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Colloquy: Of The Possibilities of Comity, The Suppression of Speech, Identity, And Humanity

[This colloquy sprang from a Facebook discussion (largely, but not always, an oxymoron) about “fake news,” which I alleged may exist, but not in the sense used by the Left, and that in the sense used by the Left, it was merely a proxy for suppression of conservative speech.  As always, italics are my interlocutor.]

. . . When I played down the social/cultural views as part of “conservative speech and actions” my intent was to avoid a stereotypical caricature of conservatism, and to broaden a view of conservatism to include the more ideological beliefs.  You pulled me back to the social/cultural views and now I must question that more closely.

I’m going to take a circuitous route.

You and I have talked about guns in a productive way.  As I recall we left it with the question of an arbitrary line between individuals owning fully capable tanks on the one end and being unable to own firearms of any kind on the other end.  In between, folks bicker over where the line should be drawn debating magazine size, automatic triggers, the size and kind of munitions, checks on criminal records and mental stability, etc.  Gun control advocates look for “common sense” regulations that might help keep guns out of the hands of people with bad intentions.  Gun rights advocates think the best defense against people with bad intentions is more guns.  Debate continues along a spectrum that will be arbitrary and decided through some form of compromise influenced by political and monetary power.  Tank ownership and a gun free country are highly unlikely.  Great.

That debate is about philosophy, interpretations of the constitution, fear, desire for physical power and a constellation of other muddled views that play out through gun regulations & legislation.  At its core it is not about the humanity of fellow citizens.  In my mind this makes it a very different topic for discussion than other social/cultural issues.  Yes, some folks will conflate gun issues with identity issues.  They are reaching.

Other social issues, like gay marriage, carry a different weight for me.  Here, there is a different line being drawn, and this time it is about the humanity of other people.  Rather than tank ownership to gun-free country, this time we could name all kinds of identities that can or cannot get married.  People have strong feelings about interfaith marriages, interracial marriages, inter-age marriages, and, of course, same-sex marriages.  In other countries inter-faith marriages have been outlawed.  It was not so long ago (1967), in the US, that inter-racial marriage was illegal.  While some people still object, there is no push to prohibit inter-racial marriage in state constitutions and courts.  How is gay marriage different?  Fundamentally it is not.  When people argued that racial minorities were less than whites (3/5 of a white to be exact), they were prevented from marrying whites.  Now the same underlying logic is at play.  Gay people are seen as less than straight people, and thus not permitted the same rights.  When followed through, there is no other logical conclusion.  The same is true of very young people.  Twelve year olds are seen as less than 18-year-olds, and thus are not permitted to marry except in rare circumstances with parental permission.  (I eagerly await your rebuttals for this line of thought.)

The point for me, is that in these social/cultural/identity issues, what’s at stake is the very humanity of other people.  When it comes to speech that dehumanizes others, I’m certainly guilty of encouraging people to think through that speech and to understand how it is rooted in prejudice that is often based on mis-information (ignorance), and fear.   I’ll easily go blow for blow with anyone who tries to argue that racial prejudice is based on anything other than mis-information and fear.  Likewise sexual/gender prejudice.  It may be that what you view as suppression of conservative speech I view as eradication of ignorance.

There are other issues that are less clear for me.  I have liberal friends who are staunch Catholics and strongly pro-life.  The reasoning is purely religious and no amount of logical reasoning will persuade them.  I also know staunch Catholics who believe that, while they would never get an abortion themselves, they have no right to make that decision for another woman.

Pro-life rhetoric is not something that gets suppressed, but it is certainly not the norm in most of my liberal circles.  That it is religious, and thus inherently illogical, probably helps avoid stigma – other than the stigma of religious dogma in general, which middle-class liberal shun.

What I’d like to hear about from you is the role of speech that is prejudicial based on race, sexual-orientation, or gender, in the construct of “conservative speech and activities.”  Is that the kind of speech that you feel is being suppressed?  Or is there a more nuanced angle here?  I look forward to any ideas you’ve got to offer.

I think this an excellent question, for it is probably the fundamental question of our time.  Your phrasing is oriented, as we’ve been discussing, around the role of speech and its social acceptability, and I’ll continue that focus.  But when I say this is the fundamental question of our time, I mean that underlying this question is another question: how is society to be organized?  I don’t mean politically; I mean with respect to common assumptions, in particular about liberty and society, and what, in the Aristotelian sense, is “the good.”  And this question is fundamental because any society must have some degree of common ground.  Too much division makes a society not function.  Thus, I believe the answer to the question dictates certain conclusions about our society.

A side note.  You will doubtless be some combination of appalled and annoyed that I have responded at such length.  You probably think “I have a job—what the hell does he expect me to do with all this?”  I certainly enjoy these discussions, but I do not expect a full response, or any response, except to the degree you have time and interest.  This is because I write these epistles for the same reason I write book reviews—in order to fix things in my memory, and, more importantly, in order to develop a set of coherent thoughts for myself (for reasons beyond the scope of this paragraph, and which may not be wholly clear to me anyway).  In other words, I write for myself.  It would not matter if no living soul ever reads a word I write, although as I say I enjoy interchanges, and, being terribly vain and egotistical, I am gratified by any attention to me my writings bring.

Onwards!  I say “this question,” so I should define what I think that question is.  Your stated request is:  “What I’d like to hear about from you is the role of speech that is prejudicial based on race, sexual-orientation, or gender, in the construct of ‘conservative speech and activities.’  Is that the kind of speech that you feel is being suppressed?  Or is there a more nuanced angle here?”  Therefore, I think the Question that derives from that, generalized, is:  “What speech is, and what speech should be, socially acceptable among the culturally dominant?”  And in context, your answer seems to be (a) any speech that is “prejudicial based on race, sexual-orientation, or gender” is not “nuanced” and therefore (b) should be suppressed, as “prejudicial,” no different than stock racist speech is suppressed by the culturally dominant today.

The Culturally Dominant

By “culturally dominant” I mean that group of people that broadly determines social acceptability.  This is related to the concept of the Overton Window—every society has a set of beliefs that are acceptable in public discourse, and those shift over time.  Naturally, at all times there are beliefs outside that window, but by definition those are fringe.  And, just as naturally, what is once fringe can become mainstream, within the window, and vice versa.  Those on the fringe are not culturally dominant, or even culturally relevant, they are instead isolated.

“Isolated” doesn’t (necessarily) mean persecuted, of course.  The Amish are isolated in this sense—they have no impact, in terms of power to do so, on the views of the culturally dominant, but they are not persecuted in any meaningful sense (and their isolation is largely self-chosen, in that they make no attempt to affect the broader culture directly—only by example).  On the other hand, 19th Century Mormons were isolated, and actually persecuted, so isolated can mean persecuted.

