I took the most challenging course of my academic career when I was 14. It was a course called Civil War and Leadership. We read (most of) the book, “Battle Cry of Freedom.” Along with a host of other texts that were designed to challenge our assumptions on the Civil War. I didn’t appreciate the sheer difficulty of that course until very recently. We were probably assigned about 1000 pages of reading over the course of three weeks. I don’t think I read every word, but I made a concerted effort to tackle the text with highlighter or pen in hand.
I don’t remember everything we discussed in that class, but I remember that it was a challenge. You couldn’t come to class and not have read the text. One of our teachers was General Josiah Bunting, a former major general. (Even now, I kind of wonder, how the heck did my teacher convince Bunting to spend more than a couple of days in the northwoods of Wisconsin with a bunch of teenagers?) I really didn’t appreciate his wisdom enough.
I thought about that today when I decided to post a tangentially-related political statement. I stopped doing that a while ago because I was sick of the vitriol that bubbled up. I’m not against political discussion, but I’m against the assumption that changing minds and hearts will be as easy as posting an article to Facebook along with the caption “THIS.”
It’s not that easy. We’ve been programmed to think otherwise. I posted a, what believed to be, innocent enough status calling for restraint in casting opinions of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. I know he was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who made some incredibly controversial opinions on things. But can career that spanned five decades be fully analyzed and understood in a facebook post? Unless you’re a passionate follower of SCOTUS blog or a law professor, I’ll look for my analysis elsewhere. Well there will be plenty of discussion on his Obergafell decision, I highly doubt the media (or many people) will talk about his passionate objection to mandatory sentencing guidelines. Well I think Scalia is on the wrong side of history with his objection to gay marriage, I wonder how many lives he changed with his opinion that literally changed federal sentencing guidelines. Thirty years on the Supreme Court does not an easy caricature make. I’m sure the majority of Scalia’s opinions are ones that I would disagree with, but it’s not perfect portrait of a man. We don’t get perfect portraits. Life is too complex.
I didn’t actually even want an analysis of his career. I was just hoping that people would avoid pronouncing what a wonderful thing it was that he was dead. The vacancy does leave things favorable for an agenda that is in-tune with my beliefs, but I think we liberals lose that shred of humanity we claim to have more of when we disregard the humanity of our actions or our words. Especially towards those we disagree with.
A Facebook friend of mine, who I don’t know very well, said that my privilege as a white, heterosexual male, clouded my judgement on the issue. She said my life was not at stake with his decisions. I don’t know her life, but labeling one man as a boogeyman who could storm into her life at anytime and change everything really sells short the complexities of the American political process.
We demand simplicity, soundbites, and listicles. I hope our next president challenges us. If not, I’ll find some thick biography of one who did.