“The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant” – Maximilien Robespierre
Politics have always been a dividing factor in society. As humanity progresses, the dividing lines grow more and more complicated. For each new ideology, there is a new front standing firmly opposed. Nothing encompasses this political divide as much as the relatively modern concept of left and right wing, which have been at each other’s throats for the past century.
I’m not writing to validate either one, but to focus on the potentially extremist nature of stances across the aisle. History is witness that both sides have engaged in oppressive, problematic or outright unjust behaviours when consolidating power. However, my aim here is neither to condone nor condemn the means employed in the service of power grabs. In all transparency, I’m left leaning myself, but living in Lebanon has meant I’ve had to adapt to mostly right wing parties, and communities in general. That’s a society which is far from progressive, holding on for dear life to traditional, conservative, and religious values, relatively capitalist and individualistic in more ways than one. Though I am hard pressed to find anything in right wing politics with which I feel I can identify, evolving in this particular environment has taught me not to disdain or dismiss those views on their face value. If anything, I strive to vanquish the temptation of feeling contempt with understanding of reasons and circumstances. Unfortunately, the climate is such that, in many political debates, battling fronts are always so anxious to vilify their opponents, even when or if, a mere slight shift in perspective would shed the light on the potential merits of the argument. Nevertheless, entertaining an idea and better understanding its origins does not amount to endorsing it. Just because I think you are justified, doesn’t mean that I think you’re right!
Neither left nor right wing partisans seem to recognize that extremist loyalty to a cause is exactly what the hierarchy wants, unflinching fealty. I don’t support the idea of any group becoming a vast majority, not in modern times at least, as it’s often just a slippery slope for tyranny. This pitfall of democracy, and in my opinion also of revolution, has been discussed at length by John Stuart Mill in his book On Liberty, where he elaborates the concept of the “Tyranny of the Majority”, where the controlling governing majority advances its agenda to suit its own interests at the expense of those of minorities, and of society as a whole. Once one ideology grows rampant, it would stop at nothing to reinforce its hold. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing if done peacefully and organically, where that ideology grows slowly within generation after generation, securing a foothold the more a culture is exposed to it. But if History taught us anything, that is not what we consistently see, not even closely. Armed revolution for example, the polar opposite of a peaceful transition, has shown to bring mostly unstable bodies of government, no matter how good willed they may have been, or haven’t been, notwithstanding a few exceptions. The October Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the 1963 Syrian coup d’état, the 1971 Islamic Revolution are all notable examples of the collapse in authoritarianism.
Yet people do not seem to learn! Of course, I’m not saying left wing and right wing parties are at risk of escalating violence which will result in a sanguinary putsch to overthrow regimes and governments, but the aggressive tone of the debate is alarming, and detrimental to all parties involved but most of all, to society as a whole. Instead of a pragmatic approach to finding a consensus that maximises the greater good beyond petty partisanship, both sides rely instead on direct attacks on not only the idea, but the people behind it as well.
Nevertheless, consensus and compromise don’t imply concession and bankruptcy. Some ideas should be fought: homophobia, racism, discrimination to name a few, must be stopped in their tracks. But the weapons in the fight don’t have to be so draconian! The scrutiny of public opinion has morphed, in the era of social media into an arena for lynch mobs. Ruining the lives of others over some insignificant things they wrote a long time ago on a public forum isn’t particularly fair. Such is the case of Marvel director James Gunn, who was fired over jokes he tweeted almost a decade ago, taken out of context, which did not represent his contemporary views at all. His attempt at comedy at the time fell short maybe, or was tone deaf, but can we really say in good conscience that the outcry was nothing short of disproportionate? Isn’t taking things without a degree of leniency just asking for a rise in the bitter portions of society, who would oppose certain views simply out of spite? This is not how you teach people they’re wrong or inspire change. If it were, wouldn’t we be seeing the effects now? How naïve to think that riding the proverbial moral high horse magically changes anything: the people on the receiving end would only be seeing the heels of your boot coming down on them. That is hardly the way to grow acceptance and conversation.
Fictitious British news reporter Jonathan Pie once said something incredibly valuable: “If you’re a racist, I want to hear it, because then I could argue against it.” Nothing rings more true! By simply shutting down effectively the arguments racists use, you’ve not only shown them wrong, but downplayed their entire movement, and prevented it from gaining unopposed exposure. By suppressing it, you’ve given it more value, and more dangerously, martyrdom, which makes the general public lend it a more sympathetic ear.
The most valuable thing to remember when arguing, is that the other side is also human. There is a certain trend of dehumanizing the opposition, something social media and news outlets have been helping feed. It’s a dangerous slope, we shouldn’t hate the people for their views. Prove them wrong the right way and they’ll have to give in, if they don’t, what can you do other than show everyone how misguided their views really are? What better way than exploiting the opportunities at our disposal: unlike news outlets, social media has given ample provision for respectable debate can be used by multiple sides.
However, if there is only one takeaway from it all, no matter the views of the opposition are, they’re really just human, with desires, hopes and dreams, virtues and weaknesses. And perhaps, that’s the scariest thing of all.
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