A Conservative and Liberal Debate on Political Correctness, Racism and Freedom of Speech

Thanks David, this reply clarified many of your previous points, which I had not fully grasped earlier. In particular your position what I would label political correctness in America and racism. You made some excellent points, which force me to revise my previous response.

I will try to structure me reply in different sections for clarity.

Political Correctness

In most cases political correctness is merely an annoyance and not a threat to a free society. This is the kind of correctness where somebody verbally disapproves of your view because it does not fit their politically correct view of the world. However you brought up a much more corrosive and form of political correctness: You got reported to human resources for bigotry, for simply stating that you supported traditional marriage.

That is clearly a troublesome development as it will have a chilling effect on public debate of important issues, something I deep crucial to any healthy democracy.

I am strongly opposed to this development, however I think we differ on where to place to blame for this. You seem to associate this with leftist thinking, while I think across the duckpond we would view this as an Americanism. Snowflakes and safe spaces is typical of America. Regardless of political persuasion, I find that American society is simply not very tolerant of diverging opinions in the private sphere.

By private sphere I mean voicing different opinions in the workplace, university campus or some other organization. In the public sphere, such as on blogs, newspapers and television the freedom of speech is strong. This comes largely down to the different emphasis America puts on private property and contractual agreements.

Freedom in America, including free speech is largely defined in terms of what government may NOT do. It is very different from European countries where freedom is tends to be defined in terms of RIGHTS protected by the government. That means in Europe an employer cannot arbitrarily decide what I may or may not talk about in the workplace.

I actually have a personal experience with this, having worked for several Norwegian companies being bought by American companies. There has been instances where the American parent company has attempted to define strict guidelines for what sort of discussions which are appropriate at work. For instance they tried to ban discussions involving politics and religion. The American management was actually profoundly surprised when they learned they had no legal right to suggest such company policies in Norway. Apparently to these guys this was common practice in the US.

In e.g. Norway private property is strongly protected, but the powers private property gives you is far more limited than in the US. You cannot institute drug tests of employees, snoop on their email, or do criminal background checks unless your type of business has been given a clear exception in the legal system. You cannot block passage to private property except when it is in the vicinity of your house or other facility.

Why do I mention these details? Because when debating freedom in relation to private property, I’ve found that Americans tend to assume that the American understanding of private property is universal. America has chosen a tradeoff where free speech in the public sphere is extremely liberal while it is limited in the private sphere. The net effect of that is that American companies may create draconian rules on speech where you can get punished for bigotry for speaking in a manner other employees don’t approve of.

I think America needs a general debate on whether there is a right or not to hear opinions you disagree with. It is a problem I believe exists across the whole American political spectrum. Just look at how Trump shuts down and ignore journalists asking him questions he doesn’t like. The attacks on the press is escalating among right wingers. I can see this play out to some extent even in my native Norway. Trump has made attacking the press almost mainstream.

To be fair, as you pointed out, the same hostility exists on the right. But, in this case I was addressing the rapid rise of intolerance from the Left around LGBT issues.

I think there are different ways of perceiving this. LGBT issues has been on the rise all across the western world. However I have not experienced the same leftist hostility on these issues as experienced in the US. You cannot explain American leftist behavior without taking into account how deep seated and reactionary conservatism is in the US. The push back against LGBT rights from conservative Americans is so extreme at times that I think it is a major explaining factor behind the radicalization of the American left.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve seen the same with atheism in America. American atheists tend to be more radical than say Norwegian ones, because the push back against atheism in America is fierce. On can read countless personal anecdotes and stories of young Americans who are either atheist, gay or transexual who experience extreme prejudice and push back from their community or family. I think when you get those experiences you become bitter and more extreme in how you voice your opinions.

This mirrors a lot of the civil rights movement. When you read about how Martin Luther King was perceived in his time, there was this sense among many whites that blacks and whites were getting along just fine and he came and stirred things up and radicalized blacks. Do you think it would be fair to criticize the blacks for having become more extreme?

LGBT issues is much the same. The establishment were happy about the situation where they were ashamed of expressing themselves. The tyranny LGBT people lived under was convenient for them. To the establishment that was equal to harmony.

