An argument I had with my father in the car while he was being kind enough to drive me to Media where I was meeting with friends to surprise my best friend with a graduation dinner has been weighing on my mind. My father is 64 years old and with me turning 31 in May, it should come as no surprise to me that we've had the same argument as we always have had since I stopped going to church, went out into the real world, and found that things I'd heard at home and church didn't jive with my experiences. Still, the argument has been bugging me and I think it's time to write it all out in hopes it will make some kind of sense, that I'll glean some kind of wisdom in hopes of either avoiding more of the same in the future, though I'm not hopeful.
To start, having a "serious discussion" is like reading a James Joyce novel. He's completely stream-of-consciousness and full of non sequiturs. You can imagine this inherent quality about my dad makes "serious discussions" difficult. My brother has had better success, mostly because he's proven to be more patient than I am, though similar political and religious points of view also aid him in those conversations. I'm the black sheep. The "evil liberal". Makes me want to buy a black cowboy hat and wear it at family functions. Heh.
Somehow, we came to the issue of climate change. I don't remember how or why and really it's not all that important as to how the discussion came about, but that it did. Before I jump down the rabbit hole again, I'll say that my usual tactic of telling him "I don't want to discuss politics" line has not been working. He'll continue to talk, even if I don't answer. Lately, though, he's found a new and very passive aggressive line or two that really gets me. If he were at least trolling me, I would be able to laugh it off, but he's not. He's serious. His response to my "don't wanna talk about it, dad" is either a variant of "You'll see" or "I guess we can't have serious discussions."
No, I won't "see" and no, we can't have serious discussions.
Why? Because in the course of this "discussion" about climate change, he revealed that he thinks global warming is a giant conspiracy by evil liberals who only want to tax everyone and take their money (because "look at Cypus")... to, I guess, do evil liberal things. Not anything new for people here, I'm sure, but just listening to it come from my father was surreal. The insanity continues to become more surreal to me. It's one thing to read it on a page while at work, it's another to experience it in person, much less from a loved one.
(Continued under the squiggle.)
Dad had Hannity on the radio, who at the time was butt-hurt over Jim Carrey's Funny or Die video and then his subsequent criticism of Fox News (which had me laughing) and he continued to go on a rant to try to belittle the actor's work because... I don't know; that's what a bully does when they have no reasonable argument to make. Nothing new there. I thought for a brief moment that my dad might have some shred of sanity left when he said aloud that Hannity was being too harsh, as he finds Jim Carrey funny. Nope. Those hopes were quickly dashed in the climate change argument that sprang forth.
I had spent some time trying to think of a way to explain climate change to my dad in a simple way that anyone could understand. Considering even I don't understand the full science behind it (and am working on changing that) as it's very complex and I haven't studied environmental science since college, I went for a simplistic analogy. My dad loves to say it's "global cooling" and therefore, global warming is proven to be part of a conspiracy. Furthermore, "what's the big deal about one or two degrees warmer?" mentality pervades the "serious discussion" as well. Again, not new arguments from a Tea Partier, but that's what I have to deal with, so I decided to use the human body as an example.
I barely was able to get into my analogy before it was shot down. I wanted to tell him that climate change was much like the fluctuations in body temperature, particularly when a human gets sick. A fever of +2 degrees isn't life threatening, but certainly uncomfortable and miserable. A fever of +4 is serious and anything higher than that it becomes life threatening. Not difficult to understand. Symptoms of a fever include chills and sweating - efforts of the body to cool itself. I figured that could be likened to the "global cooling" my dad likes to crow about. Incidentally, I think the analogy works in the opposite direction. The body gets colder, we start entering into hypothermia and we die. Basically, the point is that body temperature is important to keep at the right temperature for a person to function and thrive, much like the planet. I think the analogy is sound. I'm not trying to explain the complex science of climate change, but at this rate, with all the Rush Limbaugh fueled thinking my dad has become entirely brainwashed to, I have to begin at the very basic beginning before being able to move forward because he can't even agree that changes to an ecosystem can be devastating.
"No, no... no, that's not a good analogy," he said when I barely launched into my analogy.
"Why?" I asked.
"It's just not a good analogy." My dad was frowning and narrowing his brows. He wouldn't give me reasons why it wasn't a good analogy. If he could have at least told me why he thought it wasn't good, then we could talk about it. But no, shot right down. I was frustrated. Perhaps I should have persisted, but I just wanted to get to my friend's surprise dinner, as it was a fish and sushi place and I was hungry.
