Monday, April 17, 2006

IF THERE'S ANY HUMAN QUALITY that repels me more than any other, it's hypocrisy. The response of right-wing bloggers to the Washington Post article about Maryscott O'Connor reeks of it.

Here is Betsy Newmark, who clearly thinks of herself as a polite, civil, and fair-minded member of the right-wing blogosphere. After remarking on how venomous, deranged, unhinged, and over the top leftie bloggers are, Betsy suggests that her readers should "[c]heck out the tone in O'Connor's blog and those to whom she links. Then check out the tone on the blogs to which I link. On a day-to-day basis, I would argue that you will find a real difference in how the bloggers write and refer to those with whom they disagree."

Well, okay. One of the bloggers she links to and speaks admiringly of is Michelle Malkin -- who became the darling of the right after writing a book that defended the World War II policy of forcibly removing American citizens of Japanese ancestry from their homes and communities and putting them into concentration camps.

Another blog linked from Betsy's Page is Little Green Footballs -- where reasoned and civil discourse is defined as approvingly quoting from other blogs that mock and taunt anyone who isn't an American.

And then there is Debbie Schlussel. Betsy does not link to Debbie's blog -- maybe because Debbie is as venomous, deranged, and hateful as they come. Debbie Schlussel is one of the bloggers who attacked Jill Carroll after her release from captivity in Iraq for making positive remarks about her captors immediately after being freed. Only Schlussel was so rabid and yes, unhinged, in her ravings about Carroll that even some on the right were a bit embarrassed. According to Schlussel, Carroll is a "spoiled-brat America hater," a "tool and partner of extremists and terrorists," and an "infidelette jihadi conspirator." Readers who dare to disagree are "obviously dimwitted." And Schlussel continued to spew her venom even after Carroll responded to her critics and made it clear that her abductors conditioned her survival and release on praising them in the video:

Jill Carroll's recanting of the video doesn't have a thing to do with anything I've cited, nor does it change facts. See my response to all the blind, deaf, and dumb Jill Carroll worshippers.

I'm sure that Betsy Newmark would say that most bloggers on the right are not as extreme as Debbie Schlussel is. And Betsy probably would not appreciate it if a WaPo reporter interviewed Schlussel and then wrote an article portraying her as a rabid lunatic and suggesting that she was typical of right-wing bloggers. Yet that is exactly the kind of unfair, intellectually dishonest position she and other conservative bloggers have decided to take about David Finkel's piece on Maryscott O'Connor.

And guess what? Maryscott O'Connor is in no way the left blogosphere's equivalent to Debbie Schlussel. Maryscott is not cruel, mean-spirited, deranged, or over the top. She does not demonize readers who disagree with her.

What she is, is angry, and with damn good reason. Anyone who isn't angry at the evil, cruel, and dangerous policies this administration has foisted on the world is either part of the policies or just not paying attention.

On this, Maha as usual has something original and insightful to say:

Sister blogger Maryscott O'Connor of My Left Wing is featured on the front page of the Washington Post today. The article, by David Finkel, is titled "The Left, Online and Outraged: Liberal Blogger Finds an Outlet and a Community." Maryscott blogs about the writing of the article here.

I admit I had mixed feelings about the article when I read it. Maryscott is one of the smartest bloggers on the web, but the article focused on how angry she is. Lord knows she has a right to be angry. We're all angry. But Maryscott is a lot better than just angry.

But then I thought, how many other angry people are out there who haven't discovered the Blogosphere yet? If you aren't absolutely enraged at what the Bushies and the VRWC are doing to our country, you're an idiot or a rightie. But I repeat myself.

Sorry, couldn't resist that one. Just funnin' with ya, righties. But I hope that a lot of people who read that article will check out the Blogosphere and join in.

Predictable reaction from rightie blogs: We're cool and intellectual, and those lefties are unhinged. I was checking out reactions on one rightie blog, where I found this comment:

"I don't recall there being a vocal Right that was calling for the public lynching of President Clinton."

Sorta takes your breath away, doesn't it? I couldn't read any further. Enough of that.

I'm going to ramble for a few paragraphs, but I will connect the ramble back to Maryscott and blogging, so please bear with me -- Sam Keen wrote a book called Passionate Life -- published in 1984 -- in which he argued that adulthood is not the final and ultimate stage of life. I regret I don't have the book at hand and it's been a while since I read it, but I found the stages discussed online in this sermon. The five stages, Keen said, are (1) child, (2) rebel, (3) adult, (4) outlaw, and (5) lover.

