“I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument?” – Shakespeare, Henry V Act IV scene 1
I was (not entirely unpleasantly) surprised to see that my last posting here caused an array of passionate responses. I should have guessed that such would be the case, and, furthermore, should have guessed that the bulk of the replies would be based on very personal and very narrow interpretations of what I said in that posting.
Before going any further, let me first say that I do not begrudge anyone for their opinions. I heartily believe in the concept of freedom of thought and speech and have always been an emphatic supporter of First Amendment rights, even when they are abhorrent to me.
I remember a discussion in one of my college classes on this subject. The professor asked the class if it was permissible for Civil Rights demonstrators to march through the South. Naturally enough, nearly everyone said it was. Then the professor asked if it was acceptable that the American Nazi Party be allowed to march.
This time, no one spoke up.
After a few seconds of waiting to see if anyone would speak, I stood and said, “It is precisely because I abhor Nazism that I would let them march. If I deny them their right to speak, do I not become like them?”
Because I promote freedom of thought and speech, and because I believe that only through discussion – and often conflict – can we progress (Newton’s First Law of Motion: "A body continues to maintain its state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force."), I welcome the ideas and positions that are contrary to my own. I have had long and close friendships based on just that foundation.
But I saw a troubling current running through a couple of those comments and it is that current, rather than the contrary viewpoint, to which I wish to respond here.
There is a lot of discussion concerning what is wrong with our country. All sorts of interest groups put their own, personal stamp on then major cause of our decline – so-called “abortion rights,” resistance to same-sex marriage, lack of religion in schools, the presence of religion in schools – you name it and someone has decided that that particular issue is the fundamental agent responsible for the collapse of the American Way.
I, too, have my own take on this problem, and it is one that encompasses all others. It is also one that is quite apparent in at least one of the statements posted to my last column. There is no need to say which one. For one thing, my purpose is not to indict or embarrass anyone and for another, it doesn’t matter what particular individual posted the comment; that single episode is merely indicative of the larger issue.
In the 1980s, there occurred a phenomenon that was labeled the AWM Syndrome; AWM being an acronym for Angry White Male. This, said sociologists and psychologists, was a backlash on the part of certain men to the progress made by minorities and women in obtaining equality in our society. It was, in large part, according to these experts, a response toward change by those who were uncomfortable or afraid of change.
This was – and is – truly an oversimplification. But the fact is that there were many young and not-so-young men who took contrary positions toward anything that would jeopardize the real or imagined superiority of the White Male.
As the 80s rolled into the 90s, this syndrome evidently spread and, indeed, became cross-gender. There were not only Angry White Males, but Angry Males of all shades, and then Angry Females as well. In the end, what we became was an Angry Nation. Everyone was tired of someone – everyone? – pushing them around, trying to make them do things they didn’t want to do, forcing their ideas and opinions on them; in short, they were sick and tired of anyone who refused to see that their way was the only right way and everyone should just get with the damned program.
Phil Gramm’s Nation of Whiners.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 888 known hate groups extant in this country in 2007, their most recent data. The FBI’s 2007 hate crime statistics show 7,624 reported hate crimes incidents involving 9,006 separate offenses. (They estimate a total of 191,000 -- no, that's not a mistake -- reported and unreported hate crimes in 2005) Hate crimes against both illegal immigrants and people of alternative lifestyles are on the rise. In fact, five out of nine reported hate crime incidents involved sexual orientation.
Anger inevitably evolves into intolerance. Where did we lose the concept of the “loyal opposition?”