This isn’t about Matt Walsh. Not really.
We could just as easily talk about any number of blustering voices on talk radio or cable news or behind the pulpits of many churches. But right now the conversation is about Matt Walsh and the latest profoundly ignorant thing he wrote. So let’s talk about Matt Walsh.
Matt Walsh is a tattooed twenty-something with a computer and internet access. He runs a very popular blog where he offers what he calls “absolute truths (and alpaca grooming tips)” and what other people call “a big steaming pile of bullshit”. (I tend to agree with the latter.)
Matt writes about all sorts of current events and cultural issues from what could generously be described as a conservative / Christian perspective. Gay marriage, pornography, suicide, racism – there’s no topic too controversial for Matt Walsh to tackle. And “tackle” is an apt description for how he enters the public discourse; “tact”, “restraint”, and “compassion” are not in his lexicon. In addition to being rather abrasive, Matt Walsh is also wrong about literally everything.
This hasn’t stopped his blog from exploding in popularity in the past year. Despite my best efforts, I see another one of his monuments to ignorance come across my screen every few days. Apparently there are a quite a few people in the world who appreciate what he has to say.
Matt Walsh is not a monster. In fact, he’s probably a nice guy. He likely treats his wife and daughter well. He might even be fun to hang out with. (My apologies to all of you who were rushing to the comments section to dismiss this as an ad hominem attack. Come back.)
But the things that Matt Walsh writes are consistently ignorant, arrogant, and offensive. Let’s talk about why that is:
Our minds don’t like change. They resist it like a disease, doing everything they can to avoid the discomfort of adjusting our own perspectives on how the world works. So when we are confronted with a new idea, or a narrative that challenges our preconceptions of the world, our first visceral reaction is often to reject it. A mature, open-minded individual will move past that impulse and allow the new information to shape their understanding. Matt Walsh sets up camp at that first defensive impulse, bottles it, and sells it on the internet. His entire schtick consists of casually dismissing any idea that might challenge his worldview, without honestly engaging it. There’s quite a market for that sort of thing. Our minds crave the comfort we get when someone confidently reassures us that everything we believe is already right. Matt supplies a steady stream of that reassurance, and people eat it up. It’s the same as what’s being sold on most of talk radio and cable TV.
This is difficult. I get it.
I’ll be honest – my mind is constantly resisting new ideas. When I listen to the stories of trans* persons, when I read feminist perspectives, when I hear critiques of racism in America – my straight white male ego doesn’t want to hear it. I want to close the computer, walk away, stop listening. Sometimes I do.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. But it’s the only way to grow as a human being. It’s also the only way to not become a blogger whose words are a festering sore on the asscheeks of the internet.
On any every topic he addresses, Matt Walsh writes with an astounding lack of empathy that reduces people to issues, an intentional ignorance that refuses to be educated, and a heaping pile of arrogance that will not consider the possibility of any other reality in this great big world other than his own ideas and experiences.
So how can we avoid becoming Matt Walsh? I have a few ideas:
Get some empathy.
I’m convinced that empathy is the single most important thing in the world. Empathy is what happens when you love your neighbor as yourself. And empathy is what will enable you to see those around you as actual human beings – not just ideas and issues.
But empathy is hard. It requires you to suspend your own experiences and try to see life from somebody else’s experience. Do it anyways.
I once heard somebody say that the more wisdom you have, the more you realize how little you know. There’s probably something to that. The more you learn, the less you should trust what you’ve learned. The universe is a big place. We’re each just a speck on the very edge.
Write. Argue. Discuss. Believe. But do it all with an open mind, with open hands, constantly acknowledging that you’re possibly, probably wrong about a lot of stuff.
Nobody expects you to know everything. Nobody expects all your views to be right. But if you’re going to write about a subject, take the time to really understand it. Don’t just dissect it so you can dismiss it. Don’t just listen to everything the people on TV say about it. Embrace it. Hold it. Understand it. Let it change you.
New ideas are scary. Explore them anyways.
Read blog posts by people who make you uncomfortable. Read books by people whose skin color is different from your own. Follow people on Twitter whose names you can’t pronounce. Instead of dismissing angry activists, listen to why they’re angry. Instead of trying to prove why you’re right, consider whether you might be wrong.
And for the love of everything good, don’t go writing a blog post about trans* people or suicide victims or sex workers or immigrants or feminists or African Americans if you haven’t made an honest-to-god effort to understand their lives and the shit they face. Just because we’re straight white middle-class males doesn’t mean our perspectives on the world are right. In fact, it means there’s probably a whole lot of human experience we don’t know shit about.
So this is a good time to shut up and listen.
Please. Shut up.
(Also, stop making empty promises about alpaca grooming tips.)
published August 13, 2014
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