Ideas, People & Intolerance
Ideas are not people, they do not feel pain, anger, contempt and they are not due the same level of consideration one might offer a conscious being. Ideas have no identity, they cannot be insulted, offended or have their feelings hurt. Many have been accused of being intolerant of others when often rightly expressing disapproval of the ideas held by a group. The better part of the world seems to be incapable of distinguishing between an “Attack on an idea” versus an attack on character.
Ideas & Autonomy
People’s autonomy to believe and think what ever they want should be protected. But some ideas are really really fucked up, and that same autonomy similarly grants others the right to openly disagree with these ideas. I often like to think of criticism of ideas as a social immune response vital to the ongoing health of our civilization. No idea, value or ideal be it religious, political, scientific or social is without its blind spots and problems. Religious texts are rife with blatant examples that advocate genocide, rape, misogyny, homophobia, slavery, infanticide and war mongering among other things. These are bad ideas that no sane human being should be endorsing. Now I’m not saying that your local church is bad because they are partitioning to kill the first born of all the infidels. But your church, your party and your race is not without their fair share of corrupt morals that must be addressed publicly. I’ve lived in the gross poverty & violence induced by social injustice. I have personal experience of racial discrimination under our social & political regimes. I have witnessed first-hand the exclusion & degradation of women under the banner of religion, treating them as property instead of people. I’ve seen and have been party to ostracizing homosexuals as a result of the perverse religious and social values I was raised with. I’ve seen men of all faiths and denominations rationalize the abuse of women & children because its written in their holy book. We gain nothing by giving these social structures a free pass simply because it makes people feel bad to criticize them. The same holds true for any agenda in existence today.
The Reconciliation Dialogue
When I traveled to Mozambique, I met a shocking number of white people who held outright racist values. I was even more shocked to see that these people had no reservations in “sharing” their racist remarks with me, a person of color. I had the odd pleasure of sitting around a camp fire with one of them for what seemed like an eternity. This lovely old man sat they’re for hours rambling on about how Apartheid was a good thing, and how black people where better off then than they are now, and how it was intended by God for people to live in Apartheid because the Lion does not mate with the wildebeest. It cost every fiber of my sanity to maintain my cool in trying to figure out who the lions and wildebeest was in this analogy. Despite how strongly this man felt about he’s conviction we would all agree that it would make zero sense for me to simply hang back and go: “Well sir, I am required to respect everyone’s belief and there for your ideas on how black people are inferior are entirely valid and worthy of serious consideration”. This would border on irresponsible as a wasted opportunity to correct and obviously bad way of thinking. Instead I went on to calmly explain that black people are not better off now than we were before 1994. It’s just that the social injustice we suffered is now the talk of the town, where everyone was perfectly happy to ignore it previously because it was how God intended it to be, and that it will be bad for us for many generations to come as a direct result of Apartheid regime that categorically denied us opportunity and stripped us of dignity and our identity as human beings. The extent of which is so abhorrent, that only a marginal percentage of children born to these circumstances will ever make it out, we have been institutionalized to be inferior and second-rate citizens of our own homes. I was even more amazed to see that at the end of a few frosted beers, this hardened racist closing statement was not to push he’s agenda, but instead he asked me the surprising question: “How do we actually fix this”.
Respect Me, Not My Ideas
I truly did not have one angry feeling towards the man from Mozambique, even before our riveting conversation I understood the time he came from and the values that shaped he’s opinions, and so I was able to address him without resentment and anger. He genuinely seemed a little more enlightened, as he himself and many other white South Africans I’ve spoken to have said: “I’ve never really considered this”. The most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had was when someone demonstrated my way of thinking to be wrong a flawed. This process elevates the mind to a more matured and inclusive way of thinking. This is a beautiful thing; a healthy dialogue can overcome even the most extreme of adversities. This is what we stand to lose if we close our minds to the possibility of challenging our beliefs, values and ideas. We cannot even begin to hope to bridge the gap between a difference of opinion until we able to have a honest dialogue about status quo irrespective of how painful, uncomfortable, disrespectful they may seem.