For the Narcissist Lover in You…

The New Thought Police

This will come as a shock to no one, but I am more than a guy who writes.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to create a place where those who were interested might come and take a peek inside my mind– a place where I might reveal a bit more of my personality and worldviews than I do on my websites and Facebook pages.

Today, I am going to muse upon something completely unrelated to my books– something potentially controversial, and something that may cause many of you to think twice about my writings, and even me as a person.  Be prepared.

(big sigh)

Without any of us particularly noticing it, a new form of Thought Police has arisen here in America (although I suspect those of you outside the U.S. might recognize the same influence in your own culture).  Right here, in the land that values freedom of speech as its primary right, free speech– and independent thought itself– is being systematically squashed.

And it isn’t happening where you probably think it is.  Bear with me.  A lot of you won’t like this one bit.  I apologize in advance.

Near where I live, a university professor was recently fired for teaching what he is paid to teach and for expressing, when asked, a personal opinion about it.  The university explained their action by stating that “the courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought”.

Let that sink in a bit.

Can you smell the irony?  Apparently, “public discourse” and “independent thought” can only occur when they are completely homogeneous with the prevailing worldview.  Dissenting opinion, no matter how respectfully presented, cannot be tolerated.  Let’s ignore for the moment what the professor’s unacceptable opinion might have been.  Is this defensible?  Are we so feeble-minded that the mere expression of an unpopular opinion is utterly unacceptable?

The New Thought Police is usually not embodied in an institution, however.  It is usually a citizen brigade.   Often, this consists of only a single person, but a person completely assured that they are backed up by an unstoppable tide of moral superiority.  Examples:

A few weeks ago I was at the park with my kids.  I met another couple who were there watching their own children.  We struck up a conversation and they were very likable.  Then, however, the conversation turned to politics.  The couple talked freely about how horrible people of a certain political persuasion are, how stupid and evil they are, and how they must be stopped and silenced.  I became very sad at this, because they were talking about me.  They did not know it, of course, and I did not tell them.  Maybe I should have, but I was embarrassed and intimidated.  I liked them.  I was sad because I realized that if they knew who I really was, they would obviously hate me, and probably not even speak to me.

Only a few days ago, I was telling some friends about a discussion I would be attending with a particular author.  One person interjected that I should be very wary of the author’s “insane political and religious views”*, and that he himself could never attend a discussion by such a person.  I am not entirely sure what this author’s political and religious views are, but what if they happen to be the same as mine?  I really like the man who said this to me– he has been very helpful and encouraging.  Now, I am faced with the fact that, if my political and religious views are not his, he would likely shun me just as he would the author we were speaking of.

So of course I didn’t say anything.  I am a people pleaser.  I want to be liked.  And yes, this shames me.

There are more examples of this than I can recount in this blog.  Most of the time, the oppression of the New Thought Police is felt simply as a pervasive social pressure– an unavoidable prevailing wind that insists you simply cannot think outside of the norm: “only stupid, insane, hopelessly uncool people doubt or disagree with X.  Obviously you agree with us.  If you don’t, make sure you keep it to yourself, at least if you mean to keep your friends, your job, your social status, and even your freedom.”

It reminds me, most of all, of the scenes in George Orwell’s “1984” that deal with the “two minutes hate”.  During these interludes, nothing was acceptable but absolute unanimity of expression.  Any deviation from the norm was cause for suspicion, alienation, and even imprisonment.

I do not understand the mindset of the person who assumes that everyone else agrees with them, who by their enthusiastic degradation of anyone who might disagree, utterly squashes any potential for discourse.  I am pleased to know that I have friends from all across the political and religious spectrum.  I respect the differences.  I relish the conversations about those differences, and I have them frequently.  These conversations both sharpen and refine my own beliefs.  I am better for them.

Knowing this, how is it healthy for a society at large to actively obliterate the expression of any opinion that deviates from the politically correct norm?  When has this ever been a beneficial course for a community?  How well rooted can any of our worldviews and belief systems be if we insist that NO contrary opinion ever be voiced?

We probably agree on this, right?  Now comes the difficult part.

What if the opinions being squashed and outlawed are ones you yourself dislike?  What if the professor who got fired for expressing an opinion was blackballed because his opinion was that the Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are a sin is true?  Can you still defend his right to express that opinion in a free society, even if you find it reprehensible?

What if the political view being deemed evil and stupid is the one that you strongly oppose?  Will you still defend the idea that right-thinking people can have respectful debate on the topic?  Or will you be content in that instance that those holding that view should be shut down and intimidated into silence?

