Bittersweet Start to 2014. . .

Antikythera mechanismWhere 2013 went out with a decent bang, 2014 is sort of “meh” so far. Granted, we’re only one day in, but hopefully things progress from here.

Something about which I have a much more significant piece forthcoming is becoming a father. On December 21, 2013, Joseph Paul Owens made his debut into the world. This is important enough that it deserves a post/essay that doesn’t stray from the subject.

Nebraska beat Georgia, but that’s ostensibly irrelevant comparatively (though, still, Go Big Red!).

No, these things I’ve just mentioned are not what’s left a bad taste in my mouth; that dubious honor goes to the special way that only all out, diametrically-opposed arguments with family members can.

I’ve been vocal in my disapproval of A&E’s capitulation in the whole Duck Dynasty racism/homophobia fiasco. I’m not going to rehash it here. The bottom line is that, when you say ignorant things that your insularity has caused (or whatever) in 2013, don’t be shocked when someone calls you on your bigoted bullshit.

Of course — like so many of the most infuriating arguments are wont to do — what amounts to a verbal fraternal brawl broke out on my Facebook wall. I’m embarrassed to say, but I’ve got family members who wish they lived in pre-1860s America (or in the parts of Texas not called Austin, today). I support equal rights for everyone — no qualifications, no justifications. I was accused of preaching today, but if I preach anything, it’s equality and tolerance.

Except when — as so many conservatives seems incapable of grasping — we’re talking about intolerance of intolerance: i.e. it’s OK not to tolerate hate speech. I encourage that.

Basically, here’s the deal: If you say hateful, ignorant shit on my wall, I’m going to brutally eviscerate the you represented by your statements. I need to make a few disclaimers. Number 1: I think attacking the person in an argument is weak shit, not to mention a logical fallacy. (However, I need to address this later on.) Stick to the topic; own the shit you say. Number 2: This is not a side of myself I’m proud of. I actually feel gross when things get extremely heated. However, I feel even more disgusting when I start breaking my own rules because I lose my cool. (More on this later, as well.)

The Reader’s Digest version is this: My brother posted some remarks on my Facebook wall that were homophobic, xenophobic, jingoistic, and racist (sometimes managing to be all four simultaneously), and I lost my shit.

He mentioned things like “I don’t want their fag shit shoved in my face,” and “homos are homos,” and “I am American. if you need to hyphen [sic] it w/anything you need to get out.” (So African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Haitian-Americans need to get out? What about Irish-Americans? What about German-Americans? Can they stay because they’re white? Cool story, bro.) There is so much wrong here, I don’t even know where to begin, even in retrospect. Just know that I called him on each of these things and his responses were typically mere fundamentalist propaganda parroted by-proxy from the mouths of his favorite talking heads. (It’s all on my Facebook wall, for better or worse. . . I’m going to own the things I said, even the things I said at my angriest.)

I don’t mind correcting people. The feeling gross part comes when I break the rules I listed above.

Arguing with family has a strange effect on some people. Some people bottle up their feelings in favor of not rocking the boat. Some people will never leave the last word to the person with whom they are arguing. I am the latter. And when things escalate and the person won’t relent from their hateful/ignorant shit — even when I’m winning — I go for the jugular, i.e. humiliation. It’s disgusting of me and I always feel shitty afterwards. This never happens in a legitimate debate. Further, I’m actually pretty good (according to those closest to me) at admitting when I’m wrong or have lost an argument. I’m not highly competitive, so losing doesn’t mean much. Learning how to be a better thinker does. Expanding my point of view does.

However, if my ire is through the roof, if the person is basically stringing together free associations of hateful or ignorant ideas that have no unifying thread of logic or reason (i.e. “I hate Person X because they murdered my whole family,” where hate would be at least, perhaps, understandable due to an underlying and unifying thread), and I sense insecurities, I’ll exploit them. Today, I exploited his comparative lack of formal education (to my own) and general self-styled “red neck” disposition, thus breaking my rule of not attacking the person. I think I feel shitty because it’s unnecessary, not because it’s family.

Honestly, I feel like family should know better, should be better. Maybe I’m unrealistic. But there are a significant number of people for whom I was offended by his ignorance. He called my rebuttal of his hate speech “Liberal PC bullshit” [paraphrase mine], I called it being a decent human being. The blowout lasted all afternoon. I basically missed the first quarter of the Nebraska-Georgia game because I was blind with rage.

Should I feel bad for talking down to him, for writing my responses with a contemptuous, patronizing tone? I purposely used big words and then told him he’d probably need a dictionary to continue with the “debate.” I even mentioned my IQ (#vomit) — not even relevant.

Keep in mind, I’m not a tough guy. I’ve never been in a fistfight in my life. I’ve always talked my way out of dangerous situations. I feel like fisticuffs are sort of barbaric. But simultaneously, this felt like textual version of a fight. I felt like the Neanderthal my brother was being, like I was sinking to his level. I’m reminded of the adage from Mark Twain: “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may be unable to tell the difference,” or from George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” I know this is basically like breaking my rule again while talking about breaking my rule, but there really seems to be some wisdom in those quotes.

Perhaps, ultimately, something a friend said to me in the wake of the ordeal provides the most meaning and context for this situation any countless like it:

. . . one in every family, my friend. . . . The country is turning into a different place that’s checking its history, and some people can’t handle it. But if we don’t face up to those histories, we aren’t going to move forward. . . . Evolution is painful but necessary, and once we get away from approaching singular, definitive history, we’ll be better for it. All of this and in your family too — we will get somewhere better. #EternalOptimist

Anyway, I’ve already hit 1,200 words (1,202 to be exact), and I’m no closer to feeling better. Maybe some chastisement by those I respect will help. I owe it to everyone to be better. I mean, after all, I have a kid now. I’ll expect better from him and I believe in leading by example.

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