The economist Thomas Sowell once defined a bi-partisan as someone who insists the other side agrees with him. “Crossing the aisle” is a demand for the other side to cross it, and if they don’t, then they can be politically attacked for not being able to “work with the other side.”

Outside of politics, it works more like this: “Can’t we all just get along?” This is most often stated by someone who is convinced that things have become too polarized. A condition created not by them, but by the people who disagree with them. If everyone would just agree with their point of view, there would be no division. If you can’t agree, at least you could remain silent.

If you can’t remain silent, then it may become necessary for these people to silence you. In their minds, this has nothing to do with free speech, or of a desire to have a beneficial debate. It is simply a necessity to control corrosive “hate,” and to stabilize the social order.

Dennis Clayson

Dennis Clayson

One poll of college students found that 44% believed the First Amendment of the Constitution did not protect free speech if they thought the speech was unacceptable. Only 39% believed that the Constitution did protect such speech. The rest, evidently didn’t have a clue. There was little difference between people who identified as Democrat or Republican, but there was a major gender difference. Women students were significantly more likely to demand banning unwanted speech than males.

It works like this: Certain ideas are labeled as “hate” speech, or speech designed to create violence. Once this definition is accepted, then the violation of rights and even violence is justified to oppose it.

This a classical technique. It has been around for a long time. In the early 1840’s, anti-slavery Mormons in Missouri were accused of arming themselves and being a threat to public order, which led to an “extermination” order that literally legalized driving them from their homes and even killing them. The “Jewish problem” in Hitler’s Germany justified the denial of basic human rights and even murder based on the “crimes” of the Jews.

Just like on college campuses, the denial of freedom can then be justified as the fault of the opponent. An official in 1939 Germany could have said, “You realize, don’t you, that you would never have been treated this way if you weren’t Jewish. The Jews brought this on themselves, therefore if you were not Jewish, we would not have to persecute you.”

Totally lost in this argument is the counter idea. The same benefit could be obtained by them agreeing with you, or remaining silent. If the benefit of agreement and inclusion is so important, why is this option not considered?

It would take book chapters to answer that question, but four points can summarize the answer.

1. Some people literally do not see or recognize any other point of view. They are being naïvely honest when they demand that you be silenced.

2. Others recognize another point of view, but they are morally correct. An opposing view is therefore immoral, and must be considered wrong, probably dangerous, “hateful,” or even evil. In other words, the person asking you to be tolerant is an intolerant prig.

3. It can be useful as a political tactic. You portray yourself as agreeable and tolerant. The other side won’t agree with you and is therefore disagreeable and intolerant.

4. Some of the strongest advocates asking for agreement simply have totalitarian instincts. They want to be in control. Any other point of view, irrespective of its merits, is dangerous to the social order and to their power.

I’m sure you disagree.

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Dennis Clayson is a business professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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