When I was ten and just beginning to pay attention to the world around me, I asked my father to explain the difference between liberals and conservatives.
My inquisitiveness was driven by an ulterior motive. The election for the governorship of Kansas was fast approaching, and I was taking a daily hammering from my best friend Drew, who seemed to know about politics more than I knew about He-Man. And I knew a lot about He-Man.
My dad said that conservatives were usually interested in keeping things the way they were, and that liberals were usually more open to change and dissenting viewpoints.
I liked the sound of that last part, so I went to school and declared to Drew that if I had a vote I’d surely back Tom Docking, the Democrat who was running for governor. Drew’s parents were staunch Republicans, and Drew was more worldly than I, so he was able to easily crush any of my childish arguments with his defense of the eventual winner, Mike Hayden.
Despite Drew’s apparent philosophical triumph, a seed had been planted. As I matured, I held tight to the idea that liberalism was more deserving of my pomponnery; I couldn’t imagine a sound argument against the idea that one should be open to various viewpoints on any subject.
The correctness of my stance was exemplified, I thought, by the debate on abortion. The generally-liberal stance of Pro-Choice was nearly unimpeachable. People weren’t saying they were Pro-Abortion; they were saying that they were willing to let a woman choose her own reproductive destiny.
This, I thought, was an attitude everyone could get behind. Live and let live, and all that*.
But as I’ve aged, my support of liberalism has faded, largely because, as partisanship has overtaken logic in political debates, liberals have given up on being the party of tolerance. Faced with the nasty specter that is the Dark Side of politics (the ultra-conservative segment of the Republican party), they’ve chosen to fight fire with fire.
And because of the pervading hypocrisy employed by many in their camp, they’ve set about ruining the liberal ideal that I once held in such high regard.
Nowhere is this hypocrisy more evident than in posts like this one, at the “liberal” Daily Kos, about Sam Brownback, the man who now holds the position Mike Hayden once held – governor of my home state of Kansas.
The thrust of the post is:
1. Sam Brownback is an idiot.
2. Sam Brownback should be lambasted for not striking from the books an archaic anti-sodomy law that is only applicable to homosexual encounters.
3. People from Kansas are stupid.
Sam Brownback is an idiot. And Sam Brownback should be lambasted for not striking from the books an archaic anti-sodomy law that is only applicable to homosexual encounters. I can no more defend Sam Brownback than I can build a grenade launcher out of wheatgrass.
Kansans are even, on occasion, pretty stupid. (In 2005, the Kansas state school board infamously required the state assessment tests to include questions about, ahem, “intelligent” design.)
I have no desire to defend Sam Brownback, or Kansans as a group. (And I’m from Kansas.)
I’m much more concerned with the duplicity in which the writer of the post (someone who goes by “Hunter”) engages. His duplicity is something that liberals are increasingly guilty of. If liberalism is to have any hope, it should stop.
At first blush, Hunter seems to be taking a very liberal position: he’s supporting gay rights. He’s saying, to gay people, that he only wants them to have the same rights as others. By the criterion I outlined above, such a position would qualify as a “liberal” one: it is accepting of an opposing viewpoint – that being gay is, for lack of a more interesting term, okay. Hunter is painting himself as a tolerant protector of human rights.
But that’s not actually what is going on in Hunter’s piece. What’s going on is that the Hunter is being extremely intolerant of anti-gay Kansans. He is saying that the view held by those people isn’t valid.
The real test of liberalism, or of liberals, is this: in order to stake your claim in Liberaldom, you have to be accepting of all people, even the ones who disagree with you, and (here’s where it gets difficult) even the ones whose opinions are based on awful logic and easily-disproved nonfacts. This belief in acceptance is the only thing that makes liberalism the “good” side.
