack people in other groups while claiming to have the moral high ground.  This stance allows the holy elect to question the motives, morals and innate goodness of their opponents, which leads to intolerance of opposing religious and political beliefs.  Every word that comes out of the mouth of members of an opposing camp is suspect, and every action can be linked to a conspiracy theory.  Folks on both the far right and the far left are guilty of this practice.  And both sides want to have their own versions of politically correct speech at the others’ expense.  The right takes umbrage whenever anyone suggests that there might be a few things wrong with the country.  They label critics of the American status quo traitors,  criminals,  communists, and effete intellectuals.  The ever so sensitive folks on the left demand torturous speech gymnastics that provide words that strain to offend no one while communicating little.  And the ardent lefties assume that all of their opponents are fascists, greedy corporate automatons, and ignorant Bible thumpers who deny science.  Communication between the two camps is negligible seeing that common ground is neither sought nor actually believed to exist.

So what shall we do?  How do we want to live together?  Do we want to live together?  Will our addiction to outrage and political/religious fanaticism turn us into vicious packs of dogs tearing at each other?

I want to live in peace and be left alone for the most part.  I say what I think when I find it necessary, but feel no need to impose my beliefs on other people.  I’m grateful when my relatives and neighbors do not try to force their opinions on me.  The only traditional American tenet that I wish I could demand of everyone was expressed in Lincoln’s second inaugural speech when he said, “With malice toward none and charity for all…”  If we took those words to heart we just might reclaim a genuinely exceptional American trait:  friendly civility.

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