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A ‘No Flame Pledge’ for Progressive Change

Like any other politically passionate, web-trolling denizen I post to blogs all the time. But since starting ChangeAny1Thing, I’ve made a personal pledge to avoid flaming anyone on line. If we’re to have the progressive changes we so desperately need – and for which this site exists to help spur on – flaming supposed “enemies” is not the way. So I’m committed to conducting myself online as I would in person.

Tell me then what I should do when I come across a line like this during a “friendly chat” over at In These Times:

“The Afghanistan/Iraq wars have been the most successful military efforts undertaken by the USA since WWII, and have resulted in minimal American casualties, minimal civilian casualties, and rank right down there with the French and Indian Wars as the least expensive wars in American history. “

I mean how does one respond to such nonsense? In my case it was with about 500 clever, sharp, biting words. I wrote so fast my fingers were falling off.

But I didn’t send it. I saved it to my desktop and then the next day I deleted the thing. It’s like that rule about nasty emails to your friends or co-workers when you’re angry: You write them out, save them as a draft, but the next day they go in the trash. Keeps your friendship – or your job – alive.

And if we hope to see the Web as an instrument for progressive change I’m suggesting that we all take this same pledge. Tossing flames across political blogs is like screaming at the car that cuts you off; the distance makes you brave. But bump into someone at a store and right away you’re friendly, polite and apologetic. It’s the difference between building community versus social disorder.

So here we are in the cold and physically distant blogosphere, tossing snarky barbs from the safety of our PCs at the “idiot winger” online. Honestly, where’s that get us? It’s a progressive-change dead-end. I think it’s killing the Web as a place to share and learn about grass-roots, up the front the bottom, progressive ideas. It’s really got to stop.

I’m not suggesting some kind of “fair and balanced” rule here. Those are reactionary code words designed to stand in the way of change. I’m talking about something much more subtle. It’s finding a way to move beyond our own internal, knee-jerk ideology towards a more open-minded strategy, because God knows we need new ideas.

So when I post at other sites – and I do this all day, it’s like an addiction – I’m trying to chuck the easy arrogance that comes from anonymity. I don’t think I’m going to change someone’s opinion with clever insults and nasty names anyway. And how do I know my position is “right”? I used to think “everyone else is asleep, I know History, I know what’s real”. But I don’t agree even with half the things I myself once thought. Who’s to say everyone else is wrong, all the time?

The concept of being stuck to an ideological position – Marxist vs. Capitalist, Stalinist vs. Trotskyist, Democrat vs. Republican — it’s all about being stuck in a place. And the result is that nothing ever changes. You can still be open to new ideas without leaving your core beliefs behind. I still have core beliefs, my basic values and I’m sticking to them. When it comes to how we’ll get a world based on those values (fairness, compassion, respect, community, democracy, in my case) – I’m open. I think we all ought to be.

It’s a new century, after all. You can see a progressive awakening all over. You can see it in the natural food sections cropping up in the supermarket, in the new environmentalism, in the sustainability movement, even some elements of the evangelical crowd are acting like they’ve rediscovered The Beatitudes, the original progressive’s platform. I see it even in myself, when I realized hours after leaving the primary voting booth that I’d just voted for my first black presidential candidate, and race hadn’t even entered – in any form – into my decision. This is cool stuff; we’ve come pretty far.

But we’re not there yet, not by a long shot. Now more than ever we need passionate communicators to bring progressive ideas into the world to move the greater community beyond worn out, dug-in, ideological positions holding back true social change. “lib” vs. “repug”, “us” vs. “them” – these belong in the past. An open mind is the path of true social change.

Listen: I just found out that my “FOX-is-Right,” Limbaugh-listening, hate-all-liberals co-worker is thinking seriously of voting for Obama in November. So maybe anything’s possible, after all.

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February 21, 2008   |  Filed Under Blog, Political   |    Permalink

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