Everyone believes that they hold the truth, or at least the closest approximation of the truth. This is a brute fact of human psychology and any contrary examples are results of damaged mental faculties. Who believes that their viewpoint on a particular issue is incorrect? The prima facie answer is, of course, no one.
No matter what view of God a person holds, he or she inevitably comes to believe that God thinks the same way that they do (or that they think the same way that God does). Atheists don’t believe in God, but they do believe in objective morality, or at least in some syrupy version of karmic justice, where universal moral principles are woven into the fabric of nature; certain actions are likely to have certain consequences. We all subconsciously believe that our moral sensibilities are infused with the clarity of divine wisdom. It’s a necessary evolutionary adaptation of a conscious, self-aware organism. Otherwise, we’d probably never get anything done.
When a person’s sense of right and wrong fails him and he has to atone for his transgressions, accidental or not, or he has to admit defeat in a philosophical debate, a wave of humility will overtake him and he’ll remind himself that his judgment is fallible. This enlightened outlook is fleeting; his penitent state of mind will eventually drift back to arrogant certitude, where his views are, again, in alignment with divine moral law.
Some people are successful at imparting utilitarian societal change. Successful societal change agents are able to use their moral confidence to articulate, defend and advocate for policies and philosophies, which are grounded in logic and are supplemented by emotion and subjective moral intuition. Unsuccessful change warriors cannot temper their passionate sense of righteousness. Their viewpoints are largely rooted in emotion and governed by the amygdala; logic is a secondary concern and is often forgotten entirely. I’ll refer to this latter group as “heart-thinkers.”
The heart-thinkers know, in their soul, that they hold the solutions to problems. Unfortunately, their inability to effectively argue their viewpoints in the proper forums of public discourse and academic peer review means that they often try to suppress honest discussion. They also advocate for artificial, counterproductive ways to enact the changes that they want to see. While their intentions are genuine and benevolent, their strategies for enacting changes threaten the very institutions that provide them the freedom to advocate for those changes.
Heart-thinkers, drunk with righteous indignation and handicapped by their misguided social justice crusade, don’t engage in productive discourse. Because their worldview is rooted in emotion, it cannot stand up to rational inquiry. When they are faced with an intellectual challenge, they will either retreat to an echo chamber, where their viewpoints aren’t opposed, or they’ll simply try to drown out the opposing side from voicing their views. They don’t have time for debate because they’re sure that they know the truth, which is a scary situation
While I’m sure that most heart-thinkers don’t actually pray that God will wipe out their ideological opponents, their behavior is a physical manifestation of that sentiment. Their intellectually dishonest demagoguery reveals their true feelings: they have the truth and they don’t need to logically defend their position. With God or morality or the universe on their side, they can expediently label the opposition as despicable and then sub-consciously pray that the Good Lord, in whatever form he may take, will wipe the enemies of justice off of the face of the earth.
Heart-thinkers have always plagued both sides of the political spectrum and I suspect that they always will. The term social justice warrior is now pejoratively used to refer to liberal heart-thinkers. The concentration of these wannabe change agents swings back and forth like a pendulum as time progresses. The classic heart-thinker issues for the political right have historically been abortion, gay marriage, LGBTQ+ rights, civil rights, climate change, the War on Drugs, campaign finance reform and popular vote elections, among others. In my lifetime (born in 1989), the right has had the highest percentage of heart-thinkers until the last decade. Somewhere in that time frame, the pendulum started to swing to the left and now the progressives are peddling policies and philosophies that are impulsively fueled by emotion. Shockingly, several (certainly not all) voices on the conservative side are championing civil discourse.
Any democratic society that guarantees fundamental freedoms (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to protest, etc.) to its citizens automatically creates an environment that empowers discourse and progress, moral, social and every other type. This is a wonderful byproduct of this brand of government, but it doesn’t materialize easily. The gem of progress is only discovered through the excavation process of controversy and discomfort.
The discomfort occurs when two sets of individuals disagree on a particular issue. Our society only functions properly when all sides have the opportunity to state their case. It is a mistake to outlaw any party or person from expressions don’t incite violence. It is not up to the government to be society’s moral arbiter. It is up to the constituents to compel the government to act. In order for society to collectively move forward, people have to be able to talk to each other. Honest debate isn’t merely trying to discredit someone else’s viewpoint so that yours ‘wins.’ It’s about an adversarial synthesis of ideas that produce a more holistic, robust proposal than either side originally had. It’s like a chemist putting various ingredients into a crucible and through the application of extreme heat, the inputs form a brand new compound. The liberal heart-thinkers have failed miserably at this in the last decade. Political correctness and identity politics have divided the country and squashed productive discourse.
Earlier, I mentioned that heart-thinkers sometimes call for counterproductive government intervention to produce the changes that they want. Let’s look at some examples. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and Professor at the University of Toronto, generated a lot of controversy when he opposed Canadian legislation that aimed to protect trans citizens. The legislation, which ultimately passed, made it a crime to misgender a trans person (i.e. use a pronoun to refer to a trans person that is different from that person’s preferred pronoun). Peterson strongly opposed this measure because he believed that it infringed on free speech. Despite his insistence that trans people should be respected and that he had no problem referring to trans individuals by their preferred pronouns, Peterson’s opposition to the bill created a firestorm of controversy and he was sharply criticized by the left.
I, like Peterson, believe that trans people should have the same rights and privileges that I do, along with every other aspect so that we are equal under the law. I also believe that they should be treated with dignity and respect because they are human beings and are intrinsically deserving of that deference. That being said, I do find this legislation deeply disturbing.
Think about this. The Canadian government passed legislation that protects members of the trans population from being offended. This is an incredibly dangerous precedent. What other groups require protection from being offended. In a widely circulated BBC interview, Peterson noted that in order to think, a person has to risk being offensive and being offended. Because of our pluralistic society, it is not possible to create a titanic bureaucracy of laws that would protect everyone from being offended. Every person is different and one person might find something gravely offensive that another individual finds funny. The government is arbitrarily mandating what is offensive, despite the fact that evaluating whether or not something is offensive is a subjective exercise. The Canadian government tried to legislate cordial behavior in an effort to be compassionate. Instead, they encroached on free speech and pushed the country closer to an Orwellian state, where certain words and phrases are forbidden.
The Peterson controversy with the Canadian bill is an example of the consequences of liberal heart-thinker policy in action. Another, no less troubling piece to this puzzle is the left’s contempt for the honest, intellectual exchange of ideas and its viciously defensive responses to any viewpoint that strays outside the boundaries of modern progressive orthodoxy.
Back in 2014, