Americans dismiss big ideas over small disagreements

Sasan Kasravi, Opinions editor

A small blog dedicated to reviewing bands by whether they are politically, racially and sexually insensitive, recently reviewed my favorite band.

On a scale of “awful or not awful” their verdict was, “NOT AWFUL/SORT OF GREY AREA,” because a single picture showed one of the musicians wearing a shirt of a band known to have extreme political views.

The Finnish musician in question, responded to the blog clarifying that he doesn’t share any extreme political views with the band whose shirt he wore, but more interestingly, he fired back for even having to defend his band against the political views of people whose music he was musically influenced by.

In his attack, he criticized the blog for being, “the epitome of American inquisition.”

The more I thought about this national jab, the more I’m led to believe it has a lot of truth to it.

Americans, more than any other people that I am aware of, have a tendency to look for one negative trait in a person which they can use to dismiss the person’s actions and ideas entirely, especially if that negative trait is political.

Movies are a good example of how pervasive this trend is. Because it’s so important to the screenwriters that everyone likes and cheers for their main character, characters have to adhere to modern ethical standards, regardless of where and when they are placed.

In “The Patriot” Mel Gibson’s South Carolinian farmer character, anachronistically frees a few slaves in his down time while fighting in the American Revolution.

If the movie showed Mel Gibson on a farm that had slaves on it, it wouldn’t matter what his character did for the fight for independence from the British, none of us would like his character.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with films doing this, in itself.

It’s a convenient tool for screenwriters and it acknowledges America’s ethical shortcomings while encouraging us to keep fighting against things like racism today.

But, though it feels  movies are different from reality and American films tend to reinforce the notion that either a person manages to adhere to perfect ethical standards else they’re simply a villain.

More realistically, almost all people important in our history fail in some way to adhere to our better modern ethical standards.

Thomas Jefferson fails that test for having owned hundreds of slaves, but his contributions to democracy are nonetheless worth praising and studying.

Mother Teresa was known to have endorsed various fascist dictators.

Even Gandhi once led a campaign to cleanse India of homosexuals.

Until we learn to separate people’s actions and beliefs into parts we won’t have very many people left to admire, whether that means listening to their music or learning from their politics.

A big part of the problem is that we naturally look for role models who we can try to style ourselves by entirely, which I don’t think would be a good thing to do even if it were easier.

But I think a major reason America is uniquely affected by this trait is of its relatively short and stable political history.

As it stands, American political values are similar enough currently to when they were first founded to allow Democrats and Republicans alike have an easy time believing that the founding fathers shared their same values and principles.

By contrast, most non-Americans have a harder time looking at their history and believing that the people in it were just like them.

Many other nations were just recently monarchical, fascist or communist, or still observe traditions before they were Christianized, Islamicized or colonized.

Even looking far back in European literature, Beowulf was written by Christians who at once condemn the characters for being pagan heathens yet admire their deeds nonetheless.

Non-Americans are much better practiced in admiring some aspects of a person while condemning others, simply because they have to in order to maintain much of a cultural identity.

We as Americans should challenge ourselves to be slower to dismiss art, political ideas and the like because of some irrelevant thing we dislike about the person putting them forward.

It would only serve to better expand the range of good ideas we’re exposed to and sharpen our skills of directly refuting bad ideas.