Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bigotry, oppression, liberals, freedom of speech, and hate

A recent Facebook "discussion" with a friend has brought to my attention some disturbing trends.  It seems that in some "liberal" circles, it's become fashionable to redefine racism as "prejudice + power" - this new definition assumes that racism can only be applied by those who have the power to enforce their bigotry.  Hence, in the USA, it could be said (using this new definition) that only white people can be racists, because whites are the majority and traditionally have excluded participation by non-whites from having much power.  As I see it, the combination of prejudice and power can equate to "oppression" - but not to racism. 

My personal definition of racism is when someone assumes they can know something meaningful about someone else simply by knowing the person's race.  If I had experienced many of the things my African-American friends tell me about (i.e., if I were black), there's a good chance I'd be a racist.  My life would be dominated by white people making assumptions about me based solely on my race, so it would be natural to reciprocate.  Tit for tat, and all that.  It would take an extremely strong sense of shared humanity to shun that path and instead allow every person I meet to show by their actions who they really are.  I discovered this concept for the first time in the Army, when I was forced to interact with a very diverse set of people - I learned on my own that someone's outward appearance said nothing at all about their character.  Not all racists are white!  Why condemn those not participating in racial oppression?  Race is a useless, divisive concept ... but I've discussed that in other blogs, so let me move on with today's thoughts. 

It's clear that the combination "prejudice + power" often results in oppression.  Women are the victims of male dominance in many professions and in many aspects of their lives.  Misogyny (literally, woman-hating) is a gender-based prejudice - another sort of bigotry.  Naturally, misandry (literally, man-hating) is its female equivalent.  If we assume that men have more "power" (at least in some ways), then they could be misogynists if they combine their power with a prejudice against women.  Obviously, it would be natural for someone consistently victimized by misogyny to develop misandry, and such women exist, some of them in the halls of academia.  Unfortunately, prejudice against men (or women) is just another form of bigotry.  It's understandable why some women might embrace it, but it's not very effective in doing something about misogyny in the long run.  Not all men are misogynists!  Many men support and even encourage the legitimate aspirations of women.

No matter what people think, and no matter how bigoted they might be, I strongly support their right to express their views.  I've commented on freedom of speech several times in the past - it only means something when it's applied to the expression of ideas with which we disagree.  What's disturbing to me today is the news that dissension is being suppressed by "liberals" in academia.  Personally, if someone is actively shutting down free discourse on any topic in a university (or anywhere else), such a person is not what I consider to be a "liberal".  My notion of being a liberal is that dissent should be encouraged, not suppressed.  The founders of this nation clearly intended free speech to be the law of the land, and so freedom of speech was the very first item in the Bill of Rights - the first 10 Constitutional Amendments.  To suppress dissent is an implicit admission of either a fundamentally flawed viewpoint, or a weak foundation for that viewpoint.  Lacking valid logic and/or evidence, one way for a viewpoint to dominate is to suppress other viewpoints, perhaps even with violence.  History has shown us many examples of this and no truly liberal person should ever support suppression of dissent.  The willingness to allow dissenting views implies a sense of confidence in one's viewpoint - its logic and evidence are sufficient to convince a rational person of its validity.  It's in academia where many of us first encountered ideas that weren't in full agreement with the culture in which we were born and raised.  This is a good thing, forcing us to think about our ideas, and is the principle so nicely embodied in the University of Wisconsin's "Bascom Plaque".  It's precisely in academia where free speech is most important!

One characteristic of bigotry is the use of hurtful epithets hurled in the faces of the oppressed.  Thus, many liberals espouse the notion of banning "hate speech".  To me, this is an unacceptable tactic.  Who decides what qualifies as "hate speech" and what's the basis for that decision?  Sounds like censorship to me, which is the antithesis of free speech.  I continue to argue that words only have power over someone when that someone grants that power to those words.  I always refer to the old childhood chant, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"  To be offended, one must agree to be offended.  We may well find the use of hurtful epithets to be distasteful and off-putting, but they're just words and if we choose not to be offended, they lose any power over us. 

Finally, let me repeat comments I've made in previous blogs - the notion of "hate crimes" that some "liberals" have embraced.  The general idea is that if a criminal act is perpetrated by someone who hates the victim for some reason, then that adds to the level of criminality and so deserves more punishment than normal for that crime.  This is, to put it simply, a ridiculous notion, because it requires us to know what the perpetrator was thinking before and during the criminal act.  It's a concept similar to the Orwellian notion of "thought police" - that you could be punished just for thinking incorrectly.  If you've committed a crime, you should be punished for that crime, not for what you were thinking before and during your criminal act.  Perhaps the concept of "hate crime"  was an outgrowth of WWII and the evils perpetrated by the Axis powers, but I find it a disturbing concept that's likely to be abused.  If you think "hateful" thoughts but commit no crime, should you be punished just for thinking them?  Not in my world, thank you!!