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The Condescension of Soundbites

Some of you may have heard that the President gave a speech to Congress and that a major Dickhead shouted, “You LIE!” in the middle of it. Yeah, I heard that, too.

But I didn’t see it because I was at a play that people in the New York City area should go see. It’s called Aftermath by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, and it’s running at the New York Theater Workshop. [Full disclosure (as if I have enough readers to warrant "full disclosure"): I know the playwrights.]

Aftermath features the stories of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan – and what happened to them after the United States invaded. Jessica and Erik traveled there, and interviewed about 35 refugees, and selected seven people on which to focus. So the words are theirs (translated into English, usually).

What’s nice about the play is that the characters aren’t ideologues, and the authors’ own politics (about as left-leaning as I am), at least where the Iraq War is concerned, were complicated by the experience of the interviews. This is a messy war that had many complex issues surrounding the lead-up and aftermath.

Nothing is ever as simple as either side wants it, is it? And when we make it simple we do a real disservice to the discourse, not to mention the handling of something as important as, say, a war.

Anyway, there was a discussion after the performance I saw, and at one point it actually got a little contentious. A guy whose politics I would say I probably agree with said, “It’s time for the Iraqi people to stand up and take charge of their own country.”

This is a sentiment I’ve heard quite a lot. Many people on the left say that as rationale for getting our troops home. It’s especially used amongst Democratic Party members. It must have been tested in a focus group at some point.

And sure, I guess I agree with that. But when this fella said it, he was speaking to an Iraqi. And it sounded condescending. The fact is we invaded a country that was fucked up, and we fucked it up in an entirely new way. Surely, we have some responsibility for that. Isn’t it our duty to support the Iraqis as they “stand up and take charge of their own country”?

Of course, even as I type that last paragraph, I find myself horrified by how it sounds like an argument for an open-ended commitment to be occupiers, and that freaks me out.

So even in my simplified thinking of these complex issues, it gets really complicated, and there are nuances and cultural challenges I know absolutely nothing about.

I guess all I’m really saying is that all major issues are exceedingly complex, and the older I get, the less tolerance I have for the soundbites.

And hell, man, soundbites are essentially what I do for a living. I boil down, I distill, I simplify. As I think about it, I realize maybe that’s why I get so irritated by the soundbites. Maybe it’s not so much that the soundbites simplify. Maybe it’s how they get simplified.

Simplifying to help people understand is one thing. Simplifying to win an argument is something altogether different. And both sides do it.

Naturally I think the right-wing does it a lot more dishonestly and destructively. But I certainly felt the same yucky feeling as that left-leaning dude shouted down the Iraqi with his over-simplified regurgitation of a Democratic Party talking point.

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