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I was asked recently about an article. The question: Was I beating war drums? Well no, I wasn’t, but in 1,000 words (plus my ability to muddle) a single clear theme might get lost in the shuffle. Nonetheless, I take responsibility for what I attempted in the spirit in which I attempted it. Sorry my intent wasn’t clear, I apologized. Being responsible includes getting credit, being faulted, or both.
Some of my more conservative associates (and I do understand where they’re coming from) get upset with “political correctness” (PC), as seen recently with defaced books in Afghanistan. To me the act appeared a blunder, one not (by far) worth revenge killing. But regardless how others react, taking responsibility is the adult thing to do. We accept responsibility that is ours. Do conservatives have a point that taking responsibility in the manner we do causes us to look weak? In a way it might do so, but if we think that way we might be basing our position on the reaction of others. In that, both sides make similar overreaching errors. We should take responsibility for OUR acts. We are not, however, responsible for the acts of OTHERS—say, those who hold that defaced books are of more value than human lives. We’re not responsible for the acts of others especially (I’d say most especially) when they use our responsibility to justify their irresponsibility.
I know, it makes the head ache having to pick bit by bit through a minefield of action and reaction. I’d rather talk of something easier, like the fox I saw conduct a standoff with a trio of crows over leavings on a roadside deer carcass. But when we go down life’s road, we’ll find potholes and detours. It’s not all going to be high-speed freeway. Frankly, I often get annoyed with both sides when they mangle a simple and useful concept such as PC. In its essence, PC says, “Be adult and recognize ways in which thoughts, words, and actions can reflect bias or prejudice.” I have no problem with that. I hope no responsible adult would balk at a reasonable requirement. But I do have a problem when PC is used by others to shirk their responsibility and use blame. And I have a problem when some reject the “bother” of PC or want to throw away our basis for adult behavior because others have abused the process. If you’re the adult in a room full of tantrum-throwing brats, you know it won’t help for you to add your rampage to theirs. Adult responsibility means acting like an adult.
Fact of the matter is (and most of you know this from learning it the hard way), being an adult isn’t easy. It can be made easier by applying blinders and one-way vision, but the ease is temporary and at a ferocious cost to freedom. Narrow application of PC can lead to de facto support (approval) of the intolerable, if (as can easily happen) protection is granted to positions denying our freedoms. How much tolerance do we give intolerance? How much social sanction do discriminatory views deserve? Is what we call “sexism” allowable if religiously based? These are tricky questions for a “liberal” democracy. Maintenance of a democratic balance is a constant chore more demanding than following a set theology. I think destruction of freedom by either left or right is easier than we suspect. If you look at pre-war Germany as an example, you’ll see some of the issues. A free press was used to promote propaganda and cause increasing unrest. There did not have to be total government failure for a tipping point to be reached. By far, not all Germans were rabid Nazi in belief, but once the scale tipped the average person was caught. They either went along or faced bucking the tide at a potentially frightful cost. What do you do when the highest power in the land is fascist, communist, or theological and spells out your place in minute detail?
I used those three categories because whether from the right, the left, or religion, there are plenty of examples of what goes wrong when state authority is used to enforce ideology or theology. There are currently nearly 100 authoritarian nations, the majority religious or theocratic. They vary in degree of democracy and are generally what I’d call repressive. People in those nations often express satisfaction being so ruled, but that’s a bit like asking a slave if he likes his master when the master stands listening. Phony freedom, the kind that’s coerced or imposed, is not a rarity in world affairs. Many places have it and would gladly export it in demonstration of its superiority over democracy run by humans instead of through ideology or theology. The trials of keeping our precarious balance of freedoms is a much greater challenge to a society than is the task of keeping a brick on one side of the scales of justice to favor your political or religious inclinations. We would call pre-loading the justice scales an injustice, but keep in mind there are many who fervently believe and would demonstrate so by their actions that the only “justice” acceptable to them is the thing we call injustice. In a conflict of such fundamental proportion, battleships and missiles don’t count for as much as an informed and involved populace insisting on balance and fairness from government because loading the scales of justice (even for the best of causes) perpetuates injustice for all.
It’s certainly not easy for a large democracy like the U.S. to accommodate views saying each individual is sovereign in his or her own right, along with those who say the individual is owned by a system or a deity. How far do we carry individual rights? Does being diagnosed as a kleptomaniac give one the right to steal? How much respect do we give those who don’t respect us? To what extent does our society tolerate suppression of women or whipping children when a sacred belief recommends it? The problems we face are knotty ones. We won’t like having to do so over and over, but soon as we fling our hands up in despair the scales will tip, and whether we’d be able to right them again is a big unknown.