They Started It…

From a friends’ Facebook post:

February 10 – “This is what 78,400 barrels of oil looks like, passing through in two and a half minutes.

98 rail cars, each hauling 800 barrels. Or, if you prefer: 130,704 Liters, for a total of 12,808,992 Liters. Canada ships the equivalent of more than forty of these trains to the United States every day.

How satisfied are you about train safety? Are you sure you don’t want a pipeline?”

One of the first comments stood out:

“Why is it that political arguments never concede that there is something to be said for the other side, as if the other side were stupid and/or malicious?

“They started it…”

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Well, in a way, the whole “they started it” is true. It depends on the initial presentation of the argument, a lot of times. A glance at the headlines on any given day finds carefully camouflaged attacks on anyone who does not follow the biases of the sources. The days of the old AP Wire releases – those terse, yet informative, snippets of news from beyond shouting distance – are long gone and replaced with emotion-over-fact reporting.

Outrage sells. Knowledge is too much effort.

Jim’s posts are a good example: we all know him to write very well-crafted posts, full of painstakingly-researched information… Yet, most of them go relatively unnoticed – a few likes, maybe, but not a lot of discussion.


Jim’s posts something that can easily be taken to be “controversial” or his tone comes across as mocking to some… then the comment section becomes a back-and-forth of intelligence with snark which goes on for days… This isn’t knocking you, Jim… my time on Facebook lately has been curtailed by my mood and activities, and this is one of those rainy days where I can actually sit and write with a relatively clear head.

Going back to the concessions and politicization of topics and posts… it really goes back to the end user. Rail versus pipeline, to me, is a silly argument in that there are benefits as well as hazards for both. It really boils down to the collection of the lessons learned from the pipeline spills and train wrecks as the companies responsible for both are held accountable and/or seek to remain profitable/a responsible steward of a vital commerce. How that gets turned into a discussion of condescension and acrimonious debate is really up to the participants of the exchange… who often have little say in deciding what the best course of action actually is

I highlighted the last sentence for a good reason: it is so very true.

“Fake news…”

“Leftist propaganda…”

“Conservative dogma…”

These phrases, and many more, are becoming much more frequent in any discussions – online and in person – and these statements come forth with little thought about the elephant in the room everyone chooses to ignore: the generation of “heat” as these conversations progress.

I have linked to some of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast several times before, but the cautionary statement from his December 22, 2017 episode “Shades of Grey” resonate strongly:

…I’m warning you we’ve got to figure out a way to live with each other. Now political disagreement – even heated political disagreement – is as American as apple pie. It’s not a bug in our society; it’s a feature in our system, right? Vibrant debate that even gets loud and yelling at time; that’s all fine. But when the insinuation is that your fellow Americans – not their ideas which can be changed – but they are a threat to the country and that’s the tone… okay well what do you do about that when your fellow American is the problem, how do you fix that problem?

Let me repeat myself a bit, here:

How that gets turned into a discussion of condescension and acrimonious debate is really up to the participants of the exchange… who often have little say in deciding what the best course of action actually is

I cannot help but wonder if more and more people are noticing what is going on in the world – the division, the reluctance to listen, the inability – or even subtle discouragement – to critically think about the information being shared and the presentation of that information… I keep thinking to myself: “Is anyone seeing this? Does anyone care?”

Any exchange of ideas usually requires an exchange of contrasting perspectives on a certain topic. More often than not, the discussions we are privy to – the ones on social media and in the news – are between people who are not the policy makers and shakers of effort. Interestingly enough, these exact conversations and debates fits some of the ideas espoused in the Office of Strategic Services’ “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” from 1944:

Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.

If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.

Be as irritable and, quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.

Complain against ersatz materials.

These themes, in my opinion, have been prevalent in just about every discussion thread in which I have lurked in the background. Irrelevant concerns, theory over fact, inconvenient and unrealistic solutions to pressing problems, and overall bickering over relatively unimportant matters – all of which are presented by folks who are content to gripe but too caught up in the inertia of emotion to think about their contributions to the problem by continuing the widening of the gap between them and their fellow countrymen.

So, what is the solution? Am I not being part of the problem by writing this post?

Well, you are reading it.

If you made it this far, then you probably understand that my own contributions to making my immediate world better is by raising my son with a healthy level of skepticism and an appreciation for independent perspectives. I do not craft political or social policy, directly; my own efforts into fixing these problems have been more along the lines of asking questions and being the Devil’s Advocate in an effort to shape his direction, not his opinion. On a bigger scale, I can only hope that friends and readers take a similar approach in trying to actively listen and understand the viewpoints of their most staunch critics, rather than to resort to the easy labels and stereotypes found online.

After all, “they started it” has been the justification for many of the events in our past that have resulted in even more problems beyond that simple, and stupid, excuse.

Discussing something important, 2008. Source: Author.

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