Keeping Dissent Alive

By Jedediah Bila

The word “purge” has come up on Twitter, Facebook, and in right-wing media circles quite frequently these past few months. I have seen social conservatives call for purging social moderates from discussions, moderates call for purging conservatives they define as extremists, supporters of gay marriage call for purging traditional marriage proponents from debates, and pro-life advocates insist there should be no room for pro-choice conservatives on the right. The language has sometimes been ugly, and the instinct to shut down healthy debate has emerged from some unexpected voices.

My immediate response: You can’t accuse the Left of having no respect for diversity of thought or healthy debate while calling for a purging of disagreement on the right. You either support a forum where individual opinions will sometimes differ and issues are robustly and respectfully debated, or you don’t.

In late December, I watched an interview CNN’s Piers Morgan conducted with Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, on the topic of gun control. They clearly disagreed–and that’s okay, that’s what these forums are for–but Morgan was nasty, rude, and completely unprofessional. He used the phrase “idiots like you,” and at one point, said the following: “You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” It was appalling. I watched many on the right rush to condemn that horrific behavior–as they should have–but was left bothered by something. For months, I had watched some of those same folks on the right rush to name-call, block those expressing respectful disagreement on Twitter, and shut down debate. It just wasn’t good.

As a libertarian-conservative, I detest political ideologies that strip people’s individuality, freedom of thought, choice, and opportunity. Most of all, though, I detest collectivism. I have worked in academia and witnessed the way some on the left shut down debate. Classrooms that are supposed to be hubs of intellectual diversity and thought-provoking discussions turn into propaganda seminars where dissent is the enemy. It turns my stomach. I take issue with all those who aim to stifle free thinking and rush to purge–rather than discuss–differences.

When it comes to those I disagree with on key points, I don’t need them be silenced in order for me to make my voice heard. Differences of opinion remind us that we’re all still individuals–independent-minded, thinking individuals, not pre-programmed robots.

I understand the frustrations of many on the right with politicians who appear to stand for nothing, who can’t be counted on to keep their word, and who are often big-government, tax-and-spend advocates masquerading as limited-government activists. I get it, and believe me, it makes me mad. However, the answer is to call those particular people out and hold them accountable for their records and deceit, not to stifle debate or mimic the collectivism of some on the left who have no room for intellectual independence.

Every day, we define who we are and what we value through our actions and words. The purging of dissent is something I have seen far too often from the Left. I, for one, hope it becomes less and less common from the Right.

Cross-published in AMAC’s print magazine.

Follow Jedediah on Twitter @JedediahBila

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