Fear and Loathing in America

By | January 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

Free speech, Berkeley style

Hunter S. Thompson’s novel “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was a best seller, and it was made into a popular movie starring Johnny Depp. I am using the words for a topic that I hope is as interesting, but I know is a lot less amusing. Of course, I could have used other words − hatred and contempt, for example.

What I’m referring to is the degeneration of politics into name-calling, slander, invective, and insults of the vilest sort. What I’m complaining about is the abuse of the right of free speech. What I’m distressed by is the lack of awareness that this right, like all rights, comes with responsibilities firmly attached.

I have a right − even a duty − to criticize those with whom I disagree. In fact, I do it often. No one except a totalitarian denies this right.

But does free speech include the right to use cruel humor and make fun of people’s disabilities? Does it include the right to compare political opponents to mass murderers or practitioners of genocide? Does it include the right to imply, or to state plainly, that those with whom we disagree ought to be silenced or even exterminated?

No, I’m not referring to a legalistic interpretation of the First Amendment. I leave that to professors of law. I’m referring not to what is legal to say, but to what is moral to say. I realize that for many Americans today, this distinction is difficult, because they were never taught to think in moral terms. Nevertheless, it is a vital distinction.

Perhaps some examples will clarify what I mean:

U.C. Berkeley sustains over $100,000 damage from Antifa riot

Trump supporters beaten by mob

Candidate Trump forced to stop on freeway, hike up embankment

ESPN commentator: Trump is a white supremacist

Media coverage of Trump only 5% positive

People cut off contact with family members who voted for Trump

FBI texts reveal anti-Trump, pro-Clinton comments

Mueller removes top agent in Russia inquiry over anti Trump texts

HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s home vandalized with anti-Trump graffiti

Justice Clarence Thomas called “Hitler” and “Antichrist”

President Donald Trump compared to “Satan”

Professor tweets, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide”

Scalise shooter posted anti-Trump rhetoric online

Man beaten, car stolen while witnesses hurl anti-Trump insults

Trump derangement syndrome grows to epidemic proportions

What are we to make of all this? Is it legitimate political discourse? Is it permissible criticism? Is it to be expected in the rough-and-tumble of politics? Is it just a little “over the top”?

Or is it hate speech? Is it dehumanizing political opponents by comparing them to rabid animals or practitioners of genocide? Is it justifying the murder of those with whom we disagree?

We can attempt to have a dialogue with those we consider mistaken. We can try to talk things over with those we believe are misinformed. We can try to reach an understanding with those we regard as ignorant.

But how are we to act toward those we think are evil? How should we behave with those we believe to be racists plotting genocide? How can we compromise with those we regard as fit to be exterminated? How can we tolerate people who voted for Satan?

But here’s something odd. The same people who insist on removing all mention of God from our public life now insert mention of Satan and the Antichrist. When I was a kid, you could mention God in public, but “devil” was a cuss word. Now you can mention the devil in political discourse, but many people mention God only when cursing. This is progress?

The above examples, and many others I could list, are the symptoms. The underlying disease is an absolute certainty that we are right, and everyone else is wrong. The disease is a narcissistic conviction that we are good, and everyone who disagrees is evil. The disease is a fervent zeal to push the agenda we find appealing down everyone’s throat, and to crush opposing ideas.

The disease, in other words, is fanaticism. Like cancer, fanaticism is curable if it is recognized in its early stages. But once it has progressed beyond a certain point, which is recognizable only in retrospect, it’s too late. Cure is then impossible, and the best one can hope for is to prolong things for a while.

Like cancer, fanaticism invades stealthily, creeping into journalism, law, academia, and even lunchtime conversation, until eventually all aspects of society are affected. The disintegration starts slowly, then accelerates. So far we appear to be at a reversible stage. But let’s not press our luck.

We are operating under the optimistic assumption that our nation, and our civilization, are held together by a powerful glue. So we think we can employ as much force as we like in an effort to achieve our aims. We assume that we can be as divisive as we wish, and nothing bad will happen.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if the glue that holds us together isn’t epoxy, but merely library paste? What if the glue is soluble in the acid of hatred? What if it isn’t strong enough to withstand the stress of contempt? What if it can’t hold up against the divisive power of class hatred, race hatred, religious hatred, and ideological hatred?

What if our system of government, limited by a Constitution, can’t withstand the centrifugal forces of white power, black power, brown power, class envy, radical environmentalism, radical animal rights, radical anti-tobacco, extreme pro-abortion, extreme anti-abortion, extreme pro-immigration, extreme anti-immigration, single-issue fanaticism, and all the other pressures to empower one group at the expense of others? What then?

We will discover − when it’s too late − that the beautiful structure the founders carefully designed, and past generations laboriously built, is coming apart at the seams. But then there won’t be anything to do about it. We will be left sitting in the ruins, bemoaning our fate.

Then our only choices will be anarchy or tyranny. Freedom is viable when most citizens respect one another. But only a jungle or a dictatorship can tolerate hatred and contempt.

So let’s put a lid on it for a while. Let’s restrain our immoderate rhetoric. Let’s try to disagree without hating, and to express opposition without contempt. Who knows? We might even get used to it.

Fear and loathing make an entertaining novel, but an unhappy and unstable nation.

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.