The Honor Blog
Today is: Oct 21, 2019
Post From: Oct 6, 2019
Seeking Civil Discourse
Last weekend, I had an experience which really startled me. My wife and I have been playing cards with a group of other couples for years, and our most recent meeting was this past weekend. During the course of the evening, I found myself at a table with three of the group's women. I got up to get a snack, and when I got back realized that they were discussing the obnoxious behavior of some of the college football fans at the game which was on TV.
During the course of the conversation, they all agreed that this is the fault of Donald Trump - that the reason everyone is now so rude to one another, that we can't have a civil conversation, is because Trump calls people names.
I was not aware that college football fans were known as such paragons of tact and sportsmanship, but . . . well, there you go. The conversation proceeded, and it soon became clear that the women were not just blaming Trump for the bad behavior of college fans. In their opinion, Trump is responsible for pretty much everything they dislike in public life right now.
I managed to speak up and say that I thought their impression was not correct, that Trump is not the cause, that he is a response. This was not easy for me - I do not like confrontation, and I felt very uncomfortable, because I felt as though I was the target of their rage. Worth noting is that I do not believe the women intended to target me. They simply had never conceived of the possibility that someone might not agree with them.
Anyway, the avenue I tried to use to point out that I disagreed was to say that the other side had used to IRS to target their political opponents. To me, that seems pretty un-civil, so blaming Trump for everything is a little unfair.
The response, from one of the women was (literally), "I don't know anything about the IRS, but you just can't call someone little something. That's just not right."
Belittling someone with a name somehow seems like a much bigger deal to her than using the full power of the IRS to destroy someone's life.
After that, we got to hear about a number of other difficult and controversial topics. I feel as though things got better, but . . . well, I don't know. At one point, another of the women said (again, literally), "I don't care, I just HATE him."
Now, there are a lot of things which deserve to be said about this conversation. About the hubris involved in simply assuming no one could ever disagree with your point of view, about how someone voicing hate can blame others for generating hate . . . but what I want to focus on is something I said to my wife after the evening.
"I hope I didn't lose us any friends, tonight."
That ought to be an over-reaction. We have been friends with those couples for years. But I was taken aback by the level of rage and hate - and, again, I felt as though it was directed at me, even though they did not, at the beginning of the evening, realize that I was one of the people they hate and despise.
A little more than a year ago, I attended a meeting of a group which was created for the purpose of supporting free speech, the open discussion of ideas. This particular meeting was a panel discussion, with a couple of conservatives and a couple of liberals sitting on stage. At one point, the panel members were asked what they thought of the premise of the group, and their answers were striking.
When the progressives spoke, both of them said they really valued the premise of the discussion, because they had been raised in conservative households, but their fathers had always demonstrated the principle of listening to the other point of view. They were grateful to their fathers for demonstrating that openness.
The conservatives, on the other hand, had a different reason for supporting the free speech group. Namely, their experience was that when their progressive friends and relatives learned that they were conservative, they were cut off - ignored and shunned.
The contrast is pretty striking, and it echoes my worry after the card party. Progressives only accept people who agree with them - they cut off, cut ties, stop speaking with anyone who runs against their orthodoxy. That was made clear by the anecdotes at the free speech meeting, and it is what I am concerned about with my card group.
Now, it is important to be clear that this is all just anecdotal evidence. Furthermore, the free speech group itself provides some counter-evidence - it is dedicated to NOT allowing relationships to be broken over these sorts of disagreements. The progressives in that group deserve accolades for their efforts to remain open-minded.
However, my sense is that they are the exception, rather than the rule. I have already shared several anecdotes. Couple those with the reality that I worry I would never be invited back to a couple of my adjunct teaching jobs if administrators were ever to learn that I do not follow progressive orthodoxy. Then mix in the reality that Antifa perpetrates violence against conservatives on a regular basis - and that there is no conservative version of Antifa.
The fact of the matter is that free speech and the hearing of all sides of an issue is a conservative value. The nature of conservatism is to avoid making drastic changes until you are sure the change will improve the situation - it is conservative to "do your due diligence", to look for unexpected pitfalls, to review all alternatives.
To engage in rational, careful, critical thought.
Progressivism, on the other hand, pursues change aggressively. If you feel that something is right, demand the change immediately. In many cases, progressives demand change simply for the sake of change - for variety and newness of experience.
As a result, I think my fears are justified. I do not expect that my wife and I will actually be cut off simply as a result of this one evening. But I will not be surprised if there is a gradual change in our treatment from the members of the group. And, eventually - well, we shall see.