The Silence of the Lemmings?

The American Thinker is a daily must-read, but today they seem particularly chock-full of interesting, provocative links and essays. I was struck by Jaithirth Rao’s worried tone in this piece. It seems his so-called liberal acquaintances in New York cannot bring themselves to civil discourse regarding anything political. A portion:

People are not trying to reach out, but trying to talk to their own friends who think like them, who agree with their views. Nowhere is this more obvious than in New York city, the great hotbed of American liberal discourse. In the aftermath of the elections, my friends in New York have gone strangely and perversely silent. They are willing to talk about anything but politics. When I make the point that in the context of the overwhelming power of the US, foreigners like me have a legitimate interest in their domestic politics, I would in the past have drawn them out. Now they prefer to change the subject. The articulate New Yorker has strong views on his or her political preferences, but has ceased to be articulate.

Gradually it dawned on me that while their unwillingness to talk to me is irritating, the fact that they are not talking to their own countrymen is extraordinarily disconcerting. It seems to strike at the very roots of the kind of discourse and dialogue that are essential for a healthy democracy. As one who is not that en courant about domestic social policy issues, I was keen to understand what the substance of the debate was about when it came to matters like “gay marriage” or “late abortions”. With the exception of one protean friend of mine, not one of the so-called “social liberals” seemed to know or care as to what their opponents were actually saying. When I gingerly tried to intervene that the use of the expression “marriage” (which after all has fertility and procreation as its associative ideas), in the context of homosexual relations, seemed to be stretching the point, the response was a shrug of the shoulders simply indicating a derisive dismissal because I may be siding with the bigots!

I did some digging. It turns out that much of the recent noise on the “gay marriage” issue, stemmed from a 4-3 ruling by a court in Massachusetts stating that under some existing statute, homosexuals could in fact “marry”. This had kicked off a spate of well-publicised marriages among gays. I tried to find out more. Was the debate about the use of the word “marriage”? Would there have been greater concord if it were called a “civil union”? Was the issue that this was a case of judicial over-reach by a split court trying to enact a law rather than interpret it? Strangely enough, I was not able to engage many folks in these nuanced discussions. It all seemed to be about “belief” or lack thereof. I was discovering in the liberal haven exactly the fanatical disdain for the other’s point of view which they accused the conservatives of the heartland of having.

Rao mentions that he is headed to Texas, where he fears that he will encounter “the other side of this pantomime, where people who are otherwise intelligent and sensitive have decided to dispense with words.”

The most disturbing aspect of the current political climate in America is that on both sides, both left and right, too many have forgotten one simple fact: decent people may disagree, and still be decent people. Those of us who are still capable of having genial discourse with each other, even given our very different outlooks, need to encourage our friends to remember it. I really hope Rao writes a sequel about his experiences in Texas. I’ll keep a lookout for it.

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