UPDATE – Scroll to bottom for some insight into my change of heart on the subject.
I’ve been struggling with commenting on these difficult contemporary times – race relations and free speech. Not just in what to comment or how to say it, but in whether to say anything at all.
Swirling around and through this for me are the labels of “white privilege”, “tone policing”, “political correctness”, “free speech”, and a few more I can’t pretend to understand.
We clearly lack the national leadership to recognize the dangers our society is facing. Spending too much time trying to placate every group leaves everyone upset and divided. Where do we go from here? If we can’t get top-down leadership, we must have grass-roots leadership and that starts with people like me speaking out.
So, what do I do when there are smarter minds, who have the long view, and those who are greater studies of history than I, call out – rightly so: “stop being silent”?
I’ve read many of those words and I struggle to completely take any of them on as my own. Some are too broad, and others too narrow. Some are too forgiving to those who don’t deserve it, and others not empathetic enough to the losses and trials of others.
All I can do is plant my flag on my values and beliefs, and determine where my position falls.
I can’t tolerate violence against any group of people. When we group individuals under a label, there are always some more deserving of that than others and some don’t even deserve the label at all. Too many innocents.
I can’t abide Nazis or white supremacists. They seek to deprive others of rights, property, and even lives.
I believe that every human being has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I believe in the importance of our freedom of speech. It is necessary to progress our great society, confronting our demons, and celebrating our acheivements.
The questions in my mind become:
Does one have the right to deprive others of their rights when no law has been broken?
Does one have the right to organize a group which exists primarily to deprive others of thier rights?
Does one have the right to cause injury or death to someone who wishes to deprive others of thier rights?
My answers are No in every case. If most people would agree, then it seems to me that the debate should be about how we, as a society, intend to treat groups which seek to deprive the rights of another group. This is probably a much more difficult conversation and one which has been avoided for that very fact, but I think it’s time we had it.
This is a social can that’s been kicked down the road since emancipation, and someone with a bigger brain than mine, might suggest much longer ago. Then we are well overdue and I believe we have enough smart, rational people to figure it out.
We can’t wait for “leadership” to figure out what group to support and what stand to make.
We have a great starting point. We have a bill of rights, we have a universal declaration of human rights, and quite a few other lists to hold up to these groups and say “are you with us on this or not?” If they aren’t, then lets start the discussion to find out why and go from there.
It might be the next best evolution for our society – to commit ourselves to a holistic tradition of human rights. It deserves to be discussed, and we need to do it soon. The lack of leadership in this area will continue the clashes and more lives will be lost. People are more important than beliefs.
I appreciate the thoughts of Christopher Hitchens on this topic and I can see even more clearly the need to maintain free speech rights, even to the most base ideas.