“You have to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” A Country Song.
Not without some trepidation and because a blank page ever calls to the loquacious, I am in consideration of the status of free speech and morality in the public discussion. And, not tangentially, it occurs to me this morning that we are so immersed in moral relativism in our effort to be all-inclusive and tolerant that we are indeed losing sight of matters of conscience.
Before expounding in brief on all of that, however, I will assert that I do not believe we had any business occupying Iraq or Afghanistan and that we have an arrogant country to go marching around the world waving our flag and far, far worse. In many sectors that position means I have a big “L” painted on my chest. But wouldn’t it be something if the new negotiations between the Afghani government and the Taliban rendered us utterly obsolete there and we could spare some of the vulnerable–our kids, and Afghani civilians whose sole crime is that they are in the way of our senseless war.
I was chiefly thinking about the things we have told one another that we should not say. If we do not qualify most of what we say in the public sphere, we are put in our place by someone, sometimes many someones. I do not mean to over-beat this drum, but the schisms and blow-outs over this issue continue: we cannot safely assert that Muslims attacked the WTC as Bill O’Reilley did this last week on The View without Whoopi Goldberg yelling “Bullshit!” and storming off the set. We have to say “extremist Muslims.” We cannot object to an Islamic center near Ground Zero without being taken to task.
Where Islam is concerned, if we point to the oppression of women rampant in its tenets, from the sanction of female genital mutilitation to the astoundingly oppressive rights of the husband as set forth by the Koran — it is PC now to write Qu’ran— we are called Islamophobic and racist. By some accounts we are supposed to sanction sharia— Islamic law– in our communities, when all we really have going for us in terms of any litmus test for our private and public behavior is the rule of law that governs and unites our nation and offers a moral framework for American life.
If we refer to Bernie Madoff and other bilkers in the context of their ethnicity when some stereotyping in some cases appears to have some validity, or make any observation at all about the prevalence of, not to say the hegemony of Jewish people in all areas of public life and the arts, even as a simple point of interest, or say anything negative at all about Israel’s attitude and behavior toward the Palestinians, we are labeled, in turn, anti-semitic, and someone calls the ADL. Perhaps Helen Thomas should not have opined that Jews should go back to Israel, but she had the right to say it without losing her job. Rick Sanchez, recently 86’d from CNN. shouldn’t have lost his either. He merely said that American Jews are not an oppressed minority. He comes from a scrappy Latin American neighborhood and knows something about oppression and deprivation and how much money the majority execs of American mainstream media who indeed are Jews, are making. How is it racist to give voice to the obvious?
No one should support extremist rhetoric or slurs, but we are all human, and really, shouldn’t we all get over it? If I post a chapter from my memoir Nightfall in Verona about the people of Turin and style that portrait in any way that pushes an Italian American’s hot button, I am accused of stereotyping Italians and again of racism irrespective of whether or not the people and conventions I describe are spot-on, funny, and lend themselves to the entirely valid genres of caricature/satire.
It is PC now to refer to the LGBTQ community, with the Q a fairly recent addition in public discourse, but not so much to “gays” or gay people. We are then supposed to accept the appropriation of the terms “husband” and “wife” by LGBTQ’s in referring to life partners as oh so carefully in use by NPR, HuffPo et al, (and to support the right to marry others of the same sex and to have children via AI or adoption even though many of us might believe, in our heart of hearts, that a child, who has a right, speaking of civil rights, to the nurturing of a mother and the modeling of masculinity by a father, should not wander into his parents’ room at night and encounter two fathers in bed together) . Do we not fail ourselves and one another if we do not speak from the conscience?
If I do not support the abolition of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”— which to me renders gay individuals in the military more vulnerable than they already are and has little to do with the focus and discipline required to keep us all safe (is it really necessary to be “openly” gay or “openly” heterosexual in the armed forces?), I will assuredly be branded as “homophobic”.
God forbid that we should ever, ever resort to the word “nigger” in rhetorical contempt for someone who holds up a convenience store and terrorizes people, or call Latino Americans “Mexicans”– never mind that we have over a million undocumented Mexican nationals in the U.S.– a number of them employed as I write by the construction company building a King Soopers in my neighborhood at salaries sufficient to make the payments on the SUV’s I see lined up at the local bodega. I speak Spanish with these people every day and believe me, they are from beautiful Mexico and proud of it.
Meanwhile the Caucasian American majority must endure any and all slurs leveled at us by any one of the aforementioned sub-cultures, presumably as some kind of payback for our years of ethnic and cultural insensitivity. I think I’ll get on my soapbox and write about the plight of the Irish-Scots-English American; surely I can dig up some stereotypes somewhere.
I personally condemn outright deprivation of any given person or group’s civil rights but it appears to me that these are themselves caught up in the miasma of cultural and moral relativism. Certainly we are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness– but not to the extent that our exercise of those rights impinges on another’s or cause others undue distress, or comprises the welfare of children or others who cannot protect or advocate for themselves. With many others, I view civil rights in the ideal and aspire to uphold them with the understanding that I have the freedom to object to that which violates my personal conscience, even if it is exercised in the name of freedom of expression. What, by the way, has become of legislating private and public behavior by the dictates of the individual conscience and will?
In our discussions and in partaking in the writing of the American story, we have accepted the aforementioned divisions and now walk on eggshells. We cannot have healthy debates in plain everyday language without worrying that we are going to be flogged, banned, censored and ranted against for being politically incorrect. On Fox News Glenn Beck is advocating home schooling and a separate America; on MSNBC Keith Olbermann is screaming in intolerance at Glenn Beck.
I have long considered myself a liberal. I have been, and continue to be, a Civil Rights advocate versed especially in the rights of the disabled, the elderly and the mentally ill, finding it abhorrent that a large sector of the mentally ill population is generically referred to as “Borderline”– this is a phobia-perpetuating label, and a nasty one. But living in fear of saying/writing the wrong thing is not freedom. We have taken one another hostage, and we need to let go.