I've spent the last few weeks in a tailspin, trying to make sense of my beliefs and philosophies. Most especially, trying to understand things from all sides. To find a kind of grand unifying philosophy to live by. The result I've come to, however, is quite bleak.
Regardless of whether you fall on the far left, far right, or anywhere in between ... one basic axiom is that everyone values freedom. Their freedom.
It goes without saying, yet bears repeating — everyone wants to live their lives the way they want, and don't want interference from government impinging upon their held values.
The disconnect is always in the Venn diagram at the point where one person's rights intersect with another person's. It is at this point that compromise is necessary. If one person wants one thing, and the other wants another, then someone is going to be disappointed ... even in a perfectly fair compromise (which would usually result in both sides being unhappy.)
Quelling my contempt for one, I'll try to frame issues from both sides.
Imagine that person A is a gay man who wants the right to marry the man he loves. To him, this is about his freedom to have the same rights as straight people enjoy.
But then imagine person B who is a Catholic priest, and is afraid of being forced to marry a gay couple in his church. To him, it's a violation of his faith.
And yet somewhere in the middle, person C doesn't want to sell pizza to a man he simply suspects of being gay, because the idea of homosexuality disgusts him on some subconscious, primitive level.
Where do you draw the line, in a world where everyone has their own idea of what rationality is? It doesn't matter. No matter where you draw it, someone will feel their rights are being trampled on, and they're forced to acquiesce to the other side.
Or let's say person A wants to obtain birth control because she's not ready to start a family just yet. And person B is a pharmacist that finds birth control to be a sin, and refuses to sell it.
Or let's go back in time, and consider person A is a black man that wants to eat at the restaurant; yet person B is the restaurant owner who doesn't want to serve black people.
It's easy to look at this as a basic matter of mutual respect: the gay man can find a different person to marry him, or a different pizza chain to patronize. The woman can find another pharmacy or pharmacist to sell her the contraception. The black man can eat at a different restaurant.
In these cases, there is certain to be contention, but the basic idea is upheld that nobody is forced to do anything they don't want to.
... but what if there is no one else in town to officiate a marriage, no other pizza parlors around, just one pharmacy, and every restaurant has owners that don't want to serve black people?
In these cases, now you've effectively denied equality to these people. They cannot obtain the same rights, goods and services due to the prejudices of others. And yes, religious objection is just another form of prejudice that society has deemed off-limits to rebuke.
We've already tried this separate but equal system. It doesn't work. Black people during segregation only had access to inferior schools, inferior housing, inferior water fountains. Gay and lesbian couples in civil unions were denied rights they were entitled to by law, turned away from hospitals seeking to visit their partners.
The notion of separate but equal has been soundly rejected as discriminatory.
Whether we like it or not, much of this world exists on the extreme ends of the spectrum on all issues. And the more radicalized they are, the more unwilling they are to make even the tiniest of concessions.
I was reading a Twitter conversation today where a person was asking why it was so difficult to simply use the gender pronoun a person asks them to. And there were literally dozens of replies from people completely unwilling to go so far as to say "she" instead of "he", with no regard for how important this issue was to the other party.
How do we manage as a society when people can't even manage such a small act of compassion as to use a different gender pronoun when asked politely?
And although I suspect it's another right-wing boogeyman, I'm sure there do exist people who would want to fine a person for using the wrong pronouns.
If we can't find basic compassion for something as simple as gender pronouns, then how in the hell can we manage on much larger issues like abortion, marriage equality, transgender rights, etc?
We want to live in a very black and white society. One side is righteous and just, the other is evil and cruel. You're either on the left, or the right. You're either a Republican or a Democrat.
Frankly, it's sickening to reduce the entirety of a human being to a side of a coin.
Yet there seems to be some sort of consensus and community agreement upon that which makes a person fall into one side or the other.
If you're on the left, then you must support abortion, marriage equality, transgender rights, affirmative action, etc. And lately, you must also support safe spaces and trigger warnings. You have to support defending the religious beliefs of Muslims, even though they are counter to your ideals of equality for women, gays, and atheists.
If you're on the right, you must oppose all of these things. And obviously, frame things in reverse: so you must defend the right of people to uphold their religious beliefs and so forth.
There's no room for a middle ground. The person who supports marriage equality but opposes abortion has no place in either party. The person who can see both sides of the issue on abortion and falls in the middle is detested by both extremes.