Thus, I think we can agree that what is acceptable to the “culturally dominant” determines the ability of individuals at the upper end of society to express their opinions, and this set of limitations largely forms the taste, manners, and morals of the society as a whole.  The culturally dominant are not a wholly monolithic group, but they are more so than in the past.  That is, I suspect that not that long ago “culturally dominant” views varied widely by geography, but this is less true now in these days of mobility and mass media.  By the “upper end of society” I mean not the wealthy, but those segments of society that largely define that society’s tenor:  elite opinion makers, tastemakers, employers, etc.  These today include segments of:  academia; the press; artists/authors; entertainers (movies, both actors and others; and sports, players, owners and leagues); major businesspeople (Zuckerberg; Bezos; Nooyi; Immelt);  and the upper professions (law, medicine, accounting, etc.).  They do not include politicians; small businesspeople, even if wealthy; the clergy; or the middle or lower classes.

I think we can also agree that in 2017 America, the culturally dominant are wholly “left” in orientation.  What precisely is “left” is a larger question, but of the three exemplars we are discussing (defined below, but roughly guns/abortion/sexual and gender issues), there is a clear “left” position.  No material number of members of any institution of cultural dominance currently take a position that is not “left.”  Whether a member could if he wanted is of course the discussion here, so I am not begging the question, merely pointing out that the members don’t—which is the definition of cultural dominance on an issue.

It is the culturally dominant who exercise the powers that we are discussing here.  That is, through a combination of direct pressure (e.g., penalizing in employment those who hold different views) or indirect pressure (e.g., promulgating the correct views through organs of dissemination, such as news media, entertainment media, and the like, which are nearly wholly controlled by them), they constrain, or can constrain, the expression of views contrary to those deemed acceptable by the culturally dominant.

Finally, we can agree that throughout history, in every society, what the culturally dominant accept and allow is different and changes over time.  What our culturally dominant accepted and demanded five years ago differed from what they accept today, and that is different than fifty years ago, or two hundred.  And, of course, the future will differ from today.

Framing and the Issues, In General

I am going to limit my discussion to the three exemplars chosen by you:  guns; abortion; and sexual/gender issues.  (By “gender” issues I take it you mean gender identity, not sex roles, although that latter could also be used as an exemplar and is its own discussion that is not dissimilar to the one here.)  Other exemplars are possible, for example race.  I don’t think race is an ideal exemplar here, though, since there are multitudinous facets and issues within that general category that complicate examining the issue as one issue.  I do think, as I note below, the historical treatment of race in the United States is highly relevant to all three exemplars.  And I do think that some specific issues related to race, notably what is currently called “diversity and inclusion,” are particularly relevant to this question of what speech is allowed by the culturally dominant.  But I will leave such current issues of race aside for now.

I am leaving aside, except where essential to the discussion, substantive political analysis of the three issues.  This is primarily, therefore, a set of philosophical positions and arguments, largely unrelated to what the public policy on any of the issues should be (except to the extent that is dictated by the philosophical position).

If I understand your framing correctly, I think you would agree that, in your view, the exemplars are listed in their order of decreasing moral acceptability to the culturally dominant.  That is, being an advocate of expanded gun rights is viewed with distaste in some quarters; being pro-life with somewhat more distaste and opprobrium; and opposing the au coourant view of sexual/gender issues is viewed as utterly unacceptable.  I also think that the issues are, in that order, ranked from least complex to most complex.

Finally, I believe that your core claim is a claim of moral evolution.  That is, on each of these issues, there is a view that is morally superior to other views, and that view has evolved over time, in a manner similar to other moral views of the past.  On abortion and sexual/gender issues, you explicitly relate this to the “humanity of fellow citizens.”  This necessarily implies that the evolved view is superior, and that this evolution is one-way.  Moving the other way is devolution, which while it could happen, would be a moral tragedy.  This means that, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the gravity of the  issue, there can be no legitimate disagreement.  Believing in a way other than the evolved view is, as you say explicitly, ignorance.  The goal of society, as led by the culturally dominant, must therefore be to remove the benighted from their ignorance.

In General, Continued; Two Opposing Religions

Therefore, if you are wrong, and it is not ignorance that creates the opposing, “conservative” view on these three issues, it must be one of two other things.  It must either be malice, or a coherent, philosophically derived position that differs from the position of the culturally dominant.  By malice, I mean in essence what is stigmatized as “stigma,” which is modern legal shorthand for a wholly irrational and negative approach to another human’s action.  This is, I think, what you mean when you use the adjective “prejudicial” to modify your list of conservative views “based on race, sexual-orientation, or gender.”

My premise is that the views of those opposed to the culturally dominant position, what may be characterized as “conservative” views, are not based on malice.  They could be, just as the “left” views could be, but that would have to be proven, not assumed, as you assume it.  Rather, my premise is that both “conservative” and “left” views are based on opposing religious views, wholly valid, wholly rational and wholly philosophically supported.  But I do not mean by that what you presumably think I mean, at first reading.

You mention religion only in the context of abortion (which I treat specifically below).  But this is too crimped a view of the relevancy of religion to the Question.  There is indeed a religious angle in our Question—actually, two religious angles.  One religious angle is, broadly speaking, aligned with traditional monotheistic religion.  The other is a set of religious beliefs that exalt unfettered autonomy and self-actualization.  It has no abstract god, but it is just as much a religion as any other, in the same way (as many have pointed out) Communism, and other modern ideologies, are just as much religions.  They posit required irrational beliefs that cannot be questioned while remaining faithful, they offer complete explanations of the world, and they even have their own sacraments, eschatology, and so forth.  They are merely alternate manifestations of the universal impulse to religion found in human nature, and the “left” view driving positions on these three issues, and on the Question, is squarely one such manifestation.

I could explain this at greater length, but (cheating somewhat) I am going to direct you to an earlier review of mine, of Mary Eberstadt’s It’s Dangerous To Believe.  And based on what I say there I will treat this premise, that there are two opposing religious beliefs underlying at least two of our three issues, as a coherently established premise.

For current purposes, the only modification/addition I will make is to generalize this religious conflict away from traditionally orthodox Christianity as one pole, and away from traditionally orthodox Judaism and Islam, which are essentially in coherence with Christianity on these points.  And, cheating again, I will generalize the conflict by quoting the theologian Michael Hanby, as quoted by Rod Dreher (a writer you might find some worth in reading yourself):  “Your final philosophical options come down to two. Either there is a word, or a logos, at the foundation of reality, so that reality is inherently intelligible and meaningful, and therefore there are natures, forms, that persist in spite of the flux of history and time; or, reality is fundamentally meaningless, and meaning is kind of an epiphenomenal construct superimposed upon it.”

This conflict, these two poles, are the fundamental philosophical conflict of our time, and the pole that recognizes reality is not even necessarily religious—it could just as well be Aristotelian or similarly pre-Christian.  This pole believes that there is such a thing as human nature, and that from there is derived objective morality and the reality that human behavior is and should be constrained.

