What is it that makes our contemporary situation so harsh and savage when it comes to politics? To be sure, I feel the savagery as much as anyone else does, and perhaps unlike most, I wish to understand it. What are the lines that, when crossed, lead to a disastrous loss of goodwill between people. It must be conceded that such a loss of goodwill is felt–there are a great many people whose ideas, and perhaps whose existence, I do not see as being either necessary or desirable. I do not consider this savagery a good thing, but I consider it a real thing that ought to be addressed before things get out of hand, even if they are increasingly getting out of hand with decreasing opportunity to be resolved in a decent and worthwhile way. The will to treat others with respect and seek for mutual advantage or compromise is increasingly lacking, and where people are not respected and do not feel respected, there is decreasing tolerance to allow such others to inhabit this world and draw breath and sustenance from it. And that is definitely a problem.
I do not know what lines that other people have that are not to be crossed. I do know my own red lines, though, and so I will explore those, not because I do not think that the boundaries of others are less important than my own, but simply because I am less familiar with their extent and for the reasons why they exist. For example, I find that while I have very little interest in justifying or defending the mistakes made in the past, I have no inclination to tolerate any identity group of mine being disrespected. If someone’s political ideology or biased view of “justice” requires disrespecting whites, males, Christians, or anything else of the kind, then they have made myself a mortal enemy and their existence is no longer any particular interest of mine. A call for mutual and widespread respect is something I support, but a call for a targeted injustice against me and mine is to be rejected and opposed to the ultimate limit of violent hostility in self-defense. Framing matters a great deal personally, as the difference between a reasonable call for equitable justice and an ill-advised demonstration of hostility directed at me and mine have wildly different personal feelings and responses.
I do not suspect that this is in any way unusual. For me, any civil conversation relating to issues of politics (and I define issues of politics rather broadly, relating to any questions of power or influence or authority in any realm of life) requires a basis of respect for me. If I do not perceive that the person I am dealing with views me and my views and my perspective with respect, I lack any respect for their own insights and view their presence as irksome and unwelcome and their views as intolerable and unacceptable. I suspect a great part of the growing problems that we have with regards to talking about contentious matters, and nearly everything is contentious, is that we feel that authenticity requires us to give our unfiltered opinion with deliberate disrespect for those with whom we disagree while at the same time we do not tolerate disrespect from others. This double standard creates increasing hostility between groups in conflict, since each group believes that the righteousness it has in its own eyes requires there to be no consideration for the feelings or sensitivities of those they view as being wicked and evil sinners, while at the same time there is no acceptance of the judgments of others that would make one out to be a wicked sinner. This lack of symmetry creates a lot of problems, as it leads us to be easily charged as being hypocrites judging by a double standard while at the same time being perfectly righteous in our own eyes. The gap between our view of ourselves and our view of those who disagree with us is therefore profound, often total.
It is hard for me to think of how such a situation can be reversed. Our tendency to justify ourselves and our attitudes and our behavior and to think well of ourselves creates a strong barrier in our present age to calls for repentance. Likewise, even if we do not accept the right of others to judge us, we still wish to and find it necessary to judge others. This cannot help but to create bad will. And yet it seems wrong to advocate a blind tolerance that accepts whatever is going on without having a problem with it either. How is it that we can be fit judges of what is unacceptable around us without becoming hypocrites by seeking to deny that we ourselves can be judged? How can we seek for respect for ourselves in a way that simultaneously gives respect to those whose opinions and positions we view to be without sense or merit? These are not easy matters, and so it is little wonder that we should find such difficulties when it comes to discourse, even if we are seldom aware of the way in which we offend others simply because we are only interested in what we have to say. And none of us are immune from these difficulties.