My 2.5 Year Experiment

“What do you mean conservatives don’t pay attention to rapes? Whenever an illegal rapes a woman, I always post about it.”

“Kids getting shot in schools is just part of living in a free society.”

“Liberals, get your coat hangers out. Kavanaugh is confirmed!”

“Unschooling is what we should be doing. They brainwash our kids in school.”

“When I grow up, if my kid is gay… they’re out!”

For 2.5 years, anger-laced discussions ruled my Facebook wall like a traffic jam with people rubbernecking to see some action to ‘justify’ the delay in their day. Conversations would take block-worthy jabs and rattle off unfriending-phrases with hate-filled intent seemed to be the norm with only a vestige of decorum (as long as you didn’t use cuss words, you were considered civil). The illusory need to respond to people immediately exacerbated the crap feeling I’d endure trying to suss out something meaningful to help me form a political identity. Before this adventure, I was essentially politically apathetic.

Those 5 phrases above? Products of my quality discussions with everyday people. Of course, no cuss words were said in any of those phrases, so the people who said them probably still feel like they are civil. For me, those phrases, and countless others, were lines in the sand that shouldn’t have been crossed. The progenitors of those phrases are moms, dads, divorcees, veterans, sisters, brothers, people with high paying jobs, low paying jobs, pensioners, and a just-out-of-high-school student etc… I think it is important to understand that aspect when digesting those viscerally offensive phrases. These are every…day…people.

But why did I put myself through this cyber gamut of ever expanding political discussions? What was the purpose in engaging these kinds of people?

My Goal
I needed to understand the conservative viewpoint. I knew enough to understand my viewpoint was not conservative but I also didn’t know how far left-leaning I would be considered by those armed with label guns. The country was starving for political compromise, ok I guess it still is, from elected officials and I needed a context to understand all of the crazy headlines floating about. With “Fake News” being shouted from the Gospel of Trump, I figured I’d do my own digging by speaking with some his supporters.

Purging everything in my past from Facebook, I began. This took about a month and a half. Scrubbing everything that could be even slightly construed as political. If you ever dove into my Facebook past to find something to use against me during a political discussion and found nothing, you now know why you failed and I don’t apologize.

Once that was finished, I set a simple goal: have political discussions on any topic and try to see if I can get people to move on their opinions. I figured if I expected this from politicians I should expect it from myself. Not being a seasoned politician, I set my expectations for success low:

compromise meter

I never believed I could obtain perfect compromise but you’ll also see that I never had hopes of changing someone’s mind to the opposite end of the spectrum either. Thus, I set my goal in the right-of-middle with the understanding that if someone is willing to give ground on their positions, I’d genuinely try to do the same.

My Debate Rules
1. I would delete every post after they ran their course or if I could no longer moderate them and participate due to my schedule. I had 2 reasons for doing this: (1) I read an article, sadly I cannot find it, that said most people change their minds on significant issues when they are alone away from debate and (2) if things got out of hand it was a great way to stop the madness. Of all my rules, this was by far the best one I maintained. It allowed for people to walk away and think. Then, change their mind without fear of their previous words being thrown back at them like spit in the wind.

2. I would not delete what anyone said unless it contained curse words or unfounded attacks. Of course everyone’s stuff got deleted due to rule number 1, but I meant while the post was running its course.

3. If I started a discussion, I felt it was my duty to participate. I responded to everyone – everyone! If I could not participate any longer, see rule #1.

4. Don’t share memes without an explained reason. I very rarely ever shared memes or even used them in comments. I believe in the duration of this experiment I shared about 4 memes total. That is an estimate. This might have been better than rule #1…

My Results
Essentially, I failed. I tried very hard. I had posts number as high as 1000+ responses and the norm was probably around 250 responses. For someone without a social media following, that seemed pretty huge. But ultimately, I failed. I cannot name one instance where I convinced a conservative friend or acquaintance to

A. change their view completely
B. meet me half way on an issue with a fair give and take
C. move even just a little bit towards the center on an issue

There is no exaggeration here. Not one conservative I know shared a single introspective moment where they thought they might be wrong about something we were talking about. I challenged one friend saying “You have never once changed your mind about anything in our discussions. That, to me, is suspicious of a faulty outlook – never being wrong?”

“You haven’t changed your mind about anything either, ” he said. When I pointed out that I am no longer anti-gun and that I think entitlement programs could use some reform, he was unconvinced I’d changed. I didn’t change my views completely, but I did adopt some reasonable viewpoints to which I credit him for making in discussions. Regardless, he couldn’t come up with any examples of an opinion shifting even just a little. This conversation happened on 3 separate occasions with many months in between. I will note, with a certain degree of relish, this man, the man who never changed his mind, called me “partisan” more than anyone. I’ll never forget that irony.

