We’re destroying the planet!
Democrats hate traditional families!
They’re trying to brainwash our kids!
If we don’t fight them there, we’ll have to fight them here!
Honestly, I think all of those statements could have been done with a few more exclamation points. The urgency with which these statements are so often spoken borders on complete panic. Every difference of opinion, every change in policy, every legitimate warning sign and every election cycle is an invitation to indulge our talent for hyperbole. The President and his presumed Republican rival this fall are falling over themselves to outdo the other prognosticating disaster should the other be elected.
This habit crosses all ideological lines, though, and I admit I may be biased, I see it a lot more coming from self-described conservatives than from liberals. It gets people worked into a lather and drawing lines in the sand. It encourages us to view those that disagree with us as enemies to be destroyed at all costs because the cost of giving in, just a little are just too terrible to imagine. Even when there is cause for great concern we take it that step further and make discourse that much more difficult.
The first example is a great case in point. I understand that the way we get our energy, the materials we use to build with, the means by which we grow our food and a million other aspects of the industrial world are bad for the environment. I stand well to the left of most people on these issues. We are on the road to making this world unlivable for ourselves. We are not, however, destroying the planet. We likely cannot even destroy it for other life, even in a full nuclear holocaust. By all means, be concerned, there is ample cause, but when you give into an exaggeration like this, and are very animated in delivering it, then you provide the people who either have a financial interest in maintaining the status quo or those who do not wish to see the writing on the wall the straw man argument to hang on us. Why do their work for them? I should note, most serious organizations (Sierra Club et al.) do not do this, but many of their fans do.
Beyond this, though, we also inflict a sort of fatigue when it comes to public policy discussions. After a while the constant state of emergency we manufacture for ourselves wears us out and we do not want to discuss anything with each other. Someone may come to us with an honestly good idea and we do not care to hear it because dammit we’ve heard it all already.
I know I can get worked up about things. I am a very passionate person and I do not suffer the willfully ignorant gladly. So it may seem odd that I would finally note that besides all the practical reasons for avoiding this tendency to fall into exaggeration, this habit of hysteria, there is also the consideration of it just being plain mean-spirited. We are better people than this. Turning our neighbors into the “other” over disagreements is beneath us, and I think if we step back, take a breath and think on it, we will all realize that.