Another good friend talked about how weary she is of the intimidation tactics being used against those who disagree with the leftist racial political policy objectives. She said, “If I openly express my disagreement I am automatically labeled as a racist, but then I hear people say, ‘silence is violence.’ So no matter what I do I’m doing or thinking evil.” This is the trap that is set for conservatives in this emotionally charged political season. It leaves only one acceptable kind of speech, the kind that parrots the left’s narrative and political agenda. Since that is unacceptable to most on the right, silence is the only way. My friend said, “The only way to win is not to play the game.” In “War Games” that worked but I’m not so sure that’s going to work in this great ideological struggle.
I have seen this same chilling effect play out with many of my friends and acquaintances in the last several years. Because there is too much to loose if my good peace loving conservative friends continue to silence themselves and retreat from the public square, I feel I must come to the defense of free speech and the principles of conservatism that are loosing ground against these chilling tactics.
The surest way to lose our rights is to stop using our rights
The first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and the first of the Bill of Rights, deals with our most fundamental rights; the rights to exercise our religious and political conscience and speech in the public square. I call these rights our first liberties. Of all of our natural rights articulated in the Bill of Rights, the ones in the first amendment are most precious to me and most need to be defended at this juncture in our history. The first amendment asserts the freedom of religion and the free exercise of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom to write and share our political ideals, and to peaceably assemble and associate in the public square.
There has been a rapid degrading of the value of these rights. Classic liberalism has traditionally held the freedom of speech as the paragon of freedom. It was something that liberal and conservative Americans had in common, but today the left is increasingly illiberal in it's commitment to free speech. Conservatives cannot afford to lose their commitment to free speech as they appear to be the last guards of this indispensable right. If my good conservative friends stop standing for what they believe and exercising their rights to express their religious and political conscience, through writing, teaching, and persuasion, the rights of all will be in serious peril.
The rise of the PC culture, an invention of leftist ideologies, has created a new fragility in public discourse that cannot tolerate anything the left deems "offensive," and there is an ever increasing number of these intolerable offences. There is no way to have a robust dialog of political principle in the age of egg shell discourse. It's a real turnoff when people in the discussion break into hysterical emotional fits over their offended feelings, or begin to malign the personal character of their opponent. This is what you see all too much of in the public square of social media and it makes a rational discussion almost intolerable.
I'm not encouraging my conservative friends to step into the irrational vitriol of social media threads, but it does concern me how many simply choose silence rather then to venture a rational opinion respectfully delivered, whatever the reaction might be. I understand that good people don't want to be the one "by whom offenses come." No one want to alienate people or cause offense, but I hope I can demonstrate why a temperate rational expression of principles is more often needed in our times. May I suggest that there are a few grounded truths that should be considered before conservatives choose to silence themselves in order to spare the theatrical offenses of the intemperate minds of their general acquaintance.
Taking Offence & The Loss of Tolerance
There is a key principle that was often taught by parents just one generation ago, but now seems all but lost on our current generation. The principle that we are individually responsible for the offense we feel. My parents would tell me that it was my fault when I got offended, and it made me pretty darn mad too, but in truth we are responsible for how we react to what others say and only we can choose to be offended. It's not an easy lesson to learn but it is a critical one if you want to live a happy life. A great leader in my church, David A. Bednar, spoke on this topic not so many years ago. He said:
“It ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.”
I was the one in my house that was constantly being picked on because I would get so emotional. It makes me cringe when I think about what kind of adult I would be now if they had given into this behavior and validated my “hurt feelings.” As an adult I consider it a mark of maturity to be able to handle myself unemotionally when discussing controversial issues. Not dispassionately but unemotionally. Yes, they are different. I still get made at myself when I let my emotions get the best of me.
When others hold different opinions from mine, (and there are plenty that do) when I believe what they are saying is destructive or offensive, I simply choose not to be personally offended. I expect other adults to return the courtesy. I am disappointed if they decide not to be my friend because of my political and social beliefs but I don’t feel responsible for that choice. That is their choice, just as it is their choice to get offended and let their feelings rule them.
We cannot have a civil society when individuals hold others responsible for their feelings, are unwilling to discuss political subjects unemotionally, or consider the positions and rationals of other perspectives. The ability to be civil and consider the rational of a different perspective, and respectfully reject it if need be, are hallmarks of tolerance.
In recent years we have seen an ever increasing intolerance from the left for ideas that run counter to their political feelings. Commentators on the right have a name for this intolerance, “Cancel Cuture.” One example of this phenomenon is the growing number of speakers who have been dis-invited to speak at college campuses because students find their ideas offensive and refuse to listen respectfully or even consider their point of view on it's merits. We are also seeing an increase of Big Tech censorship of conservative viewpoints and social intimidation working to silence public figures or corporations from engaging in political speech. The Cancel Culture exposes a shocking one sided tolerance (which isn’t tolerance at all) in our society that favors the left side of a great ideological divide.
Isn't tolerance a hallmark virtue of liberalism?
Most of the powerful left is no longer liberal, but they are progressive, and "Cancel Culture" is one of the great paradoxes of progressivism. The left has spent years elevating the virtue of tolerance to a level of supreme importance in order to advance a social agenda that was personally intolerable to most conservatives. In the progressive dogmas of moral relativism, tolerance has become a stand alone virtue. Unfortunately, the word tolerance does not stand alone. It requires an object and a response to qualify it as a virtue. To silently tolerate that which violates ones conscience is not a virtue. Thus, tolerance unqualified by greater virtues is a very unstable virtue.
