It is common knowledge that the public discourse in the United States, along with most of the world, is crumbling around our collective feet. (“The Athens Voice” in your paper is one such forum that is increasing the downward spiral in our conversations.)
This is not the fault of one side over the other as in the left versus the right, Christian versus everybody else, or conservative versus liberal. The blame belongs squarely in the laps of all who fail to listen to the other side with the intent of understanding them.
We have found ourselves in a dire situation where proving yourself “right” is more important than the acceptance of possibly being wrong. It is no longer about the good of the many but only about “our” good. We have thrown aside any attempt at creating real sustainable solutions simply because the idea might have possibly come from the other side.
Pundits on the right use terms such as “political correctness” or “fake news,” relegating their opponents to the fringe of acceptable norms (determined by the right, of course) or to deflect the discourse away from the true problems. By calling people “PC,” they are saying more about themselves than the one they are attacking. What is deemed as “PC” is actually a movement toward inclusivity and away from exclusivity. In essence, it is the offering of respect to all who have been marginalized through the use of language and labels. A group has the right to declare and to expect to be referred to in the manner they want. Basically, if you are not of the group, you don’t have the right to say one way or the other; it is not your call to make. To not do so is denying them the respect due to them.
We all know the phrase “Fake News” is only used by those who benefit from the obfuscation of information. The more doubt a person creates in the public by accusing any news as fake, the more questionable the call becomes. In the present day political climate, if I hear a report referred to as fake, I assume that maybe it is truer than they want us to know. In retrospect, they are only drawing more attention and investigation into their behavior, which is exactly the opposite of what they intend. Or maybe they are creating an environment where all information is suspect, leading to doubt and uncertainty as to what is actually true.
The left is no less guilty of manipulation and believing they are morally superior over the right. They are just as negligent about admitting when they are wrong. They are unable or unwilling to accept that the right does have some good ideas on more than a few issues. Extremists on the left (and this is my own opinion) promote the censorship of anybody who doesn’t concur with their agenda. They want to do away with free speech if that speech is in any way different from their perspective.
However, I do understand why they think this way. The idea that racist or homophobic speech is allowable in any forum bothers me on a moral level. But I also find the opposite as morally repugnant – that is, telling people how they should think or how they can talk in public. From my reading of George Orwell, this is the route where everybody loses the right to free speech or even free thought.
In effect, the left is trying to do the right thing by attacking prejudices and racism but they are only reinforcing these attitudes. Instead of informing, they are shutting the door to education.
No matter how repulsive I find somebody’s speech, I find the drive to silence that speech just as offensive. This is the nature of living in a free society. All are free, not just those who agree with me. If that were true, who determines the standards we measure this freedom by? Yours? Mine?
This doesn’t mean, and I want to be clear here, that hate speech that denies the rights of or promotes violence toward others (this includes those based on religious beliefs) should be allowed or accepted. This includes monuments located on publicly funded squares that members of the community find offensive even if they are historically relevant.
Some disagree on this point but let me make ask some questions: Should any historical figure who participated or initiated the genocide of the native population be honored in such a way? Should military leaders who fought for the legality of slavery be honored when the family members of the community were directly impacted by their actions? Would you feel the same if it was you whom the honoree attacked or offended?
We do not live in a perfect world. Yes, this is a cliche, but I get the feeling people are forgetting this simple truth (which is probably as absolute as you can get). The extremists on both sides will never have the solution; they will not solve our societal problems but will only increase them. There are no perfect solutions or models we can implement. One side will provide better ideas than the other on condition A while the other will on condition B. This is logical to me.
We need to get off our personal soapboxes screaming about how the “other side” is screwing up everything and find the common ground between us. This is how we will move past our problems. This is how we will create a great society (I’m not talking just about the United States, but the world as a whole).
Editor’s note: Wesley Marsh of the Albany area is an Ohio University graduate who works on campus. He describes himself as “a lifelong learner, anti-war activist and asker of questions.”