Today I went protesting; the third time I’ve done so. I joined this guy who tried to organize a demonstration to get signatures for a petition regarding Obama’s decision to overturn the moratorium on offshore drilling. As I was the only other person who showed up, we failed to attract much attention; there was the usual slew of people who didn’t know anything about it, a few enthusiastic supporters, some reluctant, unsure signers, and then a few interactive ones, who stopped to argue, discuss, what have you.
At the very end I got off track because I saw a Polisci classmate who I know is extremely conservative/reactionary. In good spirits I called him over and asked him what he thought. His response was that he would rather we drill our own oil that import it from countries that support terrorism. I asked him which countries he was thinking of (curious to see his answer, and I’d always thought drugs were larger sources of revenue for terrorists orgs). He mentioned Iraq and Iran, and went on to say how they funded terrorist like the Palestinian Authority.
Hold up, I said. Explain how the PA is a terrorist organization. After all, it’s the legitimate governing body for the West Bank and Gaza. He went on to outline how Palestine is an illegitimate state, the Arabs were stealing land from Israel, and that they all just shoot rockets to kill Israelis.
Now this guy and I had been in a Foreign Policy course, during which I wrote a briefing book on US policy in the Mideast and the Roadmap, US participation in the peace process as a member of the Quartet, and having read a few dozen CRS reports about it I felt myself fairly knowledgeable on the issue, and told him there’s nobody out there who agrees with him, or who feels that Palestine is an illegitimate state, except maybe John Hagee and some more extreme members of the GOP. Further more, he really offended me because he was suggested that the 5 1/2 million Palestinian refugees “voluntarily relocated” after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. He obviously didn’t have his facts right, and he went back to justify Israel’s claim on the nation to the time of Christ before the diaspora.
If I haven’t been clear before on this, that’s a pretty weak justification for the modern theft of people’s homes. I could have gone on arguing, but I felt that it would do no good; despite the facts I threw at him, our arguments circled around silly analogies and questions of “when’s it ok to say how the borders are set” and his ultimate (conservative) believe that might makes right – literally, when I asked him if the strong decides who owns the land, he agreed. I was incredibly frustrated and annoyed, and I excused myself, very irritated. When later I regretted the way I behaved myself (although I don’t think I was too extreme, and he deserved to have his views torn to shreds) I worried that I had offended him; ignorance begets ignorance, and ferverous argument is no way to educate or enthrall people who simply know no better, and have been eating the lies they’ve always been fed. I found myself in the same area he was a short while later, and came up to apologize. He seemed completely nonchalant; I said “I’m sorry if I offended you, I didn’t mean to be personal or anything.”
Although it seems important to others to play it off as cool, I know that there is nothing they can say anyway. But it’s important for me to also go and make sure that I’m not making myself out to be a jerk, and to humble myself. It’s important to be passionate, and to show respect for the capabilities of others to form their own opinions, but at the same time, if you conduct yourself like a tool, nobody will care what you have to say and nobody will respect you. So I would hope not to offend and alienate, not just my own sake, but for my ideas. However, I think it’s just lost on some people; I’m apologizing to you because I really am not a jerk, but I still vehemently disagree with you. I just don’t want you to think what you probably do think; that I’m scared I hurt your feelings. Hardly. I’m not so worried about that as that I could be capable of it. If I make sure to put myself in that position, it keeps me from becoming unsympathetic and narcissistic. I know I didn’t hurt your feelings so much; if I did, then the apology would be more for your sake. But since I didn’t, the apology is for me, to prostrate myself because it is better not to be proud, when no good was done.