Monday, December 20, 2010

Civil Rights and the Echo Chamber

This weekend, I was trying to engage my mother and sister in polite conversation about current events (politics). I brought up Rand Paul, the senator-elect from Kentucky. I figured they might not have heard about his stance on civil rights. I had listened to an interview with him recently. The discussion had been focusing on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended segregation in the south.

For those of you that haven't heard, Rand Paul's position is that no one should discriminate against anyone, that the government should not legally be allowed to discriminate against anyone, but that business owners should have that right. To be clear, Rand Paul thinks that WalMart should have the legal right to hang up a "No Blacks Served" sign. Listening to him, he's not going to say those words on camera. It would be political suicide. When he's asked a question like that, he repeats "I am against discrimination. And I believe that the government should not be involved in any institutional discrimination."

This seemed like such a far right (almost crazy) position that even my family would not support it. Sadly I never got to find out. My mother's been on this kick lately to limit discussions about issues on which we might disagree. Since I'm an atheist Democrat and she's a fundamentalist christian Republican, this covers quite a lot. She mentioned something about how I'm entitled to my opinions, though she thinks many of them are wrong. So I dropped the subject and we spent the meal discussing how tasty the food was (prime rib, mmm).

Flash forward to this morning. On the radio, NPR was discussing the Ugandan "Kill the Gays" Bill. A member of the Ugandan parliament, David Bahati, has authored a bill that will make it a capital crime to be gay. If it is passed into law, people who engage in homosexual touching will be sentenced to life in prison, while repeat offenders will be executed. There are additional provisions in the bill for prison time for those that talk about homosexuality or who know a gay person and don't turn them in.

The connection for me is what I've heard Bahati say in interviews. Here's an excerpt:

"We know that homosexuality is a human right here (in the US) in Uganda, but also we need to appreciate it is not a human right across the world, and certainly in Uganda, we don't take it as a human right. And as we debate this issue, it is important that we do tolerate one another, listen to one another, understand the background of one another, and respect one another. And the background that I come from is that 95% of population does not support homosexuality. We believe that man was created to marry a woman, and that's the purpose for which God created us, the purpose of procreation, and that's the higher purpose that we believe in."

What I hear from Bahati and my mother*: You're entitled to your opinion that homosexuals should have human rights, but I think you're wrong. You won't convince me that this is not the case. I've been instructed by my religious indoctrination to ignore anything you say that might call this into question. You just need to leave me alone. I have a right to be sheltered from public opinion or the pain I am causing those harmed by my political views. Let's tolerate one another, at least those of us who are straight or white or male. You must tolerate (not speak out against) my intolerance (harmful, divisive legislative action).

My mother wants to live in an echo chamber. She doesn't want to have disagreements with people. She doesn't want to hear conflicting points of view. I hate to Godwin, but if you were a Nazi, and all you listened to was Nazi propaganda, how would you find out if you were wrong?

*I don't know what my mother's position is on this particular issue.

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