Dirty Fighting

When I was a little boy, my mother talked to me about fighting. She knew that some boys were prone to using fists to settle scores. She told me many times, should I ever find myself in a fight, “Don’t fight dirty.” To further explain what she meant, she would add, “No hitting below the belt.” At first this was a mystery to me. I had no idea of the euphemistic nature of “below the belt.” Eventually I learned why it was a bad thing to kick someone in the crotch for any reason, least of all to win a fight. It was wrong to fight dirty. Good boys—good people, for that matter—were clean fighters, if fighting was necessary. 

Or so I was taught. 

As I grew up I learned also that “fighting dirty” applies to other areas of life besides the fistfights of little boys. Lying, cheating, stealing are all forms of dirty fighting used to grab an advantage over an adversary. And then there were other unmistakable facts of life, such as nice guys finish last, and winning is everything. 

Dirty fighting, if it crosses certain boundaries defined by law, is dealt with in the courts. But there is much that goes unchallenged by the masses, and in many cases dirty fighting is encouraged and demanded. I’m not talking about football or hockey. I’m talking about politics—maybe the dirtiest game in town.

Politics is about only one thing: gaining and holding power—the power to control resources. It’s always been about that. Some people who hold power are benevolent and altruistic. They are good statesmen, governors, council members, mayors, representatives, senators, presidents—those who take their stewardship seriously and do the best they can to manage resources wisely for the public good. 

And there are the dirty fighters. The public good is the least of their concerns. Power is primary.

As I watch this presidential election season unfold (not to mention the politics of the last four years), I can’t help but think about my mother’s admonition. There is a lot of dirty fighting going on, a lot of hitting below the belt. 

There hasn’t been much civil discourse, no lively but respectful debate between two sides each with valid but differing points of view. Rather, we’re becoming more and more polarized as one side fights determinedly to shut down the other. Compromise and a willingness to work together for the common good is a weakness, not virtue.

Many people see this election cycle as a battle between good an evil. I agree. All things considered, and speaking broadly, there is a “good” side and a “bad” side. The paradox is, everyone is on the good side, because each one of us with an opinion believes it the correct one. 

I don’t think either of the candidates are bad people per se (some of their supporters, though, are downright evil), but they are caught up in a game that’s impossible to win cleanly. It’s impossible because if either one campaigns with absolute integrity and honesty, running only on his record and proposed policies without attacking the other through the media, he will lose. He will lose A) because his policies and proposals are lacking in substance and common benefit compared to those of his opponent, or B) his opponent will take advantage of his perceived weakness and strike a decisive blow below the belt. So both candidates have to keep up their defenses and strategies of attack. That’s very sad because it muddies the facts for both sides, leaving much of the electorate with emotion as basis for decision-making instead of reason. Ah, yes, but that may be the point after all. 

One of the mightiest weapons in any war is propaganda. Thanks to the Internet, propaganda is easy to spread, and anyone can be a propagandist. So much of what we call “news” is either pure propaganda or entertainment (like a demolition derby is entertainment). Programming is designed to rouse the rabble rather than inform a thoughtful electorate. It’s almost impossible to distill truth and fact from the angry mix of hyperbole, accusations, half-truths, and and full-on lies. Thanks, also, to the perplexing views that money equals speech and corporations are people, wealthy corporations are spending obscene sums of money to create more and more propaganda and even buy elections. 

I don’t have a solution, but there is one way to help sort through the mess. Following sounds of hatred and scorn will lead to the dirty fighters, the ones without integrity and who will stop at nothing to win. I will go in the other direction, toward sounds of reason and thoughtfulness and concern for the common good. My mother would agree that’s the better path.

7 thoughts on “Dirty Fighting”

  1. Paul, I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but you’re right. You want to look away but there is too much attraction. True, too, that what politicians do has a big effect on us. Maybe part of the attraction (and writing about it) rests in the desire to do something about various problems, even with the knowledge that individually we’re powerless.

    TWF, don’t you think the paradox applies to religion, too? Fundamentalists and atheists each believe their view is the right one. Muslims are going to hell because…., Christians are going to hell because…., and on and on. Politics and religion are very close. And some see the melding of the two as necessary and natural whereas others see the separation of the two as an imperative. And the fights rage on.