During the final 2 weeks of this experiment I began speaking my mind without a filter. No, I did not start cursing people and I did not use any ad hominem (spell check wants me to write “Eminem” – hmm…) based attacks. But, I lost about 20 Facebook friends. Of course I mean “Friend” in the Facebook sense. All of them were acquaintances I had met with only one or two being strangers who were friends of friends.

Essentially, I started and ended in the same place: speaking my mind which resulted in people unfriending me. To be fair, I did some of the unfriending as well, like the 5 people who said the phrases I introduced this post with. Up until the final 2 weeks, I only unfriended one person. And I unfriended her for different reasons than my experiment (she never participated in my discussions anyway).

How I felt during the process
I stumbled a lot and felt like crap. My first two discussions resulted in one close friend, and one acquaintance, both agreeing not to speak to me about politics for the sake of the friendship. This was hurtful because not only did I need to get a grip on myself but I couldn’t understand why these two men couldn’t see things my way. They didn’t have to adopt my opinion, but it seemed like they were unwilling or incapable of seeing things from a different perspective.

Shocked, I re-evaluated myself. I couldn’t believe my initial political sortie resulted in damaged friendships. I realized the real world implications of social media debates pretty early on. From that point forward, I did my best to remain calm, read every source sent to me, and tried my best not to insult people. I can say for the most part I held it together – I’d give myself a B+/A- on that front. There were a few unfriendings followed by apologies and subsequently clicking the +1 Friend button again. There were times when I said something trite and was correctly called out on it. There were also times where people felt extremely insulted and even now I swear I didn’t say anything that should be construed as rude. But none of these were the norm.

It was a mix of everything.

Lessons Learned
I did successfully learn about the conservative viewpoint. I learned it is not for me. I sufficiently immersed myself in conservatism. Here are some examples I never got past and still don’t understand:

Example 1

Scenario A
Hurricanes can destroy your property. When this happens, FEMA is supposed to use tax dollars to ease the economic burden on you. It makes complete sense because you cannot do anything about a hurricane. ie: Something out of your control happens, proceeds to destroy your life, and we feel we need tax dollars to help.

Scenario B
Cancer can destroy your body. When this happens, ACA is supposed to use tax dollars to ease the economic burden on you. It makes complete sense because you cannot do anything about cancer. ie: Something out of your control happens, proceeds to destroy your life, and we feel we need tax dollars to help.

These two scenarios are exactly equivalent in my mind. Conservatives only feel one of these two scenarios is acceptable despite the fact that both of them can leave a person in economic ruin through no fault of their own. For some reason, a house washing away is more important than a brain tumor that prevents you from being able to make house payments. Why?

Many conservatives will key in on the phrase “ease the economic burden on you.” In other words, they would say that the victim in a scenario should participate in their rehabilitation be it a home or through cancer treatment costs. I do not entirely disagree with this notion. But I would then ask “Why is FEMA ok and the ACA isn’t?” FEMA’s goal is to help ease the economic burden on people but it is not designed to fully replace all of your losses.

While the ACA could be re-designed to operate like FEMA, it is not what Conservatives argued to me – note that this idea would be an example of a compromise around the ACA where Conservatives don’t destroy the ACA and Liberals don’t get to have entirely free healthcare. I do personally believe we should all have healthcare, but I was going for compromise. The argument was always “Destroy the entire ACA and let insurance / private industry take over.” The problem I see here is FEMA is not trying to make a profit off of people’s loss of property. Yet, insurance companies do make a profit off of not giving their paying customers treatment. ie: the less treatment they pay for the better their profit margins. It is beyond me why is this acceptable to Conservatives…

Example 2
With the countless school shootings, gun debates raged often on my wall. After about a dozen of these debates, I formed the following opinion: people have a right to bear arms but they should have a responsibility for when their property damages society. For example, if Joey takes dad’s unsecured weapon(s) to school and shoots people, Joey’s dad should be found criminally negligent for having an unsecured firearm. That, of course, is a loaded (pun intended) statement. So, let’s break it down.

If your child steals your car and damages property or hurts people, the parent, in this example that would be you, is responsible for damage. Essentially, car insurance is there to ease the economic burden on those involved in car accidents (note that we don’t have car “purposes,” only accidents, and everything is presumed to be a mistake unless proven otherwise). Thus, we have a situation where property you own is misused and you’re forced to take responsibility for it.

When applying this logic to guns, conservatives get angry. “Gun ownership is a right; owning and operating a car is not.” Conservatives would also counter with “Firearm insurance is the same thing as weapon registration” they’d say which is unacceptable to them. In the first case, I agree one is a right and the other is not. However, the end result and damage to society are the same. Only one of these situations has a burden of responsibility on the owner. Likewise, a car is designed for transportation and a gun is designed for killing. “Anything can be used as a weapon” always falls in the face of the intent behind the design of a thing… so I never accepted that argument.

