Monday, November 9, 2009

Not valid

Here is what frustrates me about American politics: everyone feels the need to respect every point of view and every belief that is presented. Even if the points of view are bigoted and discriminatory, and the beliefs are scientifically proven to be inaccurate.

This is where I feel that we've taken the whole "freedom of speech" thing too far.

The media gets accused of bias all the time, from all different sources. And the result of that is a skewed idea of what is "balanced coverage." Balanced coverage now seems to mean taking everybody seriously, no matter how ludicrous the things that they are saying.

And if you DON'T take someone seriously when they, for example, compare marrying someone of the same sex to marrying a horse, or say that they don't believe in interracial relationships, or announce that poor people deserve to be poor--well, then you get reamed for being intolerant and narrow-minded. For not being open to all opinions.

Well, here's what: Some things just aren't open to opinion. It is not a valid opinion to believe that other people aren't deserving of equal rights because they have some characteristic, or set of characteristics, that you don't like. It is not a valid opinion to believe that poor people who are dying of treatable diseases don't deserve to be treated because it is somehow their own fault that they are sick or poor.

I wish that we could all move beyond this incredible need to be politically correct, and this insane definition of political correctness that seems to say that we all need to be open to listening to ridiculous extremists.

It's not that I'm saying that people shouldn't have a RIGHT to say what they want, even if what they're saying is bigoted and uninformed. The fact that people are allowed to say those things is what I think is good about free speech. But I don't think that the rest of us should have to take that bigoted speech seriously. I just think that we're all so focused on free speech as a concept that we forget the difference between "people can say what they want" and "everything that everyone says has value and merit."

It is hard to get accurate information, and engage in intelligent conversation, when misinformation and personal beliefs are given the same weight and deference as actual facts and analysis.

I'm sick of it. I'm sick of everyone bending over backward to please fringe groups. I'm sick of everyone saying that we all have to be open to all sides and that if we aren't, then we aren't having a fair debate.

I'm open to debate with people who disagree with me--as long as their opinions are based in fact. I am not open to debate with people whose opinions are based in skewed belief systems that tell them that it's OK to treat certain groups of people as second-class citizens, because I do not believe that they can participate in a reasonable, productive discussion.

Period. End of story.

Our whole basis in the idea of limited government, and freedom of speech, and lots of individual rights, has been taken to an extreme where people think that it's OK to say or do whatever the hell they want, all in the name of the U.S. being a "free country." Even when that speech includes not allowing the president of the U.S. (the PRESIDENT. Of the COUNTRY.) to speak to American children about the importance of education. Even when that speech includes saying hateful, uninformed things about other people based on inaccurate beliefs.

How did we get here? Why do we have no more belief in the common good? Why are we so insistent on the rights of the individual to spew hatred and call it a valid opinion? Why do so many people think this is OK?

Because it isn't OK. Not at all.


  1. Um...I think I love you...

    While I see nothing wrong with trying to understand the other person's point of view, I do not see the need to embrace, accept, and support it "just because" they have a right to state that opinion.

    Freedom is wonderful, and I'm thankful to live where we have so many, but freedom without self-restraint? Freedom without responsibility? Um, that's called toddler-hood. Toddlers? Not the kind of people I want running my country.

    My mother used to say, "Your freedom of speech ends at my ears." Ok, she still says it, but now she's not referring to my stereo.

  2. Overall, I agree with you. We fall on the same side of the political spectrum and vote the same way on a number of social issues. The idea that our nation should run on truths is important to me, too.

    However, I come to the same conclusion from a slightly different path. I do think we are all entitled to our own opinions/beliefs, educated or not. If someone wants to spew ignorance, let he/she look like a fool. I don't care.

    However, I do have a problem when said individuals (a) are allowed to preach said beliefs as truths (and not countered with something more closely aligned to the truth) and (b) are allowed to dictate law based on said beliefs. The problem in our country is an inability to accurately inform our voters.

    I think all of us (even some of the more educated folks) have faced being asked to make a decision based on inaccurate or not enough information. And that's where I think we are politically broken.

