I’ve been thinking a lot about disagreements recently. I’m no saint. I’ve participated in all kinds of arguments lately regarding folks I disagree with. I’ve disagreed with a Massachusetts elementary school librarian who took exception to the First Lady donating Dr. Seuss books to her school. I’ve disagreed with a former CBS Vice President who didn’t seem to mind that the victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting were (apparently) country and western fans and thus Republicans, and owners of firearms. I’ve disagreed with lots of people in the past and probably will continue to do so.
I don’t doubt there are a lot of folks who disagree with me about my stance on certain issues. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t particularly like it. But that doesn’t mean disagreement is a bad thing. Actually, the ability to express disagreement is a good thing. We need to keep doing it.
Why do I believe disagreement is good you ask?
First off, you’ll never, ever live in a world where everyone sees reality in fundamentally the same way. I know there are people who believe we someday will, but it’s a pipe dream. Two people living in two different countries and cultures won’t see things the same. Even two people living in two different parts of the same nation (though I’ll argue that they live in different cultures) won’t see things the same way. Heck, I probably don’t see things in exactly the same way as my next door neighbors.
Fortunately, we haven’t had to shoot each other over it. We haven’t even come to blows.
Fortunately, if need be, we can talk to each other about our disagreements. I won’t convince them about my point of view and they probably won’t convince me of theirs, but at least we can have a discussion.
I had an ongoing discussion with a Baptist Pastor for two years on the nature of Judaism, Christianity, and the Bible and we never agreed with each other. I eventually stopped attending his (and any other) church, but only in part because of our disagreement.
And we never tried to shoot each other and never, ever took a swing at each other.
It’s important to be able to disagree and to openly state that you disagree because if you can’t, then you’re trapped. What do you do with all that disagreement if you can’t openly say, “Hey, I disagree with your opinion,”?
Free speech is freedom. The minute your speech is no longer free, neither are you.
I’m rather bothered about the movement that seems to be occurring on many university campuses (at least as far as news and social media reports). It’s a movement to define certain kinds of speech as “hate speech”. What is hate speech? According to Wikipedia, it is:
…speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. … In some countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both.
However, as I understand it, some people define “hate speech” as any word or statement that conflicts with or contradicts their fundamental understanding of reality. I suppose that makes “climate change deniers” guilty of “hate speech” in certain circles.
Let’s consider Ben Shapiro’s recent public appearance at U.C. Berkeley. Shapiro was accused of being a white supremacist and Donald Trump stooge by those who opposed his speaking (or even presence) on campus (both are untrue since he’s an Orthodox Jew and a Libertarian). So who is Ben Shapiro and why did many of the students and facility at Berkeley fear him?
According to Wikipedia, he is:
…an American conservative political commentator, columnist, author, radio talk show host, and lawyer.
A native of Los Angeles, California, Shapiro graduated from Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles at age 16, after skipping two grades. He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004, at age 20, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, and then cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2007. He then practiced law at Goodwin Procter. Today he runs an independent legal consultancy firm, Benjamin Shapiro Legal Consulting, in Los Angeles.
So why fear him?
He’s smart and well-educated. As I’ve already mentioned, he’s a religious Jew. He’s an attorney.
He’s a conservative and very vocal about it. In fact, he’s made a career out of disagreeing with people.
As I’ve mentioned, people can become uncomfortable when you disagree with them. I’m sometimes uncomfortable when people disagree with me, but that’s no reason for me to expect everyone to agree with my views. Not everyone agrees with Shapiro. Sometimes even I don’t agree with Shapiro. I don’t think that would bother him much, even if he knew I existed.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
–Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet)
I’ve always imagined that statement to be the cornerstone of what it is to be an American, but apparently it’s French. Nevertheless, it’s my cornerstone relative to human communication and free speech. I don’t care if you disagree with me. Well, that’s not true. I do care. However, whether I care or not doesn’t matter to me as much as my gratitude that you are free to disagree with me, because that means I’m free to disagree with you as well.
That means we are both still free human beings.
Ben Shapiro is a free human being. So are the students and staff at U.C. Berkeley who disagree with him.
Disagreeing doesn’t mean you are right or wrong. It doesn’t mean you are or are not in possession of all or even some of the facts (for instance, a co-worker of mine who is familiar with a wide variety of firearms tells me that a bump stock would not have allowed Stephen Paddock to maintain his rate of fire upon the victims of the recent Las Vegas shootings over the estimated eleven minutes of his attack, especially with any level of accuracy). You are not necessarily right or wrong, factual or fictional simply because you disagree with another person or group.
You are just exercising your free speech rights. I’m glad. That means, by definition, you must agree that I have free speech rights, too.
Heaven help us all the day you, I, or anyone else says we no longer possess those rights.