Dear Conservative Family and Friends,
I love you. Your influence has made me who I am, and I’m grateful. Although I no longer share all the same beliefs as you – and I admit there was a time when I was rather condescending about that, and for that I apologize – I still respect you, and I have even come around to respecting many of the conservative positions you hold. However, some of you, through your Facebook activity, disrespect me and the positions I hold, and, frankly, you’re diminishing civil discourse and productive dialogue in the process.
The way you disrespect me and my positions is by sharing sensational or reductionist political memes that misrepresent those positions. You think such memes are clever, and sharing them gives you a sense of satisfaction, even of superiority, but they do more harm than good. In fact, I believe they do serious harm.
(Yes, liberals also share sensational and reductionist political memes that misrepresent conservative positions, but I see far more such memes from the right.)
What we need, I suspect you’d agree, is better understanding of each other. We all learned from our high school English teachers to consider multiple perspectives, and a precept I try to live by is that I will only advocate for a position if I can effectively advocate for the opposing position first. I believe that we, as citizens, contribute to our democratic republic more effectively when we try to understand each other more sincerely.
When you share political memes that misrepresent liberal positions, you obstruct mutual understanding, and you spread ignorance and misunderstanding. You’re hurting us all.
For example, one of you recently shared the pictured meme, scoffing at proponents of stricter gun laws: “If we make guns illegal, then nobody will get shot anymore. That’s how we stopped everybody from doing drugs.” In other words, “Stupid liberals think making guns illegal will stop all shootings, but we conservatives are smart enough to know that didn’t work with drugs.” The person who created that meme, and those who share it, do so with smugness, believing themselves to have bested their liberal Facebook friends.
Nobody, however, has been bested.
That meme, like many of the conservative memes against stricter gun laws, is a classic example of what philosophers call a straw man argument. A straw man argument is when you misrepresent your opponent’s position and then rebut that misrepresented position instead of addressing your opponent’s actual position. It’s a cheap tactic, and it’s standard practice for political memes.
The meme above, in one sentence, displays two straw man arguments. First, it suggests that proponents of stricter gun laws want to make all guns illegal. We don’t. Second, the meme suggests that proponents of stricter gun laws believe our proposed gun law reform would eliminate all gun deaths. We don’t believe that, either. What we believe, as President Obama recently explained, is that, by studying gun violence and collecting data on it (similar to the way we’ve studied traffic accidents), we could develop smarter gun laws – without banning guns altogether – that would reduce the number of gun deaths over time.
If you disagree with that, I would love to hear why, and I will engage you respectfully and with an open mind. What I don’t want to hear or see is another ill-conceived political meme that purports to rebut my position but instead misrepresents it and does nothing but spread ignorance and misunderstanding.
So I have a proposal. The next time you see a political meme that you want to share, ask yourself this: “Does this meme accurately represent what my liberal friend/brother/cousin/nephew Bradley believes?” If the answer to that question is no, don’t share the meme. Recognize it as another example of misrepresenting liberal positions and thereby spreading ignorance and misunderstanding.
(Fellow liberals, I implore you to exercise similar caution before sharing anti-conservative political memes.)
There are reasonable arguments against the liberal positions I hold, and there are reasonable arguments for the conservative positions you hold. But reason is rarely found in political memes.
If we can commit to trying to understand each other more sincerely, rather than just dismissing and scoffing at each other’s positions, I believe we can work together – conservative, liberal, everyone in between and beyond – to make this country we all love a better place.
So let’s stop shouting through political memes and instead start trying to understand each other better. We may find that we agree on more than we assume.
Your Liberal Friend/Brother/Cousin/Nephew Who Loves and Respects You,