I’m not a big fan of name-calling, at least in a public forum.
My opposition stems not so much from the fact that it’s rude, but a belief that it’s bad strategy. When you call someone a wingnut or a fascist or some other derisive name, they are going to be less inclined to listen to you and more inclined to call you names, leading to a vicious cycle of name-calling. You see this all the time in the media or on the Internet — incensed people, screaming past each other.
I’m not sure how to solve this problem, but the least I can do is not participate in it.
However, I’m only human and occasionally a situation arises where name-calling seems not only appropriate, but imperative.
Like the emergence, last week, of the so-called Sandy Hook “truthers.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of them — the people who think the Sandy Hook shooting was an elaborate hoax engineered by the media, government and a large cast of duplicitous actors, as part of a strategy to drum up support for gun control.
One of the truthers’ main targets is Gene Rosen, the Newtown man who took in six scared schoolchildren on the morning of the shooting and is now receiving phone calls and emails accusing him of lying and asking him how much money he is being paid.
The Sandy Hook truthers get my blood boiling.
They are insane. And stupid. And hurtful. And bad.
I see no need to listen to them, or try to understand them or learn about their crazy conspiracy theory. I’m sorry, but these aren’t people you can have a meaningful dialogue with and I don’t want to nod politely while some unhinged lunatic explains how the deaths and funerals of 20 first-graders and six adults were faked. The only thing I want to do when it comes to the Sandy Hook truthers is call them names. In fact, I can’t think of enough names to call them.
I feel similarly about the 9/11 truthers and Holocaust deniers, and I suspect that most people share my feelings. These are fringe movements and they will rightly remain so. And while it’s disturbing that anyone would lend credence to these repugnant ideas, conspiracy theorists are nothing new.
For instance, there are people who think the moon landings were faked.
In 2002 astronaut Buzz Aldrin was confronted by moon landing conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel, who called him a coward and a liar; the 72-year-old responded by punching him in the face.
And while I don’t condone violence, this seems like a perfectly appropriate response.
It isn’t just conspiracy theorists who make me feel like calling people names.
I spent Christmas in Maine, and while I was there the newspaper ran a story on a 24-year-old man who carried an assault weapon through several downtown Portland neighborhoods on Christmas Eve.
This frightened people and the police were summoned, but because Maine allows people to carry guns openly without a permit or a license the officers were unable to examine the weapon or question the man carrying it. According to the paper, the man was an “open-carry activist” — someone who walks around openly armed, often in an unlikely place such as an urban center, as part of an effort to educate people about Second Amendment rights.
I’m fine with Second Amendment rights, but I have a real problem with open-carry activists.
They seem to think that the world revolves around them and that complete strangers should be able to look at them and understand instinctively that they’re good guys from whom there is nothing to fear. Unfortunately, I am not a mind reader and if I saw someone carrying a Bushmaster AR-15 through a busy city, I would immediately turn around, head in the opposite direction and contact the police to let them know that an unhinged lunatic might be walking the streets.
Which seems like a totally normal response — one that would likely be accompanied by some vicious name-calling.
I’m not completely sure why the open-carry activists make me so angry.
Perhaps I just find it difficult to be tolerant and understanding of a movement whose adherents have seemingly given no thought to the fear and anxiety the mere sight of a gun can provoke. Or maybe they have given it some thought and don’t care. All I know is that I’m not inclined to be polite when I discuss open-carry activists. These are not hunters heading off into the woods, or gun buyers loading their latest purchases into their cars, but really weird people who need to find some other hobbies — preferably hobbies that don’t involve going out into public and intimidating their fellow citizens.
I also call people names in private, probably more than I should.
For instance, just yesterday I was wondering whether Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame football player with the fake dead girlfriend, is a bad guy who perpetuated a self-serving hoax or just the world’s dumbest person. Then I referred to Lance Armstrong as a jerk and wondered about the collective intelligence of all the sportswriters who persisted in believing in him long after it was obvious he was a liar and a fraud.
In fact, it now seems clear that almost everything I read or hear inspires me to call someone a name. This is a bad habit, and I’m not sure what to do about it.
But perhaps limiting my Internet use would be a good start.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.