I’ve long been locked in a quandary. Due to certain circumstances, I am often on the receiving end of the most appalling rightwing glurge. I know some of you, my friends, have a similar problem. This stuff ranges from the merely insipid to the racist, the sexist, and the appallingly regressive. And whenever I find these things in my inbox, I want to protest. But I never have.
Why don’t I? It’s partially politeness. It’s partially an unwillingness to vent the torrent of my spleen on sweet little old people, however wrong-headed. We are taught, after all, to respect our elders. They’ve lived and suffered and so on and so forth. But isn’t this just a sort of ageism? If a 30-year-old sent me this, wouldn’t I feel honor-bound to tell him or her off? Are we really respecting our elders, or are we assuming their brains are atrophied, their ideas are fixed, and they are so intractable that hearing their worldview challenged will harm them?
I don’t think older people are feeble-minded, stupid or inflexible. I know and love a woman who changed her political party in her 70s, after all. So can I in all conscience say that I am respecting these other elders by being dishonest?
It’s a hard question for me, all the harder because if I upset them, I’m not the only one who’s going to have to deal with the fallout. I have been trying to deal with it by ignoring and not reading, but occasionally I fail, or I assume something will be innocuous that actually contains a subtextual cylinder of nerve gas. The attitudes and strictures that are being so gleefully embraced and trumpeted are not new. They’re as old as fear, conformity, and the valuing of comfort over individuality and liberty. They are nestled down deep into psyches and hearts, protected by layers of religion and social convention. There is nothing I can do to budge them or fight them. But don’t I owe it to myself to protest? Wouldn’t I like someone to tell the footsoldiers of orthodoxy that we aren’t all like them? Wouldn’t I like that someone to be me?