Jacob Chesky, 07/06/2018
Social politics are spiteful.
Almost anyone will admit this about American political discourse, but what’s the solution?
Some use Facebook posts to lament a lack of civility in political discussions. Others might tweet a call to action, encouraging their followers to have genuine conversations with people of opposing beliefs and to learn from them instead of having bitter arguments.
But will these actually solve the problem? Do we just need to try harder and be better in order to discuss social issues in a kinder and more productive manner?
No amount of determination to have a civil attitude will help, because nearly everyone is still approaching the issue from a grossly inappropriate perspective: trying to force others to live according to their own values.
Here are the common positions that are being debated today in American politics:
In general, the left wants to
- Restrict freedom of speech by censoring “hate speech,” silencing those they believe to have evil views, enforcing particular speech (such as using certain gender pronouns), etc.
- Restrict “cultural appropriation”
- Enforce environmental laws of questionable effectiveness on private people and businesses
- Heavily restrict or eliminate private gun ownership and carry
- Restrict freedom of association if they feel a “marginalized group” is being discriminated against by private business owners or others
- Enforce “affirmative action” instead of allowing individual employers to make their hiring decisions freely
In general, the right wants to
- Enforce particular forms of patriotism
- Heavily restrict immigration, sometimes to the point of trivializing human rights of non-US citizens
- Enforce traditional family structure and gender roles
- Outlaw various forms of sex work
- Restrict the use of drugs and other substances (although most make exceptions for substances that aren’t as culturally frightening to them, such as alcohol or tobacco)
Both sides usually hold these polar opposite views in good faith, believing that they can fix society if only they could have their way. Unfortunately, if we approach social issues with the idea we can solve them through legislation, we will never be able to have civil discourse with those who disagree.
Because as soon as anyone senses someone is willing to use the heavy hand of the law to trample their personal freedom and enforce their idea of what’s right, they feel threatened and indignant.
You might expect those who’ve experienced this to learn to respect the liberty of others, yet if the conversation turns to a topic they have strong feelings about, those same people often also reveal a willingness to be the aggressor in this culture war.
Some ask, “If we don’t outlaw or restrict gun ownership, how will we stop gun-related deaths?” Others wonder, “If we allow homosexuals to marry, won’t that threaten traditional family structures and values?” Or, more fundamentally, “If I truly believe in my religion or worldview, shouldn’t I support legislation that will make the law reflect my beliefs?”
These are legitimate questions, but most people respond to these thoughts by calling on the state to enforce their solutions to every social issue. They don’t accept that the world and the people in it are fundamentally flawed and cannot be fixed. The government can’t fix society. Education can’t fix it. As long as humans as we know them continue to exist, so will evil and social disagreements.
So how can we truly solve social issues? Right and wrong do exist. There are correct solutions and incorrect ones. Yet a sin or a social evil is not a crime if it doesn’t specifically harm anyone else’s person or property. Attempting to outlaw every vice will only continue to make the discussion around culture vitriolic and futile.
Perhaps the only solution is to forget about legislating every opinion and belief we hold. We could begin minding our own business and focusing on leading principled lives instead. We could change the conversation around social issues by promoting our most precious and deeply-held values in our own lives and in the conversations we have with our family, friends, and acquaintances.
We could stop slinging insults and threats of legislation toward those we disagree with, then getting angry when they retaliate in kind.
Perhaps one day, we will finally ditch this fruitless culture war in favor of a worthwhile ongoing discussion.
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