I like Game of Thrones. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but one of the main characters of the first season is a very honorable man. He is a high-ranking noble who refuses to hire an executioner. He exceutes criminals himself, as he believes “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”. I think this statement has a lot of meaning in our modern life. We live in a world where few to none of us do violence personally, yet on a large scale, we live in a very violent society that incarcerates a higher percentage of our population than any other country. We also use deadly military force around the world, all of it funded by the citizens of our democracy, most of whom deplore violence.
I want to propose a thought experiement, to give you a glimpse into my nutcase head. This post is a rambling one, please bear with me, as I’m trying to put into words my feeling of the deep injustice done by those who claim to respect the beliefs of others, but then push for legislation that would restrict those people’s right to live in accordance with their beliefs.
I hear a lot about “respecting other’s opinions”. I want to use this thought experiment to examine what that really means. Usually, respecting other’s opinions comes up in the context of a political argument that has flared up a little too hot. No one wants to be “that asshole”- the one who tramples all over the ideas of others.
However, I’ve always been confused by the attitude behind this phrase. What is usually implied is that one should keep one’s opinion to oneself, or only share it with those who mostly agree with it, and refrain from challenging the opinions of others too harshly. The idea is that when voting day comes around, everyone will be able to cast their ballot, registering their opinion with the government, and the majority opinion will be enforced. The idea of not getting too heated in discussing ideas one-on-one seems to go hand-in-hand with the ideas of sorting out our differences at the polls.
I want to go on record as saying that, to me, nothing on earth could be more disrespectful than this attitude. By voting for a set of principles (or a candidate who promises whose principles), you are authorizing a group of armed men (the police- and the military if things get too wild) to enforce your opinion on those who disagree.
If you vote to outlaw abortion, you are voting to have men with guns take away doctors who perform abortions, put them in cages, and deny them their livelihoods that they have worked years to build. If you vote to force bakers to bake gay wedding cakes, you are voting to force them to lend support to something that is against their religion. If you vote to ban gay marriage, you are voting to keep a person from having their medical decisions made by their lover, best friend, and closest ally- their partner.These are real choices, with real and heart- and life-breaking consequences for those involved. Do you really believe that those choices should be made by people who have never met the parties involved and are unaware of and uncaring about their existence?
If you are going to vote for things, and advocate for the state to do violence against those of us who disagree, is it not your solemn responsibility to argue with us about it first? To hear every point we can muster to support our cause? How on earth can it be respectful to advocate state violence against your opponents while hidden in a private voting booth, but refuse to give them the chance to change your mind on the street, at the dinner table, or anywhere else?
I’ll say this- I argue too long and too hard. I am aware of my faults, and this is one of them. But one thing you will notice about all my arguments is that they are based on the rights of people to be left alone. I rarely, if ever, argue that the state should force someone else to do or not do anything. I advocate for a greater legal respect for those defending themselves from others (and no, I don’t see that as a gun control issue so much as a legal issue, so everyone please keep your pants on). I advocate for the abolition or lessening of restrictions on issues such as drug and alcohol use, abortion, queer people, religion, and self-defense because I can’t stomach the idea of sending the cops after my friends who disagree with me to force them into my beliefs.I might argue that the state should offer a service, such as a road system or healthcare, but never that anyone should be forced to take advantage of that offer.
The problem is that we live in a society where personal violence is deplorable, but state-sanctioned violence is acceptable. Therefore, people who would never in a million years try to force another to follow their religion or beliefs feel that it is okay to pay and instruct the government to deal out that repression for them. I know many good, friendly, well-meaning people who are upset if they offend me, yet will happily vote to have the state do violence against me.
I’ll admit I don’t understand this mindset. It’s a part of the reason I don’t vote. I can see the desirability of a few basic laws, but I feel that politics right now is not about running a free society, but about whose cultural vision will prevail. And I don’t really want anyone’s cultural vision to prevail, even my own. I want to live in a diverse country, where Muslims and Christians and pagans and Jews and Hindus can all get drunk and argue politics and maybe have a good donnybrook to two, but no one can call upon the cops or the IRS or the military to enforce their worldview on the others.
This is mainly a pipe dream. I freely admit that. It is likely that so long as humans believe things strongly (which they should), the temptation to push those beliefs with coercion will prove irresistable to many. However, I titled this piece as a thought experiment, and that is how I intended it. I want to challenge you, me, and everyone else to think about what it means to vote for your cultural vision, and what it means to refuse to accept challenges to that vision and defend it in a free market of ideas. Perhaps this will explain to some of my friends why I go a little too far, or why I say I’m glad when you offend me, and congratulate you on your willingness to stand up and speak your mind. I don’t fear my hurt pride when you turn out to be right, what I fear is that you will take away my rights in a voting booth, behind my back, without even giving me the chance to explain my views, or to fight back at all.