As most of you know, I don’t much care about being popular. I really don’t care whether people like me or whether they don’t. I’m not interested in human progress or building a better civilization, and tend to laugh at the attempts of humans to accomplish anything collectively. I have Asperger’s syndrome, so I can, with some legitimacy, say I was born that way. I don’t have any more choice in the matter than whether I’m right or left-handed. Whether that excuses what will certainly be an unpopular viewpoint is an exercise I leave to the reader. It certainly does mean I won’t lose any sleep over people’s reactions, whatever they be, so I’m going to take this opportunity to express an unpopular opinion about people with unpopular opinions.
Most everyone has heard by now of the events in Charlottesville, VA, where protests and counterprotests escalated into outright violence. Most people reacted with outrage at the white supremacists who started the protest, or sympathy for the victims. Both are perfectly human reactions. Unnecessary violence is usually worthy of outrage, and victims of said violence are certainly worthy of sympathy. However, I see the world a bit differently, and my initial reaction was simple disgust, disgust that people can’t simply disagree peacefully, disgust that we can’t respect each other despite our differences, and disgust that I have to listen to sports commentators talk about something other than sports.
I find it troubling that we resort to condemning and shouting at anyone with a divergent viewpoint. It seems that if someone disagrees, not only are they wrong, but they’re also a vile, evil, misguided, stupid, wretch of a human being. Our civil discourse seems to have devolved into a series of opposing crusades against this or that divergent viewpoint? Whether the boogeyman of the week is terrorism, communism, global warming, racism, or political correctness, everyone who thinks differently is wrong, and should be shunned until they conform. This attitude is not unique to any particular group. It crosses many lines. It is a problem for both right and left, democrat and republican, black and white, urban and rural, rich and poor. There are zealots crusading in the name of tolerance that are every bit as intolerant as white supremacists.
I don’t know who started the violence in Charlottesville, and I doubt we’ll ever know conclusively, but I’d bet large sums of money both sides were throwing rocks or throwing punches. Crusaders are dangerous, regardless of what they’re crusading for. The crusader attitude, not the reason for the crusade, is what leads to this type of violence. I don’t blame white supremacy or nazism for the violence, nor do I blame whatever ism one can assign to the counterprotesters.
This situation was a result of a putting a lot of angry people together. Somebody, probably someone less than mentally stable, threw a punch or a rock, and then somebody retaliated, and it escalated into mob violence. We should blame people, or human nature, but not ideas. Blaming ideas leads to the notion that some ideas are inherently bad, and merely expressing them is unacceptable. That disgusts me, because when we start blaming ideas, we start trying to eradicate them, and that road leads to censorship, oppression, and the loss of freedoms.
The most important freedom is freedom of thought, the freedom to think anything you want about anything you want, without being stoned to death or dragged off to a re-education camp. In a free society, nothing, absolutely nothing, can be set above that. There is nothing worth trading this freedom for, no higher purpose, no greater good. Without freedom of thought, all of the things that make life worth living, music, art, humor, conflict, even good and evil, become meaningless. If we surrender our freedom of thought, we may as well go extinct, because without that, there’s really no point in us being here as individuals. We’re no better than a beehive or an ant colony.
Let’s remember, regardless of what we believe individually, that everyone has a right to speak their mind, because however odious one may consider their views, if we are to call ourselves a free society, all have freedom to believe as they choose. As far as Charlotteville goes, the people who perpetrated acts of violence, to the extent we can determine that, should be punished, as individuals responsible for their own actions, regardless of their views. We can’t have people fighting in the street because they don’t like each other.
My viewpoint is probably not the popular one, but as I said, I’ve never been one to worry about that. Somebody has to stand up for the right of anybody, no matter how crazy, misguided, or even evil, to keep their own beliefs and express their own values. My own unique disinterest in my social perception makes me an ideal messenger for unpopular, but necessary, opinions.