Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Narromindedness Isn't Limited to the Right

I am an avid believer in the principles espoused by Jonathan Rauch in his wonderful work Kindly Inquisitors.  The essence of the work is an affirmation of the idea that in democratic and capitalist society there cannot be a monopoly on the “truth,” that no one nor any opinion can be said to “end the debate.”

In a democratic society, there can be “no final say,” and that no one can have personal authority to determine what is true. Along with democracy and capitalism, this notion of “liberal science” is the third leg on which our society rests.
As I have regularly remarked, Tea Party Republicans are guilty of one particular type of assault on free thought, that being “fundamentalist” thinking. It is this mindset that continues to doom the Republican Party and preempt any effort to broaden the Party’s appeal.

I must admit, however, that I have spent far too little time challenging similar threats to free expression by the Left. Rauch terms these threats Humanitarianism and Egalitarianism. Included in these ideas is the belief that the views of “members of historically oppressed groups” can claim some sense of superior authority on issues affecting their group, and that they can “demand” that their views be incorporated into what we perceive to be true. These ideas go further in declaring that “words are like bullets,” and so challenging these beliefs is akin to an assault on their being, that they are “hurtful” and should not be expressed, such expression will in essence further marginalize and oppress these groups.
The issue of gay marriage is an issue that exemplifies this pernicious assault on free thought. It is true that there has been rather quick movement in our culture towards acceptance of “gay marriage,” with the latest Pew poll identifying 58% of Americans as favoring its legalization. This statistic has grown rapidly, but it in no way is overwhelming; opinion is still divided, with age being a significant variable.

The libertarian in me says “what the hell, if gays want to marry why should government preclude them.” And the conservative in me also supports gay marriage in that the idea of stable, committed relationships grounded in marriage is a positive thing for our society, whether hetero or homosexual.
The problem I have as a conservative is that I do not believe in using the law to “force” change on a culture- and in this sense I am thinking more locally- that is evolving to accept what is clearly evolving as an acceptable norm.

The problem, as I see it, is that advocates of gay marriage, and gay rights in general, are unwilling to engage in honest discussion, and see attacks on the idea as an act of prejudice and hate.
I am reminded of my days as a teacher and a unit I taught on discrimination. When the subject was gender, I had no problem engaging students in vigorous, intelligent debate. But when the subject turned to race, hands went down and voices died off. Students would actually approach me after class and literally apologize to me for not speaking; they were fearful of being labeled a racist if they offered any opinion that seemed to challenge what might be termed “minority views.”

It is difficult living in a society grounded in “liberal science;” it demands a level of acceptance and, yes, tolerance, that many people find difficult to offer. I am truly fearful of the nature of political discourse evident in our society. Debate is being controlled by those on the fringes and is being reinforced by today’s media, where narrow viewpoints are being expressed and citizens views are confirmed on tv and on radio; the people’s sense that they are right and others are wrong is now the norm.
I see little on the horizon to challenge this reality. The almost complete absence of true statesmen in either political party perpetuates this chilling of true discourse, making it more and more difficult for pragmatism, the true political philosophy of the masses, to control debate. When freedom of thought is compromised, can our democratic and economic institutions be far behind?


 

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