Monday, October 6, 2014

Us & Them

Dr. James Rohrer, "A couple of years ago I was teaching a college class on American Democracy. I sent my students to various political sites, including AlterNet, to get a range of viewpoints on the issues that we were discussing in class. I encouraged my students to share their own opinions online, to leave comments on any articles that hit a chord. One of my students, an eighteen year old from a small Nebraska town who was raised in the Catholic Church and a member of the Catholic student group on campus, responded to a post on AlterNet. The particulars of the article and the nature of her views are not relevant; her comment was thoughtful, polite and (unlike many thread comments) actually focused on an important point raised by the original article. Although I did not share her opinion, I thought that she had successfully raised legitimate questions, and of course I believe that she was engaging in a process that is fundamental to democracy.  
In response to her thoughtful comment, she received a stream of terribly hurtful messages, including “Catholics can fuck themselves.” In any moral universe, this is not rational discourse. It is simply intolerant meanness. To try to justify it by an appeal to freedom of speech is absurd. I am a member of the ACLU, and I will defend to my last breath the right of a fool to speak foolish things, just as the ACLU has defended the right of the Klan to spout hatred. But let’s not kid ourselves. It IS hatred, it is not moral, and I repeat my caution that such remarks do indeed harm the cause of progressive social change."
From an article by Dr. James RohrerAssociate Professor,
 Colonial & Revolutionary America, American Religious History  
Read the article on A Gentleman's View.

Let's not kid ourselves.  The intent behind hurtful speech is not to inform, but to beat down, to cause harm, distress.  
Trying to justify it by an appeal to freedom of speech is absurd.
Such behavior, a remnant of playground bullying, illuminates not the issue but the character from which it originates.

Much of political speech today approaches that line, fanning the ideological flame of us vs. them, polarizing, ignoring the fact that we must share a country ... and our children, a future.  Perhaps we might learn and choose well for their sake.