“I may detest what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
This approximate quote is generally attributed to Voltaire. It is excellent advice for personal behavior in an open, free society.
It has also been forgotten by most of the country or, if not forgotten, practically ignored.
I was sharply reminded of this when I posted a comment to a fascinating blog by a retired Army fellow who’d logged plenty of years as a civilian Air Force employee. He’d posted a hub on the Milgram experiment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment.
To say the Milgram protocol was creepy seriously understates the facts: most humans are so conditioned to obey authority that they will administer what they think are painful electric shocks to an experimental subject when prodded by an authority figure.
Well enough; it sadly proves that we as a species have a long slog ahead of us if we are to stay free and get freer. But the blogger, who’s really a decent sort although I think he and I are poles apart in our politics, wanted to correlate this morally blind following behavior to right-wing thinking.
(As a libertarian, I don’t fit into the linear political spectrum that holds sway in this country. For instance, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, like Rosie O’Grady and the Colonel’s Lady, were sisters under the skin in the way they treated the people under their misrule. Here is a more honest bi-axial effort at a political spectrum: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz/quiz.php .)
My problem with such a position is simple: while conservatives often abhor freedoms Progressives (the lefties reeked up ‘liberal’ so horribly, they had to go back to what they called themselves when my dad was born) claim to cherish–aka pot legalization–the Progs abhor equally the freedom to be armed, and the freedom to say anything with which a Progressive might disagree. Stupid and sheeplike reverence for authority is not a right-wing monopoly; if you don’t believe me, research the anti-First Amendment speech codes on college campuses nationwide.
A libertarian, unlike conservatives or progressives, tolerates any sort of freedom that doesn’t involve initiation of force, although the exercise of some freedoms may turn the libertarian’s stomach.
A sample of such a freedom is ‘gay marriage’ or, in strict anatomical terms, the right to insert tongue, penis, et al, into the anus of another willing male–or insert penis into another willing male’s mouth–then call the act marital relations, have that behavior solemnized by a judge or (apostate) minister, and to thereafter receive all the rights and emoluments conferred by government (God doesn’t recognize the relationship as legitimate, no matter what the state says) upon married couples. (The anatomical equivalent for females is the other side of this peculiar coin.) As the reader may guess, I find the acts involved in the male version (but not the female version)gross and abhorrent. It is, for me, the rough equivalent in grossness to this: http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2014/04/alabama-rep-alvin-holmes-says-men-should-be-allowed-to-marry-mules-2939606.html, with the major caveat that a mule is not a sapient being and incapable of consenting, which makes the act morally questionable… and illegal in most states, although not in Florida until recently.
Yet as a libertarian, I refuse to advocate that the force of the state be applied to prevent–or to promote–what I personally regard as a repellant travesty, whether a union between two men, or between a man and a mule.
Some of this thinking went into my comment on the blog entry. And here is where Voltaire was forgotten, if he was even known in the first place. At least two other people commenting on my comment took my visceral reaction to the concept of anal sex as a personal insult and reacted–far more politely than I expected–accordingly.
I was forced to explain, at length, that such revulsion is hardwired (by citing an example wherein the Toxoplasma parasite biologically reverses the avoidance reaction to cat urine in both rat and human hosts) but that, despite feeling deeply dyspeptic about anal sex, I wasn’t going to act on my disgust. I also went on to make a point about the sensory integration disorder that comes comorbid with my Asperger’s (which has been scrubbed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Five, or DSM-V) and how that disorder amplifies my disgust with feces to the point that I have a hard time scooping the litter boxes for my cats. I explained that I would not permit my queasiness with the concept of things going into and out of an anus to provide myself with an excuse to seek a law forbidding such behavior between consenting adults.
And do you know, the blogger came to my defense! I’ve met a decent Progressive (he calls himself an ‘Active State Liberal’). Turns out he feels the same reaction as well–and also suppresses it for the sake of getting along in society.
