Monthly Archives: September 2011

Invective: 30 Rock vs. Fox


In popular and semi worthless news today, Alec Baldwin and Michelle Malkin (fox news correspondence and conservative blogger) engaged in a twitter feud regarding the controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. I encourage reading the above link as well as Huffington Post’s coverage with a slight warning that the language contains four-letter words, racial epithets, and sexual slurs (Huffington Post refuses to post the worst on their page and links it to another page). I hope that most people will read the fight and ultimately share my disgust with both parties. While we could discuss a plethora of topics regarding this fight, I’d like to share a few pertinent thoughts on the situation.

First, is both individuals elevate their personalities and sometimes party over the actual issue. While Baldwin appears to sincerely oppose the death penalty in this situation, his rhetoric ultimately places the focus on himself and the right wingers he dislikes, but not towards the supposed plight of Troy Davis. His tweets regarding Bush, Cheney, Malkin, and “hateful right wingers” make it appear that he is merely using Troy Davis as a way to bash conservative figures. I believe that Baldwin’s assumed side (the anti-death penalty stance, not the twitter-rage) on this issue has some valid and important points that must arise in common discussion, but he made a mockery of his own view. By tweeting outrage, he reduced a noteworthy news story and ethical dilemma to a soundbite-filled,  trivial, tabloid-style feud. Now people know more about the fight than the actual trial, and ironically know who Michelle Malkin is (I assume for most people, Alec is more of a household name).  Mr. Baldwin may have true passion for this issue, but creating conservative targets to release ad hominem invective upon does nothing but trivialize the issue. He also loosely throws in the usual conservative is a fascist shtick. He is merely imitating the paranoid-apocalypse is coming-conservatives that use the terms socialism and communism loosely for every democrat that supports welfare but using fascism in its place. For those that actually endured a fascist reign, please don’t insult them with a very loose misapplication of the word.

Michelle Malkin is not an innocent either. Here is an issue where she probably could have done everyone a favor and turned her smart phone off. She carried along a feud and participated in a fight that was dirty from the beginning. There really was nothing for her to gain (I guess with exception of the semi-fame that comes as a result of this incident?) unless she dreamt of dueling the evil liberal Alec Baldwin in a medium so ripe for debate that no more than 140 characters are allowed per statement. She then proceeds to drag the victim of the initial murder into her sound bite arguments. However, at this point in the “debate” everyone is so angry that her use of the murder victim just polarised the situation even more. No, bringing up the initial murder victim in the case should not cause any polarization, but in her line of thinking, she essentially tells Baldwin and any of his subsequent followers that they do not care about the initial victim or the family. This is a handy technique to use, especially when the opposing party is on a verbal rampage. She probably knows (I hope) that people against the death penalty are not inherently anti-justice and pro-murder.  Intentionally misunderstanding a group like that just adds fuel to the fire and sparks more wasteful invective. In the end, Malkin does a pretty good job of making a name for herself while unintentionally making light of a serious issue in need of deeper discussion. In saying this, I have more sympathy for her considering Baldwin’s “twitter campaign” against her led to extremely racist and sexually derogatory language. That was inexcusable and if I were Baldwin, I would be embarrassed that my “tolerant” followers would be so eager to hate.

You might ask why I would write about  a worthless “pissing contest” between two talking heads. I acknowledge their fight because it is very similar to the same invective I see in use every day. Only this time, the argument is not between Jane and John, but between a politically active actor, and a conservative Fox News correspondent and blogger. In arguments and disagreements we have to play a certain way otherwise cooler heads will never prevail (assuming we actually want to discuss and not merely engage in a shouting match. One cannot write off someone because they feel that the individual is intellectually inferior. One cannot write someone off because they feel that he or she is unpatriotic. No! In a disagreement you must:

  • acknowledge and be able to present your opponent’s case in the best possible light so that he or she would recognize it as his or her own.
  • not force a conclusion you have made based on their premises upon them. This holds true even if you believe that their premises logically lead to the conclusion you see (ex. If a person is anti-death penalty, do not label them as anti-justice and pro-murder. It is okay to debate are person and lead him or her to that conclusion, but you cannot force it on the person as inherently his or her view)
  • not force a stereotypical association with a person and/or his position (ex. There is a common perception that Conservative Evangelicals are all pro-life, yet support the death penalty. Many use this tactic to prove hypocrisy and disregard anything else the person says. Other than the fact that the statement above is not necessarily true, it is a weak use of argument to begin with)
  • give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. (By this, believe that the person actually wants to make the world a better place. Building an argument against anything less really isn’t worth your time anyways. If you believe that people who are pro-death penalty just want to vengefully kill people, your arguments will ignore the bigger issues and remain unconvincing to anyone that holds an opinion slightly different from your own.)
  • Don’t assume intellectual superiority. There’s always someone smarter.

