No, not this year’s. I am many things: psychic is not one of them.
The first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote was in 2000. Being away at college (and having voted in a municipal election the year before), I voted early and absentee. Also being away at college — and a newly declared political science minor — we made a social event out of watching the election results roll in. (It was an honors dorm. We geeked out like that.)
Of course, we didn’t have any idea how long we’d actually be awake that year — and I gave up and went to bed shortly after 2am — but we made an evening of it. Several of us popped popcorn, a few either worked on or pretended to work on homework, and we all sat around in our dorm’s rec room to watch the results roll in.
We weren’t exactly a politically monolithic bunch. Some had grown up in the region of the university and subscribed — in different increments, depending on the individual — to the conservative political leanings of the area. Some had grown up farther away, in more liberal parts of the state. And I’m sure there were some like me, who’d grown up hearing one predominant political ideology but who were now using the freedom of being “away” at college to vehemently question everything. Moreover, I’m sure there were some who were like me in another way — who were prone to seeing the world in the same oversimplified terms I’d developed as a teenager, who hadn’t yet matured to realize that, well, reality is a lot more complicated than that.
There were a lot of tense moments that evening. We weren’t all rooting for the same candidates (since we were watching a variety of legislative races around the state in addition to the electoral college results), and we weren’t shy about saying why. People were angered; feelings were hurt. I’m sure I was on the giving and receiving end of each.
And yet — These were the people we counted on to let us do laundry ahead of them when we were on our last pair of clean underwear, to share notes with us when we skipped calculus, to help us sort out which campus regulations could be disregarded safely and which were actual big deals, to share food with us when we missed dining hall hours or our meal plans had run out. We lived with each other, day in and day out.
While emotions and words got plenty heated, personal insults were something we didn’t do. I’m going to go so far as to say that the idea didn’t enter my mind, though I can’t claim to know what was in the minds of other people. Because it doesn’t make sense to write someone off as stupid, callous, or disgusting when I’m sitting in the same room with them — when I see them almost every day face to face — so I know full well that they are none of these things — though I may still use those same descriptors for individual opinions they hold.
This year, however, I’ve found myself wanting to tune out more, wanting to write more people off. Which is not overall a positive trait, and I own that. Since a lot more of my political interactions now take place over the Internet, when discussions do get uncomfortable and heated, it’s a lot easier for me just to click the tab closed and walk away. Which, if that’s what I need to do in any given moment as a part of self care, then that is what I need to do, and I don’t apologize for it.
But when that starts to become a pattern… well, no one ever learned to wrestle with new ideas from a pattern of avoidance.
On the other hand, as pretty much everyone on the Internet knows by now, not everyone should be engaged with. I write a pretty low key blog here, and I don’t run around starting flame wars elsewhere, either online or in real life. I’ve still managed to receive a certain amount of personal attacks and insults. In person, it’s usually someone saying as much about a group they don’t know I belong to — e.g., “fucking queers,” “damn women who can’t keep their legs closed,” or “people like that are a drain on our health care system.” Here — online — where people know full well they’re directing said insult to me personally, I choose not to publish the vast majority of them because I do systemically choose not to engage.
And I don’t think that’s wrong, either.
I’m sure that different people will have different “lines in the sand” about this — and even people who have lines that are similar to mine will word things differently. But if I’m going to put myself on the line, to engage with difficult ideas and conflicting values, I have to know that it’s coming from a place of overall respect, that the person with whom I agree still views me as a whole person, an equal. But when other people predicate such engagement on the idea ad hominem attacks — against me personally or against people like me — that devalues me as a person and us as a group. That’s not the place to create understanding, either.
All of this only works if the majority of people play fair.