Saturday, July 07, 2018

Liberty and Tolerance

There is a debate in England about their national flag - the St. George's cross, which has been around since 1188 AD.  It has been a component of the Union Jack since 1606.  But in 2018, some people in England like it, and some people don't.  Some argue that the flag is a symbol of patriotism, and some argue that it is a symbol of racism.

So, who is right?  Which is it?

The truth of the matter is that people are entitled to their opinions.

One person may like a Jackson Pollock painting, and even be willing to pay millions of dollars to own it.  Another person may look at the same painting and not believe it is worth a dollar.  This is a manifestation of what is known in economics as the subjective theory of value (to go a little deeper, check out Dr. Robert Murphy's article here).  At any rate, the first person has no right to force the second to sign a letter expressing his love for the painting, or compel him to purchase a print of it and display it on the wall.  Likewise the second person has no right to make the first person afraid to write an article praising Pollock's work, or displaying it at his home.  Both parties would be wrong to turn to the coercive power of the state to either compel or ban the work.

Opinions regarding value are subjective.

Like opinions about art, how people view and value symbols is subjective.  A US veteran may see the US flag as a symbol of his beloved fallen comrades and of the country he defended with his own life.  By contrast, an American Indian who has just been studying the history of his ancestors' battles against the US may well not share our veteran's affection for the US flag.  We may agree or disagree with either of these people.  The bottom line is that in a civilized and free country, people are entitled to have opinions, and to peacefully express them.

And this freedom of expression includes the flying of flags and the display of symbols, their subjective value notwithstanding.

Discussion and debate are well and good.  But attempting to use intimidation, threats, and force to compel someone to agree (or comply) with your opinion is wrong.  Worse, it is evil.  To attempt to make an opponent afraid to hold a certain opinion or to express it - by force - is really a form of soft terrorism.  And this is common in our day, by means of doxing, bullying, contacting employers, posting signs, making anonymous threats, de-platforming, etc.  Sometimes mobs are dispatched to create civic mayhem and to instill fear among those of a different opinion.

Ironically, these tactics are often used by self-declared Social Justice Warriors and so-called Antifascists.  The irony is itself ironic, as the SJWs display behavior that is antisocial, unjust, and cowardly: seldom willing to go toe to toe in open debate, instead relying on mindless and dangerous mob violence and shouting down any attempt at genuine dialogue.  These people are the real fascists, exerting whatever kind of force - even street-hooliganism - to achieve the silencing of dissenting views.

So what is the solution?  Actually, it's quite easy: it's a two-sided coin.

On one side is liberty.  Liberty is the right of a person to hold opinions and to express them without fear of aggression or repression.  It is the birthright of all people.  It is enshrined in the founding documents of the United States, which of course, trace their own origins to the Common Law of England and Natural Law.  And on the other side of the coin is tolerance.  Tolerance means tolerating people, opinions, and things one might not like.  It is the humble realization that we are not the lords and masters of the world, and our opinions, wants, desires, and wishes do not compel the obedience and subjection of others.

As such, people are entitled to hate the English flag.  They are entitled to hate England.  They are entitled to hate English people, or a subset of those people.  They are entitled to be offended at seeing the English flag.  They are entitled to boycott businesses that fly it.  They are entitled to write books and give speeches as to why people ought to change their minds about it.

But the opposite is also true.  People are entitled to love the English flag, the country, its people, to feel a sense of patriotism, and to patronize businesses that fly it.  They are likewise entitled to write books, give speeches, try to change hearts and minds, and to fly the English flag unmolested from their own homes and businesses.

The advantage of the approach of liberty and tolerance is that it leads to peace.  It is a path to unity even in disagreement.  It doesn't empower fascist and communist dictators to gain a toehold and pick sides in subjective differences of opinion.  Having a legal system and a general culture of liberty and tolerance is the only way to manage actual diversity of different groups with different histories and different opinions, and to permit them to coexist.  The only alternative is a monolithic repressive society in which one has the opinions that his masters impose upon him, one that crushes dissent, and does so through fear and intimidation.

Those who oppose liberty and tolerance are manifesting what St. Augustine called "libido dominandi" - the lust for domination - the sinful desire to bend others to one's own will, to lord over them.  And while thugs and dictators always couch their lust to dominate in terms of niceness and brotherly love, the common good, and even ironically "tolerance," underneath the silk glove is a set of bloody brass knuckles.  Once the mask is removed from the yellow smiley face, the toothbrush mustache and the funny haircut come into focus.  The fuzzy slippers become the Orwellian boot in the face.

We must remember that symbols are subjective, and subjective implies human disagreement: diversity of how they are understood and valued by different people.  In our current culture, "being offended" is a weaponized path to dominate others.  But to be a peacemaker, to be a truly civilized and loving person, is to extend tolerance especially to those with whom one disagrees.  Maybe that piece of cloth means nothing to you, but maybe it means a great deal to your neighbor.  The loving and peaceful thing to do is to respect his property rights, his intellectual rights, and his human rights, work on being a more tolerant person, get over yourself, and get on with your life.

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