Racism

You have a good point that BLM engage in a contradiction if they don’t provide information about their beliefs, while requiring you to show up to a blacks only meeting to get such information. However it does not seem particularly hard to get information. I googled for 5 seconds and found this description of their platform. The website seems to have a lot more information about what BLM is about.

While more openness towards whites would have been nice, as a white person I would be careful to criticize. We are the people who have had most privilege and used to getting our voices heard.

I think South Africa is a useful comparison here. While whites have usually been part of both the political and economic elite, they no longer hold political power. This shows very well with respect to whites who get poor and get zero help from the government.

There are settlements for poor whites in South Africa today, not because they are anti-black but because they get attacked. They lived in mixed neighborhoods before where people would chant “kill the Boer!” and their children would get thrown rocks at. These poor whites get no government support on the grounds that their settlement is all-white.

Do you think it is fair to judge them, because there are no blacks living among them?

I keep stressing the importance of power dynamics, but I feel you keep disregarding that as a factor. Here is an example:

So racial slurs and such. You know what else is hate speech? “Donald Trump is an Asshole.” “The Republican Party is a group of corrupt oligarchs who should be run out of the country.”

That is not hate-speech in my humble opinion. That the common people can vent their anger at the ruling classes is an important part of western democracy and freedoms. There is a difference between kicking down and kicking up.

Secondly this is valid criticism. It is not hate speech to call a black guy an asshole, if he is acting like one. Nor would it be racist to label a black city council, as corrupt oligarchs if that is how they acted.

Your behavior is something you can change, and so it is not illegitimate to criticize it. It is quite different to belittle somebody for traits they cannot change such as their skin color, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

I also think it is generally wrong to criticize somebody for the group they belong to. You should not be called a bad person just because you are liberal, christian, conservative or atheist. However I think it is perfectly legitimate to say call republicans spineless, for their subservience to Donald Trump. That is about criticizing a behavior or action that a party has taken.

And how do you define tolerant and intolerant expressions?

Intolerance is about not respecting other people for who they are. It is about limiting other people’s freedom without any clear gain to you or others. E.g. banning gay marriage does not benefit anybody. It is only a law limiting the freedom of another group of people. I am sure there are better definitions, but generally I don’t think it is hard to judge individual cases, whether they are tolerant or intolerant.

If you think such laws are good, move to China, Vietnam, or North Korea.

When I said a tolerant society cannot be tolerant of the intolerant, I did not necessarily mean that this implied laws. It is also about how far to reach to accommodate intolerant views. E.g. should one create special boys and girl classes at a school to satisfy conservative muslim or christian views that genders should be segregated? That is not necessarily a question of law, but about attitude.

I also don’t think China, Vietnam or North Korea are good examples of any of these, as these are stereotypical intolerant societies. I am talking about promoting tolerance at the expense of intolerance. These societies do the opposite.

Can Only Whites Be Racist?

You criticize the left for painting whites as the only racists. I agree that this is a blind spot among many on the left, however it by no means characterize the whole left. I consider myself leftist and I don’t view racism as more prevalent among whites than among others. In fact I am inclined to believe it ie less.

However I am also somewhat understanding towards many on the left thinking like this, the reason being that white racism has had a more profound influence on the world than the racism of other people. It is a natural consequence of the most technologically and economically advance countries in modern times having been populated mainly by whites.

One also has to consider the fact that when you and I discuss racism, we are primarily discussing it in the context of the societies, we live in, which are predominately white. Thus we belong to the dominant group, and hence our racism has more impact.

It is like when people complain, that I focus so much more on what a terrible guy Donald Trump is than say Nicolás Maduro, Rodrigo Duterte or Viktor Orbán. The simple reason is that power matters. A sick serial killer has less negative influence on the world than a moderately bad dictator. Likewise a bad president of the worlds only remaining super power, has a more negative impact on the world than a two bit dictator in a banana republic.

Secularism

I don’t know what specifically I said about secularism which you object to. However I can try to elaborate more on my thoughts.

Comparing the US and Norway is actually an interesting case when discussing secularism, since Norway did for most of my life have an official state religion as well as paragraphs in the legal system stating that children should be raised in the lutheran faith. This has been the norm for hundreds of years.