  3. I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with you.

  4. I have been trying to reiterate these exact words to a few acquaintances of mine who have their heads up their asses but I end up getting so frustrated that I can't effectively articulate my point. I think I'm going to read this post to them word for word. :-)

  5. i remember being appalled the first time i learned that germany in particular restricted "free speech" so as not to allow nazi hate-speech to ever be resurrected. i was in.. 8th grade, maybe? when i found this out, and having been brought up in our Free Speech Trumps All nation, i found the idea shocking and wrong.

    now? yeah. seems like a fucking GRAND idea. you're so right: fear- or hate-based theories, ones based in hysteria and not in fact, should not be given equal weight and equal validity. they just shouldn't.

  6. I see freedom of speech as people having the right to say idiotic things if they want to, HOWEVER I don't think we have to respect those things and my freedom of speech also says I can call them an idiot. hehe

    No, seriously, I agree with you.

  7. Nope, discrimination is not okay. But I also believe (not based on any fact whatsoever - it's just my opinion, don't hate me) that a lot of the hot issues today aren't necessarily about discrimination - it's about fear of drastic change - and the loss of things individuals can control - in a world that is mostly uncontrollable. I have to admit, in a world where health care has always worked for me, the idea of changing how things work drastically is scary. Not to say I don't think the system needs change, but the lack of understanding of how drastically things will change is kind of scary.

    So dismissing dissenting opinions as uneducated and discriminating seems a little bit extreme - I think everyone has reasons behind their beliefs, and it's hard to determine fact from opinion anyhow. I would LOVE to see Obama address the fears that some people have about his plans for change. To leave behind the political parties and the fight that will always exist there to really focus on the individual fears. Because there has been a lot to fear in this country we live in over the last 10 years - and until someone speaks to those fears, no one will calm down about big change, whether they are for or against the proposed change, there will always be chaos.

  8. wow, I was expecting pictures of a goat farm!

    (oh yeah, and I agree with the post, duh)

  9. perhaps you should be my new BFF.

    Word and word.

  10. Thank you. THANK YOU. The current craze for presenting obviously wacko conspiracy theories as valid "dissenting opinions" drives me up the wall.

    I have a coping mechanism, though. When I am sitting here overhearing my office neighbor's diatribe re:some new ridiculous thing and gritting my teeth and wishing for EAR FLAPS THAT CLOSE, I think: it's all part of the transition. We're moving from a society in which there was a single, fairly unified, more-than-slightly paternalistic News Media, which presented an intelligent and balanced but unassailable statement of The World. Now there a million voices, all yammering at once, and the authoritative mediators of those voices are being slowly chipped away, as we move into a different way of finding out about the world. Nobody really knows how to negotiate those millions, or how to create meaningful dialogue (DI-YA-LOG, Neighbor, not RANT). Case in point: the way intelligent, educated, and well-meaning people too often contort themselves to be sensitive to the "feelings" of wackos. There's got to be some other way.

  11. I think the whole philosophy is that ideas are supposed to put out into the marketplace, and the market decides what is valid/truthful. That way we don't encounter the slippery slope of censorship. Everyone is free to speak and the public determines what is...credible.

    It's not easy to tolerate, that's for sure. But we have to give the devil protection to make sure our own speech can be heard and not censored. I am not saying we need to respect all viewpoints in and of themselves. I surely don't. That is the marketplace. We get to decide what to 'buy'.

    Or you know, I could be completely misunderstanding you.

  12. Misty--I don't think you're misunderstanding me. I think we're on the same page. You are totally right. And what I'm saying in this post is that I choose not to "buy" those ridiculous opinions and, more importantly, I wish that people understood that we all, including the media, have the right not to "buy" them. And that the problem I have is that the current definition of "PC" and "balanced coverage" includes "buying" all opinions, even the insane ones.

