Maybe it’s just my rosy view of the past, but I seem to remember a world in which there was more tolerance than there is today. Not always acceptance, but tolerance.
People will always have differences of opinion. A natural product of free expression is that we hear opinions we don’t agree with. A cornerstone of a stable society is the ability to disagree without the need to eliminate opposition. I had thought that the desire to destroy those who differ was largely restricted to those messy uncivilized third world countries. I had thought that as the world became “smaller”, civilization would be the driving force. Not the only time I’ve been wrong.
I can recall heated discussions at parties that my parents held. I also remember the same guests being invited to following parties. It was possible, perhaps even preferable, to have differences of opinion, it kept the conversation “lively”. People were not considered inferior due to their differences, and “preaching to the choir” was considered boring. This was a predominantly conservative crowd, yet I was still under the impression that the “liberals” were more tolerant. It was part of the “rules”, conservatives were rigid, liberals were flexible.
So we moved from our conservative enclave to the bay area, just in time for the “Summer of Love”. We were a tourist destination as our friends would visit just for the tour of “Haight Ashbury“, I felt a connection to the philosophy of the hippies, I believed they had discovered what I thought America was all about. I do my thing, you do yours. Years later I was saddened by the decay of that philosophy as I watched cut throat capitalists selling tie dye souvenirs. They were doing their thing, pretending to be doing mine, and making a profit.
I found myself increasing isolated. Most of my views were based in conservatism, but my lifestyle was more liberal. At first, I thought I was demonstrating how the two “sides” were not mutually exclusive, the things accepted by liberals could be tolerated by conservatives. The exclusiveness came from an unexpected direction. My liberal friends couldn’t tolerate my conservative friends. Things got worse.
The “revolutions” of the 60s and 70s created revolutionaries. Unfortunately, once the revolution was over, the revolutionaries still needed a fight. Race relations improved immensely in America for a decade or so, but I would argue that today things are worse than they were in the mid 60s, and in some ways as bad as the 50s. One (black) friend relates that his family despises Bill Cosby, because they believe that his portrayal of the Huxtable family was unattainable, propaganda by an Uncle Tom. The sexual revolution became the war between the sexes. Anything denied to a woman was evidence of the “War on Women“, even when it had nothing to do with sex. Great advances in equality were followed by hatred rather than grace. While gay rights made strides, anti gay groups became more vocal, and violent. Gay rights groups refuse to accept anything less than equal verbiage, “Marriage”, a religious term adopted by the state, must be what unions between couples are called. Even in European countries that allow gay unions, the official documents are referred to as Civil Unions. Everyone calls them “marriages”, but that’s not good enough in America. “Justice” became “getting even”, beginning with affirmative action, followed by “reparations“.
We not only stopped accepting, we stopped tolerating. When the Taliban destroyed the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, tolerance died. I do not entirely blame the Muslim influence, but I do believe that they have turned the level of intolerance to eleven. With help from the news media, the existence of tolerance has been eliminated in the minds of the general public. With the advent of twenty four hour news stations, “fair and balanced” became a joke. Each outlet has it’s own views, preaching to its own choir. The only balance is when you split screen two opposite viewpoints. We call people of different viewpoints “sheeple”, as if “we” are somehow different. We used to believe that a person was innocent until proven guilty, now once a suspect is announced lynch mobs appear.
Politics have become downright ugly. Political figures are hated, decades after they leave office. There is no reflection or redemption. Despite Margaret Thatcher’s achievements, she was largely hated upon her death, some twenty five years after leaving office. “Ding Dong the witch is dead” hit number one on the BBC. Five years after leaving office, Dick Cheney is the first person to come to some peoples’ minds when asked “You know what I hate?” during a conversation that has nothing to do with politics. Move on became a mantra for people who refuse to move on. Claims against President Obama stay alive years after they become moot, and really, in a country that allegedly separates politics and religion, who cares if he is a Muslim or Mitt Romney a Mormon?
Not to be left out, the scientific community, after centuries of distancing itself from public opinion, becomes embroiled in the “Climate Change” debate. I was disappointed enough when I heard that the Space Shuttle was “too complex” to be built today, the scientific community acknowledging we are not as intelligent and creative as we were in the 70s, but the abandonment of the scientific method in favor of popular consensus is truly disheartening. I feel like Galileo facing the Pope.
This is not the world I want to live in. One in which “disagree” means “hate”, “disagree with a person of another race” means “racist”, “tolerance” means “I tolerate those who agree with me”. I’m well aware that I’m a dreamer, but I cannot be the only one. Our level of understanding one another is supposed to be increasing, not decreasing. We can’t get there without talking.