Preaching and Punching

Other people's opinions are distasteful at best and worth a hanging at worst.  That's why they belong to other people.  Who wants to eat ketchup on eggs, or vote for Bernie Sanders, or make love to a bald-headed 400-lb. gender studies major?  Not me, not today, not any day – and I've placed them in this order to show that yes, these things do actually happen; yes, they exist on a scale; and yes, I want absolutely nothing to do with them.  To do them yourself means you might get a smirk.  You force them on me, and you've started a war.

It's a war we're on the verge of, all day, every day.  We insist that we all like being able to speak our minds, but the downside of this is that we hear other people's minds, and we hate them for it.  We loathe the little half-baked ideas they share, day after day, about how the world could be better if we'd only just open the border, or give money to bums, or never use plastic, or put women in charge of everything, or enforce the book of Leviticus, or give away all our guns, or put people in jail for blasphemy, or get rid of profit, or capital, or genders, or taxes, or churches – any of these things, it turns out, that would be completely disastrous and yet despite this are preached, day after day, as if they came from the mouth of our Lord and Savior, Martin Luther King, Jr.

No – democracy is terrifying because people are insane, and every moral statement, whether brilliant or stupid, whether passed casually or shouted from the pulpit, is an imposition of some sort: at best a little pain because you feel as if you don't fit in, at worst a fear that your whole world will get wrecked.  It's social discomfort and a nightmare combined: the idea that one day you could wake up, and if enough people signed a petition, you might have to throw on a burka and then marry a transgender. 

The leftists realize this, and that's why they're terrified of free speech.  They believe, sanely, I might add, that our thoughts become things and that the game we play so casually, the little chats at dinner or in the break room, might turn into sanctuary for a Mexican or a banishment at the border – in essence, that what you're speaking isn't words, but lives.  When you drop that ballot into a box, you are dropping not a piece of paper, but little sheets of life and death, riches and poverty, harmony and hatred – your will over others',  your children over others',  your future over others', whatever-you-want über alles.

And so arises this belief, endemic among the left, that the first person to get angry is the better person, that punching and shouting and shaming are more righteous than talking.  They think it means you care, and that the punches they throw might break a jaw but in the end save a kid – all true, except everyone is fighting for some kid, and beyond this, everyone believes he's right.  Thus, a call to arms is never just a call to your arms.  It's calling everyone else to arms, too.  It means that everyone with an opinion different from yours is forced no longer to talk about it, but to punch about it, and that whoever has the most punchers is going to win – not the best speakers, not the best thinkers, but the best punchers.  Not the best philosophy, but the first: I believe that it was invented by the gorillas.  That's too old-fashioned for my taste, but these are our progressives.

The truth is these punch-throwers are weak, and to live in a free society, you have to be tough – not just in the fists (which are important to any civilized man), but in the soul.  You have to be ready, every morning, for other free men to say terribly free things and to brave this insurmountable tide of idiocy with a face so stoical and easy-going that other people will open up to you and you can start exchanging ideas.  You also have to be prepared to realize that you, a person who does not know everything, might be the idiot, and that life itself is a process of conversion.  (There is also a time, rare but absolutely essential, to take a stand and tell someone to shut the hell up.)

Is this easy?  Absolutely not.  It requires both the patience of a saint and the acting skills of a playboy.  But the alternative, missed by every short-sighted do-gooder, is harder.  We either exchange ideas now, or people act on them, without thinking them through, at the voting booth.  We open up our dinner tables to the enemy because we don't want our front doors kicked down by policemen.  We pretend to not be offended – we say hit us with the words so we can avoid getting hit with the things.  We are too prudent to look righteous.  We are too righteous to look bigoted.  We abandon the grandstanding and move in for the substance.  We are the last of the classical liberals.

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.