    Sabio, I suggest you misread my intention. As I said earlier, I admit my bias, but I’m not trying to tell anyone who to vote for. I don’t even intend subtle persuasion.

    But I do think there is right and wrong, good and bad, clean fighting and dirty fighting—which is more to the point of my essay. Clearly I didn’t get my point across. Call it bad writing, but I wanted to make the point without saying Obama is the good guy and Romney is the bad guy and here’s why you should believe me. It’s the qualities I’m talking about not who possesses them.

    Another theme, which I alluded to with my “paradox” statement (which TWF quotes above), but only today did I see it this way (thanks to my musing about how to respond here) is that there are two dynamics at work: people and ideology. Of course, people create ideologies, but once created they become bigger and take on lives of their own. People attach to and identify with their ideologies (political, social, religious) and will fight for them even as they would fight for breath—if breath gives life, ideology gives meaning to life. Perhaps that is why politicians (among others) fight the way they do. When it feels like a life-or-death, clawing out someone’s eyeballs may be instinctive and defensible by those who believe in the same ideology.

  2. Well here is an essay which says politics sucks, to which all chime in and say “Amen”!
    But then the essay boldly, though codedly tells us which side to vote for.
    That was weird to me.
    I mean, if you are going to tell me which side to vote for, respect me enough to give me something substantial instead of sound bites — the politicians give me sound bites. And don’t pass it off as something it is not — that is what politicians do too.
    That was the irony to me.
    Did I misread?

  3. The paradox is, everyone is on the good side, because each one of us with an opinion believes it the correct one.

    I think that’s the crux of the whole issue there.

    In some ways, I think it’s paradoxically true, in that we need the one party to balance the other party in certain times and measures, so they are both on the good side.

    But more to the point of your essay, and in line with what you are really saying here, I think you’re right. It has come to the point when the opposing party must be demonized and cannot be compromised with in order to be successful. It’s all so disgusting. As you say, power is primary.

  4. My theory as to why we follow it, Paul — besides that what the politicians do too often affects us — is that it’s like witnessing the proverbial train wreck. You want to turn away, but you’re so horrified, you sometimes can’t.

  5. Sabio, I left names out intentionally, because this isn’t about promoting one candidate over the other. It’s about the vitriolic and dishonest way politicians go after one another, what that does to the facts, and how it affects the electorate. And it’s about looking to sources of reason and calm instead of hatred and frenzy as a guides to decision-making.

    Admittedly, my bias burned through; and you drew correct conclusions. However, I think an argument can be made that it’s Obama’s policies that lack substance and that it is he who is hitting below the belt with the continued attacks over the Bain thing—both of which I had in mind as I put this together.

    And, yes, I can tell you hate political essays…, well, this one, anyway.

    Paul, I could never be a politician. I haven’t got the instincts or the nerve. Were I to throw my hat in the ring, so to speak, I would be pummeled before it hit the ground, and I would’t know what hit me. Frankly, I don’t even know why I follow this stuff. It doesn’t do me a bit of good.

  6. Politics is pretty close — too close — to humanity at its worse. I had an uncle who was involved with it at the state and national level. He was a lawyer and lobbyist. When I was a young man, he took me aside one day to warn me against going into politics. He said it was a “dirty business” and that I would never be happy if I chose that field.

    I wasn’t in the habit of taking advice back then, but there was something in his tone or manner that made me listen, so I eventually abandoned my plans to get into politics.

    The more I learn about how corrupt politics is, the more I am thankful my uncle advised me well.

  7. Yeah, I agree that people hide behind rhetoric or abuse rhetoric. I read long political essays always trying to figure out the author’s position. Because behind all the rhetoric, as you say, lay the real person’s opinion — why do we have to dig?

    So I hear you saying:

    Romney “will take advantage of [Obama’s] perceived weakness [though he doesn’t have real weaknesses] and strike a decisive blow below the belt.”

    And if people really understood Romney he would “lose because his policies and proposals are lacking in substance and common benefit compared to those of his [Obama].

    You tell us Romney is filthy money and Obama is full of reason, thoughtfulness and concern for the common good.

    Why do people not say what they mean. Your essay is highly ironic in that way.
    So how was this essay suppose to do anything except those in your echo chamber feel good about each other.

    I hate political essays. Can you tell?

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