The classical view of tolerance is one worth revisiting.  In the modern world, tolerance means accepting without question or debate the popular and prevailing worldview.  Any dissent with that worldview– indeed, even holding an unspoken opinion of dissent– is considered intolerant and deserving of censorship.  The classical definition of tolerance, however, was stated by Voltaire as “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Are we as individuals big enough to live up to that ideal?  Or do you disagree completely?  I’d love to hear from people who might defend the idea of shutting down the voices of those who express unpopular opinion.  I won’t think you are stupid or evil for disagreeing with me, but I will be happy to debate you.  By doing so, we will all sharpen and hone our beliefs.

Shouldn’t that be what any free society, respectful of intellectual pursuits, engages in?  Or are we all too truly intellectually lazy to allow even the expression of an opposing perspective?

That’s a question I really am asking.  Give me your thoughts, all.

* paraphrased.

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13 responses

  1. Hester

    It’s a little scary, isn’t it? And a little sad.

    It seems like that means, for some people anyway, that if you do not agree with my political or religious or value beliefs…or I with yours…there is no basis for friendship, or even respect. Because this author (for example) holds beliefs that are different from someone else’s, he is labeled a “nutcase” and his talent is dismissed as not worthwhile.

    Pity really.

    July 22, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    • Tom

      First off, who’s for banishing this blog?? lol 🙂 Sorry, I had to do it. Before answering this entry, I would like to tell you that you are bringing some very good topics into this blog Geo. I wonder what’s next.

      I believe tolerance is just as Voltaire said it. It is not agreeing with, but amicably coexisting with people of different opinions. Accepting others right to their opinion and ways of life even if we find them odd or even immoral, but there is always a limit. I have no problem with anyone expressing their political or religious opinions as long as they aren’t trying to constantly convert you to their way of thinking, instead of accepting your right to your own perspective. I am speaking of people who will tell you your opinions are wrong and that’s why you should agree with them. As an example, I am not a religious person. I’m not an atheist or against religion I just don’t practice any faith in particular, but I love to get in a debate with some Christians about whether there is a God or not. For whatever reason they simply can not allow for the possibility that since we are all fallible, they could be wrong just like I could be wrong. These debates can last for hours with them getting very frustrated because since they can not allow for that possibility they become argumentative. I on the other hand can remain calm because I can tell them again and again that I could be wrong but what about….. 🙂 Maybe that’s not nice because I’m just playing Devil’s advocate to see how far I can go without them cracking and getting angry, but I never said I was a nice guy.

      Where I think the line has to be drawn is when it comes to people’s safety. Child pornography poses a threat to people who can’t defend themselves. Anything that is written with the purpose of inciting violence against others is over the line. I’m sure there are a few more instances I’m not thinking of, but anything that states an opinion should be allowed to be voiced even if we may not like it. That is one of the many things that make this country great. Of course there are many things dragging us down, but that’s another discussion.

      This was a little all over the place, but that’s why you’re the writer and I’m not. 😉

      PS: Please don’t delete this post. lol

      July 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm

  2. Tom, thanks for that lengthy response. And Hester, you are delightfully pithy as always.

    Tom, you are right that there have to be limits on speech when it comes to safety. The problem, unfortunately, is that people will abuse that limit. For instance, there are plenty of people (some in our government) who would censor any expression of certain faiths or political views because, they claim, those expressions will lead to violence.

    Just because the rare unstable person will respond with violent extremism to an expressed opinion does NOT mean that the expressed opinion caused violence. This is true whether it is a rock band whose song was stated as a reason some unstable teen committed suicide, a right-winger whose rhetoric gave some nutcase an excuse to resort to violence, or an environmentalist whose speech fueled the rage of a radical group of “idealogical arsonists”.

    But such claims will still be used to stifle speech wherever possible.

    July 22, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    • I agree George
      Case in point oooooo I’m gonna get in trouble for this but so what else is new .
      I am a Pro Choice for a very simple reason I have a uterus and I have been raped. I have never had an abortion and personally do not think i could HOWEVER having stated that as my true personal belief i will further explain myself.
      as long as Male’s still have the majority of political power in the making of law, enforcing of law, and the overall practice of law and as long aw WOMEN are the only ones who get pregnant as a result of Rape which sorry fella’s is not rough sex it is a act of Violence and control. then NO owner-of-a-penis is ALLOWED morally or Ethically to tell a owner-of-a Uterus Woman what she can or can NOT do with her health or body.