The US in contrast was founded without any professed state religion or paragraphs encouraging any particular religion.

Yet here is where things get interesting: Norway has never been very religious. Even back in medieval times where church attendance was mandatory, almost nobody went. They invented a multitude of excuses, and the few who went paid almost no attention to the priest. When Norwegians immigrated to America in the 1800s church attendance in Norway was around 20%. Norwegian-Americans in contrast adopted a 60% church attendance rate. Thus ironically Norwegian became more religious after they went to a country which supposedly separated church and state.

There is a deep seated different between practical reality and theory. In Norway Christianity was an important subject in school. I studied it, however it was taught rather neutral. We viewed it more like history than faith. Unlike America we did not have prayer in school. Nor would government officials engage in prayer at meetings, which can be observed even in modern day America. Such a thing would have been utterly unheard of in Norway.

No Norwegian politician would ever utter: God bless Norway, or speak of the importance of their faith in public. We had an ordained priest, Kjell Magne Bondevik, from the Christian Folk Party as prime minister back in 2005. He served two terms, but never referred to his faith or God in public capacity.

Yet American presidents or candidates seem to compete with each other on proving how Christian they are. The press will dig up what church they attend to and debate how devout they are. For most Norwegian prime ministers it is unknown to the public what their faith is.

I believe that secularism is best embodied by the first part of the First Amendment of the US constitution.

My point is to highlight how important convention and tradition is. People tend to overemphasize what the written law is. Look at Iraq, just changing the constitution and having and election did not turn it into a real democracy. Democracy, just like secularism is something people need to have in their heads. It is about a common understanding about how society should run.

I am member of the Norwegian lutheran Church, I call myself Christian and I celebrate Christian holidays such as Christmas. Yet I am a die hard atheist. To me Christianity is about cultural heritage and tradition, not about faith.

That is different from the US, where I think faith plays an outsized role in politics and government. In my humble opinion, in a secular society, faith should be a mostly private matter.

So, while you cannot create religious laws, you can have religious people vote on laws in keeping with their beliefs, as long as those laws are equally applied to people of all faith and do not infringe on other faiths.

Of course, but I disagree with your notion that everything is fine as long as the legal text does not mention religion. I find that in America you have a too legalese way of looking at politics. A sort of tradition for legal trickery to make something look okay. Like how proponents of creationism will simply rebrand their religious beliefs about creation as Intelligent Design. Just avoid religious words does not suddenly make it a secular idea.

When you make a law with respect to marriage, you should make an argument for why that should be a law. What is the secular argument for marriage being between a man and a women? Just because you can write a law without using religious words does not make it secular. I see the same in how people treat racism as being about merely the words used. People eagerly use euphemism to mask their racism. Like how Reagan spoke of “strapping young bucks” and “welfare queens” to hide that he was talking about young black men and women.

You are saying that because I belong to a certain class of people with certain beliefs, my views are not as important as other peoples.

I sincerely hope I did not give that impression. My point is just that laws applying to all citizens should be based on secular logic, otherwise you are imposing a religious view on your fellow citizens.

You should be free to worship and live your life whatever way you like. For instance if you want marriage to be only between a man and a women, then you should be allowed to follow that rule for yourself. However you should not impose such a rule on others.

I oppose the death penalty for religious reasons. Does this make me wrong?

I don’t see this as being about right or wrong, but rather about what sort of logic should apply to the laws of the land. I think the question of death penalty ought be be decided based upon a rational secular argument rather than a religious argument.

I don’t see that much value in a religious objection to the death penalty, because that would just easily derail the debate into a discussion of what scripture actually says. We should not decide such an important issue by debating the interpretation of scripture.

Obviously I am happy you oppose the death penalty, but it would be hypocritical of me to accept religious arguments only when it suits my views.

Secular Rational For Homophobia

You argue that it is possible to advance a homophobic political stance using a secular argument.

The purpose of any species is to procreate and grow stronger, ensuring the continuation of the genetic line. Homosexuals constantly choose to engage in sexual activity which will never lead to the creation of young, effectively ending their line. The natural desire to end their line is proof of their genetic inferiority, therefore making them subhuman.

