Kurt Anderson writes a great piece in New York on the recent tendency to blow things wildly out of proportion:
Almost any argument about race, gender, Israel, or the war is now apt to be infected by a spirit of self-righteous grievance and demonization. Passionate disagreement isn't sufficient; bad faith must be imputed to one's opponents: skepticism of affirmative action equals racism, antiwar sentiment equals anti-Americanism (or terrorist sympathy), criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitic, and so on. More and more people think they're entitled to the right not just to ignore or disapprove, but to veto and banish. And the craven fear of triggering tantrums leads the responsible authorities -- university administrators, politicians, corporate executives -- into humiliating, flip-floppy contortions of appeasement.
Maybe, I tell myself hopefully, it's all a spasmodic reaction to the unfettered discourse that the Web and cable TV and talk radio have unleashed -- that because freedom of expression is rather suddenly greater than ever in so many ways, people are trying desperately to reestablish limits on what can and can't be asserted in their vicinity. And no doubt this sort of panicky, anti-democratic exceptionalism -- freedom of speech for us, but not necessarily for you -- is fed by the chronic sense of emergency that has prevailed since September 2001, when the White House press secretary warned that "Americans...need to watch what they say."
Maybe the fever will pass. Or maybe a lot of us are permanently losing our taste for liberty, devoted to "freedom" in the abstract but unprepared to endure all its messy particulars.
Read the whole thing.
While I am not prone to nostalgia and I do not think our age is on the whole more prone to exaggeration than any other -- exaggerated reaction seems to be a constant in the human species -- I have been repeatedly shocked over the last couple months about how worked up people can get about talking -- even when it is talking out your ass.
Don't like Ahmadinejad, Summers, or Donald Rumsfeld? There is an exceedingly easy way to "not render their words legitimate," (to paraphrase some of the hysterical commentary on Ahmadinejad's visit): don't listen.
Hat-tip: Virginia Postrel
Exhibit A for this type of exaggeration should be Obama and the flag lapel pin kerfluffle.
"Don't like Ahmadinejad, Summers, or Donald Rumsfeld? There is an exceedingly easy way to "not render their words legitimate," (to paraphrase some of the hysterical commentary on Ahmadinejad's visit): don't listen."
Wow. I feel guilty now; I could have eliminated Rumsfeld's grotesque incompetency in a war by not listening. I could have changed the rather stupid attitude of the president of one of the elite universities of the world by not listening.
The big question is - how can I make a sweet pile of cash by listening/not listening?