“An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent.” — Edmund Burke
Regarding the recent shooting at the Holocaust Museum, it amuses me that white supremacy, interestingly enough, does not seem to include Jews, which are often white, whether European or Arab. Jews are a “subclass” of whites which apparently don’t “make the cut” for white supremacists.
But the bigger issue is intolerance and the lack of respect for those with whom we disagree. Even more important is our lack of respect for the RIGHTS of those with whom we disagree. Who you are intolerant toward is not so much the issue. We live in a polarized world where the extremes are constantly at war (verbally or physically) and the middle has to take a side or be considered “the enemy.” In such an environment, there can be no real progress or real stability. How we fix this, I don’t know. But I do know it is getting worse. And both extremes — right and left — are equally wrong.
“Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.” — Confucius, The Confucian Analects, Chinese philosopher & reformer (551 BC – 479 BC)
One of the driving forces that led us to become a representative democracy instead of a “pure” democracy is the fact that our Founding Fathers were victims of persecution from the intolerant societies they had escaped. They wanted to ensure that the majority could never infringe the rights of the minority. And their belief that rights were inalienable and God-given was the foundation of this philosophy of individualism.
That’s why, when we see states voting on whether or not a minority segment of our population can enjoy the rights you and I have (to marry whom we please or to speak freely, even if it is against the government or in the form of burning the national flag), it is wrong to even consider holding a vote, or, at least, our Founding Fathers would have thought so based on how they approached structuring our government.
But because most of this intolerance is based on ideology and religion, which requires us to hate those things that are “wrong” and the people who practice these “wrongs”, it is tolerated by our society, or even accepted. In other words, we demonize those who disagree with us. We are not content to simply acknowledge that we disagree; we must create a mortal enemy against which we must wage war (or, perhaps, jihad?). But this intolerance is what is really wrong, and it comes from both extremes in the political spectrum.
There is no justification for murdering a doctor who performs a legal operation that you do not agree with, or hanging a man from a tree on a Saturday night just because his skin is black or a different color than yours, or blaming an ethnic group for all society’s problems because they work hard and enjoy success, or murdering over 2,000 innocent civilians by flying a plane into a building — all these examples are merely expressions of the same problem — extreme INTOLERANCE. And this intolerance is based on the belief that you have the right to dictate to the rest of the world how they should think and feel and live — a sense of moral supremacy, if you will. And it’s wrong.
But it’s more than wrong, it’s ineffective. At least, it’s ineffective if your goal is to live peaceably with your neighbors, live your life fully and raise your family to be happy and successful.
When I was working on an IT project in Manila, Philippines, the manager of the project for which I was consulting was a racist Australian that treated the Filipinos shamefully. He actually announced in the middle of a project meeting of 70 people, many of whom were department managers and the vast majority of whom were Filipino, that “Filipinos are lazy and stupid.” I was shocked. Had he done this in the U.S. or most European companies, he would have been fired that very day. I was embarrassed and ashamed for him and to be working with him, but I held my tongue until after the meeting and followed him back to his office. I told him that he comment was unacceptable and morally wrong, but I wasn’t going to waste my time arguing the merits of his comment with him because I knew that if he believed it was wrong, he wouldn’t have said it in the first place. What I did want to suggest to him was that “It was ineffective.” The successful completion of the project depended on those people that he had just called lazy and stupid to do their job. And to insult the people on whom YOUR success depended was, in itself, stupid, or, at least, INEFFECTIVE. This concept does not only apply to that project, it applies to our nation and our world.
The bottom line was it didn’t matter how he felt about those people, he needed a good working relationship with them to be effective. This is the attitude that we need to reawaken in our society. Our democracy dependends on each of us having the tolerance and the foresight to realize that we can’t be successful as a nation unless we are tolerant of each other and respect each other’s rights — especially when we don’t agree — and work together effectively for common goals. We don’t have to agree to like each other or like each other’s ideas in order to work together effectively. Our success or failure as a society depends on this.
The greatest concern I have right now is the social trend to infringe on our God-given, inalienable right to freedom of speech and sacrifice it on the altar of political correctness. Fashion, fads and opinions change from day to day, if not moment by moment, and what is politically correct today may not be tomorrow. But once we allow any government to infringe on anyone’s right to freedom of speech today, it will still be gone tomorrow for all of us, and, if not forever, certainly for a long, long time. As MLK said, “If one of us is not free, then none of us are free.”
“You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” — John Morley
Silence — “shutting people up,” or, oppression — should not be confused for changing hearts and minds, but it often is perceived as such. We called that silence which produces the illusion of perceived compliance or acceptance acquiescence. And this silent approval or the perception of it, is very dangerous. This is how the Nazis moved Germany from a modern Western country to accepting the Holocaust. The reason there is a Holocaust Museum is because we need to be reminded of how thin the veil of civilization truly is.
The greatest problem our nation has is not the economy or health care or any other issue like abortion or gay marriage — these are merely distractions from or symptoms of the problem. It is the fact that our government is not operating effectively. The gridlock in our government that prevents it from operating effectively is directly due to the polarization in our society and the concept of moral absolutism that prevents compromise and views it as weakness or, worse, evil.
Politics is the art of compromise. It is discernment — knowing which points are negotiable and which ones aren’t — that brings the “art” into play, and this, above all else, is the job of the politician. And until we get over ourselves and our image of ourselves are morally superior and, therefore, entitled to absolute rule, it is not going to get better any time soon.
In the long run, intolerance is a characteristic of a fool, because, just like any foible human being, intolerant people need the compassion and understanding that only comes from tolerance, and if you don’t offer tolerance, acceptance and understanding to others, you have no right to expect it when you need it from them. And you will need it, because we are all flawed and imperfect.
The fact that this shooting occurred at the Holocaust Museum should not be overlooked, because anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Western world due to the efforts of Islamic PACs and organizations supported by Muslim nations (especially Saudi Arabia). The interpretation of multiculturalism as being achieved through political correctness (by suppressing free speech) that is being sold by extreme liberals is starting us down the path of oppression. Such a proposal is before the U.N. as we speak. And, as Edmund Burke said, “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.”
“The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” — Edmund Burke
And you are accepting a delusion for reality if you believe silencing criticism will lead to acceptance and tolerance. It will not. It will simply force the critics and dissenters outside the system (underground) and encourage them to become more dangerous. Being able to freely criticize (hopefully, respectfully so) any religion or religious practicioner or government or political party or politician is fundamental to our right to free speech that cannot be sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. To sit silently by while others practice hate speech is equally wrong, because failing to stand up for our values is effectively the equivalent of having none.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” — Narration from Sergei Bondarchuk’s Soviet film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s book “War and Peace” which has been misattributed to Edmund Burke.
Let’s continue to remind ourselves of how easily a Western society slipped into an autocracy led by a madman who committed some of the most heinous crimes in recorded history. And, even more important, this societal descent into madness took only a short time to achieve.
“A human group transforms itself into a crowd when it suddenly responds…
to a suggestion rather than to reasoning,
to an image rather than to an idea,
to an affirmation rather than to proof,
to the repetition of a phrase rather than to arguments,
to prestige rather than to competence.” — Jean-Francois Revel
And, finally, we must stop having to “relearn” the lessons of the Holocaust:
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana quotes (Spanish born American Philosopher, Poet and Humanist who made important contributions to aesthetics, speculative philosophy and literary criticism. 1863-1952)