It was not too long ago that an acquaintance of mine said something incredibly absurd with the utmost sincerity. I don’t harbour any animosity over her remark but I’m sensing it has become indicative of a rather unfortunate intellectual trend in political discourse. The individual had been criticizing one of her friends for expressing the view that members of the LGBTT community should not be allowed to marry.
The comment did not strike me as odd and seemed to appeal to traditional Christian values, so I found the line of thought completely unoriginal but relatively cogent. A proper articulation of her argument was: tradition and religion are valuable in terms of their enrichment of the experience of their participants. If one concedes that the social paradigm of entering into marriage was and should remain exclusive to couples of the opposite sex, then it follows that the law, which is derived from religious and cultural values, should restrict same sex couples from it.
Although I myself am in favour of same sex marriage, I do not think less of anyone or assume that they harbour maliciousness if they disagree. As long as they do no physical harm to their own or anyone else’s person I welcome the disagreement. If no one is gay bashing, shouting racial slurs from the rooftops and gathering with pitchforks in hand, there’s a lot of room for reasonable discussion. Furthermore I do not think it represents hatred or an assault on fundamental justice to allow a peaceful person to speak their mind on a controversial topic.
In my friend’s response, I thought that she might construct a reasonable argument in favour of same sex marriage, but, as a result of either a sheer lack of understanding, or a bizarre sense of political vanity she became irritated and offended. She suggested that his objection meant abusing fundamental human rights and therefore he was arguing for something bad.
This was essentially the content of their exchange: Her: “You are wrong!” Her friend: “Why?” Her: “Because you believe something that is bad.” Her friend: “Why is it bad?” Her: “Because it’s wrong.” Her friend: “Why is it wrong?” Her: “Because it’s bad.” Etc. Basically the kind of meaningless banter you would hear on FOX News. Only her argument wasn’t psychotic. It was just stupid.
I might be pro same sex marriage but I’m also anti dumb argument.
Naturally I attempted to correct her on her logic and explain that we have the freedom to express opposing views. She responded with some choice expletives, articulated in a far less cogent form than her argument. And I, not being particularly interested in discovering the cause of her mood, terminated the discussion. Her exact conclusion regarding Canadian jurisprudence was: “When it comes to human rights we shouldn’t have to think critically.”
I think that my friend meant something like: “The spirit of tolerance and what is moral in our culture should be so engraved on the minds of Canadians that our laws and policies cannot help but reflect sound justice — and that indiscriminate benevolence and kindness should become second nature.” She was arguing with sentiment. It’s a pleasant thought. But her original statement, whether intentional or not, is remarkably prejudiced. It reflects both a lack of logic and a lack of understanding of the importance of human rights.
Her sentiment although intentionally pleasant, was that the proper constitution of everyone’s thoughts on human rights should: A. be homogonous and B. fit solely with one conception of neo-liberal values. That is totalitarian. We must always question and criticize when it comes to social mores. Wars have been fought over our right to do so.
We continue to study the solar system, caves, and the oceans. Why abandon the study of justice?
Differing opinions enrich understanding in all areas. Valuing freedom and justice is nice, but I would rather people hold each other in contempt for good reasons than get along because they all think the same way or are all equally dumb. If I had kids I wouldn’t want them to learn that they should just accept the morals taught to them in school.
I’d want to raise kids who think outside the box and are strong enough to contradict the popular view. I don’t worry about myself. I can recognize crap when I see it. But I’m worried about the future. If people aren’t being taught logic and the worth of basic freedoms, something fundamental about this country could be lost.
People are far too easily offended these days. I respect people who take a stand on an issue that’s close to them, but too many people want to jump behind a flag and advocate for something. And they get really offended when you say something off colour or, God-forbid, disagree with them.
I know words hurt, and can leave emotional scars. However, there’s absolutely no reason for someone to waste emotional energy or go out of their way to feel hurt, for the sole purpose of playing the martyr.
Hearing each other out and valuing what someone else has to say, that’s what debate should be about. Don’t take yourself too seriously this year. You’ll feel liberated and have a lot more fun.
Al Klassen believes freedom of speech means being willing to tolerate opinions you disagree with.
Illustration by tess vincent