And that is of course possible. Racism does not need a religious argument to exist. Lots of bad stuff can exist without religion.

However within a secular tradition, it is possible to rationally argue why this is wrong. You can win that argument by logic. For instance I could argue that applying this logic in general would mean that anybody who for some reason could not procreate, would be subhuman. I could demonstrate logically how that would imply all disabled people are subhuman. Thus it is easy to demonstrate the folly of such thinking.

This is immensely more difficult to do with religion. Religion is not based on logic. There is no way to logically convince people who are homophobic for religious reasons, why that is wrong. Your only hope would be to point out scripture is contradictory on that topic. However there is never a guarantee for that.

In modern history, the greatest evils have been caused by secular governments, so of which espoused point that I just made. Maduro’s Venezuela, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Germany, Kim’s North Korea. All of them secular.

My argument is that secularism is an important component of a free liberal democracy. I have never implied secularism in good enough alone. You not only need secularism, but you also need to reject all forms of dogma. Religion, Nazism and Communism are all a form of dogma. Some authorities tell you what is right and wrong and you are not allowed to question that.

In particular the Nazis demonstrate well my argument that tolerant society cannot tolerate the intolerant. The Weimar republic was a too tolerant democracy, which let a clearly dangerous person rise to power. If democracy does not keep people like that and their thoughts in cheque, it cannot protect itself from destruction.

The American founding fathers understood this problem, which is why they inserted the electoral college as a safety valve. That allowed the popular will be overruled in extreme cases. However over time this important mechanism has been watered out. Thus they were not able to stop the election of Donald Trump. A person with a severe case of narcissistic personality disorder should not be allowed to run anycountry. Doing so is misguided tolerance.

Can Secularism be Labeled a Religion?

I see you are attempting a very common argument among religious people, which is to try to label secular values as religion. I have never understood the strong urge to do this?

Why is it so important to claim we are the same? Our process of arriving at truth is entirely different.

The absence of religious belief is not a belief system. If you want to contrast religion with something non-religious, you have to contrast it with some sort of philosophical school. I am not merely religious, but I also hold a materialistic and deterministic view of the world. I also happen have liberal and socialist political views and hold the scientific method as a gold standard for seeking truth.

You can find non-religious people with entirely different views. There is as much diversity within atheism as diversity among religions, probably more.

And so, with that in mind, I ask you: What makes your beliefs better, or more valid, than mine?

I prefer to not make a value judgement about other people’s beliefs. The implication is that whatever I believe is somehow better than that of others because of characteristic of my person. Instead I prefer to compare to value, truth or superiority of ideas.

The advantage of a secular view, is that it serves as a common denominator for both religious and non-religious people. Both atheists and religious people can be happy within a secular society.

Why I Believe Secular Morality is Superior to Religious Morality

But let me explain why I believe my philosophy of life is superior to a religious philosophy. Religion is by definition fixed. It is not open to revision, resulting from deeper knowledge of the world around us.

I approach the world like the scientific method. Anything is in principle possible to alter given a solid argument and better understanding. That is why we don’t read physics books published by Newton anymore. It is constantly revised. In contrast there is no Bible 2.0.

People like Jordan Peterson will insist that you cannot claim that say human life has value without some sort of meta physical or religious logic. I find that religious people tend to overcomplicate this question.

I approach this question like mathematics. Mathematics is built on top of a minimal set of axioms which we cannot prove. However everything else is derived from these axioms using rigorous logic.

Likewise I think it makes sense to create a moral system by defining a minimal set of axioms, and use logic and reason to build a moral framework around this. One could start with simple axioms such as: all human life has value.

The benefit of this approach is that it is much easier to get a diverse set of people to agree on a minimal set of axioms than a wide set of ethics and rules. Religion in contrast is built upon a large set of complex and contradictory moral statements. That makes it very inflexible.

I can argue that building morality on minimal set of axioms is superior for the simple reason that all human experience has taught us that this is a superior approach to almost every other intellectual pursuits. Simplicity almost always beats complexity.

I hope I managed to address all the issue your raised David.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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