Josh Akman: On the art of disagreement

As the new decade has officially begun, and the countless retrospectives commemorating the last one have mercifully finished, please forgive a final brief observation on the decade that was – it was disagreeable. Flying under the radar among the more exciting descriptions and portrayals of our culture is the undisputable fact that we seem to agree less and less often. From large, generation-defining issues (like health care), to the more mundane, topics (like American Idol), society has had plenty of subjects over which to argue.

On one hand, it’s understandable. The ever-increasing portion of our daily lives spent on the Internet provides a bevy of fun ways to be heard. Polls, blogs, Facebook updates, and tweets abound – it’s never been easier for anyone to say anything at any time. This is all pretty positive for the most part. Ordinary people can have their voices heard in extraordinary ways and, most of the time, this raises the quality of some of our very important debates.

On the other hand, there are times when our propensity to disagree is just too strong. Sometimes – and if you’ll please pardon the cliché – people just agree to be disagreeable. This brings us to recent news: the devastating earthquake in Haiti and the recent unfortunate newsmakers, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. Robertson, an evangelical Christian icon and host of the 700 Club, discussed Haiti’s “deal with the devil” in relation to the earthquake – the earthquake that is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people and completely destroyed Haiti’s capital city.

Limbaugh, of course, is the conservative talk radio host – an icon in his own right. If disagreeing is his business, business has been booming. Rush made headlines by accusing President Obama of using the disaster to his political advantage, “to burnish his credentials with minorities in this country and around the world, and to accuse Republicans of having no compassion.”

Interestingly, we haven’t talked about this much on campus. There has been no campus buzz about these comments, as remarkable and inflammatory as the quotes were. Maybe that’s fine – by not talking about it, we are acknowledging that Robertson and Limbaugh were just trying to be controversial, while talking about the comments would be giving them some sort of tacit acceptance. That may be true. Still, that these things were even brought up says something pretty stark about us.

Robertson’s comments are sad. They’re not just sad because an influential religious thinker attributed a devastating natural disaster in one of the most desperately poor countries in the world to that country’s “pact with the devil.” Limbaugh’s comments are sad, too. They’re not just sad because a prominent political figure manufactured a political debate (which he based on predictably non-existent evidence). They’re sad because of what they say about us – at this point, we can’t even agree on tragedy.

As a society, we can’t even agree on earthquakes. Earthquakes?! Are we okay with this? Some things are debatable. Some stories have two sides. We can disagree respectfully (or at least try to) on health care. We can disagree (I guess…) on global warming. Reasonable scholars can and will continue to disagree on a variety of topics that will define this new decade, and the next one, and the one after that. But earthquakes? I don’t think so.

Can’t Mr. Robertson and Mr. Limbaugh use their ever-growing stages to, if only for one time, be agreeable? Can’t we say, “earthquakes are bad” and leave it at that? Can’t Robertson pray for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, for the city that no longer is, without speculating about its demonic cause? Can’t Limbaugh acknowledge the unbelievably rare situation where all politicians, regardless of ideology, agree: earthquakes are bad, and the United States will do everything it can to help? Thankfully, here at GW, we didn’t even hesitate to help.

I’ll debate on health care. I’ll debate on global warming. I’ll even debate on American Idol. I won’t debate on earthquakes. Neither should anyone else.

The writer, a senior majoring in criminal justice, is a Hatchet columnist.

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