One of the reasons I’ve resisted Twitter for so long has exploded into reality less than a week since I opened an account. That reason is my dislike of noise. Worse, the noise is arising between parties I have regard for on both sides of the windy dispute. I refer to this morning’s Twitter war between Kurt Schlichter and Conor Friedersdorf.
I see no reason to endorse or defend Chris Hayes’ now-apologized-for and walked-back remark over Memorial Day weekend that not all active duty military servicemembers are heroes.
Nor do I see any reason to use Hayes as a whipping boy once he did actually walk back his remarks when it was pointed out that he went a bridge too far.
Nor do I see any reason to think that the dispute that arose in the wake of these remarks is about much more than Team Red versus Team Blue chest-thumping. Friedersdorf in essence calls Schlichter a liar; Schlichter responds by in essence calling Friedersdorf unpatriotic. Both are name calls by association with the left and the right.
The underlying issue is what is a “hero” and how to properly acknowledge and appreciate heroism. One the one side it’s true that not every soldier distinguishes himself or herself by conspicuously displaying bravery in the face of immediate danger. On the other hand it’s also true that the act of signing up to serve at all, even if one winds up in the rear with the gear, is a personal sacrifice and a value given to the nation deserving of recognition. And maybe it’s the case that parades and praise and other effusive displays of affection are not the only way to show respect for the troops — while also being true that such displays are an integral part of having an honored military in a free society.
So the discussion that could take place about what heroism and military service means isn’t really taking place. Nor is the discussion about how best to honor our deserving troops is not taking place. Instead we get accusations of dishonesty, stupidity, elitism, and cynicism flying back and forth with each side simply presuming the worst of the other.
It reminds me not so much of anything resembling dialogue or argument. Instead it is fans on two sides of the arena chanting “tastes great!” and “less filling!” at one another for nothing more than the exuberant fun of pursuing a vapid rivalry.
In sobriety it’s ridiculous to think that anyone actually dislikes the troops and it’s at least equally ridiculous to think that people are dumb or dishonest because they are also patriotic. But sobriety would defeat the point of the exercise, wouldn’t it? The point of the exercise is to render one’s adversary unworthy of participating in the discussion at all, at least in the eyes of one’s own supporters. Since both sides are working towards the goal of winning the dispute by stripping the other of standing to argue, and both are succeeding (at least in their own eyes) the possibility of getting somewhere is foreclosed. No, the goal of the exercise is to attract eyeballs and inspire intense emotion, and to that end Friedersdorfand Schlichter have found convenient enemies in one another and have collaborated to manufacture a mutually advantageous dispute. But in pushing the issue the way they have, they have left whatever value could have emerged from this issue behind and rendered the dispute no longer even potentially productive.
I like both of them. Schlichter is a personal friend; Friedersdorf is a friend of a friend and an often interesting and thoughtful voice. Both have good things to contribute to a discussion. But I see precious little evidence of that discussion taking place.
This is why I try not to dwell in the world of noise and narrative. I can’t claim to be a flagbearer for either team and will probably never attain the popularity of those who are willing to do those things. But you know what? I can live with that.