      why is this a religous example?
      Right to lifer’s in general are people of a different view and i personally think that handing out leaflet of real information is ok. I however draw the line at BLOWING up clinics and shooting Dr’s and nurses and support staff as well as targeting patients who a vast majority are at the free clinic not for an abortion but because they are sick and require medical attention. I am one.
      I have no insurance and sorry folks but when you make less than 13.00 an hour you don’t have ins. provided by your employer in all my working life i never had an employer that offered affordable ins. let alone ins. at all.
      so free clinics are my friends.
      NOT ALL pro life people resort to violence or would advocate it at all unfortunately there have been many within their groups that are hanger on’s that are more than willing to try to impress how passionate they are in their belief that they will blow up a building to prove it. so do we out law our right to gather in numbers to express a common belief??? or do we stand behind the constitutional right of assembly? and free speech?
      it’s a slippery slop folks before you point a finger at someone else’s belief or view remember practice in front of a mirror and see what intolerance and oppression look like does it feel good to you? would you like it if the finger turned on you? are you really willing to give your life for what you are thinking? or only for what you live? or for what you believe?
      do you really think there is no cause without effect?
      do you think that there is no equal and opposing reaction for your actions?
      Did you sleep through ALL of High School? or only the boring lessons?
      Do you really like pecking order?
      as long as, of course, your on the right side and which side was that again? oh yeah never wear yellow on Tuesdays if your a boy cause Obviously you’re gay…Oh come on people have we as a society really not left High School yet? get a grip .
      wake up
      READ LEARN GROW learn to listen and read for context as well as content and you’ll get a bigger picture.
      Oh and class assignment for tonight rent or look up online the Movie by George Clooney in 2005 called “Good Night and Good Luck”
      I’d like an essay double spaced LONG HAND would be best as long as you can write legibly in my email by ohhh Monday? LOLOL no seriously i would thin k it interesting to see how many would …LOL sorry George i’m long winded and wound up tonight….LOL

      July 23, 2010 at 4:37 am

      • Thanks for your response, Dawn. I like long winded responses. Mine are rarely less than a paragraph. This response is an attempt at brevity. Heh!

        July 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm

  3. Dags

    Can you still defend his right to express that opinion in a free society, even if you find it reprehensible?

    A resounding HELL, YES! to that question. But let me explain myself better…

    First of all, I grew up in a society where freedom of speech – despite being legally less expounded on – is a tacitly implied right of all and sundry (see “Chop, Mince, Season”).

    Second, in the course of my life I’ve heard so many opinions that I considered reprehensible – even witnessed some of them (mercifully) temporarily adopted as official national credos, that virtually nothing can phase me at this point.

    And last, but not the least… I’m not (not yet, in any case) hypocritical enough to consider myself entitled to deny others the right I’m so determined to retain myself: love it or loathe it, I will say my piece.

    Which is not to say I will not protest – VERY loudly, at that – to anything I find offensive. I just won’t deny you the benefit of an attentive ear… if you’re eloquent enough, that is.

    July 23, 2010 at 1:49 am

  4. Darren Bell

    Well said.

    July 23, 2010 at 1:53 am

  5. Kasey

    Interesting post. With all of the economic struggles of the USA, I’ve been paying more attention to the news in the last few years than I ever had before. It truly is amazing to me that there is so much intolerance out there for differing opinions – on both sides. Political correctness has destroyed our ability to have open debates in this country. If you dare to be politically incorrect or point out double standards, you can be immediately slandered with name-calling like “tea-bagger” “racist” “baby-killer” “socialist” “left-wing loon or nut”. It is sad because we have serious issues that need addressing and we can’t even get past the hate long enough to have a debate. For example, I work in a pharmacy and I have concerns about how the healthcare reform will play itself out since it will undoubtedly affect my job. My personal opinion is that if it does lead to single-payer with government control, this will be bad for our country. One day while the healthcare debate was raging, I had a customer complaining about insurance companies and her co-pay. I was agreeing with her sentiment when off-handedly I said that I doubted that the new healthcare bill would make anything better. She got angry and snapped back at me saying that I should be careful about what I say because “not everyone agrees with you”. I was stunned and all I could say was “I didn’t say that they did”. I don’t think I was being intolerant of anyone else view, but she probably thought so. It upsets me that she felt like I was forcing my opinion on her, though that was never my intention. But, at the same time, why should I have to stifle my opinion just because someone else may not agree with me?

