Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.
Last week I had my first run-in with rightwing radio. I was invited to talk with Jesse Lee Peterson during his “reviving manhood hour.”
If you don’t know the name right off, Peterson is most famous for his 2012 quote that women should not have been given the right to vote. Seriously.
I’ve written some anti-rightwing pieces for Salon over the past few months, and I’ve drawn the gaze of (there is no nice way to say this) some of the most insane people who live on the lunatic fringe.
When I was first approached by Peterson’s producer, I e-mailed back to say I didn’t want to be a spectacle or a liberal punching bag. “I am for engaging those with differing opinions,” I wrote, “but I just want to make sure we can have a constructive dialogue.”
Of course when I wound up on the air, my interview was the opposite of constructive.
I was asked to come on the show to talk about the demagoguery of Fox News, but the show was a not-so-subtle excuse to bash me personally. Because I am an atheist, Peterson started off asking where I got my “values” if not from Jesus. I told him from two places: feminism and from my military experience. I hoped juxtaposing the two ideas would open his mind a little, but instead, I discovered he has no mind.
He ignored all talk of my military service and instead zeroed in on my robust embrace of feminism. Then he called me a “woman” in one form or another for the entire hour. At first I laughed, and then I tried to reason. Then, much to my own regret and deep shame, he started getting to me.
I like being both a veteran and a feminist. One of my favorite activities is reminding rightwing people, like Peterson, that I served, because so many warmongers on the right never wore a uniform. I call it the coward/hypocrite duopoly. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Peterson and the like have never worn a uniform but they are always gleeful to watch other people’s children die to ensure America can still push around third-word dictators.
Also, I can be a strong, masculine man and still be a feminist. One of the arguments that most infuriates me is that “real men can’t believe in feminism.” This argument is used to shame men like me, to call us weak or effeminate. It’s an attempt to ignore or discredit us by attacking our masculinity. It’s childish, infuriating, and untrue.
In response, I asked Peterson why he was so afraid to compete against women. Nothing I said or did changed the dynamic of his opinions or woman bashing. I cannot exaggerate how many times he used the phrase “liberal woman” to describe what is wrong with all of America. He seems to hate women more than atheists and Democrats combined.
The state of rightwing media is an American tragedy. I believe in engaging those who disagree with me. My politics have changed over the years, and I’m always examining my own biases, trying to make sure I have it right. In my interview, that made one of us. Now, I’m just angry at myself for being so naïve.
His buffed up masculinity only makes him look weak and fearful, like a child trying to prove his manhood by tearing other people down. He’s the worst kind of playground bully, and no good can come from talking to a person who so hates women and, by extension, his own existence.
As the interview concluded, Peterson also grew tired of me. He let me talk less and less, doing nothing but throwing a so-called “insult” by calling me a woman, while keeping my microphone cut off so I could not interrupt or respond. He came out of commercials, spent several minutes hurling various charges and untruths, while keeping my voice specifically off the air. It is so typical of the losing side, the wrong side, to silence the opposition however possible. It’s why any would-be progressive is better off avoiding these types of venues. It might have gone better if I were there in person, rather than over the telephone.
When a person argues from a desire for understanding, he or she uses phrases like, “I can see why you think that but…” and “I don’t agree with you here, but perhaps…” This was where I started, but by the end of the interview, I, too, had grown more childish. I shaved a good 15 years off my own maturity. I went from rigorous examination of logical fallacies to mocking Peterson’s borderline-psychotic view of religion. The conversation devolved into nothing more than a playground shouting match and ceased to be anything resembling a discussion of ideas.
It was not my finest moment.
After the interview, my sympathetic wife reminded me of the great Mark Twain quote: “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”
You can’t fight hate, stupidity, and chauvinism on their own level. You must rise above. I just haven’t quite figured out how yet. Perhaps next time, instead of insisting that “manly men” can be feminists when I’m called a “liberal woman,” I should just take the accusation for what it is: a compliment.
Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.