It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. - Aristotle
I’ve always been a firm believer in free thought. Even in high school I preferred to talk to someone who disagreed with me because of his own independent thought processes, rather than one who agreed with me because some “authority” had told him mine was the correct position. One day when I was about 19 I was going into the Liberal Arts Building at UNO and had to pass a young man and a young woman who were engaged in a heated argument; I didn’t know either of them but apparently they thought I looked “normal” because as I approached I heard the guy say, “OK, we’ll ask her!” He then turned to me and asked, “Don’t you agree that abortion is murder?”
I immediately replied, “Well, I think it’s killing, but I also think killing is sometimes justified.” They were both dumbstruck, and I kept on going. Their reaction told me everything I needed to know about both of them and their stupid argument; had either of them arrived at his position by logic (or any other kind of independent thought) he wouldn’t have been so surprised to hear a complex and unusual answer. But because both of them had obtained their opinions from leaders who had told them what to think, they couldn’t understand any answer to that question other than a binary “yes” or “no”. They both bought into a false dichotomy and been issued a checklist of statements with which they had to agree in order to become an accepted member of the Young Fascists for the Fatherland or the Kampus Kommies (respectively), and an answer which fit on neither list shut them down like the androids on Mudd’s Planet.
I’m not quite as much of a smartass as I was at 19, but I still respect people who disagree with me, especially when they in turn respect me for disagreeing with them. As I wrote in “Never Too Many”,
I have readers who identify as libertarian, liberal, conservative, socialist, anarchist, minarchist, monarchist and apolitical, and who call themselves Pagans, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists. Some consider themselves feminists, others men’s rights advocates, others anti-feminists or humanists or transhumanists or environmentalists or intellectuals or just “geeks”…But the one thing you all have in common is a recognition that it is wrong for government to use brute force to suppress the right of individuals to associate with whomever they choose, however they choose and for whatever reason they choose, even if money is involved.
Sometimes my readers disagree with me, and sometimes y’all disagree with each other, but it’s rare that I see name-calling or other ugliness; for the most part my readership is one of the most civil and mutually-respectful groups on the whole internet, and I’m very proud of that. But in a very small number of cases (three in two years, if memory serves) a reader has announced his or her disagreement not with a “Well, Maggie, I respect you but I think you’re wrong on this,” or a “We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that,” or even a “What the hell were you smoking when you wrote this, you silly tart?” but rather with a stated or implied ultimatum: “If you dare to disagree with me again, I’m going to stop reading you.”
Frankly, this sort of thing makes me scratch my head; I’m not sure what such a person really hopes to accomplish. Everyone who’s ever written to me knows that I’m very generous with my time and help when approached nicely, but anyone who’s ever read more than three of my columns can probably guess how I tend to react to threats; it’s the difference between stroking a cat’s fur the right way or the wrong way. It’s inevitable that once in a while, a regular reader will begin to find that he or she is disagreeing with me a bit too often to enjoy reading any more, and so stops coming here; there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Life is too short to annoy oneself unnecessarily, and I certainly wouldn’t stick around on a blog where I felt uncomfortable or unwelcome. But neither would I make an ass of myself by demanding that a prolific and strong-willed blogger change his or her style or opinions to suit the whims of one reader, and neither should anyone else.
One Year Ago Today
“Because We Say So” examines yet another example of Western cultural imperialists who stick their noses into another country’s business, define a problem into existence and then attempt to “solve” it with brute force.