    So my point is, I'm not saying those people shouldn't be allowed to say those things. The fact that they are allowed to say those things is what I think is good about free speech. I just think that we're all so focused on free speech as a concept that we forget the difference between "people can say what they want" and "everything that everyone says has value and merit."

  13. I respectfully disagree. I think that the only way to combat ignorance is to expose it and that requires brutally free speech.

    Most of the folks who have such hateful views cling to a rather fundamental notion that faith not facts should run their life. If it were the other way around and we were in the minority (according to recent polling I'm not entirely certain that we're not already), I wouldn't be comfortable with the evangelical Christians deciding that my speech could be limited because it wasn't based on faith. In short, our system doesn't allow those in power to set the definition of "valid" and what worries me is any sort of system that does.

    And I don't know about you, but I had to go through a metal detector at the Jewish Museum in Berlin just as I did at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, so I'm not convinced that Germany's free speech and anti-Nazi policies are any more effective at combating anti-semitism than ours. In fact, they felt more like an attempt to make it seem as if National Socialism was something that happened TO Germans rather than something many of them embraced during an insanely challenging economic crisis.

  14. I guess I'm combining this with a previous post and jumping to conclusions, sorry.

  15. Oh, I know. I just get so tired. Where is the balance?

    I think it comes down to how we treat each other individually. We don't know how to be neighbors anymore, you know?


  16. I'm sure I'm missing several points here, but you started out by saying we shouldn't be so tolerant of everyone's beliefs and then later, those beliefs that are, for lack of a better word, strongly worded, are bad?

    Hate is a form of intolerance, right? So which beliefs expressed as intolerance are you saying are okay?

    I know this is a really deep issue, and that I'm still struggling to wake up, but whenever someone starts talking about curtailing freedom of expression that slope always seems to get slippery really fast.

  17. okay, I read what I said and it still doesn't make sense, even to me. I'm just saying, those expressions of bigotry or whatever - that's an expression that's not being polite and kind to everyone, right? Except those strong opinions aren't agreeable to you so they shouldn't be allowed?

    Does that make more sense? Geesh. I'm terrible with words today.

  18. Penny--What you're saying makes sense. The thing is that I'm not saying we should curb free speech. I totally believe in everyone's right to say what they want, even if what they're saying is bigoted and uninformed. But the problem is that we place so much emphasis on free speech that we've lost the ability to distinguish between people being allowed to say what they want, and the rest of us having to take it into a consideration as a valuable contribution to the overall discussion. Do you see what I'm saying?

    I don't think we should place limits on free speech. But I do think that we spend too much time during political controversies giving weight to bigotry because if we don't, we're told that we're not giving equal consideration to all sides. I'm saying that not all sides are equal, even though everyone has a right to take whatever side they want.

  19. First of all: Delurking, hi! Love your blog!

    Second of all: I agree with you on your actual political/social stances here...people shouldn't be denied basic rights because of differing beliefs, circumstances, sexual orientations etc.

    Third: I don’t actually think that the problem here is that we’ve become too politically correct. I think the problem is that while Freedom of Speech is the first amendment and everything, and one of our Big Deal philosophies as a country, it hasn’t always been in practical use. For a long time freedom of speech mean freedom of white, protestant men to say whatever they wanted. Which, you know, isn’t cool…but that was the context of the times. But then times changed and wars happened, and economies boomed and busted, and people kept writing books and other people kept reading those books, and then banning them from libraries, and then reading them more etcetera etcetera. And the end result of that was that paradigms shifted, and the philosophy expanded to include other groups, women and minorities and pieces, and all that good stuff. And of course, the expansion usually (read: ALWAYS) took uphill battles and ugly examples of human bigotry.
    I think about if the issue of same sex marriage had come up fifty years ago, how there would be no question of the outcome. There was no argument. There wasn’t even the vocabulary to have the argument…it just existed totally outside of the majority population’s worldview. I think about the people who fought against the civil rights movement, about the mark of shame that is today. I think about fifty years from now, when fighting against the rights of the gay population will also be a mark of shame.
    Tolerating the words of the willful bigots, of the zealous misguided is beyond frustrating at times…it’s infuriating. But again, I don’t think that’s a new problem, I think it’s an old one.

