Giving the Finger

Though my mother tended not to hold her fellow motorists in high regard, I have no recollection of her expressing her displeasure by giving the finger.

Times changed, as did modes of self-expression, exemplified by an unfortunate episode in which I inadvertently gave the finger to a carload of nuns some decades ago. To be clear, I gave the finger quite intentionally but I did not know the offending motorists had taken the vows. They responded – as one — by making the sign of the cross, thus winning the day.

I reflect on this because of a conversation the other night with a fellow who makes campaign commercials for Republican candidates. He made a special point of saying they were moderate Republicans.

He observed that the level of political discourse – especially online – had declined precipitously and, in the course of that conversation, I asked, “have you ever seen pedestrians give each other the finger?”

We agreed that we had not and we attributed the difference between automotive finger giving and pedestrian non-finger giving to the sense of safety provided by two important features of automobiles: a considerable amount of surrounding steel; and high escape velocity. Neither of these is a notable feature of pedestrians.

This led us to ask why people seem to feel that Facebook and Twitter are more like being in cars than being on foot especially when it comes to politics.

What happens when participants in an online flame war see each other in person or does this never happen?   Would they continue to shout at each other as they did online or would they moderate their conversation as might befit a pedestrian encounter? We did not know the answer.

We agreed that virulent political discourse was likely unhelpful to governing though it is clearly a favored means of attention getting.

Perhaps this sheds some light on the relative importance of governing and attention getting in politics?

Is there a chance that Kathy Griffin’s remake of Judith beheading Holofernes has set a floor beneath the lowest permissible level of political conversation?

I doubt even my mother would have held up the bloody head of the President although, by now, she would surely have been giving the finger. Even to nuns.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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12 comments

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  • This makes me think of a lovely story about the finger back in the days when road rage was rampant and still considered safe (as in no dread of weapons).
    I was on Connecticut Avenue crossing the Lion Bridge when a speedy sports car blaring its horn pulled up by me. Apparently I had done some stupid girl thing. Or he was just insane. Any how he started giving me the finger and yelling at me with a purple face. His anger immediately ignited mine and I was flashing the bird and yelling back. He began shaking his index finger at me still shouting. Our windows were closed. Mid-bridge we were side by side, eye to eye. I made a snarling face and threateningly shook my fist at him. He changed back to the finger thrusting it up and down. Suddenly, magically, eyes locked, we both started to laugh. We laughed the rest of the way across the bridge and as we veered away from each other, he tapped his horn twice and we both waved goodbye exchanging big friendly smiles. A wonderful memory. The finger, road rage, and a sweet adieu.

  • I no longer bother engaging in the sort of political dialogue you describe . It’s pointless .
    Careful recitation of facts and the sober drawing of logical conclusions will not sway a zealot . When I encounter people with whom I know I will disagree I avoid the topic and steer the discussion elsewhere. The “silos” of political opinion are so hardened today that respectful civil discourse almost never happens. I hope that flipping the bird to the nuns doesn’t cause St. Peter so sideline you for a few thousand centuries in purgatory to think over the error in your ways …

    • Judging from their expressions, I think the nuns were amused and, with luck, have conveyed their feelings to the appropriate higher authority. Likely they were high-fiving their ‘sign of the cross” win

  • Comparing motorist ethics and that of the social media is an apt analogy. Even brilliant. So, what is the equivalent in social media of the nuns making the sign of the cross? Is there someone out there with an answer?

  • Dale, Me thinks the Nuns retort is the equivalent of the southern “Bless your heart” sarcasm 🙂

    My mother refrained from vulgarity, usually, but good ole dad couldn’t speak w/o it!

    • Bless your heart would be a good retort but it might be viewed as condescending.

      Likely that would have been the point.

  • Humans respond to incentives. What if there was a reward for constructive online civil discourse? Starbucks, McDonalds and Uber sponsor an online forum with the goal of compromise and sharing. The benefit? If you participate in this “focus group” on a weekly basis you get a free Latte every month.