The comic above has a very accurate point when one character says, “In our haste to render each other in the worst possible way, we’re actually creating self-portraits.”
We are at a particularly particularly frustrating-for-me time in the history of this country. We are not listening to each other. We are not using logic. We cannot even see that our arguments about others are identical to the arguments they use about us. We cannot see that the behavior we attribute to the other side is the identical behavior in which we engage. Worse, we even deny that we are anything like the other side, even when our behaviors are exact, identical mirror images to the behaviors that we so hate in the other side.
Just this weekend, there was a demonstration in front of a mosque in Phoenix. Needless to say, there were two sides. On the one side, there was an assertion of freedom of speech. It was OK to cause disruption to a worship meeting. It was indirect disruption, but, nevertheless, it was disruption. In this case, the conservative side trumpets their rights as Americans to freedom of speech, while the liberal side is horrified at the violation of freedom of religion and the way a minority is being persecuted. And, make no mistake about it, those of you who cheered this demonstration. You were indeed persecuting a minority in the USA and you were not in any way standing for any particular American ideal. I have zero respect for those of you who took that stance.
On the other hand on 21 February 2012, a group named Pussy Riot staged a demonstration in Moscow at the Cathedral of Christ Our Savior. Needless to say, there were two sides. On the one side, there was an assertion of freedom of speech. It was OK to cause disruption to a worship meeting. In this case, the liberal side trumpets freedom of speech and the right to protest against an oppressive regime. The conservative side is horrified at the violation of freedom of religion and the way that Christianity is being persecuted. And, make no mistake about it, those of you who cheered this demonstration. You were indeed comfortable with the desecration of a church and you were not in any way standing for any particular American ideal. I have zero respect for those of you who took that stance.
Here is the sad part. I have deliberately set up both paragraphs in a parallel format. Yet, some in the USA will be unable to see the parallelism. In fact, some will say that one of the two actions was right and the other was wrong. Some will be unable to see that what is being created is a “self-portrait” that says that we are willing to be intolerant of those with whom we disagree. Here is the problem. In order for the USA to work, and to not descend into another Revolutionary War, it is crucial that we are willing to grant space and rights to those with whom we do not agree. Sadly, in today’s America, that space is sadly lacking. We are more and more becoming a country that sees the Bill of Rights as applying only to us and not to those with whom we disagree.
We are at a crucial point in our nation’s history. We have more than one group willing to say that a revolution needs to get started in order to restore the country to its original ideals. The problem is that the original ideals to which the groups refer apply only to themselves. If you are not with the group, you are against the group, and that means that your ideals can be denied, and even mocked. The Bill of Rights, human rights, can only work if there is a way for all groups to live together and to reach the accommodations necessary to be able to live together. In our modern America, that seems to be an ideal that is receding into the historical past rather than being a present reality.
Sadly, as the comic above points out, our self-portraits are becoming like The Picture of Dorian Grey. They are becoming darker and darker, corrupt and more corrupt. This puts our country in increasing danger. Both liberals and conservatives can see that we are entering an era of increasing danger. However, neither side can see their part of increasing the danger into which we are sliding.
So, we have a decision to make. Either the Bill of Rights apply to all or the Bill of Rights apply to none. At the same time, we need to be aware that all rights have their limits. The Freedom of Speech can indeed have some limitations placed on it by the Freedom of Religion. The Freedom of Religion can indeed have some limitations placed on it by the Freedom of Speech. The Freedom of the Press is not absolute and never has been. All freedoms reach their boundary when they conflict with another freedom.
But, if we cannot see our misbehavior in misapplying our freedoms, then we will slowly and surely destroy those very freedoms that we espouse.