This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with those beliefs. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to change the minds of the people who hold those beliefs. In fact, you probably should try to change those minds. But to engage in the attacking pettiness of:
“I’m just tired of these people and wish they would go away, or secede, or whatever it is they need to do to separate themselves from the rest of modern society and live out their lily-white no-immigrant no-Muslims no-athiests no-gay-people no-liberals no-moderates no-funny-dressers Talibanesque fantasies about how a country should be run (tip: land in Somalia is very, very cheap these days). No such luck, however.”
Well, to write that isn’t particularly tolerant or, well, liberal. And it certainly will not help change anyone’s mind.
To Hunter, I would recommend the following:
First, examine the reasons behind Sam Brownback’s action (or inaction, as it were). Kansas is a heavily Republican state. Many of its citizens are very religious. I don’t like these things much either – I become guilty by association – but this is the way things are.
Our assumptions, then, are as follows:
1. Kansans are religious.
2. Politicians want to be re-elected.
Thus, Sam Brownback has to play to that religious majority in order to stay in office. In order to pander to this religious majority, he keeps a stupid, primitive law on the books.
You, Hunter, recognized (I think) that the problem isn’t Sam Brownback – that the problem is the people who voted for him. But you stopped there; you threw up your hands and decided that you’d had enough – that you were “just tired of these people and wish[ed] they would go away…”.
But before we take that simplistic (but, admittedly, cathartic) path, let’s delve a little deeper.
Religion exists because people are scared of their own mortality. It also exists, in theory, for a very biologically mundane reason: to protect the species. Religious leaders believe that, if they don’t tell people that they should be fruitful and all that, the species might die out.
This is ridiculous, of course, but I’m not talking about logic here. I’m talking about religion.
It follows that there would be, in religious culture, a reluctance to support homosexuality. Technically, if everyone were gay, the species would cease to exist. (And thus, the religion would die out, etc.)
Now, you and I know that this is impossible; all we need is one Shawn Kemp and we’ll be fine.
But we also have to admit that there is a tiny grain of logic in this thinking; it’s not based on insanity. It’s based, like many beliefs, on fear.
Such fear-based judgments will not assist in the progression of our society; thinking homosexuals to be undeserving of equal rights is a primitive view. But making fun of people who hold such a view probably isn’t going to change their minds.
You might be able to change a few of those minds is you explained that we probably aren’t going to run out of human beings if a small portion of the population has no biological need to reproduce. Or that, wait, isn’t one of the fundamentals of Christianity that one should “Love thy neighbor”?
And that another of those fundamentals is the very same tolerance I’d like liberals to display.
Are you picking up what I’m putting down, Hunter? You have to think more deeply. You have to seek the cause of the belief, understand it and, perhaps, if you so choose, attempt to change it.
The desire to deride people who think these things – whether those people believe homosexuals to be unequal or that creationism is a valid argument – is almost overwhelming. They’re an easy target, and it almost feels like you’re doing something pro-social.
But you have to resist the temptation to write (or intimate) that the beliefs held by a group of people are stupid, or ignorant, or irrelevant, not because those beliefs aren’t stupid, or ignorant, or irrelevant, but because the fundamental philosophy behind your ideology is that you cannot do that. You can’t use “their” tactics, because “their” tactics are the very thing you have rebelled against by calling yourself a liberal.
I know it’s tricky; I know it’s tempting to give in to anger.
But as a liberal, you have to be better than that. As a liberal, you have to lead by example.
You didn’t, Daily Kos writer named Hunter. You chose the Dark Side. By doing so, you let down the spirit of liberalism that my father, I think, defined very effectively (if somewhat romantically) way back in 1986.
And you probably succeeded only in hardening the beliefs of some guy in Kansas, thereby causing Sam Brownback to get re-elected next time.
Way to go. Sam Brownback is an idiot.
*I was probably a young libertarian. I probably still am, kind of. Voting libertarian is like making the case that relish is the most important condiment on a hot dog – it’s got vehement supporters, it’s an interesting position, and it might even be correct. But good luck finding sufficient backers to get relish on the top shelf. (Or Ron Paul into the White House.)
For more from Paul…