The last time I got political on my blog, I talked about how Vanilla Ice ruined it for everybody. That was in response to conversations over Facebook way.
With the recent tragedies and the general further entrenchment of political partisanship, I wanted to come to everybody with an important request:
Please stop being so mean to one another.
No. For serious. Knock that shit off. It’s bad for you. It’s bad for our country. It’s bad for the world. Hell, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it’s bad for kids who like not dying during an otherwise normal school day.
There’s a lot of good in the US of A. And there’s a lot of bad. We can waste time arguing about how much bad we have as opposed to other nations of the world, and we can waste time pointing fingers at people and things over which we have no control. Or we can roll up our sleeves and get to work on fixing it.
And to do that, we need to stop othering people who disagree with us a little. To do that, we need to talk about cooters and snowflakes.
The Great American Bell Curve
You know bell curves, right? They’re diagrams of statistical probability that look like a bell — thusly:
The idea here is that most of the results of a study will fall in those middle two sections around the center (within one standard deviation). As you go further out, the number of people/objects/results drops sharply. The bell curve doesn’t map exactly to every set of results every time, but it shows up a lot. It’s about as common as the golden ratio, and about as important in statistics as the ratio is in art and biology.
And Thus it Is With Politics
In the good ol’ US of A (and in other countries, I imagine) political opinions fall on a bell curve, too:
In the middle, more than 70% of us fall just a little to the left or right of center. We agree on most things and want the same results. We differ a bit on how to achieve those results, and different things make us a little uncomfortable, but by and large we can have dinner together without anybody getting angry at anybody else.
On the far ends — out past three standard deviations — we have extremists. These are the people shooting cops because they’re mad about their treatment of minorities, and the people running over protesters. They’re blowing up abortion clinics and spiking trees. We all agree those people are dangerous and wrong, and that law enforcement should deal with them directly. Even the ones where we can kind of empathize with why they’re doing the stuff we can’t allow them to do.
The technical term for the grouping between two and three standard deviations is assholes. Here you have your MRA activists, your anarchists. The Westboro Baptist Church and Earth First!ers. Nazis. That woman at the office who’s gotten three people fired for telling jokes that weren’t actually offensive. That conservative who calls people cucks on the internet, and that liberal who cries “mansplaining” when she’s actually just wrong. They’re not violent. You can’t actually just slap them, no matter how much you want to. But lordy, do you want to slap the ones on the opposite side of the center from you…and you want the ones on your side to please stop helping because they embarrass us all.
Which Brings Us to the Cooters and the Snowflakes
Out between one and two standard deviations from the center, we encounter interesting territory. I’m using slightly derogatory terms for each, but you’ll notice they’re also terms each side has sort of adopted as badges of honor, too. That’s both beautiful and part of the problem.
On the right, you have your cooters. They’re not just conservative. They’re reactionary in their conservatism. They voted for Trump and aren’t regretting it. They’re deeply concerned about gay marriage ruining relationships, and whether or not that one dude in the men’s room actually has a penis. They share memes on FB that start with “Liberal Logic…” A lot of them are just racist enough to not get certain things, but still realize racism is wrong enough to get really annoyed when you call them out.
On the left, you have your snowflakes. They’re not just liberal. They’re reactionary in their liberalism. A lot of them voted for Bernie even in the national election, and they all think you’re a sexist if you didn’t vote for Hillary. They find nothing ironic in demanding free speech while simultaneously telling you to shut up because your opinions hurt their feelings. They share memes on FB that set up straw man conservative arguments just so they can feel smarter than people they don’t understand. A lot of them are just self-righteous enough to advocate violence against people they disagree with, but still realize violence is wrong enough to get really annoyed when you call them out.
I think we can all agree that these folks aren’t exactly a crisis, but they are really, really obnoxious. And they can be dangerous.
How Cooters and Snowflakes Are Killing Children
Here’s the thing about cooters and snowflakes. They aren’t assholes, and they sure aren’t extremists, so we tend to let them slide. Besides, they’re on our team so we should support them, right?
Nope. But then again sort of.
If you are conservative, the trouble with cooters is that they share some of your common values — they just take it a little too far. And research shows that if you spend enough time listening to them, they’ll start dragging you into cooter territory with them. The same goes for snowflakes if you’re a liberal. Spend enough time with them and you’ll start taking your Rage Against the Machine lyrics a little too seriously, too.
But wait! That’s not all!
If you’re liberal, the trouble with cooters is they’re so loud and irritating that they start making you think all those centrists just a bit to the right of you are all cooters, too. Their loud, insistent inanities color your opinion of all conservatives and all conservative ideas. At the same time the snowflakes are gradually pulling you into their camp, the cooters are pushing you there with every “Make America Great Again,” every #AllLivesMatter, every confederate license plate, every quote from Jordan Peterson or Amiri King.
If you’re conservative, those snowflakes are whining and condescending their way right toward making you a cooter for life. Their entitled bullshit colors every left-of-center opinion you read, makes you dismissive of all liberals and liberal ideas. While the cooters are tempting you toward the dark side, the snowflakes are driving you further right with every smug hashtag, every snide Trump bash, every poorly researched meme, every quote from Jesse Jackson or Al Franken.
In short, they make us forget that nearly three-quarters of us more or less agree on how we want to live, how we want our nation to work, and how people should treat other people.
Okay. So What Do We Do About It?
Well, really, you should do whatever you want to do. It’s a free country. But if you agree with my basic thesis:
- Most of us agree on most things, most of the times
- The extremists and assholes on both ends are a problem
- We spend too much time paying attention to the loudest and most irritating on both sides
Then here’s what some experts suggest we all do. It’s a two-part plan.
Part One: read with compassion and openness the cooters (if you’re liberal) and the snowflakes (if you’re conservative). Ask questions. Find not just what they’re thinking, but why they’re thinking it. Most times, you’ll find a core of agreement in principle — it’s just the application where you have trouble. This not only helps you stay close to center, it can influence them and bring them closer to productive conversation.
Part Two: police the hell out of your side. If you’re conservative, stop being so nice to the cooters. Call them out. Fact-check their memes. Force them to defend their more backward notions. If you’re liberal, stop tolerating the snowflakes. Point out their hypocrisies and their arrogance. Remind them that lack of compassion is no solution to lack of compassion in others.
In my opinion, the biggest problem with the United States is that the table for open, meaningful, and productive debate is getting emptier by the month. People are leaving it in favor of little sitting rooms where they gossip amongst each other about how terrible the people over in that other room are.
If there’s nobody at the table, we will never find a solution for school shootings, nor for health care, nor for fair but sustainable immigration, nor for the environment, the income gap, the vestiges of racism and sexism. We will never solve anything, because nobody’s there to create solutions.
It’s not the extremists and the assholes who are keeping us away. It’s the cooters and the snowflakes. So let’s stop putting up with them.
Who’s with me?