As I remember it, Keen defined the adult stage as a time in which one's values most closely reflect those of one's society. Adulthood is the point at which we set aside adolescent rebellion and join the collective. We focus on careers and status as defined by our peers. If you are a standard middle class American adult, for example, your life's quest becomes acquiring a fixed low-interest mortgage and a stock portfolio. The sermon linked mentions "constructing character armor," which I remember as adopting the persona assigned to you by society, e.g., businessman, housewife, etc. Most people remain at adult stage for the duration of their lives.

The next stage, outlaw, happens to the lucky few who are separated from the collective. The separation may be caused by crisis or spiritual epiphany, but however it happens, the outlaw looks at the values of his society and sees a load of crap. "Successful" people who used to be role models seem more like zombies -- the walking, soulless dead. And, like Cassandra, the more you rave about what crap it all is, the more the adults think you're nuts. The only people who understand you are the other outlaws (or lovers). It can be very lonely.

For a good example of someone in the outlaw stage, check out the later writings of Mark Twain. His rantings were laced with wit, but if (for example) you read through this, the anger flames out at you suddenly, and you realize you are reading a very different essay from the one you thought you were reading.

Twain would have been one hell of a blogger.

One difference between the adolescent rebel and the post-adult outlaw is that the adolescent is mostly ego-driven -- he's rebelling because he wants something for himself -- whereas the outlaw is less concerned about himself than about others. He wants others to see what he sees -- the sham, the injustice -- to make the world a better place. With luck the outlaw will eventually put aside his anger and become a lover, a person motivated by compassion to help mankind. Think Gandhi.

I'd like to add that sometimes the outlaw stage misfires and the person separated from the collective doesn't become a true outlaw but just joins a different collective, or else works his butt off to be allowed back into the old collective. But that's a different rant.

Anyway, with that context in mind -- Maryscott O'Connor is an outlaw. And as such she's a shining beacon for other outlaws. It's good to be a beacon in a dark time.

Anger is nothing to be ashamed about. I like this quote from Keen:

Anger is a necessary part of the dance of love. Think of clean anger as the voice of the wise serpent on the early American flag who says, "Don't tread on me." Without anger we have no fire, no thunder and lightning to defend the sanctuary of the self. No anger = no boundaries = no passion.

Honor your anger. But before you express it, sort out the righteous from the unrighteous. Immediately after a storm, the water is muddy; rage is indiscriminate. It takes time to discriminate, for the mud to settle. But once the stream runs clear, express your outrage against any who have violated your being. Give the person you intend to love the gift of discriminating anger.

May all our anger be righteous.

By the way, Maryscott has a lengthy "response to the response" about the WaPo article, and in it she provides an answer for the question Maha has asked herself, about how many other angry people might there be who have not yet discovered the blogosphere.

Among the hundreds of emails I received yesterday (the good outnumbering the bad by a large ratio) was a short note from a 76 year old woman in Virginia. I could almost see her hands shaking as she typed her missive to a complete stranger she'd just read about in her morning paper. She explained that she had only ever used the computer her children got for her to send and receive emails. But she read the story about me in the Post and was almost overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. She lives alone. She doesn't talk much to her children anymore, and she watches a lot of television.

Over the past 5 years, she has turned into an angry, despairing woman whose sense of powerlessness over the state of the world has almost overtaken her sensibilities. She got on the computer and found my blog, the one she read about in the Washington Post; as she read the diaries and front page stories and comments, she was alternately amazed and overjoyed to have found a community of people who thought and felt as she did. Her email to me was not just to thank me and tell me her story; she wanted me to help her to register, as none of the instructions made much sense to her.

I responded to this woman, whom I cannot help imagining as a classic, archetypal Little Old Lady, because her emails sound so much like the archetype; I gave her detailed instructions about links and mouse clicking and scrolling. I registered her and told her how to change her password. She is now a member of My Left Wing, a liberal community comprised of people just like her: left wing, liberal, progressive, religious, irreligious, profane, politically aware, interpersonally connected, loving and supportive people who gather at the same website to discuss whatever they're thinking about at any given moment.

It is my privilege to be the titular head of such a community, though, as I said to someone earlier today, it is much more like a commune, a collective, than any other arrangement to which I can think to compare it. For whatever reason, I seem to have attracted to the community of My Left Wing a wide assortment of intelligent, compassionate, savvy, hilarious, generous and supportive people who can write beautifully, succinctly, audaciously and exquisitely about an infinite number of subjects. If being myself has brought me to this place, if my flawed, infuriating, eccentric, pathetic and bathetic personality is in any measure responsible for the existence of this community, then I have achieved far more than I ever imagined possible.

One little old lady sitting at her kitchen table alone in Virginia stopped feeling so alone yesterday because of something I did; that is enough.

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