Culture

Missing the Point Has Gone Epidemic

G. K. Chesterton once remarked that many commentators in his day suffered from “the art of missing the point.” That affliction not only survives today—it is epidemic among social and political commentators. And it is often accompanied by bigotry, which Chesterton defined as the “incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.”

A perfect example of both maladies is an exchange between an MSNBC interviewer and Asra Nomani, a political liberal and a Muslim. Nomani tried again and again to express the idea that the response of the political Left to President Trump is overheated and inflammatory; also, that the Muslim community must face the reality that their religion has produced terrorism.

After the reporter kept interrupting her to say she was not answering his questions, and she kept trying to answer, she finally said this:

You’re not allowing me to answer [your questions] as I wish to answer them. And so unfortunately, what is happening right now in our conversation is exactly why Hillary Clinton lost the White House. It’s this inability of those on the left and liberals to have any kind of tolerance for people with other opinions that don’t fit the answers that they want to hear. (See the entire interview.)

The interviewer would no doubt have treated anyone who expressed Nomani’s position the same way, but the fact that she is a liberal Muslim evidently made her answer insufferable. From his narrow perspective neither a liberal nor a Muslim would ever say such things. Thus he could not believe that one was saying them.

Lamentably, missing the point and bigotry are common not only among professional journalists. They have also become standard practice among the twittering class, as ESPN host Sage Steele recently discovered to her dismay.

When President Trump issued his executive order on immigration (see the full text), there were protests at airports around the country, with participants carrying signs like “No Fear, No Hate” and “Muslims are Welcome here.” Many passengers were inconvenienced by the protest, including Steele, who tweeted the following:

So THIS is why thousands of us dragged luggage nearly 2 miles to get to LAX, but still missed our flights . . . My heart sank for the elderly and parents with small children who did their best to walk all that way but had no chance of making their flights. I love witnessing people exercise their right to protest! But it saddened me to see the joy on their faces knowing that they were successful in disrupting so many people’s travel plans. Yes, immigrants were affected by this as well. Brilliant.

Some Twitterers got Steele’s point and responded fairly, such as the person who tweeted: “Didn’t [Steele] say she wasn’t inconvenienced and it wasn’t about her? I don’t get why people keep saying she is complaining about herself.”

But many others in Twitterdom responded by missing Sage’s point and displaying, by Chesterton’s definition, bigotry. Here is a small sampling of those responses:

Mark Ruffalo: “The day the music died”

Rihanna: “America is being ruined right before our eyes.”

Rob Reiner: “Along with liar, racist, misogynist, fool, infantile, sick, narcissist—with the Muslim ban we can now add heartless & evil to DT’s repertoire.”

Emily Rossum: “Refugees are FLEEING TERROR. They are not terrorists.”

Seth Rogen: “I feel its prime effect is persecuting innocent refugees.”

It should be noted that the hashtag for all of these tweets was “muslimban.” Whoever devised that tag obviously did not read the executive order. Nowhere does the word “Muslim” appear in it because it is not about Muslims. Nor is the ban permanent. It will last only until the vetting process can be reviewed and improved.

The epidemic of missing the point and failing to consider alternative views is not only unfortunate but also perilous. Virtually every exchange of ideas among people—including deliberations in legislatures and community organizations, proceedings in criminal justice, classroom discussions, and other exchanges of ideas—depend on participants’ willingness to listen carefully to views that differ from their own, and to treat them fairly. The alternative, as we are witnessing more and more, is social chaos.

Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved


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About the author

Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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