It's not just that there's a middle ground for the left versus the right, but there's a whole spectrum of shades of gray for all issues individually.
And so we come down to this idea of, which side is right? Which is, of course, meaningless. Both sides believe they are right.
But I don't believe this is some sort of "there is no truth, only relatives" proof.
Sure, not everything is clean-cut. For instance, no matter whether you fall on the side of pro-choice or pro-life, or no matter how you choose to try and compromise on it ... there's always good and bad as a result.
On other matters, I do strongly believe that there is no ambiguity. And it would seem that most of society agrees. For instance, very few people today would support human slavery. And I sincerely doubt you could make a good case for legalizing murder completely.
There is truth. And even if only one side believes it, that doesn't make it an opinion. It simply means one side is right, and the other is wrong.
And to me, that truth will always be that no one should ever be judged on their immutable traits alone. I don't believe in equal outcome, as it's a very unfair world, but I do believe in equal opportunity.
But the problem is ... on the great spectrum of choices presented to us, where everyone falls somewhere on there (and rarely on the extreme ends), we are left with a political process that forces us to choose between one extreme or the other ... and with this compelled choice, half of us fall on one side, and half of us on another.
There really is truth in that not all Trump voters were racists, or bigots. But they did vote for one. There is truth that not all Clinton voters were okay with her corruption, but they did vote for her anyway.
There was no other choice. First Past The Post guarantees that.
The act of voting legitimizes the views of the candidate and makes the voter complicit. And the act of protest voting for a third party is throwing your vote away. And abstaining from voting somehow makes one unable to state their discontent in the result.
For anyone but the most extreme on either side, it's a lose-lose situation.
And in this lies our futility: all of politics becomes a game of see-saw. As one extreme controls power, it polarizes the other side further, and things shift back. We had twelve years of Reagan and Bush (right), followed by eight years of Clinton (left), followed by eight years of Bush Jr (right), followed by eight years of Obama (left), and now we're back to the right again. Who knows for exactly how long, but it's pretty much all but guaranteed to be no more than twelve years.
Everyone keeps hoping this country will come together and unite. And yet all of history shows this to not be true. In fact, things seem to be getting increasingly violent each and every cycle. I feel this country is more divided than it has ever been in my life.
No, I don't think it's going to lead to a civil war, at least not in the near future. But even in 2004, I never felt even one-tenth of the anger I feel toward those who would legitimize such a destestable Republican candidate.
I find all of my deeply held beliefs being challenged now. How do I support freedom of speech when that speech is what leads to this very polarization, which leads to actual actions that harm people? When it becomes impossible to counter bad speech with good speech, due to the Backfire Effect of people so entrenched in their views that nothing could ever dissuade them from racism or bigotry? How do I then oppose speech, when it is one of my most deeply held beliefs? When doing so would push me squarely into authoritarianism?
Once again, I have no answers whatsoever. I think if we could cut away the disgusting extremism from both sides, we could have a society that was willing to make compromises.
But try as I might, I've never found a way to get through and move an extremist even an inch toward the center. Not a single one, not a single time.
I really have no hope for the future anymore. I think these issues have been with us since the very beginning of civilization, and will continue with us right until the bitter end. Which may not be so far away.
This isn't to say "give up and roll over." Far from it.
When Martin Luther King Jr spoke of the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, he simply wasn't looking from a far enough distance to see the forest from the trees: time is a pendulum, not an arc. It is constantly swinging back and forth.
I'm afraid to say it, but that pendulum has made it as far left as it's ever going to get. In fact, it had made it so far that the very left had begun to assume authoritarian views around speech. The very things my generation grew up fighting from the right.
But now, that pendulum has begun to swing back toward the right. We can't stop it, at least not within our lifetimes. But if we do nothing, it will only move faster. All we can do now is fight like hell to slow its movement.
Right-wing authoritarianism is sweeping the planet. In Britain, France, the US, etc. Don't think for a second the sins of the past can't resurface. We are headed on a collision course with fascism if we do nothing.
I think more than anything, the point of this is just to abandon the hope that we're going to reach some sort of utopia. To stop being surprised by inevitable results such as the 2016 election. We need to look at the world objectively for what it is, and not for what we want it to be, and act accordingly.