    Overall, I love my 1st amendment right to say what I choose and believe in what I want to believe in. EVERYONE has that right, regardless of whether anyone agrees with you or not. I dearly hope that we will not lose this right and, most days, I’m optimistic that we won’t. Unfortunately, there are days when I fear that we may lose it and we may lose it sooner than we think.

    July 23, 2010 at 3:20 am

  6. Dawn

    Hi Big Guy
    I support what you are saying.
    I am an outcast.
    I have been told my whole life i am worthless, fat, ugly,stupid,my grandmother told me i was born without a soul and will be damned.
    I am pagan.
    I am also dieing.
    so i guess i’ll be finding out.lol
    I was raised in a very 40’s kind of way.Duty, Honor, Country and all that. My absentee parents are liberals in their politics Kennedy supporters the whole shebang.
    my father was in the military for 38 yrs so i’m a wrapped in the flag kind of gal and while i don’t “get it” as in understand why burning a flag is considered free speech i will respect that decision. I do not like the KKK on dang bit and personally think any one who hides their face behind a sheet is a coward, i will still defend the right for these individuals to be as stupid and cowardly as they want to be. And , I will continue to voice a strong opinion against their ideals. As an outcast i do not have any expectations of being supported in my opinions (i guess that’s why they are “my” opinions and not well just fill in the blank here and i’ll say “anyone” else’s)
    Look in a nut shell our wonderful living document called the US Constitution is intact WE the PEOPLE are the one’s not living up to the challenge of that document. WE are tired collectively and Lazy as a whole as long as nothing pushes us beyond our comfort zone WE don’t (by free choice) do a dang thing about it.
    911 was more about a bunch of fanatics wanting to push us collectively out of our certainty that WE are Right and Right is Might attitudes than it was a target of any one particular political thing or agent or anything else that was coughed up in the mad scramble to understand the horrors of that day.
    WE the PEOPLE should have been watching our Gov. more closely. WE the PEOPLE should have put our votes and our collective foot down.
    I understand why other countries are pissed off at American’s I was born here and have been a working poor person my whole life I have no power except my vote which if i use it gives me the right to keep bitching about how screwed up my Gov. is without the fear of being Shot by the Gov. or any agency of it.
    When WE the PEOPLE do not Vote what our minds and our hearts believe to be right we really don’t have the right to bitch because we chose to become a silent part(ner) of the problem.
    I agree that the book 1984 should have served as a stronger warning i was a lucky student taught by a real teacher it was a book discussed in my school.
    i don’t belong to ANY political party because I don’t count ( I do vote when i can get out to do so and I vote simply NON-INCUMBANT if s/he didn’t do the job the first 4 yrs i will NOT give them another 4).
    Millions of us don’t count because in part we are unrepresented. in part lazy, in part too afraid.
    Me personally too tired. too sick. my one little voice is not going to sway the masses. so i keep trying to survive heaven knows why.
    I have cousin’s that are gay I have friends that are Gay I have friends that are liberal and some conservative, I don’t care if you are Catholic or protestant or whatever, I have a friend that is a satanist. I’ve read translations of the Koran as well as the Torah and guess what they are not very different and nether of them is very different from the Christian Holy Bible . remove the pomp and really read what each is trying to teach it’s all one message. they have all been corrupted by … dogma the “doing of” because it’s always been done that way without any real connection to why or if or how about added to it.
    I am also Native American Indian. Ok a Half Breed but I identify more with my Native half then the White Half. I don’t Have a people I’m too “Pink” to live on a res. and not really white enough to be out here off res.
    so all in all I’d rather be the “outcast” with a clear conscience that a member’s only with blood on my hands any day.
    Oh yeah one final nail in my coffin LOl I LOVE BOOKS and will read anything once I never judge a book by it’s cover and yes i may think poorly of Anton LeVey but i have read the satanic bible too out of curiosity and in an oversimplified explanation here just remove the concept of GOD and substitute yourself as the only power and you got it. it’s not beheading goats and stuff it’s the idea that there is NO other power above your own. You are THE power. it’s meant to be personal. even solitary. but come on humans are a hear mammal and do not a heck of a lot with out an audience. we need group support in general.
    so again I say as an “outcast” who has been humiliated and ridiculed all my life for my looks my level of income my beliefs I AM FREE.
    I Care naught for being a part of the collective Herd mentality. I do NOT care about cosmo or vogue I don’t care what my neighbor is or is not doing nor with whom. I do NOT like nor Will I ever watch Reality TV I do not support the local news or the national.
    Edward R Murrow Said it better than I ever could …. “During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: Look now, pay later”..E R Murrow
    He was right we are insulated. and 911 proved we are paying for it.

