Poisonous Righteous

Last night, we went to Sio's spring choral concert. Her school has a vibrant Performing Arts department, so in one choral concert we heard 5 different ensembles: Chorus, Chorale (all women), Jazz Ensemble, Roundtable Singers and Women's Chorus. The first two groups are open to any student who enrolls in the course; the last three are all auditioned.

One of the songs the Jazz Ensemble sang was a piece called Gulf War Song, by a Canadian band called Moxy Fruvous (and I apologize for not including the umlaut - I don't know how). The choir director preceded the song with a statement of explanation, which is something he rarely does. He said he won't get into politics, because he doesn't want to offend anyone, but also because his politics don't matter when it comes to teaching music. He chose the song because it's not an anti-war song or a pro-war song, but does talk about the internal conflicts a country at war goes through. He let us know his favorite lyric:

What makes a person so poisonous righteous
That they'd think less of anyone who just disagreed?

I know I am often guilty of that kind of poisonous righteousness. I can justify it by pointing out that liberals of all stripes are against the wall - the word that best defines my political beliefs has been hijacked by those on the opposite side of the political aisle, made into a dirty word. But it raises a question for me: How do we fight against those who are throwing their poisonous righteousness at us without sinking to the same level? How do we fight the public relations portion of the political battle for the soul of this country without being as brutal as our opposition? Joe Public doesn't necessarily want to hear policy analysis about why, say, universal health care would be good for the country - he sees one player body slamming the other and wants to root for the bigger, louder, stronger player, the one who seems most likely to win.

Despite my hopes that civil discourse is not yet extinct, I do think Tristero was on to something with his post about The Discreet, Measured Tone of the Right.

Now, you may respond that calling this unprincipled fuck an "unprincipled fuck" simply perpetuates his sin or worse, that I don't have any way to attack his position on its merits.

You're 100% right about your first objection. It does perpetuate a pithecanthropic level of discourse for a very good reason: there is no possible way to avoid doing so without being a total fool. You think you can "politely engage" someone who compares an American vice-president who served his country honorably for 8 years - not to mention his previous services to America in government - to a Nazi? You can't, or rather, you shouldn't. Nor can you ignore it (although the vice-president should). The terms of engagement have been set by this slimeball - the rhetorical battle-field must always be level. There is no higher ground and attempts to claim it will lead to your destruction (see Daschle, Tom for details).

As for that second objection you could make, well I gotta admit it: you are right once again. I do have no way to attack his position on his merits, again for a very good reason. What he is discussing is not Gore's ideas or global climate change. No, what he's talking about, the only subject is, "how exactly comparable is Al Gore to Josef Goebbels" and I will not dignify this scumbag's comparison by explaining in measured, avuncular tones why such a comparison is, and I hesitate timidly before saying it, "unfortunate?" There is no way to attack his position on the merits because there is no merit to his position. And he knows it.

When there is no merit to the argument, I don't think it is possible to be poisonous righteous in coming down hard. One can only be righteous.

I will be mulling this topic over for a while. I may revisit it.

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