“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, in defense of free speech
Years ago a teaching colleague asked me to address a gathering of Presbyterians on the topic of "A Sociologist view of Christianity." As I was neither a Sociologist nor a Christian and as I knew this group of Southern Presbyterians represented the ruling elite of the community I was surprised at both the invitation and the chosen topic. I thought how broadminded that such a group wanted to hear the point of view of the enemy camp. I assumed they knew the trinity of Sociology was Marx, Durkheim, and Weber and that their methodology was warmed over statistics mixed with mumbo jumbo interview techniques. Naively I accepted the invitation. The Presbyterians and I were all in for a big surprise.
The gathering took place on a Sunday evening in the basement of the oldest and richest church in town and there was, of course, a pot-luck supper after which I was introduced by my colleague. Not long into my presentation I noticed the smiles began to fade and were gradually replaced by frozen stares. When I realized my terrible mistake it was too late to reverse course, my boat had already run aground. All I could do was quickly finish and hope for the best. They were all very cool, but all very polite. The only consequence was I was never to be invited back and the unfortunate incident soon forgotten.
Years later another teaching colleague at a Midwestern college asked me to make presentation at the end of his production of Antigone. The play by Sophocles has been produced over the last twenty five hundred years with many different takes. Jean Anouilh's version was first performed in Paris on February 6, 1944, during the German occupation. The rejection of authority (represented by Antigone) and the acceptance of it (represented by Creon) was so balanced that both the French Resistance and Nazi censors approved the play. My college presented the play as a romance, emphasizing the love between Antigone and her dead and unburied brother. This is a rather trite point of view, but it was his play. At the end of the play I came on stage and attempted to show that Creon also had a point of view, society has to have law and order as well as idealist. This provoked the ire of the audience, a woman rose and denounced me as a "male chauvinist" - they were having no part of the legitimacy of another point of view. I made a hasty retreat.
These two incidents are indicative of something I find disturbing about many liberals. Not that some have closed minds, that is obvious, but their disregard for even the humanity of the opposition is chilling. In their minds Creon was not just wrong, he was evil incarnate. Donald Trump is not just unqualified to be president he is a fascist. Even the German censors realized Antigone, probably a misguided hysteric, had a point of view. On the other hand, the Presbyterians were dismayed by my talk, but they listened and were polite; nobody called me a communist.
The clash of opposites in Sophocles play may have been the source of Hegel's dialectic. The dialectic is often characterized as a three-step process, a "thesis" (e.g. the French Revolution) would cause the creation of its "antithesis" (e.g. the Reign of Terror that followed), and would eventually result in a "synthesis" (e.g. the constitutional state of free citizens). If we are to escape the repetition of this deadly cycle and retain our Constitution we must learn to remain civil. Civil, Civic, Citizen, Civilization are all words that seem to hold hands. We all have friends on both sides and we must be careful and remember to keep a civil tongue during any discourse with those who do not share our political views. We must act like the shocked Presbyterians: listen, keep an open mind, and, above all, avoid childish dehumanizing name calling.
|Mind your Manners!|