The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, January 25, 2010

When to Stop Talking...

So, here's a question, at what point is it considered worthwhile to stop contact?

A few days ago, I received a message from an old friend (with whom I've had little contact in recent years) via a website which read:

WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Press 1 for English. Press 2 to disconnect until you learn to speak English. And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, JESUS CHRIST And the AMERICAN SOLIDER. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.*

Okay, so posts on websites aren't going to change the world, and the fact that this was posted on one isn't what bugs me. It's the fact that someone felt that they could insult a large swath of people for no good reason that bothers me.

So, now, there's two parts to this. The first is one which slams people who don't speak English. While there's a lot of overblown rhetoric concerning this, there is at least a basic and valid argument about whether or not people coming to a predominantly English-speaking country should be expected to learn the language. Making that argument in a way which essentially says that they aren't welcome and is rather insulting isn't going to help further such an argument and is just childish, but at least there is a valid argument buried under that mess, and that's not my particular pet issue.

Then you have the second part. Why bring soldiers and Jesus into a message about learning English? Well, as the first part seems concerned with making a claim as to who is welcome in the U.S., it rather follows that the second part is connected, and that the author of the original message probably intended to make it clear that people who don't value the military and aren't Christian - who are in this message being conflated as one in the same - are also not welcome in the author's opinion. If this was not the author's intention, then the author has made a rather stupid mistake by including those comments in this way.

So, I called the person on this. I posted a response asking why she was saying that non-Christians are unwelcome in the U.S. The response from her and others alternated between obfuscation and proclaiming that someone has a right to voice such an opinion.

Well, of course someone has a right to voice such an opinion, I never challenged her right to make a statement, I challenged the statement itself. It is absurd to claim otherwise. I also have the right to voice my opinion, and to challenge the opinions of others. That is the American way, folks.

When I post a blog entry, or send out a mass email, or post something on a web site, or go off on a rant at a party in which I make comments that can be taken as insulting about a religion, I fully expect that I will get called on it. If I am making statements that are factually correct but taken as insulting, then I will try to explain my position without being needlessly insulting (not always easy). On the other hand, if my comments were indeed intended to insult then I should get called on it. I have a right to express my opinion, and everyone else has a right to respond to my expressed opinion. If I dislike their responses, well, then I shouldn't have opened my mouth to begin with.

But the responses that most of these people, including the friend, gave were to essentially say "how dare you challenge her opinion!"

I challenged it because it was ill-informed and bigoted. How dare anyone else try to tell me that I am not allowed to challenge it?

In the end, I simply arranged the website settings to block myself seeing anything further that she posts. If I am going online for recreation, I don't particularly want to get frustrated by other people's prejudices.

But I have to wonder whether that was appropriate. Certainly, comments of this sort have not been unheard of from her in the past, though they were usually significantly less insulting, and she usually at least was willing to accept that someone might disagree. Perhaps she's just having a rough few days and I should cut her some slack.

At the same time, I know that she has been surrounded by people who encourage these sorts of sentiments, and to have someone who challenges them around may help to keep her thinking rather than just accepting. So, cutting even the limited contact that I had is probably not good from that perspective.

At the same time, the fact that the response was not "hey, it didn't occur to me that it could be taken that way", or an attempt to defend her position, or an explanation of what she intended to say, or even an apology for being needlessly insulting, but rather to claim that I was being unreasonable in challenging something rather prejudiced that she said in a public forum...well, that rubs me in all sorts of wrong ways. Again, if I had said something similarly insulting about Christians, then I would well deserve to be called on it, nobody should be exempt from that.

But this will come up again with other people. And so, I find myself wondering, is it better to blow the person off, as I did here, or maintain contact in the hopes of demonstrating through action that their prejudices are ill-founded? I don't know, but I guess I'll stumble through it the next time such a thing occurs.

...and not to get too nitpicky, here, but isn't it sacriligeous to conflate the soldiers of a worldly government with the Messiah? I suspect that, were I still a Christian, I would find that rather unnerving.

* And, just for the record, this is factually incorrect anyway. I don't deny that soldiers have died to defend the U.S. But so have police officers, diplomats, civil rights workers, firefighters, intelligence operatives, and political leaders. The U.S. military (which includes Marines, the Navy, and Airmen, as well as the army's soldiers) is one of many groups that faces dangerous situations to preserve our rights. They are an important one, certainly, but they are not the only one.


Kelly said...

Hi Matt,

Someone tangentially related but I thought you might like -

Anthroslug said...

Cool, thanks Kelly, it's an interesting essay.