I find it remarkable that conservatives would boast about their core value of taking responsibility but do not apply this core value to gun ownership. Many disagree with me  because conservatives do take guns seriously. Of course, they teach their kids gun safety etc… But, many of the school shootings occur with guns easily procured from home and used to devastating effect. I personally believe if you are in favor of the right to defend yourself but you do not take safety precautions to prevent your guns from being used offensively, then I would argue you have a huge hole in your world view on gun safety. With such a view… you… are / would be a potential point of failure in society.

This point of failure has contributed to many school shootings. I chose to highlight this in arguments because it is a point of compromise. Many on the left want to see guns completely confiscated. I never argued from that point of view. Instead, I wanted to see if we could get just a little movement from conservatives on this point. To be fair, the man who never changed his mind almost changed his mind on this point. However, in the end, I don’t believe he did. It was probably my most successful attempt with him in all of my arguments.

Note: those conservatives who do secure their weapons, I salute you and I am not speaking about you! I am grateful that you do this and you should encourage others to do this, too.

Example 3
The Electoral College is hotly debated after every election – especially after Obama’s elections (yes, both of them) and now Trump. I have come across the following meme on Facebook. Generally, as rule #5 states above, I don’t share memes without explanation. However, I have looked into this meme and determined the numbers here do paint an accurate portrayal of reality based on the blue county and red states:

electoral college

Yes, I concede to the reality that the Electoral college is in the constitution and thus is the law of the land. But I made 2 points when debating this topic. The first point is that back in the day, it would not have really been accurate to count every single vote if everyone voted. Now, our capabilities to do that are much better and our system could handle it.

Secondly, I have argued that the electoral college is more about geography and boundaries than it is about population. The map above is very clear, population is irrelevant and state boundaries are more important in our current system. Ergo, the electoral college is more about geography than it is about people.

The common argument thrown my way was “If we elect presidents by the popular vote, then only a handful of cities and states across the country will have a say in the presidency.” But, that is exactly what our current system is right now, no? Presidential candidates pick where to go and they certainly do not visit all 50 states. In terms of “having a say,” the map above demonstrates that the number of voices that are supposed to coalesce into an elected official to represent the people is more about geography than it is people. Otherwise, that blue dot would be worth 14 points in the EC system.

So, from what I have read, the EC is not about people, it is about geography. I am sure there is an equal example of a single red dot being equivalent to a bunch of blue places, so my goal here isn’t to turn a blind eye and pretend this only works one way. But it is to point out that the EC is not about people or voices.

Conclusion
I believe tribalism is ripping our country apart. Full stop. I am so completely against political tribalism that it bleeds into other parts of my life.

While I do identify more with being a democrat than I do a republican, I am not the extreme left either. I think conservative politicians are far less likely to be willing to compromise than people on the Left. This may simply be proven to be a case of “who holds power in Washington” but that is my current experience.

While conservatives hold power, they preach the Gospel telling me I need to “Love thy neighbor,” while they chant “Build a wall.” They tell me to “Treat others the way you would want to be treated,” but support family separation at the border. They tell me to “turn the other cheek” but regularly tell me “But democrats did it back in the 70s!” Then, when I throw bible verses at them, they tell me I am quoting it wrong and I don’t understand what I am talking about.

Likewise, the White House tells the media they must “tell the truth.” But tells me how millions of illegals voted, Obama is from Kenya, Trump had the largest crowds at an inauguration ever, and that Obama golfed too much. They tell me the national anthem should not be politicized when the government gives sports leagues stipends, which are our tax dollars thus making it political, to play it before every game.

No… I can safely say I will never be conservative. I find that having an unchanging set of core values is too inflexible for me. Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, Machiavelli, and countless other political / war strategists through the centuries have said that “Fluidity is the way to life; fixation is the way to death.” I agree with this mentality completely. I have seen many conservatives argue that Democrats do not have a “core set of values” in reference to their lack of Christianity or ‘flimsy’ political platforms. Initially, I thought this was horrible to say and untrue.

But, the more I looked into it, the more I realized there was only one unifying trait democrats and liberals across the spectrum have: Democrats are willing to do battle in gray areas of society and conservatives are not. That is the only core value I can identify with confidence that the democratic platform has and I think it is the only one that matters. We try to understand that gender isn’t binary; we look at sexuality and realize not every brain is hardwired the same. We like to use preferred terms for people and situations because it demonstrates empathy. Conservatives regularly seem to have the answers and democrats regularly seem to be stuck in the muck of every situation.

The purpose of liberal minded people is to battle in the gray, prop up the wrongfully disenfranchised, and fight for equality. That is what I learned about my political identity.

One thought on “My 2.5 Year Experiment

  1. The Government as set by the founding fathers is a ” Representative Republic ” and not a ” Democracy”
    This the ” Electorial College” which suspends the over crowded minimal area overruling the less populated broader expanse of the country.
    Eliminating the ( sic) mob rule ,there is a reason there is difference ascribed to crowds and mobs !

    Like

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