Again, I don't remember how the conversation continued. But I suppose it jumped off from his short conspiracy rant about evil liberals out to take everyone's money. I knew that was all fueled by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. I have said many times before that Rush Limbaugh and Fox News were a bunch of idiots. I may have said it again in this conversation, I don't remember. I did, however, ask him, "Who would you want to be your general practitioner who diagnosed your symptoms and prescribed medicine when you were sick: an actual doctor or Rush Limbaugh?" He refused to answer, saying it "wasn't a good question", but this time I kept pressing. He finally relented with "Not a liberal." I rolled my eyes.
Aside from the evil liberal conspiracy to steal everyone's hard earned money, he had said that it was already 'proven' that it was a hoax because of the email leak onto the internet. Nevermind that it was debunked that there was any kind of conspiracy of scientists working to withhold information about climate change. That doesn't matter in the world of the Fox News bubble. Another hurdle to jump over in this "serious discussion" that I didn't bother to address at the time.
"You must think I'm an idiot," he said to me after a short silence. I thought the "serious discussion" was over. He clearly sounded upset to me and I realized I needed to be careful in my answer because honestly, I do. I think he's a fucking idiot for being duped by these assholes, but at the same time I know well enough what a cult mentality does to an otherwise perfectly reasonable and intelligent person. (My dad's been listening to Rush since the 1990's and watching Fox News ever since he finally broke down and got cable in 2001.) But I also didn't want to hurt my father's feelings. Maybe I should have. He's a grown man that should be able to handle criticism, but I've learned that he's not good at handling it at all.
"No, I just don't understand why you listen to stupid people," I replied. My answer was received with his usual line of defense for Rush: that he has millions of listeners, as if having "millions" of listeners is somehow indicative of intelligence. I rolled my eyes and said basically said something along the lines of "So what?"
But in getting angry, as I've also learned that I have a similar temper as my dad, I turned the question on him. "You must think I'm the fucking idiot that can't make decisions for herself or reason for herself since you know I'm a liberal." My thinking was he'd give me a similar answer as I gave him. That being a father, he'd tread carefully, even if he did think I was an idiot who couldn't think for herself, he'd not say so for the sake of my feelings.
He didn't say a word in regard to my question and continued on his rants.
It had a delayed response in me. I was frustrated over the crap he was regurgitating, but then I realized: he must really think I'm stupid and fooled. It brought up old hurts in many arguments we had when I used to live there while I was in school. Namely, that paying any money toward my higher education was a "waste." I thought he had said it out of anger, as he often apologizes later for losing his temper (but only for losing his temper.) I actually got teary in the car and was glad that I had sunglasses on. I thought, maybe he wasn't listening (which isn't really any better) or anything else that the silence could have meant other than, "Yes, you're an idiot who can't think for herself and only listens what evil liberals tell you." (How ironic.)
I can assure you I've been too strong willed and independent to be told what to do. Maybe that's why I couldn't stomach hearing Rush Limbaugh in the house any longer and stopped going to church when church and politics had meshed into a political-religious Frankenstein's monster.
It's heartbreaking, really. "I guess we can't have serious discussions." No, we can't have them, dad. I thought that it was because he was so brainwashed with conspiracy theory that it would be near impossible to break through it all. I could try, but my question then becomes "What's the point?" It would be a ton of work on my part only to have the goal posts moved every time. Why should I subject myself to that? But it's more than just breaking through the conspiracy theory. If he can't respect the fact that I'm an intelligent woman and acknowledge that I am, then anything I say has no merit in his point of view. It makes "serious discussion" completely futile.
Always the one to get the last word in, my brother (the middle one of three younger brothers) came over to drop off a few things and with a tired, very deadpanned expression (not uncommon for this brother), he says, "Dad wants this back" and handed me a New York Post article. It was that Rich Lowry article twisting Dr. Hansen's work. I still have this article sitting on my desk and I'm unsure if I should respond to my dad or even give it back. Do I give up in my efforts to get through to him that we can at least agree that "if" climate change were "true" then therefore it would be bad for the earth and therefore human life? Do I just not bother and wait for the next "serious discussion" ambush? How does one even begin to cut through the layers of bullshit that decades of brainwashing has instilled in a 64 year old man? How do I do this in a respectful and persuasive manner? Is that even possible?
I'm not sure where to start or if I even want to.