Blurring Philosophies and the Hearts and Minds of America

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Wil Wheaton has fallen into a trap that many liberals - and I currently count myself in that number - fall into. He assumes too much about the political opposition. Even when it is his parents.

Wil wrote an artcile for Salon that came out a week or so ago. Here's a quote:

The thing is, though, I know better than to bring up politics with my dad. Ever since he started listening to talk radio for hours out of the day, he's slowly lost his ability to objectively look at the facts and draw his own conclusions. If Rush, Hannity, Dennis Prager or O'Reilly say it, my dad believes it as surely as he believes anything. Thanks to this abdication of rational thinking, both of my parents completely bought into the Swift Boat liars, still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11, and recently decided to move to Montana, which my mother described as "the real America" to me and my siblings.

But his Salon essay stirred up a nest of hornets, because it turned out he had jumped to conclusions. And now, he's apologizing and clearing his parents' name with a blog post.

He titled it Nothing is More Important than Family, but I think the title is a bad choice. I don't think anyone doubts Wil loved his family. And let's be honest - if you were pondering writing an article that was more construed as a rant against the right-wing media establishment, you wouldn't necessarily want to get into another fight with your parents over what you saw as the fine details. But Wil pulls no punches in his self-flagellation:

However, it's entirely my fault, for allowing an impression of my dad to be created without thinking through the consequences of that impression, or giving him an opportunity to at the very least respond to it.

I take full responsibility for bringing this grief upon my parents. I was unfair and irresponsible, and this is my effort to set things right.

Wil's newest portrayal of his father is one I recognize:

While they both do not dispute the accuracy of the Wheaton Family Christmas Incident, they took great issue with the way I described and portrayed my father. My dad isn't a Talk Radio Wingnut; in fact, I've learned that he's a proud conservative, whose values have remained consistent (and far more moderate than I understood,) even as George Bush's Republican party has abandoned him, and people like him.

In this sense, I resemble Wil. I have a father who has always been conservative. He clearly does get a lot of his information from the media and not all of it is accurate in fact or interpretation. (And of course, that's my interpretation, so my opinion about his correctness is obviously viewed through my lens) He began as a liberal - a hippie, even. He moved to Vermont, where I was born, and tried to start a commune. It was a miserable failure, because the people who latched onto the idea were looking for a place to live where they wouldn't need to work. My father began as an idealist and ended as a conservative, as he, in his words, "... cleaned shit off of farmer's watches to make ends meet". He became a watchmaker. Over the years he moved us to California, went into wholesaling jewelry findings (findings are the little accessories jewelers use making jewelry, like clasps and settings for stones). Eventually he built up his inventory and wholesaled jewelry and then opened a retail store. He worked 80, sometimes 100 hours a week. On top of that, he eventually became a very successful Amway distributor, and I watched firsthand as his ethic and guidance transformed several peoples' lives for the better.

And he became conservative. He began with nothing. He tried his experiment in unity, was taken advantage of, and turned to self-reliance and hard work, and those paid off. I don't blame his attitude. My perception for those years was that the bulk of democrats wanted to tax and spend. And this perception seems justified and in many senses, still seems justified. It turns my stomach when I read the term, "economic justice", which I still think must be code for "redistribute wealth". But by the same token, the Republicans have gone absolutely mad in the past 6 years. I was teetering on the fence in Bush vs Gore. I ended up voting for the libertarian, Harry Browne. I was in Texas, after all, and there was simply no question that Bush would carry Texas' electoral votes in '00. And frankly, I align still more as a libertarian than anything else. Fiscally conservative, and socially permissive. Do what you want if it isn't hurting anyone else. Live and let live. My libertarianism is tempered by a streak of pragmatism that the libertarian party - in its own brand of idealism - does not share. But I have been on the fence. I am, in many ways, still near the middle.

Back to the matter at hand. It is hard to not be divisive. Almost no matter who you are, someone is doing something in the sphere of politics that looks like madness. For me, it is Bush's all-out assault on civil liberties. It is the one thing I am clearly and utterly against, and it has driven me into the arms of the Democrats, who seem to be the best hope for preserving liberty with the ballot box. For my father, Bush's proposal to legalize millions of illegal immigrants made him near apoplectic.

But as I've tried to discuss things with my father, I've seen both of us benefit from thorough discussion. I've opened his eyes, I think, to the bad things the Republicans have been up to: the assault on civil liberties, the great Prescription Drug Benefit Giveaway. To say nothing of the deficit gone completely mad.

The point here, however, is this: Our perceptions are perpetually colored by our own set of assumptions, whatever those may be. Even the brightest among us often know far less than we think we know. The best route to the truth - both for ourselves and for those we'd like to convince - is to honestly and earnestly consider the other side.

Listen to the arguments. Weigh the evidence. Consider the possibility. Ask questions. Discuss things respectfully, and arm yourself with as much information as you can from all sides.

America needs you. And it doesn't need you to be an Air America junkie, or a dittohead. It does not need wingnuts or moonbats. It needs thinkers. It needs talkers. It needs people who can chat with the other side, say: we all want the same things. We all want a properous, safe, happy America. We want peace. We want our families and friends to do well. We don't want criminals or crime, unwanted pregnancies or abused children. We want a strong economy, a budget surplus, and lower taxes. We want affordable health care. But we are all going to find different paths to this sort of thing.

There will always be people on either side who are "wackos". They're going to be so dogmatic their minds can never be changed. But that is not true. I honestly think my father may not vote Republican in '08, almost regardless of who they field. (And even more likely not if they field a "spiritual successor" to Bush, assuming Bush isn't impeached in the meantime for spying on Americans). We need to learn to talk to each other about the issues without it becoming a war of dogma. And if we can't start by talking with our own parents, who can we talk to? We all have our lenses on, whatever the color. But despite those lenses, I think there is truth and wisdom to be found if we make the effort to seek it.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt published on December 30, 2005 10:48 AM.

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