Wandering off the trail: A lesson for the logic-impaired
In case you missed it – and I don’t know how you could have – “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson has been suspended by the A & E network for derogatory comments targeting the gay community. He apparently also made some “interesting” comments regarding African Americans. Now I must confess, I had never heard of “Duck Dynasty” before the controversy exploded. I don’t watch much television, and I certainly don’t watch reality TV. Not my cup of tea, as they say. I won’t repeat Mr. Robertson’s comments here, but if you haven’t seen them and want to know what the fuss is about, you can read about it here.
AS you might expect, many of Mr. Robertson’s supporters are furious over his suspension, and they’re taking it out on the usual targets – the media, liberals, Democrats, political correctness, blah blah blah, yada yada yada. To paraphrase the Four Tops, “it’s the same old song.” Even that monument to America’s fascination with homespun idiocy, Sarah Palin, has weighed in on the subject. According to Mr. Robertson’s supporters, he’s the victim of hypocritical intolerance, and is being denied his right to free speech.
Let’s talk for a moment about tolerance and free speech, because it seems as if a large percentage of the population has trouble grasping these concepts. To be considered tolerant, one is not required to be equally accepting of all opinions, beliefs and actions. If I follow the absolutist logic of Mr. Robertson’s supporters, I’d have to be tolerant not only of Mr. Robertson’s views, but also the views of those who espouse the virtues of, let’s say, Nazism, human sacrifice and xenografting. The truth is that one can be tolerant, and yet still have limits on what they will and will not condone. In fact, the very essence of tolerance, the very heart of what it means to be tolerant, is the right and obligation to stand against the intolerant like Mr. Robertson and his supporters – those who seek to marginalize others who are different, who seek to demonize them, and deny them their rights, and their humanity. There’s nothing hypocritical about standing up to a bigot. And there’s nothing more cowardly than hiding behind your “religious freedom” to spew your hateful, fearful, small-minded venom.
With regards to freedom of speech, no one has denied Mr. Robertson the right to say what’s on his mind. No one. As his employer, the A & E network has a right to suspend or fire him if they feel he is not representing the network in a positive manner. To the best of my knowledge however, the network has neither physically muzzled Mr. Robertson, nor placed him in some sort of cable television prison. He’s free, whether it be on twitter or anywhere else, to continue to share his beliefs and opinions with the rest of humanity. That is his right, and one which I hold dearly. I would fight for Mr. Robertson’s, or anyone’s right to speak their mind – but that does not mean that I relinquish my right to criticize the words of others. You see, I’m only required by law to respect Mr Robertson’s right to voice his opinion. I am not required to respect the opinion itself. I also have a right to free speech, and it is within my rights to suggest that comments like those made by Mr. Robertson are the comments of ignorant, backwards, fearful little men who don’t understand the world in which they reside, and who long for the time when those who were different were forced to hide in the shadows, or be subservient to the likes of Mr. Robertson and his supporters.
I once had a discussion with a young woman about the roots of racism. She maintained that racism was taught, passed down from generation to generation. I argued that while this was true, the potential for bigotry exists within the heart of every person. It’s my belief that it’s human nature to be fearful of those who are different, and of things that we don’t understand. The battle that each of us must wage over the course of our lives is to overcome these primitive impulses, to grow as human beings to become something more than just the sum of our parts. I don’t think anyone is born with a soul – I think a soul is something you earn over the course of your life, as you accumulate experiences and the resulting knowledge and wisdom that one – hopefully – acquires through those experiences. Sadly, it seems as if some people never learn the lessons of compassion, empathy and understanding. Yet I would never attempt to silence those people like Mr. Robertson and his supporters, because with every fearful, hateful, unenlightened word, they expose their weakness and cruelty, and make the case for love and acceptance better than I or anyone else ever could. They expose themselves and their ideas as relics of an inglorious past, best relegated to history’s dustbin.