The opposite pole that does not recognize reality of human nature as fundamental is primarily aligned with a philosophy that exalts maximal personal liberty and self-actualization.  Although that philosophy has several variants, they have no necessary limiting principle and so tend, over time, to converge on a wholly atomistic position.  In this context, as I outline in my review, it is best called “secular sexual autonomy,” or SSA, although the religion is by no means limited to sexual/gender matters (which include abortion rights).  It is perhaps best exemplified by Justice Kennedy’s (in)famous statement in Casey:  “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  (There are other highly important contexts not relevant here—for example, it is this philosophy that underlies unbridled capitalism and its instrumentalist/materialist view of humans, which, it is increasingly obvious in our society, can have pernicious societal effects.  Thus, some of what is typically labeled “conservative” actually falls at the opposite pole of what I am labeling “conservative” here.  But that is another story.)  Your view of moral evolution and the correctness of the “left” position falls squarely within this category of thinking.

I argue below that all three issues boil down to this question—what is reality, and how does it relate to human beings?  I further argue that your strongest attack, to analogize treatment of sexual/gender issues to racism, fails on this ground.

So, to the specific issues:

On Guns

This requires the least discussion, since I think you’ve correctly noted that it is not as freighted with essential questions about humanity as the other two.  Another way of stating that is that it does not fit cleanly into the “two religions” framework.  I think it does have implications about humanity, in particular the dignity of the ability to defend oneself.  But we can hold that discussion for another time.

However, I think you gloss over it too quickly as part of the overall Question—what positions are and should be acceptable to the culturally dominant?  Among the culturally dominant, a gun rights position is today, and relatively recently, generally regarded as morally deficient.  Now, this is among the odder situations, because the same people who argue for additional gun restrictions can, almost all the time, be easily shown to be wholly ignorant.  They know nothing about guns or gun issues, and what they do know is false and unreal, and easily proven so.  It is pure virtue-signaling, for the most part.  But it is virtue-signaling with real consequences.  Big law firms (which I tend to use as an example for obvious reasons) now dedicate enormous resources to pushing gun control.  No resources are directed to gun rights, and I expect they would not be permitted to be.

Thus, among the culturally dominant, the speech and activities of gun rights proponents are suppressed.  As I say, though, this is not because of the position of the issue in the “two religions” framework.  In fact, of the three, this is the (only) issue in which the culturally dominant position is rejected by society as a whole and has been totally unsuccessful at even holding the line in terms of legal restrictions, which, while still very significant, have been considerably loosened over the past several years.  This is probably related to that more gun rights is a position actually aligned with more autonomic liberty, the “left” position, which is the position in the ascendant in the culture as a whole.  There are other interesting aspects of gun control, including that its origin is wholly racist.  But as I say, and I think we agree, this topic illumines the Question least, so while I could say a lot more, I will move on.

On Abortion

I disagree that “pro-life rhetoric is not something that gets suppressed.”  I think that the culturally dominant punish pro-life speech considerably more than they punish pro-gun rights speech.  Again, to use my stock example, you would not be permitted to be openly pro-life in a major law firm, except (maybe, if you were quiet about it) to the extent of the personally-opposed, but OK for others, position you describe.

It is not the case that pro-life reasoning is “purely religious” and therefore not subject to a rational analysis.  In fact, modern science has changed the arguments from largely religious, in the time of Aquinas, to making religion totally unnecessary to the argument.  When, as I did, you can see a heartbeat at five weeks from conception (which is less than five weeks from actual conception, given how pregnancy “weeks” are calculated), and there is no scientific rationale of any kind to suggest that an unborn child is not human, it is the opposite conclusion that’s dictated.

In fact, the lines and arguments in favor of abortion rights are either wholly arbitrary, irrelevant or illogical.  For example, partial-birth abortion is legal, but infanticide is not, which is nonsensical.  Any earlier dividing line (e.g. viability) is nearly as nonsensical, and necessarily arbitrary.  Some abortion rights advocates, notably the odious Peter Singer, admit this and therefore are, as they logically must be, fine with infanticide and killing the disabled.  But none of this has any necessary connection to religion.

Religion does have a role, though.  The best modern analogy to abortion is slavery.  Cheating again, this is the point of my review of  Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.  And, of course, the primary driver behind the moral push to end slavery, both in the U.S. and in Britain, was Christianity.  (Slavery was historically never, in the West, justified by specific religious doctrine, with the narrow exception discussed below under sexual/gender identity issues; it was treated as a fact of life, as indeed it was.)  For purposes of the Question, though, the culturally dominant of the time (pre-Civil War America) viewed abolitionist speech as undesirable and necessary to punish and suppress, and abolitionists paid costs similar to those paid by pro-life conservatives today—though more limited, because the private sphere in those times was much larger than today.

Of course, if it were the case that arguments against abortion were wholly religiously based, that would in no way make at all make illegitimate their advocacy in public policy.  This is a common misconception that purely religious belief cannot or should not be used to justify restrictive public policies.  Nor is religion irrational in the sense you claim it is.

Finally, I think it’s ironic that your focus on sexual/gender identity issues is “humanity,” yet you are quick to deny humanity to the unborn child as “inherently illogical,” with no effort to demonstrate a claim that on its face is wholly implausible and whose consequences, if wrong, are unbelievably consequential—the claim that the unborn child is not human.  Honestly, I think this is a major gap in your thinking, and worth more consideration on your part.  That women are differentially affected by abortion restrictions is not an answer—that is merely a reflection of reality, of the real differences that exist between men and women, and even if that were not true, is not itself a self-proving argument.

On Sexual/Gender Identity Issues

This is the axis mundi of the Question—the center of all things.  Guns and abortion are in part practical/scientific discussions, but this is nearly pure philosophy.  Sexual/gender identity issues revolve around core issues of what morality is, what liberty is, human identity, and, as you say, humanity itself.  Therefore, despite these issues directly affecting only a small part of the population, a clear exploration of divisions and their causes is both beneficial and essential.

1)  I had originally written a long section segmenting various possible beliefs in this area.  But, after thought, I do not think that is necessary or particularly helpful.  Instead, I think it simplest and clearest to say that there are two positions:  One position, the “conservative” position, is that the norm is adult heterosexual identity and activity, and that variations from that norm are immoral and/or undesirable, to a greater or lesser degree.

You think this denies the humanity of gay people.  But you make no effort to demonstrate that.  Gay people aren’t identical to straight people; they vary in essential ways.  The question is whether that difference matters, and if it does, what does that imply?  Justice consists in treating those actually differently situated differently, not in treating everyone the same and ignoring those differences.  This does not mean all such differential treatment is treating people as “less,” though it can and has meant that sometimes in practice.

