There’s an old Bedouin proverb, “me against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin and all of us against the stranger.” The proverb is an explanation of the feelings of adversity we face in our communities, particularly “all of us against the stranger.”
Citrus County is experiencing some adversity in the community currently, but we’re not facing it.
Many different voices, including our own, are demonstrating this via blogs. Citrus Eagle, the media outreach of Club 45 (formally the President Trump Club), has mocked Superintendent Sam Himmel for accepting taxpayer benefits she’s earned and called the majority of the Board of County Commissioners traitors for their votes on keeping the library display policy unchanged.
These are strong opinions and there’s no doubt that even worse language is used when sent directly to the commissioners via email as the Concurrent has addressed several times in podcasts at the end of the last year.
Does the nasty rhetoric mean that those opinions should be ignored, that those who hold those opinions are bad Citrus Countians and should be placed in an out-group of us vs. them? Some are arguing yes.
“I make it a habit to not read haters’ blogs and newsletters [...] it all falls into the same theme: People saying ugly things and demanding action based on some outcry from the community that doesn’t actually exist in real life,” wrote Mike Wright on Just Wright Citrus yesterday. This is the first category - that the opinions should be ignored.
Mr. Wright’s commentary here has a logical problem, although overall his reporting when he is using sourcing like public record email or on-the-record interviews has been fantastic.
The anger behind the sentiments expressed in organized conservative activist groups has its roots in the feeling of disenfranchisement. Many were never politically involved until recently and this new entry into fray has them feeling like the new kid at school looking for the right lunch table to sit at.
Those who are already seated, such as those who covered local politics for three decades, have no interest in inviting them to the table. This further fuels the feeling of disenfranchisement and the people eventually find a metaphorical lunch table to sit at with other similarly disregarded people who amplify the intensity of anger.
From the same Just Wright Citrus post quoted above: “It’s as if these people don’t know the county at all. Aha. And there lies the problem. The haters think this is who we are.”
Who we are - this is the second category - place some in an out-group.
This classic idea that life is a struggle between good people and evil people is unhelpful but not one-sided. To be sure, the conservative activists feel the same righteous way about their efforts against the establishment.
The problem isn’t the “haters” misunderstanding the ethos of the county; the problem is people in the county engaging in cognitive distortions like labeling with words like haters and dichotomous thinking of us vs. them.
There is another way. We can reject the idea of the struggle between good and evil. The logical error in Mr. Wright’s commentary is that name calling and actively avoiding the concerns of some citizens is perpetuating disenfranchisement which is, in turn, fueling anger. It’s a self-perpetuating problem and calling out others in this manner is worsening it rather than helping fix it.
There are certain ideological purity tests we hold each other to in the name of morality. Those who advocated for a change in the library display, the same ones now calling the commissioners traitors, have an ideological purity test based in religious doctrine on this issue. Those who wrote about disregarding others who talk like this have an ideological purity test based in interpersonal civility. The Concurrent even argued in the context of a journalistic purity test in the last column.
We all view the other as violating our tests on a moral level, and that’s why the passions are so intense. You might agree with one side, such as interpersonal civility, and find it hard to believe that anyone would disagree with this idea so anyone who does must be immoral.
Once we let go of holding others up to our personal purity tests, though, we can start to understand those we disagree with on a level less intense than that of morality. We can start to heal rather than divide.
It’s not “all of us against the stranger” if we treat no members of the community as such.