    Fourth: OMG will this comment never end??? I’m sorry for the lengthyness/any inadvertent pretentiousness, but I guess I just kind of have a soft spot for political correctness. I think we’ve had to work incredibly hard for like, two hundred years to get to a place where people actually have to consider multiple sides to some of the more complex social issues. These are dying beliefs we’re dealing with here, and I actually think it’s the fact that we DO put so much emphasis on considering all viewpoints, letting everyone’s voice be heard, that’s causing them to die. There is just too much evidence, too many human faces, to let them continue. Our paradigms are shifting…the philosophy is expanding. But, to be fair, I still want to staple Glenn Beck’s mouth shut.

  20. Sister, you are singing one of my favorite songs.

  21. I'm probably going to be completely off base here but I think that what you're saying too is that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences. In this case the consequence of one person's freedom of speech is another person's saying "hey, that's a big fat load of horse crap!"

    Another way to put it (and I have, often, with certain in laws): "Yes, the constitution gives you the right to free speech. It does not give you the right to my absolute and unquestioning agreement with you."

    Or I might have your meaning completely twisted and backwards :)

  22. I've read your blog for a while, this is the first time I'm commenting. Obviously, I dig your writing.

    In response not to you, but to many of your commentators (and allow me to point out what must be really clear but probably no one but me would say -- almost all of your readers appear to be white women): there is no free speech in America. I shouldn't have to go through the laundry list of Black activists, of Native American freedom fighters, who have been murdered or imprisoned or otherwise silenced. This isn't nutty conspiracy theories, it's plain facts. Look up Fred Hampton, Jr., if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

    As for the idea that fear and bigotry are somehow disconnected, I don't follow. White people are scared stupid that we (the Black and Brown folks) are taking what is theirs. It is easy for them to ignore that everything in this country has been built by our sorrow, tears and blood, naturally. And I'm frankly sick and tired of having to mollycoddle and hand-hold scared white people.

    Barack Obama has wasted a lot of time and energy doing that all ready.

    Think about it. We *could* be providing health care to everyone in this country. There is no reason on earth not to do this. And if you follow NY Times coverage, the only demographic group in this nation to receive universal health care -- senior citizens -- has remarkably more equitable health incomes. And yet, we waste time telling people that That Mean Negro won't be killing their grandmamas. For the love of Christ.

    It's always interesting how the "fringe" opinions that must be validated are inevitably from groups on one particular side of a historically constructed line of privilege, no?

    Does Fox bring anything useful to the realm of political discourse? Not on your life.

    A marketplace of ideas? Are we so shackled (word chosen deliberately) to a capitalist mentality that this even makes sense?

    I apologize for the lack of coherence, but as an academic, I'm Sick. To. Death. of the very fuckery you describe so accurately. I have students coming up in my classes saying straight up racist things, and then I get told that I make the classroom environment "uncomfortable" for them by administrators. You're damn right, I do. In one of the rare environments in which a Black woman is in charge, these students ought to be uncomfortable with their racism.

  23. The previous comment, from Maroon Memoirs, is one of the best things I've ever read on the internet.

  24. I gots lots of the strong feelings about free speech, being a journalist and all.

    First of all, I want to say thank you to Maroon Memoirs for her comment. Fear and bigotry are indeed connected. I'm glad to see her opinion here and I'd love to hear more. Seriously. I'm not scared. I'm interested. And I'm going to be thinking about your comment for a long time.

    Second, I want to say that I don't think it's so much political correctness that's causing the major problem. I think it's lack of education. And that in the so-called "free marketplace" of ideas, many people aren't educated enough to make the decision to listen to smart thinking and reasoning and choose the correct path. I don't think silencing the wackjobs' opinions will solve this problem. I do think better choices by what the media chooses to pay attention to and broadcast in whatever medium is really, really important, since most people don't do the investigating themselves. Unfortunately, the industry is in terrible disrepair and there are some embarassingly low standards on the major networks and so-called mainstream news sources.People don't want to be bothered. They have trashy TV to watch and don't owe anybody anything. Also, keep church and state completely separate. That's a whole other ball o' wax.

