August 12, 2002
Another thing familiarity can breed

The never-ending debate over which side of the political spectrum is more likely to engage in ad hominem name-calling is raging anew. Reynolds started one such conflagration in the comments on this post, while Will Vehrs points to an entry of Bill Quick's. I'm sure there's more of this going on, but I have no desire to look at this sort of thing any more than I have to.

This argument will never end. It will never end because each side sees their own and the other through a filter. That filter is common cause - Us versus Them, if you will. When someone says that the Other Guys use invective and insult more than My Guys do, they're stating a tautological belief that My Guys are better, more honorable, nicer, dress better, tip better, dance better, and make better parents, than Their Guys.

Many moons ago, I was on a mailing list that contained a couple of obstreporous members. These two people - I'll call them T and G - often got into catfights about which of them was the more obnoxious. Whenever this happened, T would inevitably start whining that the rest of us always sided with G because we'd known G for a lot longer (many of us had gone to school with G). T regularly claimed that we let G get away with behaviors that we'd have excoriated T for.

Fact is, T was right. We did let G slide on a lot of things that we yelled at T for, and it was because we had a much longer history of friendship and beer-drinking with G. We'd always known that G could be a king-sized butthead, and that G's argument style was basically "admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter-accusations". When called on it, our response was generally "well, yeah, but that's just G. G has always been like that."

What T never understood was that this was a perfectly fair way for us to judge them. We had common cause with G by virtue of our long acquaintance. We'd been to G's house, we'd been to G's wedding. G had built up a sizable store of good will that T didn't have and was never going to have. To this day, while many of us will agree that G said a lot of obnoxious things on that mailing list, we have a lot more dislike and contempt for T. (It should be noted that even people who were never on this list but met T in real life thought that T was a jerk. Not that this lessens G's culpability, but our good will for G wasn't the only reason we were harsh on T.)

It's the same thing here. People have more good will for those who sit on the same side of the political aisle as they. They shrug off or minimize when their fellow travellers commit the kind of sins that they deplore in the opposition. It's just human nature to do so. I do it all the time.

As someone once said, there are two things that are universal: Hydrogen and stupidity. There's no exemption for fellow believers in a political philosophy. I expect this will have the same extinguishing effect on this argument as a bucket brigade has on a Colorado wildfire, but I think it's worth noting anyway.

(Footnote: As far as I know, neither G nor T has a blog. They cannot be found in my blogroll or anywhere else in my blog. I've never mentioned either of them in this space before.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 12, 2002 to Other punditry

If I end up being mistaken for the "G" by people who don't know the individuals involved, I am gonna be mucho cranky, Chuck. ;)

Posted by: Ginger on August 12, 2002 1:30 PM

For the record: Ginger is not the G in question.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 12, 2002 1:50 PM

And I ain't G, either.

"As someone once said, there are two things that are universal: Hydrogen and stupidity." I certainly don't know who originally coined it, but the person I'm most familiar with having popularized it, at least, and whom I've most often seen it attributed to, and whom I believe I first heard it from, is Harlan Ellison.

Posted by: Gary Farber on August 12, 2002 6:43 PM