Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Emergent Hypocrisy

 When the hallmark of your public ministry is to advocate for the value of "conversation" and "dialogue", it seems it would behoove you to partake in "conversation", or at least not stomp it out wherever it might crop up.

Brian McLaren, one of the figureheads of the 'emergent' movement and its de facto leader of sorts (although the movement is too nebulous for such a concept to officially apply), loves conversation. "Conversation" is one of his -- and the movement's -- favorite words. In fact, one of the primary titles for the movement is the "Emergent Conversation". He's particularly fond of "starting a conversation" on some topic (preferably a "new" topic). In a way, it is what lies at the very heart of what he and the emergent movement claims to be about.

Isn't it strange, then, that the "dialogue" and "conversation" fetishist McLaren deletes Facebook comments that express any degree of mild dissent with a certain fascistic zeal? If you are all about conversation, if you recognize the value of people from diverse backgrounds exchanging ideas on a wide range of topics, then why stop conversations before they start?

As you're probably wondering what I'm talking about, here's what happened: I follow McLaren on both Facebook and Twitter, where he mostly posts links to his blog. Full disclosure: I'm a conservative Christian and he's a very liberal one. I follow him because I think it's a good thing to be apprised of the full spectrum of ideas out there on various subjects, and he represents a certain vision and perspective that I'm not a fan of, but which I think it is healthy to stay in -- I don't know -- dialogue with. As it turns out, monologue is more like it.

After following him for a while and never really interacting on any of his posts then, 3 or 4 months ago, I did respond to something he posted. It was a quote by Abraham Lincoln, and while I can't remember it or find it on Google, the very rough gist of the quote was that each generation has to summon up the courage and resources to face new problems with new solutions from within themselves, or from within a community, while not relying on tradition or inherited wisdom. Something along those lines. This is a common theme in McLaren's work too, though it seems like a naive superstition to me, but I digress since I don't have the specific quote and that really isn't the point.

I responded to the quote by simply stating "This proves conclusively that even very bright people can sometimes say dumb things." That's all. I disagreed with the quote, and expressed my disagreement in a fairly benign way, I thought, but the comment got deleted while the dozens of banal affirmations -- "right on!", "this is a great quote" etc. -- remained. The lover of conversation seems to only like when the other end of the conversation is saying something he likes and agrees with.

I didn't think much about it at the time and shrugged it off. Then, a few days ago, I happened to respond to something he posted again without even thinking about the earlier episode. This account will have far more detail, since -- though my comment is now lost and will have to be approximated -- the post it was in response to is still near the top of his page. He posted a quote from his new eBook:
"Nostalgia is never a good leadership strategy...Now is the time for Democrats to humble themselves, to be born again not as a party of nostalgic governance, but as a party of visionary leadership." -Ruth Schwartz (from Word of the Lord to Democrats ebook)
As you can see, there's a vague resemblance between this quote and the Abraham Lincoln quote -- abandon the past, claim the present/future -- though I didn't think of that at the time. The way he had advertised this book was as some sort of satirical take on the current political season. It's difficult to see how something so banal and dull could possibly be found in any decent work of satire, much less be worth excerpting as a notable quotable, but that isn't the point I made in comment. I will attempt to reconstruct my comment from memory as closely as possible:
Platitudinous, empty rhetoric that wouldn't be out of place on an Obama '08 campaign sticker. 
The real problem the Democrats have isn't excessive nostalgia, it's a deficit of nostalgia. This was once the party of JFK and now it's a ragtag assemblage of hacks who have abandoned the party's earlier, more noble ideals. Not that everyone can be a JFK, of course, he's just the exemplar of what the party used to stand for, as opposed to what it has accomplished by forging ahead in 'new directions'.
Once again the comment was deleted while all the effusive praise remained unmolested.

This time, at least, I was fairly contentious and was responding to something he had worked on. Nevertheless, as the torch-bearer for "conversation" and "dialogue", this seems well within the bounds of civil discourse so it's hard to see how he might defend deleting the comment.

Now, I want to point out what I hope is obvious: these are very insignificant episodes in and of themselves. After all, I find it quite absurd when people equate someone policing their own Facebook page, according to their own standards, with "censorship", as often happens. This is as preposterous as claiming someone erasing graffiti -- even if it happened to be a lovely mural -- from the wall around their property is an instance of "censorship." No, I have no problem with someone erasing Facebook comments from their page for any reason at all; whether it's to keep vulgarity off your page, or if you want no trace of "negativity" anywhere on your page, or if you capriciously and randomly remove comments, all of that is absolutely fine with me. It's your page, after all.

Obviously the issue here is rank hypocrisy, in deleting comments that express dissent while proclaiming that "conversation" is one of your highest ideals. As Jay-z once said: "We don't believe you, you need more people!"

The reason I find this significant is because of just how pervasive the totalitarian impulse is within liberalism, while ironically, simultaneously existing alongside the exhortation for people be tolerant. It's bigger than Brian McLaren's hypocrisy, it's symptomatic of a very wide swath of liberalism, which professes tolerance, and a love of diversity, and revels in the joy of "conversation", but which simply can't stand the sound of a conservative or traditionalist speaking, and will even silence them if it's within their power to do so.

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