The other position, the “left” position, is that some set of deviations from the norm have no moral content and are wholly indistinguishable from heterosexual identity and activity in all relevant ways.  (By “some set” I mean to exclude certain sexual activities that the culturally dominant as of yet do not endorse, notably those involving diminished consent (children) and lack of consent (animals).  Though I do not understand your reference to “very young people” in parallel to gay people, with respect to rights permission.  Are you implying 12-year-olds are wronged by not being permitted the same sexual rights as adults?  That seems like an odd position for you, so I assume not, but given the rapid evolution of the culturally dominant positions . . . .)

2)  I think there is nothing at all wrong, invalid, or malicious in the sense defined earlier, about the “conservative” position.  Until very recently, of course, it has been the universal position of the West, and almost the universal position of mankind.  (The modern conception of homosexual identity is exactly that.  As many have pointed out, until the modern era nobody thought of individuals as “gay,” as a category of identity.  It is not the case, for example, that Greek homosexuality had much at all to do with modern categories, or disproves the “conservative” position.  But this is mostly interesting history, not directly relevant to this discussion.)  That one position has long usage is not proof, of course, but it does suggest that it is rooted in reality and human nature, and that would have to be disproven in detail, not breezily dismissed as “stigma,” to counter the weight of that suggestion.

3)  You think this is false, and that the conservative position is based on malice as defined earlier.  Specifically, you think that the conservative position is indistinguishable from the position, widespread until quite recently, that inter-racial marriage was immoral and/or undesirable, which is now a rejected, fringe position, which most people agree was and is correctly suppressed.  You believe that the same fate should befall the conservative position on sexual/gender issues.

4)  I reject this as unsupported sophistry.  It has the surface appeal of most sophistry.  But it fails on two counts.  First, philosophical opposition to interracial marriage, or more broadly to miscegenation, was itself largely a fringe position within history as a whole, derived from unique United States history and concepts of race that were unheard of before the 19th Century.  See, e.g., Spanish South America, Othello, the Roman Empire.  Most of humanity has not had a violent aversion, and often no aversion at all, to inter-racial marriage; the American legal regime that held in part of the country was the confluence of our history and bogus science.  It totally lacked the philosophical underpinnings, moral content, and recognition by human societies as a whole that the “conservative” position on sexual/gender issues has.  And it was not a mainstream religious position—although some Southerners constructed religious justifications, those were merely ends-directed mutations, intellectually equivalent to today’s prosperity gospel preachers, and with as much theological grounding.

Second, and philosophically related, bans on interracial marriage claim a false reality, that there are relevant differences between races that affect their humanity.  They therefore cannot be supported within the framework I outlined above, of the two poles.  But there are relevant differences, in reality, between men and women.  A marriage between a man and a woman is, in reality, not the same thing as a marriage between two men or between two women.  And I reject, as obviously wrong, that this is a distinction without a difference.

5)  So-called “gender identity” advocacy is even more attackable under this framework, since it is a wholesale denial of reality under the demand of the religion of SSA.  I think, and I think it wholly acceptable and valid to think, that those claiming a gender identity other than their biological identity have a mental illness, no different in type than schizophrenia, or apotemnophilia/xenomelia (disorders where the sufferer desires self-amputation).  This was the position of science and the culturally dominant until, oh, three years ago—and is in fact still the position of science, since you need a diagnosis of this illness to obtain insurance coverage for a so-called sex change.  That doesn’t prove anything, but it is probative of a variety of things, and it shows the extreme flexibility and one-way ratchet radicalism of SSA, which is merely one example of those characteristics being embodied in the “left” religious pole.  And the ultra-rapid evolution of all “left” positions on sexual/gender issues, where what was wholly unremarkable until recently is now regarded as the rankest prejudice, should give pause to their proponents, to consider that such rapidity implies not rationality, but herd behavior.

I am sure that you will “go blow for blow with anyone who tries to argue that [sexual/gender prejudice] is based on anything other than mis-information and fear.”  But you haven’t yet.  You’ve made an unsupported conclusory statement.  Not to mention that delineating it “prejudice” begs the question.  I am neither fearful nor mis-informed, and I (and many others, whose speech is suppressed) reject the creation of new, special rights for gay people, such as gay “marriage,” on philosophical grounds (just like Obama and Hillary until very recently!).

6)  These two views are wholly incompatible.  They are incompatible because there is no common philosophical ground.  Which leads to my next section . . . .

The Zero-Sum and the “Mendoza Option”

The obvious goal in any civil society is to reach an accommodation among people with differing views such that society can function with at least a minimum level of comity.  There are different ways to do that, of course, but in a democracy it is essentially a question of persuasion and compromise.

Or rather, it’s supposed to be.  But on these key issues that relate to our vision of reality and human nature, it has become apparent that one side refuses compromise, and is not especially interested in persuasion.  Focusing on sexual/gender issues, SSA advocates are only interested in complete destruction of anyone who holds the “conservative” view.  A few years ago this was not obvious, and it appeared that a “live and let live” accommodation was likely, as our society as a whole placed ever greater emphasis on autonomic liberty.  This is no longer the case, as myriads of examples from Baronelle Stutzman to Memories Pizza prove, not to mention your characterization, which is a common one, of such views as based solely on fear and mis-information, and therefore not to be treated as valid, but rather to be treated as evil.  Thus, it is now apparent this is a zero-sum game.  SSA implies no quarter for the conservative viewpoint; the conservative viewpoint must react by giving no quarter to SSA, for in practice each’s loss is the other’s gain.  To date, as implied by your triumphalist, evolutionary viewpoint, SSA, and more generally the “left” view, have correctly deemed themselves in the ascendant.  And, of course, one evidence of that is the Question itself—their ability to suppress as undesirable speech that opposes them.

As I say in my Eberstadt review (which I think illumines my positions here to considerable profit, if you have the time), as in Highlander, “there can be only one.”  Our society can only have one of these views, both with respect to sexual/gender issues, and more broadly on a range of issues related to human nature and reality on which there is, and can be, no common ground.  One must triumph.  The form of its triumph is not predictable, or in some ways particularly important.  The recognition of the fact is all, for it dictates action.  If comity is possible, all good men should strive for comity.  If comity is not possible, the first man to get to his knife wins.

Maybe that’s a metaphorical knife.  Maybe it’s not.  I suspect it’s not.  I have said, as you know, that Trump is the Candidate of Necessary Change.  I increasingly think, largely because of the unhinged reaction to Trump’s accession, that he will not be able to be the agent of change, but the resulting disorder and flux will both clarify positions, and may, to an unpredictable extent, scour the ground such that there is opportunity for attack upon and destruction of the “left” view.

Some conservatives, notably Rod Dreher, advocate that traditional Christians (and others of similar philosophical mind) focus not on such attack but on self-renewal of communities of the like-minded (the “Benedict Option”).  Dreher explicitly does not mean geographic separation, but a communitarian approach focused, at its root, on the “conservative” philosophy I outline.  While I think this is correct, and such action is necessary in these latter days for those who want to remake and rebuild the world, as and after it careens into a ditch, it is not sufficient in the modern world (for reasons beyond the scope of my thoughts here), and furthermore I think there is an unrealistic assumption at its core.

