Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I want to talk for a moment about tolerance

This post is in response to this Twitter thread. I was going to do a series of tweets in response, but as the number grew, I thought it'd better be done in a blog.

She thinks we are fighting for the rights of Nazis. We aren't -- indeed, the fact that she thinks we are is exactly the problem. They aren't Nazis.

The issue is not about a slippery slope that first Nazi's lose free speech, then other groups start losing their speech as well. The issue is that it's a slippery slope that more and more people get labeled a Nazi. And we are already far down that slope.

The "alt-right" is a diverse group. Like any group. Vilifying the entire alt-right by calling them Nazi's is like lumping all Muslims in with ISIS or Al Qaeda. We really don't have Nazi's in America. Even White Nationalists don't fit the bill. Nazism was about totalitarianism, real desire to exterminate Jews, lebensraum, and Aryan superiority. Sure, some of these people exist, but they are a fringe, even among the alt-right.

It's at this point we need to discuss words like "tolerance". I don't think it means what you think it means.

The idea of tolerance is that reasonable people can disagree. You still believe you are right, and the other person is wrong, but you accept that they are nonetheless a reasonable person with good intentions, and that they don't need to be punished for holding the wrong opinion.

Gay rights is a good example. I agree with you that there is only one right answer to this. Having spent nights holding my crying gay college roommate, because his father hated gays, has filled me with enormous hatred and contempt for people like his father. I've done my fair share shouting at people for anti-gay slurs.

Yet on the other hand, progressive icons like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have had evolving positions on gay rights issues, such as having opposed gay marriage at one time.

Tolerance means accepting that a person is reasonable, intelligent, and well-meaning -- even if they oppose gay marriage. It means accepting that Hillary and Obama were reasonable people, even when they were vocally opposing gay marriage.

I'm libertarian. Like most libertarians, I support wide open borders, letting any immigrant across the border for any reason. To me, Hillary's and Obama's immigration policies are almost as racist as Trump's. I have to either believe all you people supporting Hillary/Obama are irredeemably racist -- or that well-meaning, good people can disagree about immigration.

I could go through a long list of issues that separate the progressive left and alt-right, and my point would always be the same. While people disagree on issues, and I have my own opinions about which side is right, there are reasonable people on both sides. If there are issues that divide our country down the middle, then by definition, both sides are equally reasonable. The problem with the progressive left is that they do not tolerate this. They see the world as being between one half who hold the correct opinions, and the other half who are unreasonable.

What defines the "alt-right" is not Nazism or White Nationalism, but the reaction of many on the right to intolerance of many on the left. Every time somebody is punished and vilified for uttering what is in fact a reasonable difference of opinion, they join the "alt-right".

The issue at stake here, the issue that the ACLU is defending, is after that violent attack on the Portland train by an extremist, the city is denying all "alt-right" protesters the right to march. It's blaming all those of the "alt-right" for the actions of one of their member. It's similar to cities blocking Muslims from building a mosque because of extremists like ISIS and Al Qaeda, or disturbed individuals who carry out violent attacks in the name of Islam.

This is not just a violation of the First Amendment rights, it's an obvious one. As the Volokh Conspiracy documents, the courts have ruled many times on this issue. There is no doubt that the "alt-right" has the right to march, and that the city's efforts to deny them this right is a blatant violation of the constitution.

What we are defending here is not the rights of actual Nazi's to march (as the courts famous ruled was still legitimate speech in Skokie, Illinois), but the rights of non-Nazi's to march, most who have legitimate, reasonable (albeit often wrong) grievances to express. This speech is clearly being suppressed by gun wielding thugs in Portland, Oregon.

Those like Jillian see this as dealing with unreasonable speech, we see this as a problem of tolerably wrong speech. Those like Jillian York aren't defending the right to free speech because, in their minds, they've vilified the people they disagree with. But that's that's exactly when, and only when, free speech needs our protection, when those speaking out have been vilified, and their repression seems just. Look at how Russia suppresses supporters of gay rights, with exactly this sort of vilification, whereby the majority of the populace sees the violence and policing as a legitimate response to speech that should not be free.

We aren't fighting a slippery slope here, by defending Nazis. We've already slid down that slope, where reasonable people's rights are being violated. We are fighting to get back up top.

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Ryan said...

I agree with a lot of what you have to say, but I do take issue with your assertions about the makeup of the "progressive left" versus the "alt-right". It would appear to me that the number of "reasonable" folks on either side is approximately equal, as are the number of extremist morons.

Recently, I responded to a childhood friends' Facebook post by saying "Killing *all* Muslims sounds a bit extreme, no?" The response: I was called a "cuck", a "libtard", a "race traitor", and "as bad as the enemy". Things went downhill from here: first were promises of laughter when my daughter is ultimately killed by terrorists, then came the death threats and promises that I will be first to die when the "race wars" begin. Over a dozen people responded to my comment. I even received a thinly veiled death threat from the leader of a rather large 3%ers chapter (3%ers are one of the militia groups that a certain Portland Republican wants to enlist to provide security at the alt-right rallies in Portland). Zero people stuck up for me. And the thing is, while all commenters self-identify as alt-right, I would consider at most one or two of them to be "extreme" within the set of people who self identify as alt-right. In other words, while these morons were all "far right", few of them were "fringe right".

Now contrast these morons with their antifa counterparts on the far left. Similar tactics; a similar level of (in)tolerance; similar everything but the label. How about similar numbers? Presumably. I have met a few dozen far-right-wingers who think their 2nd amendment Trumps my 1st. So far have I have yet to meet a single far-left antifa'er who think their idea of tolerance Trumps alt-righters 1st amendment, but based on media reports I assume there are quite a few of them.

So while I agree that it is unacceptable and undesirable to prevent morons from expounding their moronic views, it is also disingenuous to pretend that "the left" is somehow "worse" than "the right". In reality, extreme morons are extreme morons, and the other 95% of us should treat them all the same.

keegan said...

> The issue is that it's a slippery slope that more and more people get labeled a Nazi. And we are already far down that slope.

There was a recent article in a somewhat well known "progressive" publication stating that people who favor building more housing in San Francisco as a solution to the rent crisis are "alt-right" (and also, inexplicably, "neoliberal"). So yeah, people think I should be punched for not being an economics denier.

David Wong said...

I agree with most of your post, except the position that the alt-right is also composed of normal people. I've only seen this group used to spread hate against Muslims and other things they don't like. There is no tolerance in there.

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