For more about Allison and her books visit her website at For now, please relax and brace yourself for the occasionally coherent ramblings of Allison's mind.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Primer in Ideological Discourse Part II: Time to Make Enemies

Bring your picket signs and rocks. It’s time to make enemies. But I have to. I’d be a hypocrite not to put some real world applications to my theoretical mumblings.

Last month I released the Primer in Ideological Discourse. In it I gave hints and examples on how people can discuss ideas intelligently and respectfully, thus becoming a more informed and understanding society. That’s all nice and fuzzy in theory, but there’s a complicated problem today that pretty much trashes everything I said. It rears its ugly head more and more, even though we like to pretend it doesn’t exist:

We’re no longer allowed to have strong stances.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, if you agree with the popular side, there’s no issue. You can feel free to climb on your soapbox and preach to every cocktail party and grocery checkout line you please. But beware, those with a strong, well-informed opinion that’s not embraced by the masses. You are submitting yourself to crucifixion.

Now, please stop now and read my take on what it means to have an opinion. Until you’ve read my primer in ideological discourse, you can’t put these thoughts in the proper perspective. If you’ve read it, you know I call for respect, listening more than speaking, and delaying the formation of an opinion until you can support it well. I railed against name-calling and unacknowledged ignorance. This post in no way supports those who call for bigotry, hatred, or violence. You’d think that would go without saying, but you all know it doesn’t. And that’s my point.

 I’m going to be blunt:

The pendulum has swung too far. In our effort to accept all ideas we have criminalized those who stand firm. Particularly, those who stand firm against the tidal wave of popular opinion.

This is a huge problem, and it’s one we don’t like to admit and are terrified to talk about. We’ve essentially eliminated the right of free speech. We punish those who project unpopular views. We’re so used to the gray, we’ve forgotten black and white exist. We’ve been conditioned to fear them. Let’s dissect this for a moment.

If you don’t believe me, think of a controversial topic. Anything, I don’t care what it is.  I’ll give you a spot on my blog to argue in favor of the unpopular side (as long as you follow all my rules for respectful ideological discourse). The catch is, you have to sign your full name, no anonymity.

Write 400 words against abortion. Explain why homosexual couples shouldn’t have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Maybe our teachers actually have a pretty good gig compared to the rest of the workforce. Tell me why unions have too much power.

Any takers?

I’m not even stating my opinions on the topics listed above, but I guarantee you just cringed when you read those sentences. We’re not used to it. Just for suggesting there are two sides to those topics is going to get me in trouble, even if I don’t admit which side I’m on. Is that the “enlightened” society we want? A place where the minority is afraid to speak, regardless of the topic? Maybe the majority is “right” today (maybe not), what about tomorrow? What about 50 years ago?

In my opinion, we got it so wrong with racial segregation and sexism. Thank goodness the minority was willing to speak up and be collectively attacked for their stance.

We’re different now, more enlightened and accepting as a society, right? Please. If anything, we’re worse, because now we’ve parked on self-righteous pedestals of political correctness. We pat ourselves on the back because we’ve whitewashed our brains to the point where we’re all just blank poster boards of ideas. We’re so afraid of offending anyone that we don’t stand for anything, muttering through superficial conversations and elevating meaningless topics just because they’re safe. What is it they say about religion and politics?

And then we hear it. Someone dares to cut through the hum of weather reports and sports scores. They bravely pierce the gray cloud with their white or black lightening strike. And all hell breaks loose.

We swoop down from our pedestals. Our fangs drip with saliva as we circle our prey and rip it to shreds like the school of piranhas we’ve become. We fill his comment section with bile. We call for her resignation and label her in ways that are infinitely worse than anything she ever said. We cry foul. We toss all our self-righteous stones and embrace the spectacular hysteria that lines the pockets of our favorite media outlets. That’s the society we’ve become.

I have tremendous respect for those who are willing to speak up, on both sides. I tend to give their opinions tremendous weight in my own evaluation of the subject. It’s easy to spout off surface opinions everyone will love. You have to have a thick skin and a ton of supporting evidence to go the other way. I don’t always agree with them. In fact, a lot of the time I don’t, but I want to listen to them. I’d rather talk to the guy at the party who admits he’s in favor of the governor everyone else pickets. I want to read the thoughts of the woman who voted against the bill that everyone else pasted on their bumper.

We’re hypocrites. We are. There’s no way around it. In our efforts to accept everyone’s beliefs in everything, we’ve become a society that’s afraid to believe in anything.

And we gleefully destroy those who do.


  1. Group think is alive and well.

    I'd love to take you up on your invitation. It gives me this little knot in my stomach, tho, because I know I am programmed to love banter but worried that I'm not educated enough on the topic to truly do it justice. Without the same year's or semester's worth of research of a Debate Club.

    I know that any gauntlet you throw down is not to be taken lightly :)

    1. If you've got the guts, go for it! I strongly believe knowledge is organic, and we learn by challenging our beliefs. We're not experts on everything, and it's ok to have an opinion as long as you're open to the fact that you might be wrong. Be willing to carefully consider other people's responses to your thoughts, and you have the right to speak them. That's how we learn and grow and solidify (or change) our current opinions. Throw down!