That unrealistic assumption is that such communities will be left alone, as were the communities of the original St. Benedict.  This is not the case.  In truth, because it is a zero-sum game, any such community will necessarily be attacked and destroyed by the government, controlled by the “left” view.  Its members will be debarred from employment, even menial, because of their views, and their children will be seized by the state.  In a world where the government is all-encompassing and the philosophy of the left is the governing philosophy, such communities will be wholly stamped out, in a way impossible in, say, early Rome.

What precisely this implies I am still working out.  But it is nothing good.  And one thing it implies is that an introspective, defensive approach is doomed.  I give my alternative approach the general name “Mendoza Option” (see, again, the Eberstadt review for the derivation).  Plus, of course, it is important to remember that none of this binary.  Like any society in distress, there are innumerable other factors—for example, the rapid rise of “white nationalism” (which has nothing to do with Breitbart or Steve Bannon, but is a real thing with very unpleasant consequences, whose rise is unsurprising given the identity politics pursued for decades by the Left) and the economic travails of much of the country.  The result is a vile stew.

But, as they say, cometh the hour, cometh the man.  By which I mean that in an unstable societal mix, aggressive action at the right moment can turn an entire society.  We should remember that American stability and comity, which we regard as natural, is in fact very much the exception throughout history.  And those who hold to the “conservative” viewpoint outlined here should be ready to take aggressive action, rather than relying on the (nonexistent) goodwill of their opponents or fatally optimistic views of how American society is supposed to work, with protections for religious liberty and free speech.  For, as the Question shows, that speech, and that liberty, are under direct and unapologetic attack, for which there is no adequate response except counter-attack.

First Postscript:  Post-Christianity

The West is Christian.  Of course, much of the West (North America and much of Europe) has extremely few observing Christians.  Most declared Christians in America, for example, are actually practitioners of what Dreher correctly identifies as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”—a pseudo-religion in which God requires nothing of the “believer.”  But what the “left” view discussed above utterly fails to appreciate is that all the common assumptions of our society, the society of the West, are Christian, and if Christianity disappears or becomes irrelevant, those assumptions will disappear.  And, since the “humanity” you cite as your touchstone is purely of Christian derivation (for proof of which you have only to understand Roman, Chinese or Indian culture, or Soviet Russia, or Nazi Germany), the result will be a society where humanity of others is ignored to a degree that you and I would find incomprehensible.  That is to say—the idea of moral evolution is false, and on our current path we will instead have moral devolution by everyone’s count, and it will be very, very unpleasant.  (On a side note, it is false that a society’s morality can be based on something other than religion.  There is no historical example of such a thing, and Steven Pinker’s idea that we can run a modern morality based on free exchange and positive-sum games is stupid.  It may be an ideological religion, but there will always be something.  And what we regard as our core moral beliefs are wholly derived from Christianity—as I am fond of pointing out, it is false that any religion other than Christianity has the Golden Rule as a core belief.)

Second Postscript:  On Liberty and the Great Fragmentation

I have put “conservative” in quotation marks in this epistle because, due to what I call the Great Fragmentation, there is no longer one conservative view of the world, as there was only a few years ago.  Cheating yet again, I refer you to my review of Ryzsard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy.  Here, I begin an ongoing exploration of the role and limitations of liberty in modern society and philosophy.  I refer to this merely to note why the quotation marks, and also to note that my references to “liberty” above are actually shorthand for a related set of philosophical arguments that have direct impact on the three issues discussed above, but are considerably broader.

I appreciate these exchanges and I learn a lot as I write and think through the ideas.  I feel a bit as though I’m playing in your arena, so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.  If this conversation continues and we begin to sit more squarely on the terrain of social identity, I’ll start dropping in some citations and such, but for now I’m happy to try to digest your references.

You’ll see below that I don’t address your ideas point for point, as I’m interested in a slightly different question.  I do provide some responses as I find the entire essay fascinating. 

Enjoy, and respond if the spirit moves you.

On framing:

I don’t think your interpretation of my question gets at the core idea I’m interested in, probably because I didn’t communicate it very clearly.  You’ve rephrased my question as “What speech is, and what speech should be, socially acceptable among the culturally dominant?”  I find this question fascinating, as it lets us unpack important constructs like ‘acceptability’ and ‘cultural dominance.’  However, I think my question is less philosophical at its core.  I’m interested in understanding what speech you feel is currently being suppressed.  To follow that, I’m interested in identifying the characteristics that may be common to this suppressed speech to help understand the motivation of the suppressors.  My hunch is that you feel that you already understand this and thus you moved past my question to address a slightly different question.  I’m not sure that the “suppressors,” and the “suppressed” understand the dynamic at play in the same way and this is the phenomenon I’m hoping to illuminate and better understand myself.  I will expand on this below and attempt to clarify the question, but first, I respond to a few more aspects of your analysis.

On binaries:

You’ve set up your analysis on the foundation of two poles; one, which recognizes the reality of human nature, and thus recognizes that human behavior should be restrained (in ways that are assumed, and seem to be in line with traditional Catholic doctrine), the other pole consists of people who are blind to the realities of human nature, or who reject (a particular view of) human nature, and thus adopt an anything-goes, self-actualizing stance toward human behavior.  One of the goals of my academic work, is to move past binaries.  They are comforting, easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to use in getting people to be for or against an idea, policy, group, etc.  And they are always oversimplified and leave out important perspectives.  In this case, the opposite of autonomic individualism is selfless communalism.  While you seem to favor one version of selfless communalism – dedication to religious hierarchy (e.g. in the form of TOC) – I see that you’ve set that aside for this discussion.  Setting aside TOC makes your position a bit less clear.  Dichotomies are problematic in each pole is defined by what the other is not.  So by labeling one of your poles TOC, with all the detail provided in your book review, you implicitly clarify the opposing label.  Without that clarity, the poles feel a bit uneven and I’m not sure I buy the distinction.  

(While I find it interesting to consider the Catholic world view at the heart of your take on Eberstadt’s book, I’m going to leave it for now.  Maybe we can come back to that one another time.  I’ve spent enough time in the Catholic church, as a non-Catholic, over the past 20 years that I’ve got lots of ideas I’d like to work out on that front.)

Taking your poles at face value, I’m not sure I arrive at the same conclusions.  If I choose to stick with stereotypical views of liberal and conservative stances, then I can see the conservatives characterizing liberal positions as anything-goes autonomic individuality.  However, liberals would likely characterize themselves as being communal.  Rather than self versus community, they would frame the distinction in terms of how inclusive or exclusive the community is.  Liberals would argue that conservatives narrowly define the terms of communal membership (what counts as “patriotism” what it means to be American, what counts as “family values,” etc.) in ways that fit a small set of members.  Liberals want a more inclusive community and define these terms more broadly.  Both groups hope to make a community that is morally good and supportive of its members, they have different views of morality and what it means to be supportive.

