Sunday, January 3, 2016

Let's Disagree in 2016

I have conservative friends, and we agree on very little. We bond over agreeable topics like sports and alcohol as a warm up to arguing, our real shared passion. Sometimes it gets heated and I'll question if my friends' arguments aren't a little too missile-happy and they'll question if my ideas aren't a bit naive. Or to put it in "Team America: World Police" terms, I'll say they're thinking like dicks and they'll say I'm thinking like a pussy.

The point is, we critique the ideas, not the person.

At some point, someone will casually suggest that we not talk politics. We're at a party. We should "keep it light". By this they mean gossip about the neighbors, like them. One thing my conservative friends and I agree on wholeheartedly is contempt for this suggestion.

As far as personal contempt, there is one type of person we can both agree on having nothing but spite for. This person is called "politically correct" but there are plenty of them on both sides of the aisle. This person is addicted to a drug that's hit the market slowly over the past few decades. The drug is fake indignation.

You know the type. They spoil every discussion by listening on the periphery, waiting for a chance to "be offended". Once they've declared their offense, loudly and in hyperbolic fashion, they inevitably hold their hands out.

What do they expect? A cookie? Tire coupons?

They expect apologies and reparations because you stated an opinion and they had a feeling. But unless your opinion was an outright declaration of racism (as in race A is always > than race B) or a "we ought to round up all the _______ people" and they're a ______ person, you likely don't owe an apology. You are allowed to have opinions. Other people are allowed to have feelings in response to your opinions. But their feelings do not inherently take priority over your opinions.

We should have a standard response for an indignation-addict when they hold their hands out: Congratulations on identifying your emotions, but you are not entitled to any form of compensation. Or, in the terms of the cosmic pessimism of Stephen Crane, "A man said to the universe, 'Sir, I exist.' 'I know,' the universe replied, 'but this has produced in me no sense of obligation.'"

The trouble with indignation addiction is that it puts vital debate in a deep freeze by creating toxic levels of self-censorship. Perhaps worst of all is what it's done to college campuses: the places where new ideas used to be born via free, passionate disagreement. Many comedians won't play college campuses anymore because the audiences are so uptight they're immune to comedy. That's tragic. Immunity to comedy is usually a hallmark of dictatorships and theocracies.

We always need to debate certain balances in our society. Taxation and government services will always be linked, so we will always need to debate the level of taxation and government services we need. Liberals are likely to remain suspicious of the profit motive while conservatives are likely to continue to revere it. We need to find a better balance between security and freedom. There are no solutions without discussing these topics civilly, without hair-trigger over-reactions and censorship based on emotion.

According to a recent Princeton study, we are now functionally an oligarchy rather than a democracy. We need to talk about that.

More Americans have been killed in the U.S. by lightning since 9/11 than by terrorists. Does this mean we should spend trillions on a never-ending war on clouds? We need to talk about that.

Right-wing Christian terrorists have killed more Americans in the U.S. since 9/11 than Muslim terrorists (48 > 45). We need to talk about that.

Most importantly, this is an election year. Contrary to many of my liberal friends, I want to hear everything the Trumps of the world have to say. I want them to reveal themselves via their free speech. They are, in effect, on a public job interview. The last thing I want them to do is shut up. I want to hear which candidates on either side promise massive infrastructure projects (expensive) and tax cuts (expensive) and a lower national debt (expensive) with no explanation of how that magic trick works. I love it when they show me they're lying because the promises they make contradict basic math.

Let's not allow our freedom of speech to be frozen by the imagined right of an emotional few to never be offended. Though our society isn't exactly suffering from an over-abundance of compassion, we can't let the feelings of a few end our most vital conversations before they even begin.