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.