Note: This is adapted from a Dixon’s Musings post from July 18, 2014.
On Nerd Rage and Twitter, I have spoken (and written) several times before about the necessity of respect. In fact, I believe that the cause of the vast majority of our internal disagreements on the right stem not from the fact that we disagree, but the fact that we don’t respect each other. We don’t afford each other respect for our differing beliefs and it harms our discourse.
Today, I want to take that a step further.
I feel that the disrespect we express towards one another has a deeper root. When we engage in discourse, either with liberals or each other, we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt. By that, I mean to say that we don’t respect the sincerity of the beliefs of others.
When someone’s point of view doesn’t conform to our own worldview, it’s easy to believe that the other person is not serious. After all, we “know the truth,” so how can someone honestly believe something contrary to that truth? How can any serious, honest human being disagree with the truth? From there, we tend to draw one of two conclusions:
1) Such people are stupid. Rather than approaching a debate assuming that our partner/opponent has given their point of view some degree of serious thought, we merely assume they are ignorant parrots. We see them as foolish, which is often the case (such people tend to prove just how wise or ignorant they are over the course of an argument), but not always. Instead of accepting them as equals (to start), we patronize and demean them.
2) Such people are being intentionally deceptive, either toward themselves or toward others (they’re “trolling”). The person we debate isn’t interested in actually having a civil discourse; only in causing trouble and strife. To be certain, this happens very frequently in the age of the internet; some people really do like to watch the world burn after they’ve set it aflame. However, I don’t believe that our automatic response to having our beliefs challenged should be to assume that this mentality is the cause.
Now, there are certainly moments where people need to be roundly mocked and shamed for what they do and what they believe. As I said before, there are plenty of people who will show their true colors after a few minutes of talk. However, not every discussion requires mockery simply because someone disagrees with us. Not every expressed opinion, no matter how wrong or disagreeable, is trite or foolish. Sometimes, people just think differently from us and legitimately so.
Let’s take a few examples.
Why can’t #NeverTrumpers simply be dissatisfied with the choice presented for November? Why can’t they have taken an honest and sincere look at Trump and concluded that he is an inadequate candidate for president? There certainly are many honest and true people among them who simply hold the potential leader of the free world to a high standard and find Trump lacking.
On the other hand, why can’t Trump supporters merely see no other true options? Why can’t their support for someone who they view as truly different be simply that? Why must they universally be rubes and racists and fools? Why can’t Trump supporters truly feel that the prospect of a Clinton presidency is a far more grim fate than anything Trump presents?
Why must every criticism of Islam be viewed as “racist?” Why is it that people cannot simply see the reality presented before western society by Islamist extremism and react accordingly? Why must this impulse be born of hate and ignorance?
Conversely, why can’t the defenders of Islam have legitimate concerns about the generalization of a billion people? Why can’t they have concerns that decent people, caught up the in whirlwind that is the more violent sects of their faith, will suffer undue blowback? Is there truly no potential for bigotry in response to Islamism?
Why must all those opposed to homosexuality be bigoted and hateful? Why must laws that protect the rights of businesses to not violate their consciences or maintain the gender segregation of public restrooms be tantamount to Jim Crow segregation? Why can there not be valid concerns regarding free exercise, free association, and general safety?
Likewise, do LGBT people not have legitimate concerns about their treatment in society? As a minority, should they not be concerned about and vigilant against marginalization? Are there not many Christians who, rather than approaching the community with love instead approach it with venom and malice?
The list goes on.
To clarify, I do not present those arguments in an attempt to claim that all of them are valid. I think you, the reader, are perfectly aware that not only do I hold specific points of view on each issue, but I happen to disagree with some of the counter-arguments I offered. Obviously, contradictory values cannot all be valid; the truth must exist somewhere within them.
The point is that each of these points of view are very strongly and seriously believed by many people. Simply dismissing the sincerity of these beliefs is often what leads to constant strife. Rather than understanding that some people, right or wrong, for good or for ill, hold their beliefs strongly and for legitimate reasons, we instead tear them down. The least we can do for each other is respect this sincerity and treat one another decently when we disagree.
While showing each other respect may not lead to swayed hearts and changed minds, maybe, at the very least, it can soften our discourse.