On the Other Hand, Being a Technical Editor, I May Not Necessarily Understand Them All

I was talking today to a fairly new coworker from another department, telling her a little about the book I’m almost done editing, and she asked me, “So do you read every word?”

Good lord. I’ve never gotten that one before and I didnt have an answer handy. But I resisted the temptation to say what came to my mind first: “Some of them twice.”

(That’s the classic booklover’s response when someone looks around and says, “Gee, have you read all these books?” But the truth is that I will have read every word in this book many more than two times by the time I’m done.)

And No More Blog Entries about Them, Either!

Column by Dan Kennedy in the Guardian about the Birthers. He begins:

Just because there are people who believe some mighty peculiar things doesn’t mean I’m obliged to pay them any attention.

And then goes on to pay them quite a lot of attention for the rest of the column. Near the end, he justifies doing so:

And it’s tempting to say that the media should simply ignore the Birthers — not to mention the global-warming deniers, the WTC conspiracists and all the rest. But given the cultural environment in which we find ourselves, such tactics would only lead to conspiracy theories about the liberal media — as if there weren’t enough of those already.

I disagree. Ignoring them entirely and attacking them are not the only two choices, but if they were, I would still vote for ignoring them. These folks have their own reasons for giving expression to their fear and anger in this way, reasons that are completely separate from the facts of the matter, and there ain’t nothing we can do or say to force them to change their minds or shut up about their screwy theories. Nor should there be, if we’re not ready yet to give up on the idea that we have freedom of thought and speech in this country.

Mr. Kennedy is correct, I believe, in saying that if we don’t attack them, there will be conspiracy theories about the liberal media. But he is also correct, I believe, in saying that there will also be conspiracy theories about liberal media anyway even if we do attack them. It seems to me that this is not much of an argument for why we need to go on the attack.

“Horrors! Contrary people might decide do contrary things unless we do something! Wait a minute, everybody, I’ve got a plan: Let’s do something that won’t stop them!”

Adopting a position of outrage just isn’t going to cause these folks to back down. Anything but. To justify their fear and hatred and anger, people like this need to prove to themselves that the enemies they’re so afraid of are not just creations of their own imaginations, because that would make them seem pretty ridiculous, even to themselves, to be so afraid of their own shadows. So for anyone to take on the role of their enemy is just agreeing to perform in this corny melodrama by the script they themselves have written, wearing their costumes and reading their lines.

Pointing out the facts is important to do, certainly, but for the sake of the less irrational people like you and me (if that isn’t too optimistic) who try now and then to reason from facts to conclusions and not vice versa. Not because we think it’s going to change the minds of the Birthers. They already know what the facts are. They have made up their minds anyway.

Giving them lots and lots of media attention, even if it’s negative, just gives them what they need to maintain their attitudes. Tells them that this issue is really important, tells them that they have important enemies, tells them that clinging to their position is what makes them important.

As Carolyn Hax has said, it’s not a tug-of-war any more as soon as you drop your end of the rope. If you have a cantankerous relative who loves to hold forth about some crackpot conspiracy theory, do you persuade him to change his behavior by arguing with him at every opportunity? I don’t think so. He wouldn’t have picked a crackpot conspiracy theory as his idée fixe if he didn’t enjoy it when people argue with him. You’re just giving him exactly the payoff he wants.

What we really need to do is stay calm, stop turning these folks into our own Others to project our fears onto, smile indulgently toward them as we do toward our own eccentric relatives (which is after all who these folks are), listen to them respectfully and patiently as they have their say once, and then gently change the subject to things that we honestly believe are important.

Wheelless

Front page article a week or so ago in the Contra Costa Times about a woman who has lived five years without a car. Hey, for me this August marks 25 years of not owning a car. And I now commute 40 miles each way to and from work five days a week.

So I figure they owe me five front-page articles, at least.

I save so much money and so much trouble in exchange for a little mild inconvenience now and then that, frankly, I can’t imagine why so many people own cars who don’t really need to. They aren’t car buffs who enjoy caring for their cars. They live in the Bay Area which has pretty darned good public transit in spite of the annoyingly frequent problems. They don’t have commutes that would be impossible otherwise, or even very difficult — I know lots of people who drive into San Francisco every day for work when they don’t live all that far from a BART station; I have coworkers who live either near a Caltrain station or a short bus ride away from here, yet drive every day to our offices.

Things have gotten quite a bit easier for us now that we’ve joined City CarShare a few months ago, and we rent a car for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday once or twice a month now, where before we might rent a car for a weekend only three or four times a year. That’s a great convenience and all the more reason not to bother with actually owning one of the damn things.

Exercising No Restraint

This headline from a week ago inspired a round of limerick-writing on the WELL:

World’s strongest vagina breaks own record lifting 14 kilos

This was my contribution:

An athlete whose skills were prodigious
Lifted weights with her pubococcygeus.
When she went on a date,
Sex started out great
But it usually wound up litigious.

It’s hard to resist a legitimate opportunity to rhyme pubococcygeus. I’m not likely to have another.

Cry of Frustration of the Afternoon

Okay, I acknowledge that I am peculiarly neurotic about not wanting to stand in the flow of any foot traffic. (I was regularly bullied and picked on as a child, and once I was deliberately knocked down and trampled on by about 15 or 20 other children going the other way down a school hallway; it was one of the scariest things that has ever happened to me, and to this day, seeing that I’m in the way of a flow of people can bring on flashbacks to the terror I felt.)

But even allowing for the fact that I know I am hypersensitive about this and do not expect others to participate in my phobia, still, what on earth are you people thinking when you decide that smack in front of the bottom step of that stairway is a fine place to stop and have a conversation with your companion or check your Blackberry or make a call on your cell phone??? Seems like I have been having to say excuse me please to you folks two or three times a month for just about ever. Often, when that stairway is in fact a crowded down escalator and you have stopped at the bottom just a foot or so in front of me, I have been inexorably propelled into you from behind. And yet you keep stopping there. Why have you not figured out by now that when you reach the bottom of the stairs you need to walk forward a few more feet before you stop???