Monday, December 19, 2016

Something About Rights

Thinking about how people behave toward the rights of others lately can become very confusing.

About six weeks ago leading up to the election, there was quite a bit of talk about exercising your right to vote.  Public service ads appeared on TV about how important it was to vote and how your vote made a difference.  As is usually the case around election time, some volunteers worked with car pools and vans to make sure all voters were able to get to the polls.  Some continued to subscribe to the argument that requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls was a burden and discriminatory.  In short, many people came together in an effort to make it as easy as possible for everyone interested to exercise their right to vote.

We also have a right to bear arms, yet I have seen few efforts to make it as easy as possible to buy a gun.  In fact the opposite seems to be true.  Exercising this right is burdened by several requirements:  background check, waiting period, etc.  Where are the people who will drive me to the gun show or the firing range if I have trouble getting there on my own? – The idea of this seems silly.  There aren’t television ads encouraging people to exercise this right, and most comments are to the contrary.  Two rights receive opposite reactions.

We also have a right to trial by jury and to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  This seems to be a right everyone is in favor of for themselves, but objects to for others.  If law enforcement or courts do not do what citizens think they should have done, based on knowledge of the case picked up from the news or social media, the protesters begin demanding “justice.”  Sometimes they even ignore the crime victim’s or their family’s pleas for calm and patience as the process plays out. 

We also have a right to free speech.  Supposedly you can say what you want to without repercussions, particularly from the government.  But students at various universities protest against the appearance of outside speakers because what they say may be offensive or not correspond with their worldview.  Students are supposedly in college to learn.  Sometimes their ideas are wrong, and sometimes it’s just educational to understand another’s point of view.  Instead they protest demanding a cancellation of the event or attend to heckle the speaker already having made up their minds that the person is evil or offensive.  When confronted with the idea of freedom of speech, they smugly argue that the First Amendment only applies to government interference.

It has gotten to the point where a few universities have adopted the Chicago Principle, originated at the University of Chicago.  It holds that if the speech or written statement is legal and not threatening, harassing, defamatory, or a substantial invasion of privacy, it must be considered, discussed and debated regardless of whether it may be thought by some to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.  This action tries to move the focus from some vague notion of offense or anticipated offense to one of learning.

And it’s not just students.  Society bans the use of certain words by certain people, and they can only refer to them by their initials, even when discussing the word itself.  Many people feel they must consider their word choice very carefully for fear of committing an inadvertent offense or micro-aggression.  If you refer to America as a melting pot, you are demeaning someone’s heritage and traditions.  If you refer to our Forefathers, you are subjugating half the population.  And on it goes.  Political rallies have become scenes of name-calling and accusations rather than of debate and the post-rally walk to the car features fighting in the streets.

Critical thinking leads to the conclusion that we don’t treat rights the same.  Some are encouraged, some defended, some ignored and some applied selectively.  Isn’t that worth considering?

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