We are all equal except you guys over there.

In philosophy, politics, ramblings, social commentary on December 21, 2013 at 2:08 am

In lieu of recent events in the news I am going to try and get my thoughts down in some sort of organized fashion.  This will be a sort of living document.  As I refine my thinking or discover better ways to make my point I will edit this to reflect the changes.  More and more often I see friends arguing for or against some sort of minority issue. Recently these posts deal with gay marriage legislation and/or celebrity’s comments on the topic.  One of the more popular arguments is that “Everyone is different. We all deserve to be different. We need to understand these differences and love everyone regardless.  Unless you do not support gay marriage (racial or gender equality, et cetera, et cetera.) then you need to shut the hell up and you may as well un-friend me in the process because you are a horrible person and your opinion doesn’t matter.”  Occasionally (depending on my energy level and how much I actually care about you) I will attempt to point out the fallacies of this argument.  If I don’t know you, like you, or otherwise care what your opinion is I usually just let it go.  Unless I am feeling ornery.  If that is the case I’ll argue pretty much anything regardless of my own beliefs. The problem with pointing this sort of thing out to friends is that there is no such thing as a purely intellectual or friendly debate when it comes to a person’s basic morality and beliefs.  Even if you believe the exact same thing they do, once you question the way they are presenting those beliefs you become the enemy.  This sort of argument is extremely polarizing.  Aside from the inherent contradictions the worst thing about the argument as that it makes discussion impossible even amongst people on your own side.  It is very much an “us vs. them” argument.  If you don’t buy in %100 you are thrown in with the evil “them.”

Now, back to the inherent contradiction, the biggest problem with the above argument is the claim that everyone deserves these basic understandings and freedoms of belief.  Which is quickly followed with the exception.  And this exception is anyone who believes differently than you.  The way I see it there are two main reasons for this.  The first is that you want to believe that everyone does deserve your understanding but your opposition to the other side of the argument is so strong that your perfect ideal of how people should act towards each other doesn’t stand up in the face of this disagreement.  Basically you are well meaning, but find it hard to live up to an ideal you are holding everyone else too.  The second reason is that you don’t actually believe that hooey at the beginning of the argument at all.  You just throw it in there to add legitimacy to your stance even though you contradict it almost immediately.  Unfortunately that contradiction overrides any of the underlying motivations leading to your argument.  You are now a hypocrite.  If you truly believe the first half of the argument you must be willing to accept that people who believe differently than you have just as much right as you do to their beliefs.  When you believe strongly enough in your side, you can afford to respect the other side and offer them the same rights and understanding that you are demanding.  I guess that means there is a third reason for the argument, a lack of faith in your own stated beliefs.  This is often exemplified when somebody throws up a straw man to attack by over simplifying the other side or completely misrepresenting it to make your own side appear stronger.  These are only needed when your side can not stand up on its own.  If you have faith, don’t resort to these tactics as it weakens your own arguments.

I’ve said what is wrong with this argument.  Now you might be asking yourself “how should I deal with sort of thing?”  Or, even more importantly, “how should the country/society be dealing with this sort of thing?”  Are there ways to respect everyone’s opinion and still protect the rights of minorities and their beliefs?  In this country anything not specifically outlawed is legal.  Laws are needed to make things illegal.  You should never pass a law specifying what is legal.  If that becomes the precedent we are in much bigger trouble than dealing with racism or gay marriage.  Aside from that threat, the problem with making a law that says “African Americans must be hired” or “Gay couples must be allowed to wed” is that you are making the distinction between us and them.  At the core of any such law is the belief that the differences between groups are so profound that you must spell out their equality.  You are saying that different groups within the population are “separate, but equal.”  This is an argument long rejected within the Civil Rights movement as it legitimizes the differences between people.  As long as these differences are so pronounced that they need special laws to protect groups there will never be understanding or unity.  Because as long as these differences are institutionalized through law the relative merits between the groups is open to debate.  Equality is largely a matter of opinion.  It means that statements such as “black people are better athletes, girls are not good at math, gay couples do not deserve to be married” are all equally valid as opinions.  The differences are the important thing and it has been legally declared that these differences are legitimate.  What we should be doing is striking down laws that make these distinctions.  It doesn’t matter if it is a law saying that a specific group of people should or shouldn’t be allowed the same rights as others.  As long as there is no law that denies rights to a specific group than their equality is a given.  It means that the things that are similar between us are much more important than the differences.  Because make no mistake, we are all different in some way.  We are all on the minority side of some belief or common practice.

