When we dehumanize and demonize our opponents, we abandon
the possibility of peacefully resolving our differences, and seek to justify violence against them.
The quote is by Nelson Mandela. I found it in a book titled, “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure” The authors are Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The Mandela quote starts off chapter four titled, “Intimidation and Violence”.
Members of our society young and old, have lost the ability to debate in a civil manner. This phenomenon is not relegated to those on the left. It has infected those on the right as well. When a controversial topic is brought up, the opposing opinion is viewed as hate speech, which entitles the other person to attack the person’s character, or physically attack them because an opposing position cannot be tolerated since it is in fact “hate speech”. That opposing position causes the other person to not feel safe. It causes them to feel as if they are being physically violated. This gives them the “authority” to lash out verbally and physically. Feelings trump facts and everything trumps any sort of civil discourse, or what I refer to as adult conversation. The opposing position must be eradicated not rebutted, and the believer of the opposing position must be silenced.
In a Facebook group of very intelligent people, Alan started a conversation about his concerns over the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s possible opinion on Roe v Wade. Without beginning a discussion on abortion, he made it clear that at the top of the list was the fact that this possible opinion was leaked, something that has never happened in the history of the Supreme Court. Alan wanted to know the thoughts of other people in this group concerning this matter. A few people chimed in, and the conversation was going well. It appeared the ability to freely exchange ideas was back.
Then the wheels came off the wagon.
Ben pointed out that his state was “leading the charge against killing innocent babies”. This was in response to other comments made about how the reality of the leaked opinion was that the abortion rights issue would be sent back to the states.
That’s when the attempt to intimidate began. That’s when the free exchange of beliefs and ideas left the group. The response to that comment from Carl, was uncalled for, and unprovoked but typical of someone who feels they are no longer safe and doesn’t want to hear about babies being killed. The words “killing innocent babies” gave Carl permission to attack. His response in part, concerning “leading the charge against killing innocent babies” was “Take your bullshit to a more Fascist forum.”
The truth, as Ben pointed out in his response was that, because you don’t agree with or like something I have said, you feel “free to curse at me and dictate your version of morality to me.” The “offended party” (Carl) went on to continue to call Ben a fascist and accused him of “false indignation and fake morality”.
Again, this was a part of a group discussion. Of the over 400 members of this group, only 4-5 people were “actively” engaged in this discussion. I’m sure a few others were following the conversation but not commenting. Neither Carl or Ben can or should feel as if they can speak for the entire group, but 2 men in their early 60’s should be able to discuss this matter peacefully and civilly. Alan attempted to bring the conversation back to the center, pointing out that if Roe v Wade is overturned it really doesn’t change anything other than make abortion a state’s right issue.
So here we are, young and old, conservative, and liberal, unable to, or unwilling to engage in adult conversation. I won’t go into the possible history of where this line of thinking came from, but it needs to stop. Everything someone says does not require a response from you. In many cases I’ve discovered that facts can be a terrible thing, that people just don’t want to hear facts that don’t agree with their ideology. Many people feel attacked when a different opinion is presented. Instead of attacking the opposing opinion, they attack the person.
As a black conservative, I have had people attack me (my favorite was being call “A non-representing self-loathing black man”, by another black man.) for my stance on issues or trying to bully me into believing that there’s no way what I’m saying is true, even when I’m sharing my personal life experiences. The desire to jump straight to name calling, and demonizing people has always bothered me. And as Mandela stated, “we abandon the possibility of peacefully resolving differences” when that becomes our go to response. People become timid and don’t want to speak up and speak out for fear of being attacked verbally and or physically.
People go along to get along. There are many examples of people “going along” but in private supporting the opposing view. They just don’t want to get involved or have the tables turned on them. Sort of a self-preservation tactic.
Well to that I say enough.
We live in free country where nothing, but your mind, your heart, and your belief system control should control you. Many people have changed what they believe about different issues after speaking with others who think differently, or after researching a matter more deeply. Sound bites from any media outlet, conservative or liberal is not research and most times are not completely factual. Some people, after all of this, remain committed to what they believe, and for me that is fine. If you are a fan of my podcast, you know that as we attempt to change the narrative about a variety of topics, I make it clear I am not here to change your mind, I just want you to think for yourself. No one should be intimidated or threatened because they have a view that is different from yours. The solution to most of our problems is usually somewhere in the middle.
The abortion issue is very polarizing, but an adult discussion should be able to take place concerning it. It doesn’t help when leaders in our nation go around screaming about how mad they are that the right to abortions is going to be “taken away” and that “next they’ll be coming after gay marriage and interracial marriage.” It doesn’t help that our leaders do not see and really have not addressed the more serious issue which is this draft opinion was leaked to the press. It doesn’t help when it is not fully explained that the only thing changing, if this opinion goes from draft to final, is that the decision-making power about abortions will go to the states.
Words by themselves are not violence and should not turn any discussion into a verbally or physically violent confrontation. Name calling has no place in any adult discussion. And guess what? It’s okay if at the end of our conversation, we still disagree with each other’s position on the matter.
We want to solve the issues in our country with violence and force. We want to blame this group or that group for all the wrongs in our country. Many in leadership positions in our government model this behavior for us and with choice words, encourage us to resort to violence. Again, for those who are just skimming this instead of reading it for comprehension, this is an issue on both the right and the left.
Meanwhile, no one is crafting solutions, or consensus. It’s my way or no way at all. I’m right you’re wrong. There is no middle ground.
If we want to solve problems, we cannot resort to intimidating or violent language. We cannot use language that dehumanize or demonize other people. Language that intimidates causes people to remain silent. This does nothing to solve issues.
Continuing to deal with each other this way fans the flames of unresolved issues with what we believe to be justified verbal and possibly physical violence. The issues will remain unresolved, and we will increase the divide that is killing our nation as we speak.