I wonder if maybe I've just chosen opinions guaranteed to keep me aloof, to keep me on the outside. In other words, I wonder if my "politics" (loosely conceived) are really just a means to landing in this peculiar social position?
One of the reasons I half-assedly like Glenn Beck is that he stands on the Lincoln Memorial and says things like, "Speak the Truth, people. Let me tell you, the Truth will set you free -- oh, warning: it'll devastate you first; but it will set you free. Speak the Truth." I like that because I don't speak the Truth. I try to get myself off the hook by remaining deeply interested in concepts that are inherently unspeakable (there can be no duty to speak the unspeakable!), but I feel a sting when Glennbeck says what he says.
So why can't I speak what I think? How bad could it be, honestly? I guess pretty bad, it seems to me. The reason is that to express certain opinions to people who clearly hold different values makes finding a common ground with those people impossible. I have an example that might be useful:
With a topic like abortion, a pro-life person who is unreflective may stand on a stump and make the case that abortion is murder. But a more sensitive person who is, nevertheless, pro-life, might not want to speak about the issue at all for fear of worsening the psychological condition of one of his listeners who, in this case, though he doesn't know it, has had an abortion.
The same delicacy may be required in all kinds of circumstances, then: if the cultural position you are angling against will feel your counter-position as a reproach, then--if you are sensitive to the feelings of others--you may choose to bite your tongue.
This strange structure: where the position is so profoundly ethical that it refuses to indict those who hold different values. This group is easily "framed" as a judgmental, standoffish bunch. Because, well, there always is one ass who holds a poster of an aborted fetus and shouts about murder through a megaphone. So then what you have is a whole "side" (pro-choice) willing to impugn the character of what they perceive to be the other side... and another side that may consist of 90% silent non-judgers and 10% insensitive jerks.
Abortion is not my topic here. I'm talking about everything from work ethic to speech patterns to attitudes toward government and neighbors and so on.
I just find this to be an interesting phenomenon -- this is a fascinating structure to me. It may even be that you bite your tongue so as not to offend me. Perhaps you believe I shouldn't be so something, but you know that any repudiation would hurt my feelings, and so the conversation that might've ensued remains unspoken.
So: don't name the case, but: am I alone in noting this duty-to-silence?
Case in point: the other day I was in the car driving to lunch with some liberal arts colleagues. A piece came on NPR about the upcoming Glenn Beck event. "I heard one of them saying the other day, 'these are some of the finest people on the planet gathered here.' There's no racial tinge to that claim (inflected with dripping sarcasm)." And then another rejoined, "Yes, I think that's the only explanation for this energy: they keep saying, 'Our country has been taken away from us,' and it seems clear that they are simply motivated by racism. There's no other possible motive, honestly -- I mean, what has been taken away from them?" And another: "Yes, well, look at the demographics: not a black face in the crowd tomorrow, I bet." Then the second one spoke again: "The closest I know to a Tea Partier is my brother in law. He was raised in a situation where he had everything he needed; he's never really worked hard; and he simply doesn't want to see the American Dream extended to people who don't look like him." The first said, "These Libertarians are just unthinking and dogmatic--it's best to just ignore that discourse. I think the Democrats shouldn't pay any attention to it." Then the second speaker continued, a moment later: "The new hire in the history department has very problematic politics. He did his dissertation on Eastern European finance and his economics are practically laissez-faire. I was on the committee, and I voiced serious concerns." "Really?," my other (liberal arts!!!) colleagues lamented: "How does someone get through a serious program and still think like that?"
The closest you know to a tea partier, by the way, is sitting in your back seat, afraid to speak, for realistic fear of losing his job.