The American Binary Bastion: An Argument For Reason In The Wake Of Tragedy

06/23/2016 11:30 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2016
Beverly & Pack

It's interesting to see the subdued panic in people as they try to comment on what was the largest domestic attack since September 11th, 2001. The cartooning of political and social commentary has now become so palpably apparent. Whenever an event of any significance happens to capture the attention of the media outlets, each with its respective bias, it captures ours. Once the story starts playing, all the routine party lines are disseminated from familiar voice boxes. We all hasten to our battle stations and form our fronts, even before all the facts are in, and begin broadcasting the same spiels we’ve heard ad nauseam.

Here we are again…another mass shooting, but this one is more unique. The lines we use to morally justify our positions are starting to seem a tad blurry. People are rushing to form their garrisons, as has become customary, but it's proving to be a bit more of a struggle this time. A man committed a massacre which appears to, at least, involve elements of homophobia, religious extremism, and mental illness. Cue the liberals who (rightly) rush to defend Muslims, saying the acts of a few don't reflect the overwhelming majority. Cue the Muslims (rightly) rushing to condemn the act of an evil man in killing the innocent. Cue the far right evangelical Christians who (rightly) rush to claim that this hatred has no place in American society and stand in solidarity with the victims and their families.

What must be acknowledged is those liberals (not all) who feel like they need to 'protect' Muslims are largely silent when it comes to women's and LGBT rights in the countries of precisely those whom they claim to protect. Those Muslim figures (not all) who condemn this act of terrorism may condemn it as that, terrorism, yet still hold it true that homosexuals ultimately deserve the punishment of death. Those right wing groups who denounce the hatred leading to this sort of crime are the very same people who have tried to pass over 200 anti-LGBT bills throughout the country this year and we're not even in July. They're torn between using this man's actions to condemn an entire religion, and hailing them as what they believe is God's rightful punishment on that community. They've whole-sum opposed bills for any controls placed on guns, and have consistently acted to make gun laws even more flexible than they are now.

Most of these people are holding contradicting beliefs. They can't seem to reconcile these ideas, but feel urged to voice one of them, and so they find themselves forced to choose. Naturally, they choose that which will likely be best received by their intended audience- from Facebook friends to a statewide constituency, depending on the nature of the event that took place and the political climate it happened in. That's how you end up with pastors saying the victims of Orlando deserved the evil they were subjected to. It’s how you end up with the Florida Attorney General whose very state was targeted, saying she stands with the LGBT community while she has historically stood vigorously in opposition to their legal rights.

This is the inevitable result when people feel urged to take such categorical positions on an issue. They end up not knowing why they believe what they believe, shining light on a larger problem; that is, we lack conviction in those beliefs. Conviction, unlike belief, is the result of some measure of reasoning, which could then be argued. Without conviction, people become dull, no more than a slab of driftwood aimlessly floating, waiting to be swept in the direction of the stronger wave. Thanks to the contribution of many factors, not excluding the increasingly fierce punditry in a two party political system, this is largely what our opinions have devolved into; a binary narrative that will rarely adequately address the complexity of our reality.

We are often presented with choices between two polar positions, completely dismissing the possibility of nuance. Many of this nation’s founders were slave owners and smugglers, while also writing one of the most important constitutional documents in history. The charitable and amiable Mother Teresa was also the same person who left hundreds to die in her care without access to proper medical assistance. She allowed this to happen because of her opposition to interventionist medicine, and her dogmatic opinion that the proper reaction to death is surrender, not resistance. GMO’s are largely safe and will prove to be necessary in the face of an ever increasing global population. On the other hand, many big agricultural companies have common predatory practices that are profit-driven and vaguely villainous. The same applies to pharmaceutical companies, who also happen to have played a large part in the massive increase in global life expectancy throughout the 20th century. Everything chemical is not bad, and everything natural is not good. All militias are not terrorists, and all terrorists are not freedom fighters. Opposing a war doesn’t make you a pacifist, and arguing for a war doesn’t make you a hawkish neo-conservative.

Our democracy is better served when we can construct informed and individual opinions on important issues. If we make this effort, perhaps we can avoid scampering to our strongholds when the next big story grabs the headlines, and begin touting our party lines. The world is becoming increasingly complicated. That nuance – compounded with a 24-hour news cycle with paid advertising, limitless contributions to political campaigns, and a creeping intellectual laziness in the electorate - can’t be encapsulated in a sweeping statement or a sound bite. Of course, we can’t all research every aspect of every story, it’s simply impractical. However, we can withhold judgment until we are informed of the facts. If, despite not knowing the facts, you remain so compelled to post an opinion on your timeline or muddle your way through conjuring up a tweet, at least qualify it with “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

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