Saturday, January 19, 2008

Intolerance & The First Amendment

Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2008 01:19:06 -0800 (PST)
From: "Young H. Kim"
Subject: Intolerance & The First Amendment

[The following ended up being written in rather dry and more abstract terms than I'd normally prefer, so apologies in advance for any lack of clarity.]

BRM, it's a bit amusing that you seem to be arguing an absolutist conclusion using a relativist premise; i.e. because the notion of what's offensive is relative, it must be an absolutism that all opinions must be allowed free expression, whether that opinion is one of tolerance or not. I guess what you mean is that regardless of what's offensive, freedom of expression must be granted to all.

It occurred to me that your thoughts on intolerance and freedom of speech create an incongruency. It is my understanding that the very freedom of expression that you tried to exercise was countered with other people's freedom of expression to disagree with you. And this you termed "intolerant". That is incongruent to the absolutist argument you're making above.

In other words, you were turned off by the expression of people who disagreed with you when both sides are exercising their First Amendment. Because you backed off or withdrew or withheld your opinion for fear of some negative reflection on you, that does not make the other side intolerant. That made you less comfortable in expressing your views, so you basically made the conscious choice to keep silent. So it seems evident that even though we definitely have the right to express ourselves, we can choose to keep quiet for fear of the consequences, whether actual or assumed. And the irony is that the exercise of the freedom of speech from one political view kept the opposing political view from being expressed due to a real or perceived negative reaction resulting from expressing opposing views.

And, isn't this even more interesting by the fact that what you felt in keeping silent appears analogous to the firsthand account of the person who lived through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and also kept silent while the country went through its terrifying transformation? Of course, it would be a misreading and unwise to make the connection that liberals and PC advocates are doing what the Nazis did because this is not about liberals vs. conservatives. However, we need to examine what certain ideologies or accepted norms can bring about and how they can suppress our most cherished First Amendment.

More on how this relates to political correctness and the backlash against it in future email...

--- Brian Menard wrote:

My thanks for the passionate and respectful offering. I'll skip over 1-3 in order to align with your desire to put the Seattle thing to bed.

As for #4, the thing is that what is offensive to whom is, indeed, a relative matter. So if we start the practice of deciding who doesn't get to say what because it is offensive, ultimately it devolves into a power issue of those in charge being able to tell those not in charge what they cannot say because it offends those in charge, while they reinforce their own ability to say anything they want that offends those not in charge. This is the danger of situation ethics. You said you believe there are absolutes. I would maintain that one such
is: the downside of protecting rights is that some people will abuse them, but it's better to protect them for all and address abuses through opposing arguments that our free speech rights guarantee we can offer in response. Back to Jefferson's idea that he fears no idea so long as speech is left free to address
it. Also, Federalist #10 lays out the problem of faction in society, noting that there are good ideas and bad ideas; the way to address bad ideas is not by reining in liberty, but by maximizing the array of crosscutting interests in society it becomes much harder for bad ideas to get the support they need to proliferate.

I don't disagree that many in the GOP need to take the Big Tent to heart. I'm a Jack Kemp Republican, advocating the need to bring in everyone regardless of what faction of society they fit into. If they prefer the GOP platform to another, bring 'em in. I think, though, that there are more such folks in the party than
you think, and wonder if you are doing with the GOP what you say I'm doing with Seattle, painting with a broad brush the entire party because there exist elements within it that espouse undesirable characteristics. I would say that many Dems also need to embrace a more Big Tent approach to party as well. For example, when was the last time a pro-life Democrat was allowed to speak at a national convention for Democrats?

----- Original Message -----
From: Young H. Kim
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 1:32 PM
Subject: Real Intolerance - My Seattle Credentials and the earned right to have an opinion!

BRM, please don't take this as a comment on your experiences in Seattle or elsewhere, but I must respond.

1) I am not sure where you're getting this idea that Seattle has a "pronounced tolerance and openness that pervades the city". I certainly didn't mean that Seattle is exceptionally more tolerant or the most tolerant city. Most Seattleites wouldn't even admit that.

2) People are tolerant in Seattle. There are Republicans here. Not all Seattleites scream and bark at conservative Republicans or their views. Are you sure you don't have the blinders on in regards to being more tolerant of people who don't agree with you, by criticizing an entire city? It's hard for me not to see this only as your exhibiting a prejudice of liberals in general, not just Seattle.

3) Believe me, I do feel for your awful experiences here and elsewhere as a conservative, but let's put this intolerant Seattle theme to bed.

4) I have read your reply to BGA's email, talking about what happened in a class at UVa. As you may well remember, I wrote an editorial at RHS very much in line with the opinion of the young Seattleite woman you mentioned. Why should we be tolerant of intolerant people? In this case I was speaking of Nazis, KKK and other racist extremists. Doesn't this argument work on both extremes?  However, the extreme intolerance is not what pervades in Seattle. It is an extreme disrespect for and calling out of and even a cry of outrage of people who hold or support or align themselves with a group or a political party that serves to empower those intolerant people for political gain. I'm sorry but you as an individual support the GOP which is not tolerant of great many people and ideas, even though you yourself may be the epitome of openness. I'm sure you'll tell me how I'm wrong on this point, which would be great. Then, we are no longer talking about "intolerant Seattle", but intolerance in American politics and who is really fueling it.

I do believe that the Rep party needs to do some deep soul-searching catharsis and be reinvented before anyone like me can seriously consider voting for a Rep candidate.

Passionately and respectfully,

--- Brian Menard wrote:

Not sure why you two "over there" are so hung up on avoiding the word "intolerant" as a descriptor. The hypocrisy and disrespect you both are willing to acknowledge all tie together. The disrespect we have encountered stems from an intolerance of things other than what people expect, which is hypocritical given the pronounced tolerance and openness that pervades the city. Tolerant of only that with which we agree is not real tolerance. Real tolerance is coexisting with those with whom we do not agree - on politics, lifestyle choices, cultural practices, etc. - even though we do not agree with them.

----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Busick
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 1:39 AM
Subject: RE: My Seattle Credentials and the earned right to have an opinion!

Sure, but "good outweighs the bad (though I can't afford to live there)" doesn't sound anything like "intolerant". :)

It sounds to me like the two Bs faced disrespect in this area, not intolerance.  Did either of you lose any friendships because of your political beliefs?

And I can certainly understand disrespect toward Republicans in Seattle. After all, there are so few of them left around here there must be some reason why they haven't all moved away by now. :)

From: Brian Menard
Subject: Re: My Seattle Credentials and the earned right to have an opinion!
Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2008 14:25:55 -0500

Quick two cents...

BGA, I also am not anti-Seattle. There are aspects of the city that I love. (BTW, I'll add my vote to the King CafĂ© fan club. Please tell me it's still around and still good.) But that doesn't mean I put blinders on. In
the end, the good far outweighs the bad (though I can't afford to live there). But if we're going to knock our nation and our government for its imperfections, we ought to be willing to do the same with Seattle.

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