That’s all on a superficial, broad, stereotypical level.  I’m not sure debating broad views of “left” and “right” moves the conversation forward.  I’m interested in looking at a finer-grained level of detail where there are many more distinctions, differences, and messiness.  Where the similarities between Afrocentrism and White supremacy can be acknowledged, and where the differences in socio-historical positioning between the two groups can also be acknowledged.  Where the similar moral beliefs of the undocumented Catholic Mexican immigrants and white working class staunch pro-life advocates are acknowledged, and their differences in socio-historical positioning can also be acknowledged.  There is a great deal of messiness tied to particular views of reality.  As you say, this is the fundamental question, “what is reality and how does it relater to human beings?”  Similarly, as you well know, history shapes the meaning of the present.  The same view expressed by two people with different histories carries different meanings.  So as we look with a more fine-grained view at the suppression of conservative speech, we must also look at the sociocultural histories of the speakers.  That will make things messy, but also reflect reality more accurately.

It is the messiness that I want to understand.  I glossed over guns and abortion because they are framed as yes/no issues.  However complicated the concepts behind them, the debate on guns and abortion is about drawing a line, which will be arbitrary.  When it comes to talking about identity however, we can talk about ideas of humanity that aren’t defined by a single yes/no issue. 

On “culturally dominant”:

While I think we agree that there is a set of culturally dominant positions.  I’m not sure we agree on their role, or on the role of culturally subordinated positions. 

While you set up the culturally dominant position as one that leans “left” I would position the culturally dominant position as one that tends toward “center.”  My rationale comes from the position that the “upper end of society,” “opinion makers, tastemakers, employers, etc, reflect the epistemologies and ontologies of the white, middle- and upper-class.  This perhaps reflects an additional fracturing of the conservative – progressive binary.  The center, which you characterize as the left, has become myopically self-centered and self-righteous and is viewed by the non-white, non-middle class, “left”, as out of touch.

I spend a fair amount of my professional life advocating increased awareness of, and appreciation for, subordinated cultures.  In schools, the dominant culture is represented by the information in textbooks, curriculum, standardized tests, etc.  In these cases, the dominant culture is still defined by white middle class culture.   And there is still a one-sided view of the American narrative.   I encourage the teachers I work with to consider alternative ways of being and knowing – ontologies and epistemologies – that their students and the communities that their students come from, may hold dear.

In fact, this may be a source of wide-spread misunderstanding.  What many conservatives attribute to the “left” I attribute to the center.  (The “left” and “right” may, in fact, be closer to each other than to the center on a number of issues.) The ideas of the center constitute superficial and convoluted forms of ideas that come from the left.  These ideas originate from people for whom issues of identity politics matter in consequential ways.  For example, the difference in calling someone “an illegal” versus “undocumented” may be a matter of semantics to the Hollywood elite, but it is much more consequential to a 20-year-old Mexican who was brought to the United States as a 5-year-old.  When the white intelligentsia go through the motions of policing speech and telling people not to say “illegal” they often have no understanding of why.  But they feel righteous for standing up for undocumented immigrants.  This parroting of careful language use comes across as meaningless speech policing, which it often is.  (A: You can’t say that!   B: Why?  A: Its racist! B: Why? A: It just is.  Stop being racist.)

I do agree that the mainstream is drifting left on issues of identity politics.  I am pleased to see alternative visions of family (interracial, interfaith, same sex, etc.) in commercials, TV shows, and movies, in situations where they not held up as exceptional.   These instances begin to reflect the reality that many of us live in ways that push, just slightly, past tokenism.

On the Question:

To get back to the question I hoped to ask.  You state, “you would not be permitted to be openly pro-life in a major law firm.”  I’m curious what being openly pro-life looks and sounds like.  What kind of speech would be suppressed? 

Equally, I’m curious what speech is suppressed when it comes to identity politics.  I hear a lot about political correctness.  Does that mean a person is not allowed to say “Damn Mexcians keep stealing our jobs.  Those lazy illegals”?  Or does it mean someone is not allowed to say, “Undocumented immigrants are doing a lot of the unskilled, low-paying work that used to be done by rural workers without a college education”?

In other words, is it the content of speech that is suppressed, or the format of speech?  Having worked in the African American community most of my life, there was a sense in that community that both the content and format of speech was policed in school and in the workplace.  I wonder if conservative Americans are experiencing the same type of policing that other minority groups have experienced throughout American history.

I like the idea of moral evolution although I’m not sure I would apply it in quite the same way that you have.  I consider moral evolution to grow toward the belief that different ways of knowing and being are valuable in the world.  This is a core tenet of a pluralistic society.  I’m don’t think the idea of moral evolution applies easily to issues like gun rights or abortion.  When it comes to identity issues however I think it reigns supreme.  For a long time in the U.S. there was only one acceptable dominant culture, that of the land-owning elite defined primarily, as white men.  The ways of being and knowing of Native Americans, enslaved Africans and their descendants, other people of color, even women, were dismissed.  Their reality did not count.  They were dehumanized in a variety of ways, big and small.  Slowly, Americans have evolved, morally, to see all these groups of people as humans (more or less: we still need reminders that #Black Lives Matter).  There are new social groups and intersecting social groups (e.g. poor, gay, immigrant, men) that still struggle for recognition and rights.  So morally, we are evolving to acknowledge the humanity of all people.  I do see this as one-way progress.  And it is here I’d like to hear a contrasting argument.  I have yet to hear an argument against the humanity of members of a social group that I found compelling.  You didn’t offer one in your previous remarks. 

It is my understanding that much of the suppressed speech is in this arena.  This is what I called prejudicial speech, but I could more neutrally label it as speech that delegitimizes or denies the value of particular perspectives, particular ways of knowing and being, based on a social identity.  Do you consider this type of speech to fit into the category of “conservative speech” that you feel is being suppressed?  Here is where I’d like elaboration.

The feeling that certain views are not acceptable in the workplace certainly has a longstanding history in the U.S.  When it comes to suppression of conservative speech, there are some who would say, “Of course, suppressing unpopular speech is what we do in America.” But I like to think that moral evolution is taking us past such behaviors.  The moral evolution recognizes human nature and seeks to constrain behaviors that hurt our society.  Thus, we must understand the conservative identity, and the epistemologies and ontologies associated with it, so that we can be respectful and accepting of it in our schools, businesses, and society at large.

Okay, my energy is waning and I need to do other things.  Here’s where I think I’ve landed.  I really am interested in more detail about what exactly is being suppressed.  While you say, the plural of anecdote is not data.  I say, case studies are a fantastic tool for theory building.  Give me an anecdote/case or two that helps me see suppression of conservative speech and ideas. 