The biggest problem with this is the inherent nature of politics.  Let’s say that I am a politician who will be seeking re-election next year.   Let’s continue this exercise by saying that I represent a largely African American constituency.   I decide to draft a law declaring African American equality in education and providing a larger amount of funds to schools in those districts that have a higher percentage of African Americans.  I don’t provide for these funds within the legislation but merely assume that they will be available.  My opponent has been running on platform of fiscal responsibility and reform.  I’ve now put him in a position of voting against his own platform or against the equality of African Americans.  I’ve put him in a terrible position and I can state unequivocally for my campaign commercials what a great friend I am of the African American population in this country.  Passing meaningless (and sometimes dangerous depending on the rest of the language) bills that grant equality to some group is a short term windfall for politicians.  Actually it’s a long term windfall for them as exploiting your differences is how a largely homogenous group of politicians makes themselves standout from the crowd.  Unfortunately for us, this type of law (regardless of the financial implications) merely stand to point out differences not our similarities.  It also implies that this group needs special consideration because apparently their equality is not so self-evident that it can stand on its own.  This further implies that they are not really equal but we will all pretend they are because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

I understand that some of the laws that I would have us get rid of were instrumental for Civil Rights despite the discrepancy between their stated opinion of “separate but equal” and the realities of the era.  I wasn’t alive (or at least old enough) to have any real understanding of the situation at the time.  I want to believe that they were correct for that specific situation and that they did help advance the cause of equality.  I believe that they now do more harm than good by continuing to promote the differences rather than celebrate similarities.

That is my say on the legalities of the situation.  How do we handle religious or personal differences in opinion over something like gay marriage (the hot button topic of the moment)?  We accept them.  Period. Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs and have the freedom to state those beliefs.  If a celebrity doesn’t share your beliefs stop watching his/her show.  Stop buying the products they endorse.  But do not question their right to have their opinions or their faith.  They are as entitled to theirs as much as you are entitled to yours.  Once the opposition loses the freedom to voice their opinions we are all lost. This is especially true if you are starting out on the minority side of things.  If you successfully make the argument that some opinions are so wrong that they cannot be voiced you have probably just cost yourself the fight and your voice.  Now having said that, no law in this country should ever be based on a religion.  It is against the Constitution and our forefathers well developed paranoia of organized religion.  The Constitution being the important part of that sentence.  Within your own daily life you should be allowed to live within the constraints your faith puts on you regardless of whether those constraints come from the Bible, the Quran, the Druids Handbook of Misguided Celtic Silliness, or whatever.  Within your personal life you should honor the traditions and beliefs of your particular religious choice.  If a Catholic priest does not believe that his God will honor a gay marriage than that is his right.  Find another priest that does or get a civil ceremony.  Leave the argument over what each individual religion does and does not allow to those within the religion.  When you try to tell someone what they should believe or what their religion really says, you are asking for trouble.  (It rarely stops me though and really, I’m no better than anyone else.) Accept their beliefs for what they are worth in your life and move on.  The flip side of this is that nobody can tell me or you that I need to live my life within their religious system.  They are allowed to say what they think is best but as long as I keep my actions within the law, my morality and my eternal soul are mine to worry about, not yours. Just as importantly I must offer them same courtesy.

Sorry. This ended up being a bit longer than I thought it would be.  I’ll let it sit for a bit and then re-read it.  Maybe it will get shorter.  Maybe it will get longer.  Feel free to debate this where ever you happen to see it.  I will not be participating as the entire point of this was so that I could stop fighting with friends.  I will probably read the comments though and may adjust my views as points are made that I didn’t think of or arguments are advanced that actually make me change my mind.  It has been known to happen.  I’ve even argued myself out of some opinions while playing devil’s advocate just for the hell of it (pun intended.)



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