    I think between MM's comment also illustrates the chilling effect--the thing that causes people to be silenced, either through systematic choices by the media or society to silence a certain group or to glorify a certain group ... and we've all seen firsthand how larger powers that be cause people to shut the hell up. It's a fast downhill slide.

    I'm not saying you're for curbing free speech, and I mostly agree with you. I just think it's a matter of education. Like, REAL education. because we know there are plenty of a-holes out there with degrees.

    And I have to say, this debate gives me hope, by god.

  25. Also, Maroon? Can I come see your blog?

  26. Balanced coverage now seems to mean taking everybody seriously, no matter how ludicrous the things that they are saying.

    Yeah, that.

  27. I meant to add that in the 'free marketplace' ... that would assume everyone has equal representation. Nope. Not even close.

  28. Yep. I agree with you 100% here, but you knew that.

    I also love what Maroon Memoirs said, because it is so true.

    What tires me is that every time I have a discussion -- and as we discussed, this came up on Swistle's site -- someone tells us that we should "keep an open mind" and respect their opinion so that we can LEARN. When I'm sorry, no. I'm not going to learn from someone who believes that allowing gays to marry is going to lead to a slippery slope where old men can marry kindergartners, and dolphins are granted basic human rights.

    I firmly believe there are invalid opinions. Period.

  29. I believe there is a huge amount of information out there with new media, and the fact that our old media standbys such as newspapers and radio and television news are not held to the same journalistic standards that they once were. This leads to exactly what you are describing.

    Thank You Maroon Memoirs. I very much hope that you keep fighting those racist opinions in your classroom and the idiot administrators who are more concerned about the money the racist students are bringing in that the actual purpose of a school....

    I couldn't agree with you more on the damn handholding that is going on. So tired of the rich old white men holding this whole country back with their fear mongering.

  30. I'm sorry but I completely disagree. I don't possess any abhorrent viewpoints (I don't think so anyway, I'm a pretty mainstream moderate...I'm a union leader/attorney) and the whole evolution thing drives me up the wall but my limitation on the
    freedom of speech pretty much involves the speech causing actual physical harm to another.

    I guess it's that (American) lawyer thing I noted up there-but also unlike you I was born in a socialist" country where democracy was suspended for a while-my family moved here for a reason and I take certain principals of American political culture is one of them. Freedom of speech is near and dear to our hearts-even the views we don't like. That's always been the main rub with freedom of speech-it covers people we find annoying, hateful, bigoted, blahblahblah.

    All that said, I have no problem telling people that I think they're holding back America and lowering the national IQ if they want to teach intelligent design in schools or raise non-scientific critics of evolution. And trust me, I have gotten in a LOT OF TROUBLE on blogs being pretty aggressive on that front.

  31. sorry about the mistakes on that post-this computer is absolutely loathsome.

  32. Hmmm... my computer caught a virus Monday, so I didn't have Internet yesterday and I missed this. Interesting dialog.

  33. How much do I love this post?

    I have never understood the American position of letting the majority have say in a minority rights issue, especially ones about human rights. There are so many ways that this just blows my mind- and I think you're absolutely right. It's not about debate, sometimes it's just about what's decent & being there for our fellow human beings.

    It's fine to have opinions about things and to play the devil's advocate, but when policy is being decided based on what's the most correct, least offensive, safe thing to do instead of the obvious? It's hard to watch. You hit the nail on the head.

  34. ps - In Canada we have a ton of free speech. We also take hate speech very seriously & the government is active in keeping the debate sane and tolerant. I think that's the main difference I've seen between US and Canadian politics, especially in the past 5 years.

    In my province the Westboro Baptist Church that protests funerals was actually denied access to the country on the basis that they were going to be promoting hate and it was a day I was extremely proud to be Manitoban =)