In addition, I’m curious if you feel that the suppression of conservative speech and ideas is a different mechanism than the suppression of speech and ideas from other marginalized groups throughout US history.   Is the suppression remarkable because the mechanism of suppression hasn’t been directed at conservatism historically?  Is it remarkable because liberals won’t acknowledge that such a suppression exists at all?  (Denial of the suppression of speech is an inherent facet of the mechanism of speech suppression, but one which white liberals have never been willing to admit.)

As I say, we should run the country.  But we don’t, and we won’t, because, if there is one thing people can agree on across the political spectrum, it is that not the thoughtful, but the ambitious, attain power.  Ah, well.

I’ll try to be respectful of your time, and keep this fairly limited.  I will first answer the specific question you put to me, and then have some thoughts on humanity and binaries, since those are topics you return to several times.  I will hold aside for later discussion thoughts on cultural dominance, on which I think we largely agree.

Two side notes first.  Implicit in what you say (though irrelevant to the substance) is that I’m Catholic.  I’m not actually Catholic—I would say “Roman Catholic fellow traveler.”  This is somewhat like Steve Bannon, with fewer ex-wives.  I’m very much Christian, of course, though that is somewhat in flux, moving towards more observant.  I tend to view things through the Catholic viewpoint, which includes high church Protestantism and is precise, perhaps legalistic, in thought, since it fits my thought patterns.  The vocabulary that comes from that background is very particular and I tend to recognize and speak in it—that’s neither good nor bad, but is, I think, not as evocative to someone not as familiar with it (though you seem to be—but modern liberal Catholicism mostly does not speak in this idiom).

Second, you strive to “understand the conservative identity, and the epistemologies and ontologies associated with it.”  Now, “epistemology” and “ontology” are, seriously, words that of which I can never remember the meaning.  But leaving that aside, and having consulted my dictionary for the eight hundredth time, I think this is valuable.  My only note is that among the educated today, all conservatives necessarily understand the left-liberal identity, because they are totally surrounded with it, its arguments, and its preferred presentations of facts.  But a liberal can literally spend his entire life not exposed to any conservative arguments at all, other than through caricatures.  He could go to school, consume media, engage in social activity, and literally never be exposed to a coherent conservative argument of any type.  Conservatives are, from kindergarten, continuously necessarily bombarded with detailed and aggressive left-liberal arguments in every walk of life.  In today’s world, this is probably a weakness for left-liberals, so I think your approach, leaving aside its comity benefits, is tactically valuable to someone who cares about the issues you care about.

On The Suppression of Pro-Life Speech

You ask, of my statement “you would not be permitted to be openly pro-life in a major law firm,” “I’m curious what being openly pro-life looks and sounds like.  What kind of speech would be suppressed?”  Below are a range of pro-life activities, ranging from most acceptable to the culturally dominant to the least acceptable.  All assume that the action is taken by an employed lawyer at a large law firm and becomes known to key decision makers at the firm, whether to an immediate supervisor or at some higher level.

  1. Saying to a friend privately, who you know agrees with you, that you are personally opposed to abortion, but think it should be legal, and you would never interfere with a woman’s right to choose (“Position A”).
  2. Saying to the same friend, also privately, that you are personally opposed to abortion, and think it should be generally legal, but partial-birth abortion should be made illegal (“Position B”).
  3. Saying to the same friend, also privately, that you are personally opposed to abortion, and think it should be illegal, with some or no exceptions (“Position C”).
  4. Stating Position A at a private dinner party (or B, or C).
  5. Stating Position A, B, or C to another lawyer of your acquaintance at a firm function.
  6. Stating Position A, B, or C to a group of lawyers at a firm function.
  7. Stating Position A, B, or C in a public forum, such as a blog post or letter to the editor.
  8. Providing pro bono legal services to National Right to Life.
  9. Donating $100 to National Right to Life.
  10. Donating $10,000 to National Right to Life.
  11. Donating money to oppose Planned Parenthood.
  12. Appearing at a pro-life rally.
  13. Appearing at an anti-Planned Parenthood rally.
  14. Picketing an abortion clinic.
  15. Vandalizing an abortion clinic.
  16. Shooting an abortionist.

Anything from and including #3 upwards could have significant negative effects on employment.  Anything from and including #6 upwards would be almost guaranteed to do so, with the possible exception of taking Position A in #6 (but not in #7).  Some would simply not be allowed AND suggesting them would have a negative impact, for example, #8.

Note that most law firms won’t even sell legal services to social conservatives—no big law firm would defend DOMA or anything associated, see https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/us/the-case-against-gay-marriage-top-law-firms-wont-touch-it.html, and I would expect that no law firm would allow itself to be hired for any matter related to pro-life issues, or for gun rights.  This may not seem important, but it is a simple fact not visible outside the profession that there is a very steep difference in ability in the lawyers among law firms, closely correlated to size, so that leaves only a tiny fraction of top lawyers left.  And it also gives the lie to the frequent claim when some unpopular leftist criminal or terrorist is defended for free that “everyone deserves representation.”

On The Suppression of Other Speech

You also ask, “I’m curious what speech is suppressed when it comes to identity politics. . . . . [I]s it the content of speech that is suppressed, or the format of speech?”  I think that the exact suppression depends on which identity is in question, but that, in general, format is merely an extension of content.  That is, there is a point at which both format and content are forbidden, but somewhat more controversial content could be expressed if done in a neutral, or submissive, format.

The example you give is a good one of speech that might be acceptable in content but not in format.  However, using emotionally loaded words (“damn Mexicans,” “lazy”) is a bad example, because that’s not really the format we’re talking about.  Such speech is generally not accepted in the environments we’re focusing on, regardless of issue, and its suppression is not so much a matter of political position but rather good taste and politeness.  (We can ignore here that certain statements could be viewed as in bad taste by some and not by others; this is not one of those.)  By “format,” therefore, I mean not being rude or offensive by vocabulary choice, but phrasing differently in order to change the substantive impact of the statement.  On this distinction, this mostly means the statement falling on a line stretching from mere analysis on one end to policy advocacy on the other end.  Both statements you offer are analytical.  A better counterpoint to your two would be dropping the emotionally laden statement as irrelevant to this distinction, and substituting a second, neutral phrasing:  “We should aggressively limit illegal immigration through increased border enforcement, penalties and deportations, in order to raise the wages and employment rates of citizens without a college education.”

So, on this framework, there is a multi-part test for what is suppressed.  First, what identity or issue is in question?  Purely factual statements about some identities, especially sexual/gender identities, are often suppressed if they express the “incorrect” view in the eyes of the culturally dominant.  But generally purely factual statements, such as yours about undocumented immigrants, are less likely to be suppressed.  Second, is the statement wholly analytical or partially or wholly advocacy?  The more it is viewed as advocacy, the more likely it is to be suppressed.  My new statement above would be suppressed in most instances where the culturally dominant control, in the sense it would be disapproved of and that disapproval would be made to be felt.

