Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Partisanship (of Various Kinds)

Like many people, I'm pretty weary of the vilification of political and cultural figures by those who disagree with them. I spent some time last night flipping back and forth between Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and Bill O'Reilly on Fox. I probably won't do this again, unless I'm feeling masochistic. I can't stand these guys. I have no solution to offer to the problem, but I'm so, so, SO tired of people who seem unable to acknowledge that there may be some semblance of wisdom or kernel of truth contained in the words of those who differ from them about _______. (You may fill in the blank however you like. Some suggestions: the economy, abortion, the BCS, same-sex marriage, theism, whether there is a moral right to health insurance, evolution, war.) What is it about our society that pushes us to this particular kind of extremism, according to which our intellectual opponents must be portrayed not merely as mistaken, but as stupid and evil?

Anyway, this morning I was reading an essay by C.S. Lewis that a friend recommended to me ("Religious Controversy and Translation," from his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century). I was struck by Lewis's assessment of a religious tract from around 1530:

"He [the author] is monotonously anxious to conquer and to conquer equally, at every moment: to show in every chapter that every heretical book is wrong about everything--wrong in history, in logic, in rhetoric, and in English grammar as well as in theology" (p. 174).

This is a great line. Substitute 'Republican' or 'Democrat' for 'heretical book' and 'policy' for 'theology', and it could apply to at least two-thirds of the television pundits and political bloggers I'm aware of. Preserve the quote just as it is and it applies to a similar percentage of the theologians (professional and lay alike) I've read or spoken with. [But not you, of course, dear reader!] Reflecting on Lewis's words and their context, it occurs to me that perhaps there's nothing about our society in particular that inspires this kind of silliness. Maybe it's just human nature.

Whether that is a reason to be encouraged or a reason to be dismayed, I don't claim to know.

1 comment:

Doc said...

It has seemed to me that there are a couple of top-tier conservative pundits (I'm conservative myself) whose jobs are to be a Mrs Grundy, just finding fault to find fault. As Lewis wrote, they find fault "equally": everything is as egregiously wrong as the next.

From what I've heard (we don't have cable, and Air America died), there are also liberal pundits of the same ilk.

Given the ratings of these pundits, one wonders whether the audience members believe the pundits or just like the dog-and-pony schtick.