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Culture wars, 2

July 19, 2017

A couple of days ago, Sarah Hoyt posted “Lighting a Candle on the Road to Damascus” on her blog. I read it once. Then I read it again. It got me thinking (“got me tuh thinkin’,” in the parlance of my hometown). I’ve written about the culture wars, by name, only a few times on this blog. Hoyt’s blog post, though, lead me to think about it some more. I’ll warn you, up front, this is far closer to a flight of ideas than a well thought out posting, so read at your own risk.

When I was a kid, atheists fascinated me. Partly, of course, that was because I was raised in a home with Christian parents. So I was fascinated to learn there were people who simply did not believe in the existence of any supreme being, let alone the Jehovah of the Bible. As I grew older, two things happened. One is that I would eventually decide, consciously, to embrace Christianity. The other was that very early on I developed an interest in science and became enamored of the scientific method. Over the years, I also became interested in philosophy, especially Western philosophy (I’m a modernist, okay?). Anyway, back to the fascination part…

What fascinated me about the atheists of my youth, and what lead me to respect many of them, was what they were willing to say and what they were unwilling to say. So, the atheists I talked to would say they did not believe because of either

  • a lack of evidence, or
  • a lack of compelling evidence

They were quite willing to say science (most of the atheists I knew years ago were scientists) did not provide all answers to all questions. It certainly, many of them told me, provide any answers to the search for meaning.

As for what they were unwilling to say, most of them would not say a person who disagreed with them about the existence of God was, by definition, stupid/ignorant/deceived. They might disagree with his/her reasoning. They might reject the logic by which one came to belief. They stopped short of questioning a believer’s intellect or character and would not tolerate those who did those things. Many of them echoed Voltaire’s words, just like me. They were tough to debate, but they tended to be both honest and fair.

Because of my interest in science, along with my interest in classical rhetoric, I respected those folks a lot.

That has changed. The change, though, has not been limited to or caused by atheists. The willingness to impugn not just the arguments of others (an absolute requisite for reasoned discourse or debate) but their character and motivation is more far-reaching than to include simply a segment of society that has a particular view as to whether God exists. It has seemingly become the norm.

Certainly, we see this in the ongoing political debate(s) surrounding Donald Trump and those who voted for him. Allegation is neither proof nor evidence. Multiple allegations don’t change that. They don’t constitute proof regarding alleged illegal activity and they don’t constitute proof regarding any alleged mental state. All of this, even though his behavior is arguably that of what my mom would have called “a supercilious jackass.”

To be honest, I encountered some of this during the previous administration, too. I remember telling some “friends” (on the book of face, of course) that, no,

  • Barack Obama’s actions did not reach to the level of treason
  • he probably had not committed an impeachable offense, and
  • no, he absolutely should not be hanged or shot

I lost some of those FB friends as a result.

The current stuff, though, seems worse. It is just as frenzied. Just as lacking in anything resembling proof. It is also far more widespread. More than that, it seems to be embraced with a sort of manic enthusiasm, with each person seemingly trying to come up with more outrageous statements. A sort of hyper aggressive virtue signalling, if you will.

I understand why, I think. To have believed the culture war was over and you had won, only to have the party most closely associated with your world view lose over 1000 political offices, including not having control of the House, the Senate or the Oval Office, had to be an unbelievable shock.

To arguably have had the plan, having successfully had a black man win the Oval Office (twice), of next electing a woman as president, only to have your candidate lose, had to be hard.

To have believed your view was the overwhelmingly majority world view, only to have it repudiated in such large numbers, had to hurt.

As it turns out, the culture war was not over. The Left declared victory too soon. People who had been enduring years, even decades, of being told their beliefs were not only invalid, but proof of their misogyny/racism/fascism/homophobia/intolerance/ignorance/stupidity had, as it turns out, simply been waiting, only occasionally venturing to voice an objection to the absurdity being presented as truth.

It may be hard to believe, but a significant number of Americans do not want the US to become increasingly like Europe. They don’t want the country to continue its move to the left, differences between the US definitions of left and right and the definitions used in the rest of the world notwithstanding. A significant number of Americans actually do still believe natural rights are a real thing and that they are negative rights.

I guess the point of all this rambling, is that there are really 2 points.

First, as much as I don’t want to sound like my father, I think our society is becoming increasingly intolerant of those who dare disagree with us. That’s too bad. It’s hard to learn and hard to objectively evaluate what we think or believe if we are not willing to seriously consider other points of view. As bad as it was during the Obama years, it seems the Trump years, however many of those there may turn out to be, will be worse. My expectation, which I’d love to see fail to materialize, is that the next administration will be even worse.

The second point is related to the first. I believe at least part of the current unreasonable behavior as regards anything dealing with politics, is a response to the perceived unfairness with which some people treated Barack Obama (and some of it was, most assuredly, unfair). Unfortunately, “you were rude to our guy so we are going to be 10 times worse with your guy” is not how we achieve anything approaching real discussion. If it is, indeed, worse next time around, I can’t imagine how that is going to play out.

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