Thursday, August 2, 2012

Heads I win, tails you ...

It was a wonderful week. After a few days in California visiting my late wife's family, my two adult children and I took off - as many of my Facebook friends know - for Kauai, Hawaii, where we spent the better part of eight days treating ourselves to a relaxing, healing vacation after one of the worst years in our lives.

The mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, happened the day before we flew out, and I tried my best not to think too much about it and about the inevitable political mudslinging that followed. While I was in Hawaii, the flap over Chick-Fil-A began to develop, and it later exploded into the festival of name-calling we've all been witnessing this week.

I have so far avoided commenting on either event, and I've largely avoided obsessing over them either. As the dust begins to settle, though, two things stick in my mind and won't go away:

• The statement from a Second Amendment supporter that any attempt to limit people's ability to buy enormously large magazines of ammunition restricts our freedoms.

• The claim by various people that calls to boycott Chick-Fil-A threaten our First Amendment freedom of speech.

What is so appalling about both of these claims is the complete failure to recognize the corresponding freedoms of those on the other side: the right of those who abhor violence to live without fear of armed vigilantes on the one hand, and the right of those who don't like Chick-Fil-A's president's views on gays to exercise their free market prerogative not to eat there on the other. The clear message in both cases is "I demand that you respect my freedoms, but forget about yours."

And this is a problem, because when freedom only applies to me and not to you, neither one of us is free. I'm not free because I don't have to listen to your views or your concerns, so I am never challenged to emerge from the prison of my preconceived ideas and interact with you or with others. You're not free because I have no respect for your personhood, even though I'm willing to disguise that lack of respect as promoting "freedom." So we are all in prison together.

As we prepare for the endgame of yet another presidential campaign, I greatly fear that we will see a lot of lack of freedom on display. What we seem to have lost is our sense of community - of all being in this (whatever "this" is) together. So I would like to suggest that everybody back off a bit and acknowledge that if any of us is not free, none of us is free. If any of us demands rights that deprive others of theirs, those rights are the antithesis of freedom. If we really want to affirm ourselves as Americans (and all the cheering for our Olympians this week suggests that, at some level, at least, we do), then we must affirm that America is a community: a frighteningly diverse community, perhaps, but a community all the same. In a community, nobody wins, and if hyper-partisanship prevails, we all lose. It's about as simple as that.


  1. At least as regards Mr. Cathy and his supporters, I think what they lament is a loss of community. But it was the community consisting of those who persecuted gays and those who silently acquiesced to the persecution. Today, that sense of community has been riven by those who oppose the persecution of gays. So much for civic comity, eh?

  2. Exactly. What I'm articulating here is supposed to be a conservative POV, isn't it?

  3. Sorry, Joel; I accidentally removed your comment. It was: Conservative or "conservative." I think that pretty much sums the issue up. Today's conservatives are conservative only in quotation marks - only, in other words, when it suits their idea of freedom.

  4. So . . . cafeteria conservatives.

    I think part of the driver for this is tribalism. Leaders in the teaparty/JBS right have succeeded in imposing a new, extremist and decidedly radical definition of "conservative" and people who self-identify as conservative feel obliged to align themselves with the extreme members of their tribe. While I can see some evidence of tribal behavior among liberals, it appears much more pronounced among conservatives.