I’m unapologetically liberal – well, moderate, actually, but in today’s political climate, that’s what passes for liberal. I was reading Peter Wright’s post, “Why you should worry about Bernard Eich’s persecution,” this morning, and it seems as good a springboard as any for some of the things that have been bothering me, lately.
My lack of sympathy for Mr. Eich’s career problems stems not from my support of same-sex marriage and his opposition of it, per se, but from the fact that I believe human rights should trump personal opinions every time. What sympathy I have for Eich, though, stems from the fact that I believe every human being has the right to express an unpopular opinion, so long as their behavior and their direction of a public company, should they happen to have such power, are informed by the laws and by the legitimate interests of their customers. Imagine this were another country, in another time, and in order to do business there, one had to advocate the jailing of people who owned “canine slaves” (dogs), or people who forgot to turn their lights off after 10 PM (because obviously, they don’t care about climate change and waste of limited resources we all depend on)? It’s one thing to debate and form good or bad opinions of each other, but when we call for punitive actions – such as boycotts or firings or demanding resignations and public apologies – it should be tied to behavior. We seem willing to allow corporations and other people a stunning amount of power over us that we are wise enough not to grant to our government.
The only State interest in marriage or sexual activity that I see as legitimate – that is, worthy of legislative interference – has to do with consent of one of the parties to it. In other words, I’m fine with laws that prohibit things like twelve year marrying, anyone being forced to have sex, and people having sex with bunny rabbits – because we deem children and animals incapable of giving meaningful consent to things, and we rightfully protect them and punish people who hurt them. This should be common sense. The law, in the U.S., is not meant to be based on religion or mere opinion. In fact, one of the founding principles of this country is that the government had no business telling people what, when, or how they should worship or what to think.
It is irrelevant, under law, that you believe a book written by people – inspired, perhaps, by God or their faith in God – 2000+ years ago, said homosexuality was a bad thing according to their particular belief about what “God said.” There are billions of people in the world who don’t believe God said anything of the sort – or that, perhaps, over the years, God’s stance has mellowed on certain issues (like whether it’s okay for us to wear wool and cotton and polyester in a blend, or hold slaves, or beat our children when they misbehave). There are people who believe God commanded them to kill those who believe differently than they believe, and I daresay those in opposition to gay marriage might be horrified to find themselves on the sharp end of a pointy stick. The only thing the State should care about is whether someone else’s behavior is hurting you, here and now, in some tangible way, and whether yours is causing a public safety hazard. Your “freedom of religion” ends when you make a pointy stick.
Being deeply offended doesn’t count, and the US is very specifically not a theocracy, by careful design of its founders.
I’m deeply offended by people who make crude and nasty jokes about women or minorities, but I have never suggested they ought to be fired, jailed, or put into the public stocks so that we could humiliate them and use them as target practice with rotten produce or bricks while their families struggle to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. Unless their humor is merely the icing on an misogynistic, hate-filled cake of bad behavior towards women and minorities, why hurt their spouses and their children? I don’t think they should be allowed more than one vote, nor do I want them “representing me” in public office – I do believe they should not hold positions of authority and power over others. But unless they’re engaging in discriminatory hiring practices or creating a hostile work environment, I support their right to earn a living and to take care of their families. I support everyone’s right to be a jackass, until it becomes tangibly hurtful or interferes with the rights of others.
I don’t understand the implications, either, that just because I support someone’s right to do a thing means I condone it or want to do it, myself. And you don’t need my approval to exercise a human right, so long as it’s not violating mine. For example, I am not pro-abortion. I have never had an abortion, but the women I know who did didn’t do it as a form of “convenient birth control,” and the notion that they did just sickens me. But it doesn’t matter; absent a compelling state interest to the contrary – one I can’t even imagine, at the moment: A woman’s right to choose whether to be pregnant or not is rightfully hers – and hers alone.
To prohibit or restrict access to birth control, and then argue that a woman should have no choice but to continue an unwanted pregnancy, is just an added bit of cruelty. I can’t limit that right of choice to “in cases of rape or incest,” because then, any “sanctity of life” rationale completely falls apart – those cases are no more the fetus’s “fault” than cases of accidental pregnancy from consensual love-making. This is simply one of those cases where we have to weigh the state’s legitimate interests against those of the individual.
If you believe abortion is wrong, teach your children that and don’t have one under any circumstances. But don’t tell me you’re “pro-life” and imply I’m in league with baby killers because I’m “pro-choice,” particularly if, in the next breath, you’re arguing for cutting funding to social programs and education, while opposing gun control and supporting the death penalty. Because there’s a name for that: hypocrisy.
We no longer live in a democracy – we live in an oligarchy. I’m pretty sure that folks who hold the purse-strings don’t give a rat’s whiskers about gay marriage or a woman’s right to…well, anything. What happens when these people, their monopolies, and their purchased politicians openly refuse to be held socially and ethically accountable and truly run roughshod over those who depend on them for their basic needs?
Obviously, we have bigger problems than mere “liberal” vs. “conservative” ideologies. What we have is two pots banging each other in a dark drawer, calling each other black. Both are somewhat right; both are horribly wrong. It’s the hand that keeps opening and slamming shut that drawer that is to blame for encouraging the conflict between us pots. My dilemma is that we have a conflict between two things I, personally, hold sacred: human rights and free speech. Democracy vs. oligarchy. People vs. money. (Nothing wrong with money, but it’s a tool for commerce and it shouldn’t have a vote or power over human rights.) These are pitted against propaganda, uninformed opinion, religion, lobbyists, and obviously partisan politics. Which really is B.S. when it comes to human rights and free speech, neither of which should be dependent on any of those things. Not in the U.S., at any rate – this is what, perhaps, distinguished us from other, older nations. This notion that we would not tolerate persecution over certain things, mainly personal things, such as our chosen relationship (and, by extension, lack thereof) with God and with each other and with our government (which, in principle, derives from the consent of the governed). That means we must tolerate some distasteful-to-us things, but it seems people have lost sense of where that line can be drawn – some thinking it can’t be drawn at all, and that we must tolerate all things, even when they are so diametrically opposed that those things are clearly locked in a fight to the death. Meanwhile, we’ve let ourselves be distracted by the nonsense and allowed the fox into the henhouse.
I’m really tired of the people who do the most persecuting of others pretending to be the persecuted. It’s an old, tired, pathetic act that has to stop. Next time you are tempted to say, “Oh, woe is me, those damned [insert ideology here]’s are at it again!” try to focus on specific issues and changes you want to see happen. Find out the facts – the provable facts, not the anecdotal tales of similar woe.
I suspect that the ones who most readily invoke the spectre of Hitler (on both sides of the aisle!) have studied history the least; they use symbols and propaganda easily, but accord and peace and a reclaiming of our democracy – our power as both individuals and people with a common interest in the common good – demand deeper thought and dialogue. And we have to figure out how to like each other better again. I do have serious concerns that we are – in some ways – headed down a similarly dark path to the ones that led to our past “world wars,” but it’s a different path in a different era.
Is it really too much to ask that we all reach out and resolve to work together towards peace and our pressing common needs and interests – and stop focusing on ways to deprive one another of rights and liberties – before it’s just too late?
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