When I was agnostic, religious believers and atheistic nonbelievers would sometimes accuse me of being noncommittal.
Eventually, I found my stance: devout agnosticism.
My devout agnosticism was not on the same plane as factual conviction. It was a commitment to epistemological integrity — and that commitment was every bit as passionate as any atheistic or theistic belief. People find it difficult to imagine that anyone could feel deeply about something as abstract as epistemology, but this incomprehension does not make it any less so. (This passionate commitment, by the way, led me beyond the shallow for-and-against of the debate to an understanding that would have remained inconceivable to me if I had prematurely taken a side.
This experience, in combination with many others, have strengthened my commitment to thinking beyond simple for-against binary antitheticals.
Now I find myself in the same position regarding abortion.
Since the overturning of Roe v Wade in June, several women have engaged me in conversation on this subject, only to inform me, after realizing that my own views differ slightly from theirs, that my opinion on the abortion issue is irrelevant and unwanted. They all say the same thing (in the same words): “they are not ready” to hear any opposing view, because they are still too angry.
But they are especially not ready to hear my particular view, which is, to them, the kind of abstract theoretical opining a person not directly affected by the decision would have. They find it difficult to imagine that I could feel deeply about a position so abstract and “academic” as mine, but (as with my agnosticism) but I do feel very strongly on this matter, and their incomprehension does not make it any less so.
My position is that we must engage our political opponents as adversaries who seek different ends than us within our liberal democratic order, and not enemies who pose an existential threat. To maintain this, it is crucially important to try to see the validity of their positions, however vehemently we disagree with them. Those of us who believe in a woman’s right to make their choice whether or not to abort should work to understand abortion opponents’ various framings of the issue — some of which are, indeed, fundamentalist and others of which are, indeed, cynically partisan — but others of which are motivated by humane concerns, and others of which are focused on protecting our liberal democratic institutions. But you can never understand this if you attribute to them contemptible or insidious motives, declare them existential enemies and refuse to hear what they say. And it is even worse if you coercively silence them or terrorize them into keeping their beliefs to themselves. Our adversaries are not our enemies, and if they sometimes get their way at the expense of us getting ours, this does not constitute an existential threat. But seeing every deep disagreement as a threat, paradoxically is. Turning every disagreement into a literal life-threatening emergency is. It is to our own advantage to understand the full validity of our adversaries’ positions, because this helps us see that they are not monsters, not enemies.
This is the position I have stated, and which my angry female friends have told me they are “not ready” to hear and which apparently “causes hurt” when I state them.
One woman told me it would even be better if I just took the opposing view, because at least it would signal concrete involvement. It is the theoretical stance of the dis-involved that infuriates.
They are perfectly free to postpone the conversation until they cool down and feel ready to discuss it.
What they are not free to do is try to prevent me from stating my opinion, if they are stating theirs, and especially not if the claim is that my opinions cause them emotional distress. Their attempts — increasingly successful — to socially control whose opinions can be voiced and whose must be suppressed is causing me emotional distress. So now what?
What I want people to understand is this: There are four sides to this conflict: their side, my side, what they think my side is, and what I think their side is.
For these righteously angry women, however, it appears (to me) there are only two sides: their side and what they think my side is.
It is those two missing sides — precisely the part that is not inside their own heads — that they are “not ready” for — and this is the crux of the matter.
They are never ready to hear those missing sides.
Sacrosanct fury over bodily autonomy and their status as citizens is only the latest excuse for a deeply habitual contempt for whatever transcends their own limited perspective. This time it is too infuriating. Other times they feel endangered. Or they imagine slippery slopes to extremism and violence. Or they see the preservation of an oppressive status quo. Or they attribute hate.
There are always pressing reasons why their own view — the two sides in their own heads — is the only one taken as real.
And it is this refusal to acknowledge the limits of their own perspectives, their refusal to respect other perspectives, and their readiness to use social terror to force others to pretend to agree with their perspective that is my passionate concern.
In other words, it is their antipluralism that offends me.
I hold pluralism sacred. And when pluralism is suppressed, especially in organizations I love, I feel offense and visceral fury.
And the very claim that my offense and fury is less important, or less legitimate, or less deeply felt than the fury of a woman denied the right to abort a fetus — this exemplifies my point.
This, my angry female friend, is not for you to decide.
Does pointing this fact out “cause hurt”?
Your emotional bullying also “causes hurt”. And although you seem incapable of understanding it, this hurt matters every bit as much as yours does.
But you don’t have to understand it. I will demonstrate it to you by meeting your offense, your fury, your force, your eagerness to confront and create conflict — with my own. And in my prolonged, pressurized self-constraint, I have grown immensely furious, and ready to fight back. I have decided that this is a hill I will proudly die on.
But I will not do as you wish and meet you on your level, and oppose you with a simplistic For that mirrors your simplistic Against.
I do not need your understanding and stamp of approval of my position to fight you. I am coming back at you from beyond your understanding.
I’m done holding my tongue for the sake of keeping the peace. This silence preserves your delusions of unanimity, and encourages your aggression. As you so often say: Silence is violence.
My new stance is militant pluralism.
I will tactfully advocate pluralism. If pluralism is forcibly suppressed, I will use whatever counter-force I have at my disposal to re-impose pluralism.
And also know: if you use coercive force to suppress pluralism, you are not a mere adversary, but an enemy: an existential threat to what I care most deeply about.
Progressivists, I am finished indulging your collective political narcissism.
You don’t get to decide whose indignation is righteous and whose is “fragility”.
You don’t get to decide whose bigotry is antiracist activism and whose is white supremacy.
You don’t get to decide what identities are real and which are not, which are powerful, which are not — and you do not get to assign those identities and deduce who someone is from them.
You don’t get to decide who is and is not privileged.
You don’t get to decide why people really think what they think, act as they act, or vote as they vote.
And you don’t get to decide what this abortion debate is about, and who has a right to an opinion and who doesn’t.
This is a liberal democracy and we come to these decisions together.
Anyone who does not know this is an enemy of liberal democracy, even if they’ve deluded themselves into believing they are its saviors.
Does all this still strike you as abstract, academic, detached, cold? Do you still doubt the sincerity, intensity, validity or courage of my conviction?
Then try me.