I don’t know precisely what you refer to when you mention “policing other minority groups have experienced throughout American history,” but unless your argument is that policing was bad while this is good, that strikes me as more history than argument.

On Case Studies

You ask for “an anecdote/case or two that helps me see suppression of conservative speech and ideas.”  Here you go, with no editorial comment, off the cuff:

https://www.thefire.org/category/cases/

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/anthony-esolen-contra-mundum-catholic/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonybradley/2014/04/05/backlash-against-brendan-eich-crossed-a-line/#44f5d2266f8a

Related to this, of course, are suppressions of conservative action, such as that of Baronelle Stutzman.  I’d be interested in your thoughts about that specific case, which, of all cases, is the one recent that most proves my basic earlier point, that there can be only one.

On The Remarkability of Suppression of Conservative Speech

You ask, “I’m curious if you feel that the suppression of conservative speech and ideas is a different mechanism than the suppression of speech and ideas from other marginalized groups throughout US history.   Is the suppression remarkable because the mechanism of suppression hasn’t been directed at conservatism historically?  Is it remarkable because liberals won’t acknowledge that such a suppression exists at all?  (Denial of the suppression of speech is an inherent facet of the mechanism of speech suppression, but one which white liberals have never been willing to admit.)”

This is a good question, but not one that will get a lengthy response from me, because my basic answers are “No” and “Yes, though I’m not sure I said it was ‘remarkable,’ or that it is ‘remarkable.’”  It is not surprising that those with power attempt to retain and extend that power by silencing their political opponents.  To what degree that has occurred in America in the past in various contexts is another question, but none of this strikes me as new in quality.

The Reverse Question

My turn for a question!  I’m curious what speech you think deserves suppression.  It seems to me pretty clear from the framework you set up that you think some set of conservative speech deserves suppression.  It may be that you think some set of non-conservative speech also deserves suppression, but that would be outside your framework, which focuses on “prejudice” and “dehumanization,” which apparently only occur in the framework of conservative speech, although you don’t say that explicitly.

It seems to me that your framework is perilously close to that conservative speech should be allowed, except that that is prejudicial or dehumanizing in some way—but that any controversial socially conservative speech is prejudicial and dehumanizing.  If that’s not true, what would help see the difference is specific examples to the contrary.

People on the Left frequently talk about how important tolerance is.  But tolerance, of course, is not tolerance when one agrees with the content of another speaker; it is tolerance when one violently disagrees and is disgusted, yet keeps that feeling completely to oneself, or takes and practices an actual Voltaire-type position (“defend to the death” and all that).  Which is why today’s Left isn’t tolerant at all.  Certainly there are people on the Left who are tolerant, who try to “be respectful and accepting of it in our schools, businesses, and society at large.”  But I think that is a very small group, and as I say, it is not clear to me what actual controversial conservative beliefs you would tolerate in practice, since I expect you are directly exposed by contact with informed individuals (other than through me!) to quite few—although I could certainly be wrong about that and do not intend to be presumptuous.

On Humanity

The concept of “humanity” and its negative active, “dehumanization,” occur in several spots in your analysis, but you don’t define them.  Among other uses, you say that “Americans have evolved, morally, to see all these groups of people as humans” but you have “yet to hear an argument against the humanity of members of a social group that I found compelling,” given that “much of the suppressed speech is in this area.”  This implies a linkage between today’s arguments, including mine, and historical failure to see certain “groups of people as humans.”  This strikes me as a fundamental error in apprehension.

“Dehumanization”, Bing tells me (for Google is evil), is defined as “the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities.”  This is a common historical event, arising from the desire of every person to feel superior to others, which is easiest to do both as a member of a group and in opposition to another group.  And, naturally, it is efficacious for those in power, and largely irrelevant to those without power, since the powerful don’t really care if they’re being dehumanized, if there is no actual effect.  When Europeans slaughtered Indians, or Australian Aborigines, or the Indians slaughtered Europeans, all parties made it easier on themselves by viewing the others as less than human.  Of course, the 20th Century is the outstanding global example of this—take your pick, from Hitler to Pol Pot.  None of this seems controversial.

But what is controversial, and wrong, is the linkage between this and, broadly speaking, conservative positions, which you make explicitly.  It may be that arguments against gay marriage, or special gay rights in general, or gender fluidity, or what have you, are arguments “against the humanity of members of a social group.”  But you haven’t made any effort to show that, and given the historical freight of the phrasing, I think this is a dubious rhetorical device.  Saying a social group “struggles for recognition and rights” is self-evidently not the same thing as saying they “struggle against dehumanization,” yet you equate the two without discussion.  (Nor is “recognition” the same thing as “rights.”)

Thus, when you ask “Do you consider this type of speech [meaning “speech that delegitimizes or denies the value of particular perspectives, particular ways of knowing and being, based on a social identity”] to fit into the category of ‘conservative speech’ that you feel is being suppressed?,” I’m not sure how to answer that without examples being given to me, other than to note this has nothing to do with “dehumanization” in its normal and historical sense.  Of course I deny the “value of [some] particular perspectives, particular ways of knowing and being.”  For example, to keep with our current examples, I think that the perspective that gender is fluid and not tied to biological sex is of no value and insane, just like the perspective of a schizophrenic who thinks he is God.  But that is not “dehumanizing.”  In fact, it is “humanizing” to treat reality objectively.  It is dehumanizing to pretend that reality is not real and to treat people on that pretense.

On Binaries

I agree that life isn’t truly binary, and it sounds like you have studied this quite a bit (I’m interested in some more thoughts on this topic, divorced from political issues).  Generally, it seems to me that nobody really thinks of the world as truly binary, or its exact opposite; in a messy world, everything is always more complicated than its abstract summation.  The besetting error of any ideology is to focus too much on the abstract.  Binaries may be “oversimplified,” as you say, but I don’t think they are always oversimplified.  In any given instance, it is possible, and is often the case, that matters are binary enough to use a binary analysis as a proxy for analysis and action.  Otherwise, you get lost in the weeds.  And on the issues we are discussing here, I think the two basic poles are fairly clear, and they are linked to opposing basic presumptions about the world, thus implying that a binary analysis is both valuable and not overly divorced from the actual positions.

I don’t think, though, that’s necessarily the same thing as saying “as we look with a more fine-grained view at the suppression of conservative speech, we must also look at the sociocultural histories of the speakers.”  Why?  In some cases, that may provide a fuller picture of motives, but it is a bedrock principle of Western thought that principles can exist regardless of the qualities of the speaker.  My concern, borne out by practice, is that focusing on the qualities of the speaker is often used as a rationale for not addressing the content of the speech on its own merits.

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2 Comments

  1. Found your site from an amazon review. Coincidentally i live in Carmel and I wonder why our paths have never crossed, based on your interests.

    • Charles Charles

      Oh, I’m a ghost. I’m semi-prominent in some business circles, at least by reputation. But I’m non-existent in local politics or anything related to it.

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