“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” – Thomas Jefferson
Anyone who cherishes freedom, liberty, and the opportunity for human beings to self-determinate ought to be able to agree that the “isms” are bad, as in, racism, sexism, as well as any and all related forms of discrimination and bigotry. To say that those things are not still problems in the world, though great progress has been made, would be sticking your head in the sand and denying reality.
However, returning hate for hate, and worse, doling out hate for those not of a like mind, has become quite a popular cultural phenomenon here in the United States. This problem is grossly exacerbated by this generation’s embrace of the Internet and social media, which has caused humanity to oddly devolve backward into tribalism. Oh, whoops, there’s an ism, better cancel it. If you think that’s ludicrous, look at the bubbles that people trap themselves in, sometimes on purpose, often reinforced by search engines like Google; only surrounded by people who agree with them, think as they do, blocking out all other voices, all while the Internet’s collective algorithms pile on more things in front of a user’s face based on their perceived data trend. It’s so the big companies can sell you more things; you’re more likely to buy if you feel comfortable and are shown things and ideas that you find agreeable. Bubbled humans are more profitable and easier to categorize.
None of this is brand new or happened overnight, but problems definitely accelerated when Donald Trump managed to win out in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. After this, a huge spotlight was shone on social media and the role media companies play in information, both factual and manufactured. Copies of George Orwell’s 1984 started flying off bookshelves. The actual modern fascists and white supremacists who do exist were gladdened and emboldened by Trump’s victory, they made this known, and there is no reasonable justification for demonstrations such as those held in Charlottesville to not be ridiculed and denounced. But what the political left won’t admit is that they are as responsible for Trump’s being able to win as the right, as pushing more and more radical ideas, with progressive aggression, demonizing all who didn’t agree with them, and the sad and divided messages within the Democratic party, these were all contributing factors that enabled a Trump victory. As one side finds its voice getting squelched, it finds a more extreme mouthpiece and representative to fight back with. This is part of why the political pendulum in the United States gets more extreme with each major election.
While all of this and more was going on, there came a louder and louder cryout against fascism and neo-Nazism. Now Antifa is a thing. “Punch a Nazi” was a social media trend, and Karl Popper’s ideas from back in 1945 were reemerging as memes that looked designed for elementary school classrooms.
I shudder to think what is being taught in the average American elementary school classroom in this generation.
“I have no obligation to tolerate the intolerant” is now a battle cry of the radical left, and has been used against me in conversations where I am simply questioning a person’s behavior, when I see them act in a debasing way toward another human being and doing it with glee. These same people cried foul when they saw Trump or any right-wing person behave in the same horrible way that they do. But it’s okay for them, in their eyes, because to them all Trump voters, all Republicans, and all right-wing and conservative folk are fascists. Ergo, as fascists, they are less than human, undeserving of a voice or any shred of tolerance, and thus anything negative that befalls them is justified.
You see where this is going, right?
In fact, to attack the opposition at every opportunity, to sabotage their lives and careers, to eliminate them from all discussions, debates, to deny them the same freedom to express ideas as yourself, is extremely hostile, aggressive, belittling behavior that is the opposite of empathy, compassion, and many of the other traits the radical left claims to espouse.
It’s not paranoia to suggest that this is how ethnic cleansings and genocides can and historically in some instances have begun. I wish it was exaggeration. Indeed, when I first saw posts made by individuals such as Gina Carano, who pointed out that the Nazis were so successful in their anti-Semitism in part because of how they turned German neighbors against each other, I thought it was a stretch to parallel that with what is going on with conservatives in Hollywood and mainstream media today. But now, seeing just how the online, tribal mob of the social justice-obsessed radical left thinks and acts, I wonder how much of that comparison is really such a stretch. Dehumanizing those not “like you” or “like us” is one of the first steps in socially engineering one group of people toward destroying another. It can be in the name of racial purity, it can be political, it can be conceivably based on any parameter that broadly differentiates one segment of humanity from another. Wars and atrocities are easier pills to swallow if you don’t see the victims of these things as human, deserving of any compassion, understanding, or… oh, here’s that buzzword: tolerance.
Being in a free and open society that protects free speech doesn’t mean we should just sit on our asses and pat the actual neo-Nazis on the head, give ’em a cookie and say “atta boy.” Indeed, our best tools are to combat absurd and harmful ways of thinking with reason, and demonstrating why the ways of freedom, liberty, acceptance of diversity and our differences are good things. Do you think any persons who once considered themselves white supremacists, or were perhaps born to a family of neo-Nazis but then reformed, could do so in a world that condemns them forever as subhuman, in which no one was willing to listen to them for a second? If someone committed a hate crime, they murdered or raped or something equally heinous, well, they should still get the same punishment even if they somehow end up growing a conscious and realizing they were wrong before the end. So, in that vein, there are some folks that unfortunately are beyond saving, but that doesn’t mean all people are. If someone’s ignorant beliefs lead them to take up arms and commit aggression against others, then I feel any of us ought to defend ourselves with whatever force is necessary to put an end to it. However, to reiterate, I believe the best weapon we have against ignorance, fear, and hatred is demonstrating the virtues we claim to uphold in all things, not just with those who think like us, agree with everything we say, or when it’s politically convenient.
To circle back to a previous example: not all Republicans are fascists. I don’t think much of the party, but as a point of fact you cannot claim with any validity that all Republicans are fascists. I have seen more Democratic politicians who come closer to fitting the definition of being fascists, but hey, that’s not something you’re supposed to say, probably. Painting your opponents in broad strokes, associating them with a historical evil to then rob them of legitimacy and human consideration, is an extremely dangerous rationalization and is the building block for justifying reprehensible behavior. If you boil your argument down to what is essentially “anyone who is politically right of me is Hitler and deserves to be destroyed or at least silenced,” you are both incredibly immature and unempathetic. The most radical have already turned to violence and haven’t been shy about showing it off on the Internet.
Next time you catch yourself rattling off “I don’t have to tolerate intolerance,” I ask you to look within and around you and see if you haven’t locked yourself in a bubble, and taken the first steps toward stripping the humanity away from an entire group of people who are not as different from you as you think.