In these days of choose your side of everything from politics to movies to music to food, the collective inability to have an adult argument has gone awry.
I grew up when simple conflict was met proportionally. Having a spirited debate was a way to hone one's ideas and challenge the ideas of others. There was an element of persuasion involved and a sense that, for the most part, arguing was a sport for edification. Sure, emotions came into play and, if the argument got too heated, people tended to get too personal but there was an agreed upon unspoken set of rules guiding the exchange.
With the unholy combination of the Internet plus the idea that emotional reactions are equal to logical thought (and in some cases more valid than rationality) and a pervasive sense that everyone is trying to get one over on each other, we have lost the ability to argue well.
The sudden scorched earth viciousness of doing everything instantly to destroy someone you disagree with is almost comical if it weren't so stunted and counterproductive. But it works for Trump, so why not, right? Or maybe it doesn't work in the long run as we can see four months into his reign.
It isn't even about arguing anymore. Certainly, two people in a Heineken ad may have serious ideological disputes solved miraculously by a watered down beer, but it is even present in our day-to-day interactions. Traffic disputes go from zero to 120 in seconds flat. An innocuous Internet comment misinterpreted becomes reason for an online campaign of invective that used to be reserved for genuine crime. As we all become more aware of the systemic racial inequity (which we all pretty much knew all along but pretended not to see it) these tirade-laden interplays go straight to DefCon Five dripping with power dynamics and bizarrely angry rhetoric.
You're standing in line behind several people at a McDonald's. It's a lunch rush. The counter person is a black woman, maybe 30 years old, going as fast as she can under the press of people wanting greasy, pink-sludge sandwiches. The man directly in front of you is white and impatient.
"Could you hurry it up, please? I have places to be!" he barks at her. "I mean, really! It's supposed to be fast food, right?!" he looks around at the rest of us for confirmation of this fact. "OK, fat ass," he directs his ire at the counter person. "Can you step it up a bit because I want my food toot sweet! Daddy has places to be and things to do so hop the fuck to it. Don't give me that look! Don't you even... giving me an eye roll? An eye roll? Do they pay you minimum fucking wage to roll that motherfucking eye? Bitch? Get me my fucking FOOD! Where's your manager? I want this bitch FIRED! Right now! I want her removed from my presence and I want my food for free because no one should have to wait [sob] this goddamned long [sniffle, cough] for FAST FUCKING FOOD!"
While most of us would silently seethe at this fucking entitled jackass, there are some who would step in and interject at this vicious, brutal and uncalled for display. There are some who would put a stop to it because the counter person does not deserve this over-the-top bullshit from anyone. Most would just shrug it off or take a video of it to show everyone the big asshole. In this Era of No Decorum or Restraint, however, it seems pretty standard so most would move to shrug. The racial dynamic, however, might give an awful lot pause.
Now, what if:
• The customer was an elderly Latino man and the counter person was a white woman?
• The customer was a white woman and the counter person was an Asian teenage boy?
• The customer was a black woman and the counter person was a white man?
• The customer was a middle aged Asian woman and the counter person was a black man?
Depending on the set up and the identities in play, many readers would change their response to the exchange based upon nothing more than identity bias. Your response depends on whether you have worked in the service industry or not and if you have friends who are of different ethnicities than you. How you excuse the customer's behavior or not is almost completely dependent upon your subjective experience with all the factors in play: the restaurant in question, the ethnicity and gender and age of both actors, your relationship to both being a counter person and a customer.
And yet the behavior is the exact same in every permutation. In every single case, it is the customer who behaves like a brutal attack dog. Every time, it is the customer who goes berserk and yet, some will excuse the behavior if the power dynamic feels off.
Vicious behavior is vicious behavior no matter who does it and for what reason. If a child acts this way, we teach that child not to act this way. Adult, grown-ass people should know better.
If we can't learn to argue with each other without going to extremes, without pulling out the most egregious vitriol, we really do have the president we deserve.