Sunday, November 07, 2004

Dear Mr. Kinsley...

You don't have to apologize. This isn't the principal's office. No one is asking you to abase yourself, or reject your core values. In fact, all anyone really asks is that you pay those alleged core values more than just lip service.

You refer to yourself as a "liberal." That word has meaning, and is not merely a stand-in for "left-winger." Liberals are supposed to be inclusive, and given that the word has the same root as liberty, somewhat permissive and willing to live and let live. Are you certain that you've been living up to this label? Or have you, in fact, been -- as you insist you have not -- "arrogant and elitist"?

Let's look at your crie-du-coeur in some detail. This paragraph, specifically:

. . .It's true that people on my side of the divide want to live in a society where women are free to choose abortion and where gay relationships have full civil equality with straight ones. And you want to live in a society where the opposite is true. These are some of those conflicting values everyone is talking about. But at least my values -- as deplorable as I'm sure they are -- don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same gender, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?

See, Mr. Kinsley, this is what we're talking about. First off, your tone is condescending, and that's not appreciated. But more importantly, your description of conflicting issues is facile, showing either a lack of awareness or a lack of appreciation for the position of those you oppose.

(A little aside. I, personally, don't have strong opinions on either abortion or gay marriage. My vote to re-elect President Bush was purely for foreign-policy reasons, where I'm afraid the Left Wing hasn't had a useful idea since Woodrow Wilson, and maybe not even then. I also think this whole "values" topic is a huge misdirection. Your Slate colleague Paul Freedman can back me up on this. But I digress.)

Let's start with abortion first. It's a difficult topic, because it deals with the nature of human life itself. I doubt, Mr. Kinsley, that you'd be OK with the practice of taking newborn babies and euthanizing them, for whatever reason. That's because you appreciate that those are small, defenseless human beings, and every instinct of every decent person revolts against even the thought of causing them deliberate harm. But surely you must understand that there is nothing about passing through the birth canal that magically bestows life upon a sack of flesh? Surely if a baby is a human being just after exiting the birth canal, it is also a human being just before? An hour before? A day before? But then, if that's true, what about a week before? A month? Three months? Six months? What's the cutoff time, the point of no return where what was previously a disposable clump of cells becomes a person -- tiny, defenseless, but nonetheless entitled to a chance at life?

The simple fact is, we don't know. It's not really possible for us to know. As human beings, we can appreciate and deal with ambiguity -- but as a law-bound society, we have to set down rules with hard cutoff times. And therein lies the problem: we can't all agree on where to set the cutoff time. All we know is that it's somewhere after conception, and before birth. Within that interval, opinions differ. But a substantial portion of the population believes -- really, truly believes -- that the instant after conception, when a unique package of genes is put together, that is a new human life, and destroying it is as wrong as hurting a week-old infant. You and I may not share this belief, Mr. Kinsley. But these people believe it -- as fervently and wholeheartedly as you and I believe that, for example, it is not right for human beings to enslave each other. You can't just dismiss this, and say to them, "Hey, no one is making you have an abortion, so mind your own business!" any more than anyone could say to you, "Hey, Kinsley, no one is asking you to buy slaves, so get off my damn plantation!"

These people aren't trying to stop abortion because they enjoy protesting and telling people how to behave. They are trying to stop it because they think it is fundamentally, inherently wrong and anti-human. Yet you refuse to even think about what they are saying, dismissing them as meddlesome rubes. If that's not "elitist," what is? You can disagree with them -- I do -- but surely it's not too much to ask that you fully understand their viewpoint? Because if you did, you'd quickly realize that they do, in fact, view having to violate their beliefs over a decades-old Supreme Court decision to be an "imposition." And while I don't support them, I can't really say I blame them.

Your stance on gay marriage is no more impressive. First, it's worth pointing out that even in liberal Oregon, not to mention several other "blue" states, the bans on gay marriage passed easily, nearly 2-to-1. Turns out that quite a few people, even those in your own party, are not yet ready to accept that a lifelong partnership between two men or two women is equivalent to one between a man and a woman.

Read that again, Mr. Kinsley -- they are not ready to accept this. It's not that they hate gay people. It's not that they want to keep them apart. Well, surely some do, but overall, I doubt whether even the Biblest of the Bible-belt states would have passed resolutions banning, say, cohabitation. Civil unions seem to enjoy pretty widespread support. But with marriage, you're demanding more than that. You're insisting that everyone accept your premise that gay unions are exactly equivalent to male-female marriages. You're not just asking people to stay out of others' business. You are not even asking them to accept a different lifestyle. You are telling people what to think, and how to feel, insisting that everyone from Amherst to Anaheim accept as gospel -- literally, as unquestionable gospel -- the word of a couple of Massachusetts judges about the fundamental makeup of our society. And when you tell people how to think, and demand that they treat judges as kings -- well, please don't take it the wrong way that the people tell you to go get bent. Our nation's founders fought a bloody war and put in this wonderful democratic system to prevent exactly that kind of rule-by-fiat.

You claim that those on "your side of the divide" don't believe that your values are "immutable," that you are "crippled," as it were, "by reason and open-mindedness." How is it, then, that you could be so closed-minded as to fail to understand the principles of your opponents? And if you think that "your side" is immune to thinking its precepts "immutable and beyond argument," walk down the street in Manhattan or San Francisco with a Bush/Cheney shirt on. Your colleague Richard Rushfield can tell you about his experience.

I don't agree with left-wingers on a lot of topics, Mr. Kinsley, just as I disagree with right-wingers on some topics. But what I try to do is understand and respect people's reasons for holding the beliefs they do. It's not too much to ask that you try doing the same. Heaven knows that right-wingers get the benefit of left-wing opinion on a continuous basis, from newspapers, college lectures, Doonesbury cartoons -- now there's even Eminem's video. Maybe it wouldn't hurt for the Left to start listening -- really listening -- to their less-liberal compatriots, and if you don't agree with them, at least try to recognize that they do, in fact, have a point. Then maybe you wouldn't feel so oppressed.

Article by way of Bill Quick.


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