By Derek Penwell
I have formed opinions on these people and issues that have been much in the news of late. In fact, I would imagine that anyone with enough working digits to operate, if not a pen, then a remote control, has also formed opinions.
We’re human beings, which means (at least in part) that we reflect on the world in which we live. But our reflections on the world don’t emerge from some secret place uncontaminated by prior beliefs. In fact, all of us process information through a series of filters: Republican. Democrat. Christian. Jew. Muslim. Buddhist. Hindu. Atheist. Northeastern. Midwestern. Southern. Western. Science. Humanities.
We all experience the world perspectivally, forming opinions and beliefs.
Politics. Religion. Sports. Nothing escapes our voracious appetite for manufacturing convictions.
But for the depredations of hurricane Isaac, the Republican National Convention would begin in earnest today. As it is, they’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the roll call vote that will officially name Mitt Romney the G.O.P. candidate for President. All of which means, of course, that the airwaves, the print news landscape, and the blogosphere will entertain, among other things, thoughtful reflection and a fair amount of impassioned partisanship from all sides.
Partisanship. At its heart it locates one within the context of an argument.
“I believe X to be the case, while you happen to believe Y more nearly reflects reality.”
However, partisanship carries with it a negative valence in popular thinking, since it also implies a kind of intransigence—a dug-in mentality, unwilling to budge or to change one’s mind.
Stubbornness. But not just any kind of stubbornness. Partisanship, in our cultural lexicon, connotes a sort of uncritical, knee-jerk song sheet from which the faithful are programmed to sing.
Inflexible. Pigheaded contumacy. A kind of intellectual jingoism.
Who would want to defend such obvious conceptual rigidity?
The answer, of course, is “nobody.” Nobody thinks of themselves as intellectually dishonest enough to be considered conceptually hidebound.
“I’m firm in my conviction; you, on the other hand, are merely obstinate.”
Partisanship, or at least charges of it, pollute the political water table—especially during election years. People believe that certain candidates and their policies better reflect their convictions than other candidates with differing policies. It’s not really shocking.
Apparently, though, some people find the public expression of those beliefs to be shocking. To occupy a particular position openly can be casually dismissed with a single word: partisanship. Apart from cable news, this observation is nowhere more true than in Social Media, where people regularly share their unsolicited opinions with the world on everything from healthcare to who should advance to the next round on American Idol.
One conceit on Facebook I find particularly cloying: The detached Meta-Critic.
This is the person who has risen far above the plebeian scrum, who reclines on the heights, where thoughts are general, unsullied by such odious tokens of common life as political partisanship, religious commitment, or moral conviction.
The Meta-Critic looks down from an Olympian perch, always slightly bemused that the uncultured might possess convictions they actually care enough about to express in Social Media.
And because the Meta-Critic seems to occupy no particular position (other than the one that says positions should not be occupied—at least publicly), the Meta-Critic is afforded a certain kind of moral authority denied to anyone else with an opinion.
Both the Right and the Left, the Fundamentalist and the Progressive, the Puritan and the profligate are targets of the Meta-Critic, because all are often relentlessly obnoxious.
But the God’s-eye view from which the Meta-Critic observes the unseemliness of the Social Media Mosh Pit is too convenient, since it never has to fear the flying mud of real life.
In many good people’s minds, there seems to be some virtue attached to refusing openly to advocate for anything that might be even remotely considered partisan. They feel that to raise one of these issues from a “partisan” perspective would be to break some sort of social contract, whereby we collectively agree to maintain the pretense that we hold no conviction more dearly than the one that prevents us from holding convictions dearly.
That’s the problem (or at least, a big part of the problem) in my estimation: The position that stridently dictates that no one express any position that might be considered partisan is itself a kind of partisan position, which flourishes because its partisanship remains most transparent to its most committed champions. I can publicly advance the position that no one should share their position in public, because I don’t see my position as a position at all—but merely as “the way things are—or at least ought to be.”
And while I certainly wouldn’t want to be misunderstood to be saying that if I could only succeed in getting my partisan agenda enacted, then the reign of God could finally be ushered in, or that a certain amount of humility is somehow unnecessary whenever one presumes to speak from any position even loosely associated with the qualification “Christian,” I have a hard time finding support in the Christian Scriptures for any viewpoint advancing the idea that the responsibility for followers of Jesus requires nothing more of us than to keep our big mouths shut.
Neither Jesus nor the early martyrs died because of they were disposed to political inoffensiveness.
Am I suggesting that following Jesus requires you to be a jack-ass? No—although in fairness, I suspect I often test those particular waters. What I am saying is that if you happen to throw your lot in with a guy nailed to a tree by politicians because he failed to keep his opinions to himself, staying comfortably outside the fray when the powerful threaten the powerless and people are dying isn’t one of the available items on the theological menu.
One may grow weary of the constant din. One may ask for things to quiet down a bit. But, for better or worse, no one gets to stand outside it and sniff disapprovingly that it exists.