Moral relativism and it's key virtue tolerance have steadily been accepted as the primary moral philosophy of modern society. Moral relativism is a philosophy that holds few concrete standards of right and wrong. With the rejection of absolute truths, moral relativism is redefining morality out of existence. Literally! morality is defined as concrete standards of right and wrong and moral relativism has brought us the now popular sayings such as "speak your truth," or "you have your truth and I have my truth." In this philosophy there is no reliable standard for truth, which means there is no clear way to define “self-evident” truths like liberty, equality, life, happiness, or justice. Therefore, the definition is ever shifting and the only constant is that leftist ideologies are the moral authority on political truth.
Persons who reject the "concepts of absolute truths in moral matters can see themselves as the most tolerant of persons," and in this construct of morality, they hold their tolerance as the supreme expression of their virtue. The great paradox comes when you discover there is one thing that moral relativism can't tolerate and that is moral absolutes. This belief system can tolerate almost any behavior and almost any person, except those who insist that are certain moral absolutes that should be observed, especially when those moral absolutes contradict their political and social ideas.
Christian conservatives have been villainized as intolerant, and even evil, because they have taken principled stands for the rule of law, upheld ideas of personal responsibility, and have stood in firm opposition to abortion and public policies they believe responsible for the disintegration of the traditional family. Progressives judge the principles of conservatism as intolerant but conservatives understand tolerance is a two-sided coin.
"Tolerance, or respect, is on one side of the coin, but truth is always on the other. You cannot possess or use the coin of tolerance without being conscious of both sides." ~ Boyd K. Packer
As temperate rational conservatives qualify the virtue of tolerance with the imperative of truth they apply a reasonable toleration for the left in the public square. They do so by intelligently engaging in the contest of ideas and exercising a patient regard for their opponents. Another expression of this political tolerance is peacefully enduring the results of elections and showing respect for the rule of law the under-girds our political process. Conservatives rarely act in subversive ways to undermine the rights of the majority.
Ironically, the left holds tolerance as a key virtue but in practice it is only applicable to one side of the great ideological divide. This modern "tolerance," tolerates only what the social progressive deems worthy and thus in the hands of left, the virtue of tolerance has resulted in greater division rather than unity, greater tyranny rather than liberty. This is the grand ideological paradox of the secular progressive religion. Their pursuit of tolerance is turned to tyranny as they have untethered this virtue from all others that are meant to guide its application.
The Great Ideological Struggle
Our nation is in a great struggle, a struggle between two competing visions: two competing visions of history, two competing visions of our current reality, two competing visions of government and society. These visions can’t occupy the same space and so the sides have dug in and there seems little hope that rational persuasion will lead to unity.
The left seems to be winning in this great struggle. The ideas of the left are being taught in our schools, broadcast in the vast majority of our media outlets, and now Big Tech is beginning to shape public opinion in favor of leftist ideologies. That's a lot of concentrated power, yet the powers of the political left continue to use chilling tactics and hysterical offences to squash political speech on the right. They act as though President Trump is the greatest threat to their vision that has ever sat in the oval office. The tactics of intimidation are ratcheted up in this election cycle and they are using aggrieved group politics to silence those on the right by labeling them bigots and racist if they don't affirm these agendas.
In this highly intolerant political environment many of the more temperate voices on the right are feeling demoralized and the cost of venturing an opinion have them cowed into silence. When they do speak out and counter the leftist narratives they are bombarded with condemnations. Their acquaintances and friends are highly emotional and take offence. Their offense turns into a stone wall of condemnation and they feel justified in doing so because conservative viewpoints have been so long demonized as racist, bigoted, hateful, and intolerant. This gives them the moral high ground to be righteously offended and end all discussion or debate. Many on the right, especially more high profile individuals, are having their character defamed and even losing their positions and employment; but the chilling effect is having a dangerous widespread effect on ordinary citizens who are simply exiting the public debate causing a great silence from the most temperate rational voices.
Be the Grown-up in the Room
The left has successfully maligned conservative ideals and reshaped American discourse so profoundly that it seems that only the scrappy bulldogs on the right, like Trump and his most unapologetic supporters, are willing to enter the fray and contend in the ideological struggle. Because of how hysterical and bombastic the public discourse has become, temperate rational conservatives are avoiding the dogfight because when they try to venture a conservative viewpoint using clean and respectful language, not only do liberals in their circle of acquaintance take offense, they sometimes get bowled over by the bulldogs on the right as well.
This may be the most destructive effect of the progressive paradox of tyrannical tolerance. It discourages grown-ups from entering the room. It's kind of like when adults hesitate to intervene when their kids are fighting and throwing fits downstairs, it's sometime easier to let them punch it out and remain in your serene place; but then there's that voice of duty pestering you to model problem resolution and restore some order back to the house.
If those grown-up rational viewpoints are absent in this great ideological struggle it may bring down our entire national house. This is why it is imperative that temperate rational conservatives who are currently waiting silently in the wings, begin to speak out. They may be the only ones capable of moving public dialog toward constructive American solutions.