Monday, March 19, 2001

Week of 03/19/2001

Making the Leap
- by David Matthews 2

"When you say that you agree to a thing in principle you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice." - Otto von Bismarck

There comes an inevitable point in one person’s life when their personal philosophy is tested. It usually happens when everything they’ve been taught to believe in and accept is matched up against the rigors of the real world, or perhaps even in conversation amongst friends.

The hardest part, though, comes when you’re forced to accept that your personal philosophy is faulty, or perhaps does not match up with some of the things you say and support.

Let’s say, for instance, that you claim to support free speech. But then, along the same conversation, you say that you hate pornography, and that you would wish government would ban it. You also say that you’re opposed to strip clubs, and other forms of sexual expression, including the offensive magazine on the shelves, and even the so-called "booty dancing" of young adults. Hmm.. that contradicts your earlier statement of supporting free speech, doesn’t it? You excuse it, however, by saying that you’re just wanting to protect children, and that you would support any other kind of speech.

Later on in that same conversation, though, you say that you’re just as offended about rap music and performers like Emenem, and you’re not to keen on seeing Britney Spears or Christina Agulera flaunting themselves about. And then you wonder why someone doesn’t do something about these people to get them to clean up their acts. Hmm.. sounds like you’re not happy about that aspect of free speech either. Of course, once again, you excuse that as wanting to protect children from all of that offensive material.

Then the conversation turns to television and movies, and again, you’re not too happy about the stuff that’s out there, and you wonder why the Federal Communications Commission or Congress can’t do something about all of those voyeur TV programs, and the violent R-rated movies out there. After all, what kind of lessons are being taught watching "Survivor" or "The Mole"? And let’s not even get into "Temptation Island"! Or worse yet, the World Wrestling Federation! Then there are all of those violent movies like "The Matrix" and the "Scream" trilogy. You KNOW those movies are being marketed towards kids.. so why isn’t there something being done about them? Mm-hmm.. So you’re not too keen on free speech when it comes to TV and movies either, huh? Oh, but wait a minute.. that goes back to protecting kids, right? So that’s okay, according to you.

Boy, that knocks out a lot of speech, doesn’t it?

So let’s summarize here… you’re all for the freedom of speech, unless it involves anything sexual, violent, homophobic, racist, or voyeuristic. Did I leave anything out? Maybe you also feel certain political statements should be best left unspoken. Certain scandals that should remain hidden. Some other topics that perhaps should never see the light of day.

In other words, you aren’t really a supporter of free speech, are you?

That’s just one good example of how people are forced to reevaluate their personal philosophies, and reassess what they say versus what they support. It’s one thing to say you support free speech; but, as you’ve just found out, it’s another thing completely to say you support free speech in all of its various facets, both mainstream and fringe.

And yet, that sort of hypocrisy happens on a regular basis. You see newspaper editors proclaim that they support the freedom of speech, and yet in the next paragraph they’re explaining why they feel that speech should be stifled. You see politicians proclaim they support individual privacy, but still think that privacy should take a back seat when it involves law enforcement, or bank transactions, or medical records. You see religious leaders proclaim they support the freedom of religion, but then proclaim that other religious beliefs are "dangerous" and should be kept out of society. You see these people say one thing, and then out of the other side of their mouths, support its opposite.

Worse yet, nobody’s calling them on it! Let’s get brutally honest here.. we have a whole gaggle of two-faced hypocrites out there and nobody’s calling them such!

We’re being told we have to respect their positions. Well, maybe so, but that doesn’t mean we can’t call them on their hypocrisy. That should not stop us from saying "Mister newspaper editor, Reverend so-and-so, and Senator you-know-who, with all due respect, you’re hypocrites! Stop lying to yourselves and to us and figure out just where you stand on these issues."

It’s not easy having to reassess your personal beliefs. I know this as a fact. When I was a conservative and card-carrying Republican, I had to re-evaluate my feelings and beliefs when it came to a lot of the GOP’s positions that I had opposed. In the early 1990’s, when conservatives like Rush Limbaugh were constantly squeezing the moderates and forcing them to decide which side of the fence they wanted to fall on, I had already made the decision that I was neither a conservative, nor a Republican.. I was in fact a Libertarian.

But even that decision made me reevaluate myself when I realized that there were parts of the Libertarian philosophy that I had a hard time accepting. Issues like drugs, immigration, free trade, and campaign finance reform had me once again rethinking my positions and explore what it means for me to be a libertarian. Again, it wasn’t easy, but I realized that if I was a libertarian – if I supported individual freedom – I had to put those issues in the proper perspective.

That’s something that needs to be done at all levels of the political spectrum, because certainly what is going on now can be considered nothing less than ideological anarchy amongst liberals and conservatives. Because we are not calling on people when they hypocritize themselves, we are having to deal with double-standards from both sides of that outdated political spectrum. Where minorities try to solve the problem of discrimination with still more discrimination; where feminists try to liberate women by telling them what roles they should and should not play; and where religious groups proclaim their freedom by trying to get government to limit other religious groups.

If you want to be respected, and you want your views to be respected, you have to be true to them and to yourself.

If you claim to support free speech, that means having to deal with and accept a lot of speech that you find offensive. It means having to accept pornography, and Emenem, and "Survivor", and "The Matrix". You may not like them.. and you would rather not have to deal with them, but if you claim to support free speech, you have to support these things too.

If you claim to support individual privacy, that means that you have to support the right of people to be left alone. That includes whether or not your neighbor is doing drugs, or having a huge swingers party. That means keeping the government out of your bank account, your insurance records, your book purchases, your video rental, and where you’ve been online. That also means having someone post messages or send letters to the editor under a pseudonym, or send them anonymously. (As a side note, did you know that James Madison’s Federalist Papers - the ones that set the foundation for the US Constitution - were first published anonymously?)

If you claim to support the freedom of religion, you cannot limit yourself to just a handful of religions that you would deem to be "acceptable" or "true" religions. That also means supporting those religions that aren’t what you would consider to be "mainstream".

If you cannot support these things, at least have the courage to admit it! There’s nothing wrong in admitting that you don’t support free speech, or the freedom of religion, or of individual privacy. Those of us who do support those things will respect your honesty. We may not like it, and we may disagree with it, but we will respect it anyways.

However, if you do support these things, you have to be willing to make that philosophical leap. To step forward like Voltiare and say with pride that you may not like what someone else has said, but you will defend their right to say it. That is the only way you can be true to yourself and to what you believe in.

There’s been enough hypocrisy in our society. Let’s try a little bit of honesty for once.

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