The Enlightenment is typically dated to the timespan between the years 1715, when Louis XIV died, and 1789, the start of the French Revolution, although some scholars date it all the way to the beginning of the scientific revolution of the 1620s.
The basic values of the Enlightenment are hard to pin down--I've come to realize that they can fluctuate wildly among individuals--but one thing is for sure: free speech and freedom of conscience really date to this time and owe their very existence to Enlightenment ideals. When Locke set out his social contract, he argued that there were some natural rights that could not, by their very essential natures, be ceded to the government. The right of conscience is one of these, and it's the right that underlies much of our concept of freedom of speech and religion, as well as the crucial idea of the separation of church and state.
I heavily identify with Enlightenment values, but so do a lot of other people. Libertarians. Anarchists. Conservatives. Evangelicals. Progressives. Flying Spider Monkeys.
Okay, maybe not the last one, but pretty much every other political strip identifies with Enlightenment values, many quite vocally. Personally, though, I identify with progressives, and so I look to them to exemplify the values that I hold dear. And I have to say, it's goddamn disappointing when they don't.
I'm going to start with a mild example, and then give a stronger one. Here's a recent news story from Huffington Post Politics:
HuffPo is frequently criticized for having a liberal bias, and I'm not one to disagree--they definitely slide to the left with their choice of what they cover and how they do so.
Then I see this comment:
And it really struck me how unfair and intellectually stunted these comments are. I'm not letting myself off the hook, either: I know for a fact I recently said something similar about Fox News's Megyn Kelly.
It's a terrible thing to say. We should always be striving to see our ideological opponents in full color--not in black and white facsimiles. People are complex, and when we reduce them to only what we disagree with, we're leaving so much untouched. I hate to use the iceberg cliche, but you know, they say 90% of an iceberg is under the surface. I don't know if that's true for massive blocks of ice (or how much longer it will be true, if it is, with the earth warming) but I know it's true for human beings.
We think, we reason, we figure things out. We change our minds for a thousand reasons. We have conflicting motivations. We cling to our emotional responses, sometimes at the expense of our own rationality. It's so much of what makes us human, this capacity to be complicated.
When we critique novels and movies and other media, we often say that we want complex characters, and then when we are confronted with the fact that we live in a world surrounded by said complex characters, we spend a vast amount of time attempting to reduce them to caricatures and complaining of our surprise when they won't flatten into two dimensional representations.
So, I promised you guys a worse example. Here's the story:
Okay...so...that's a thing she said.
But does it really justify responses like this:
Stupid cow...not a real human being...these are incredibly dehumanizing expressions, and they are putting me in the uncomfortable position of having to defend Sarah Palin.
It also puts me in the uncomfortable position of eyeballing my own Ted Cruz Memes folder, and particularly, my favorite:
Because even with people I disagree with, my push should always be to attack ideas, and not people--and these things? They attack people.
If the ideas are bad--and they ARE--there should be no need to attack the person behind them. That they hold those ideas should stand for itself.
And we're not just aiming this at conservatives, either:
Surprisingly, this did not come from my request on another post a few months ago for examples of sexism from Bernie supporters. I didn't have to wait for anyone to send me something; this dude did it all by himself. This comment wraps up sexism and ageism, all at once, in a neat little ball of grossness.
I know it's pointless asking for us to keep the people on the other side of the screen in mind when we make our arguments. It's hopelessly naive to wish for ideological purity in internet confrontations about anything, let alone about politics.
But I'm asking anyway. And I'm committing to trying to do better myself.
We're all humans. Let's start there.