There is definitely more advice out there, but I think this is a starting point. Unfortunately I doubt that we’ll actually attain levelheaded conversation on a large-scale. Right now, we have people spouting off on twitter and on tv, getting publicity over two dead men.


#36


A quiet Friday night lent itself to the introspection that accompanies boredom. Unfortunately it was a little to difficult to read, I tried recording a bit but the product was depressing. So, I had time and thoughts to myself. I thought about writing a little bit last night, but I am so happy that I didn’t. This morning I picked us Pascal’s Pensee’s and came across note #36. He said it better than I,

Anyone who does not see the vanity of the world is very vain himself. So who does not see it apart from young people whose lives are all noise, diversions, and thoughts for the future?

But take away their diversion and you will see them bored to extinction. Then they feel their nullity without recognizing it, for nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion. (Pascal’s Pensee’s p. 8)

This amazing, somewhat depressing little nugget seemed to pinpoint my own pondering as well as the thoughts of a few friends. In the midst of work, our interests, and our business we can sometimes achieve this incredible sense of introspective boredom. In these times, nothing seems to satisfy.  No activity, or hobby quenches our thirst for a sign of life, or significance. Or we realize that we have placed our significance into something, or someone (in Pascal’s mind a diversion) that cannot bear the weight of such a great burden. In this case, we either come to our senses, or are painfully let down.

It’d be easy to go into a discussion on what our focus should be, or what should hold the thrust of our desires. I think Lewis’ Weight of Glory or Augustine’s disordered love theory sufficiently covers that, but for many of us who acknowledge the content covered in those works, we’re still stuck in a state of boredom. I think this is where society can grab hold.

Many people in my generation have either read or viewed at least one book in the Harry Potter series. Here we have a protagonist destined for greatness, the Chosen One. From a young age he has purpose and possesses major significance. He matters to the people who are good, and he matters to those who are evil as they wish him dead. Harry Potter is not an extra either, he will not merely set something in motion or assist. Harry will decide the fate of all those around him as well. However, one does not have to watch or read Harry Potter to catch this storyline. Countless stories give a character some purpose, some goal to achieve where the character must take risks and gamble with his or her life. Also, literature is set up in a way that every aspect of the individual’s life is leading up to some greater moment. Harry Potter does not merely go to 7-11 to get a Slurpee. He purchases a Slurpee and discovers an ancient secret that will help him overthrow the one whom I am forbid to type. Our trips do not usually have this apparent meaning.

Our daily lives do not reflect the importance that literary and film heroes have. We obviously can recognize that there is a fantastical element, and know we will not fight some wizard or monster in a climactic moment. Yet, we feed our minds with excitement and live in routine.  However, our routine juxtaposed with the reality that our world has more problems and possesses greater evils than that which we view on film. One can just view the current pictures of Somalian refugees to reel in nausea. We really can look into our own cities, our own neighborhoods, even our own families to see pain. Or you can just view the questions we still have to answer. Are we alone in the universe? Can we find a cure for cancer? Are we killing the planet?  So we feed our minds with excitement from entertainment, still see a world, sometimes a family in need, and then look at ourselves. We ask the questions, “what am I doing?” We set up a comparison with those that we view. Sometimes the people are real. The man quoted above, Pascal, invented the syringe, hydraulic press, helped with the study of probability, provided an extensive study on what is now “Pascal’s triangle” (the Chinese and Islamic peoples had used this about 500 prior, but his was the first Western study), was a mathematician, philosopher, and scientist. He only lived for 39 years and was sick the whole time. Some of his key inventions were already in place by age 18. My accomplishments pale in comparison.

No, I shouldn’t make the comparison. His circumstances and mine, and Harry Potter’s for that matter are quite different. Yet I think the comparisons will always be there. We see excitement from movies, books, stories, and take everything in. However, when the dust settles and we look at ourselves, it isn’t always pleasant. What have I done? What can I do? Should I take a risk? Is there a risk in not taking a risk? Sure. Even when we answer these questions, we might have just created another diversion for ourselves. Ultimately, I believe that God is the one that holds everything together and our significance should be rooted in Him. And yes, everything is vain apart from that. Our desires need to be retooled at times and redirected. Yet, even with that in mind we are still confronted with those questions. Who will we be?