    July 23, 2010 at 4:11 am

  7. Ben Triola

    Well said George.
    I’m often frustrated when people with views differing from my own are not even willing to merely have a civil discussion about why we feel differently.

    One of my fears is that the general public does not value or understand free speech as much as it should. All too often I hear someone say “you shouldn’t be allowed to say XYZ” or “they should ban the word X” or “they should outlaw baggy pants”. It’s scary to me how blatantly absent these people’s respect for free speech is. They don’t even consider the possibility of their own expression being limited, or the fact that the individuals setting these limits are the few in charge, likely to abuse this power to promote their own agenda.

    And like you said, it’s easy to agree with this when it’s your own beliefs beneath the boot, but its doubly important to remember when roles are reversed.

    July 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    • Thanks for commenting, Ben. I recall the really interesting discussions we all had in that “drawing for animation” class– those were my favorite moments, because there was such a wide ranging expression of ideas, and no ridicule. I worked really hard not to use my position as teacher to enforce or promote my own ideas, but just to foster discussion. I am sure that I did an imperfect job with that, but I was loathe to be one of those teachers that used his/her position to dictate opinion and stifle dissent. I’d much rather have a respectful conversation of dissent than be surrounded by people who agree with all of my own beliefs. It is very encouraging to know that people such as yourself (and obviously many others from that class) share that approach to life.

      July 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm

  8. Tom

    I think that part of this issue is that we live in a winner/loser society. What I mean by that is that, for whatever reason, our society has determined over the years that there has to be a winner and a loser in everything or it means nothing. As an example I believe this is one of the reasons that our society can’t embrace soccer. (bear with me) It is the dominant sport in the world and yet we can’t bring ourselves to follow it except maybe once every 4 years. There are other reasons soccer is not as popular as well but one of them is often there is no winner or loser. We can’t fathom how this is possible and even get upset that after 90 minutes of play that the 2 teams can just leave the field “tied”. Expanding this thinking, if there are dissenting opinions then one must be right and the other wrong (winner/loser). There can be no ties where both are right. Then extending it more if one is right and the other wrong, then one is good and the other bad. Of course whichever side of the issue “we” fall on is the good side. Of course if one side is bad then shouldn’t we squash them and not have to listen to their “bad” thinking. Some would say yes, but then which side is bad and who are we to decide one is right and the other wrong. It all comes down to ego and the fact that we need to have a winner and that winner better be us.

    It’s sad, but I know very few people that you could have serious discussions with, without it eventually turning into an argument or hurt feelings. Look at the presidential debates. They can sit down and normally have a civilized discussion from different points of view and walk away shaking hands. What do we do as a society immediately afterward. We decide who won and who lost. There has to be a winner and a loser right? I don’t think people really understand debate without allowing themselves to get emotional then angry because obviously the other side is wrong/bad. This is why I don’t talk about politics or religion most of the time (unless I’m doing it on purpose as stated in my earlier post:)).

    This is a problem that our country is going to have to face or our freedom of speech will go away just as many of our other freedoms are threatened as well.

    Again, not very well written but maybe I’ll get better.

    July 23, 2010 at 9:40 pm

  9. Gripe

    Great post, Geo. I know exactly what you mean… In the last few years, I have begun to question an awful lot of ‘conventional wisdom’ in all facets of my life. The herd has not reacted well, let me tell you – I have lost a number of my closest friends because my beliefs have suddenly differed from their own. As it turns out, you can’t express independent thought AND have friendships at the same time in this country either. At first I was deeply hurt to suddenly be a pariah (you can’t comprehend the extent of sycophancy in this world until you are on the receiving end of it), I admit, but I see now that what hurt me the most was the realisation that my friendhips were built on a house of cards- these people didn’t like ME, they liked my COMPLIANCE with THEIR OWN VALUES.

    If anything, I am now even more motivated to form objective opinions on topics, regardless of what the prevailing view may be – the cost of some friendships may seem high until you smell the rot at their foundation. That doesn’t mean being contrarian for contrarianism’s sake, of course (despite how tempting it may be!) 🙂

    As a former doormat, I completely understand the desire to people-please. But I have since learned that doormats may be liked and accepted by all, but they are never loved, respected, or often even considered. I know that a number of people now feel they hate me because of my views (and the fact that I am unapologetic in them), something that would have mortified me and kept me up at night a few years ago; but now I understand that the path of enlightenment is not paved with popular opinion.

    July 27, 2010 at 7:11 am

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