‘Yes, children, because that unfortunate man has much to teach us’
Actually, the health of our discourse demands it.
I’ve pondered over and over again the weird phenomenon of me defending Martin Bashir against right-wing distortion when even his compatriots on the Left didn’t come to his defense.
The subject came up again today, seven months later, and I still felt I had to defend him.
Of course, the right-winger I was defending him to was having none of it and I gave up.
Here’s hoping you’ll listen.
Couple months ago another liberal racialist mind-reader “explained” GOP resistance to President Obama’s charms in typical, nuanced, Republicans are all racially-charged bigots terms. It was not pretty.
In my response (Pontificating from Behind a Fog of Racial Hucksterism) I talked a bit about Bashir:
The Spittle-Flecked Mad Man
Sadly, though I disagree with him, I think Martin Bashir was trying to make a completely defensible point.
And the historical parallel he drew was pitch-perfect.
On top of that, many of my fellow conservatives distorted was he was trying to say, turning it into a violent vulgarity he wasn’t actually guilty of.
What he was guilty of was the uncontrollable anger of the comically arrogant.
The spit fairly flew.
Is it any wonder conservatives interpreted his remarks in the worst possible light?
I included the video (as you can see), but I didn’t have time to parse his words.
I still don’t have the time, or to be honest, the stomach.
Basically, to most of the people on my end of the spectrum, Bashir was clearly calling for an unspeakable act to be committed against Sarah Palin.
To me, almost alone among my friends, he was doing no such thing.
Now, I read the transcript before I watched the video, and it made a huge difference in my interpretation.
(Just as I read the transcript of the Palin speech he was reacting to before I saw her video. So I missed just how off-putting the snippet was.)
Body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, context of the conversation—this is the music that interprets the lyrics conveyed in the transcript.
Here’s an example of the dynamic I’m talking about, using one of my favorite songs from the musical Les Misérables.
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame
He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came
And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather!
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now, from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed
The amazing first performance.
Believe it or not, this was the first time I heard this song—I’d never seen Les Mis—and it shaped my interpretation of it.
The meaning changes, doesn’t it?
I will never see the words the same way I did as I listened to Susan Boyle 15 times in a row that day.
Not after seeing the song in context and hearing Anne Hathaway’s in-character interpretation.
Getting the right lesson
The lesson today isn’t being careful with our tone of voice.
It’s realizing how much interpretation there is in decoding everything you and I say.
It’s about slowing down long enough to be open to all possible interpretations—good, bad, and ugly.
We don’t do that for each other.
Even though we demand everybody else do it for us.
You see, we bring our own music, and our own interpretations, to every song someone sings to us.
That’s what most of us on the Right did with Bashir. We know he’s hateful. We know he speaks without thinking. We know he despises Sarah Palin and we strongly suspect he’d love for the worst to happen to her.
And that’s the meaning we brought to his message.
But it’s not the message he was trying to bring, bless him.
Martin Bashir wasn’t speaking a revenge fantasy involving Sarah Palin.
He was demanding that she see and understand the horrors she was minimizing with her words and her flippant, sarcastic manner.
Too bad his over the top remarks and emotions, and his long history undermined that message, giving his enemies—my side—an opening they couldn’t resist.
I believe we can all do better.
I believe we have enough intelligence to bring the tools of logical interpretation to bear and cut through the distortions of our own prejudices.
We just need the character, and maybe somebody to teach us.
Just had pointed out to me that I’m apparently addicted to swimming up this particular waterfall:
From late last year, Good Twitchy / Bad Twitchy / Which Twitchy? wherein I defend the apparently indefensible and attack good patriots.