I doubt I’ll ever get over the way my brain is wired to respond in that direction. But I have a choice to act or not to act on my emotions, either politically or personally (I’m not gay, so I don’t have a dog in this fight.), and I don’t have the right to a society free of offensive persons, places, or things.
To illustrate my point, here’s a really offensive place/thing: not a family exhibit!
Now that you’ve choked down your gorge (or admired the artist’s work, or picked yourself up off of the floor weak from laughter), you can do one of several things: 1) Pester politicians to outlaw the Sugar Sphinx; 2) Pester the museum to take it down–they will, and soon, anyway–or 3) decide that it’s gross, great art or funny, or some combination of all three, and try to get it out of your head unless you find it just such grand comedy or such a powerful work that you don’t want to, but otherwise do nothing. (Of course if you like it, you could affirm it and agitate in support of this ‘art,’ but for the subject of this column I am supposing that you do not wish to do so.)
I don’t recommend the first option; it involves forcible state sanction. Number 2 involves the legitimate course of peacefully expressing your ire, or withdrawing your assumed approval–and possibly your treasure if you donated to the host museum–from the sponsors of the exhibit. It’s legal, it’s persuasion–not force–and it’s your right. (I don’t know if this bizarre parody of the Sphinx was taxpayer funded, but if it was, I strongly recommend writing to and pestering politicians/administrators against it, because tax money is money expropriated from its owners with the threat of incarceration and/or violence, and should not be wasted on anything that could and should operate with voluntarily given money–which might not be forthcoming.) Number three is the most civilized response if this weird exhibit is privately hosted and financed.
My personal reaction was ROFLMAO, especially at the perverted selfies people posted after posing with the giant statue. The humorless politically correct folks who want to prevent such parody(including one man who took up a post at the highly anatomically detailed, NC-17 rear end of the exhibit for that purpose) represent a large part of the problem; with their self-importance and immunity to humility, they are the spiritual kin of book-burning dictators in their lack of respect for any free expression that offends them.
Personally, I don’t give a shrill soprano hoot in a hot place if people spend their money to see a titanic, sugar coated, anatomically detailed sculpture in an old sugar refinery, or if other people take crazy-funny sicko pictures posing with it; such neither breaks my leg nor (as long as its creators didn’t accept taxpayer money) picks my pocket. The ones in the wrong are the ones who want to intimidate the exhibit’s visitors out of making fun of the ridiculous thing.
In a civilized society, any self-expression short of the initiation of force or fraud should be permitted. This sword cuts both ways, which the people who responded to my blunt but honest blog post forgot. They wanted to shut my down my truthful expression of my disgust with the practice of male homosexuality, although I was not going to act forcibly on that disgust. They believed they had the right not to suffer offense–which they felt although none was intended–from my reaction to their self-professed behavior, although I was neither interfering with nor attempting to forcibly forbid that behavior. They did not want the tolerance I offered, but the affirmation I denied them.
Affirmation is given out of love and respect in the private sphere, whence it may eventually spread voluntarily to the public sphere. To compel public affirmation of anything is no different morally than the Red Chinese compelling all of their citizens to read Mao’s little red book, or the Nazis compelling Germans to ‘heil right in der Fuhrer’s Face.’
I titled this article, ‘A Conflicted Libertarian,’ because my personal tastes and distastes sometimes conflict with my stated political position. I shall never act to enforce my dislikes or likes on other people, but equally I shall never disavow those personal attitudes should the subject come up. This is no different than ordering a sandwich without mayonnaise or politely declining a serving of parsnips if one detests either mayonnaise or parsnips. Such a refusal may indeed give offense, but freedom does not require one to affirm what one detests, only to permit others to like the object of one’s detestation. Neither party in the transaction is permitted to force its tastes upon the other, and the mere expression of those tastes cannot be construed to be an initiation of force… as long as nobody is outlawing the consumption of mayonnaise and parsnips in Bloombergian fashion and, equally, nobody is using the law in Obamian fashion to compel these two alleged foods to be eaten.
And that, somewhat less succinctly, is what Voltaire was getting at.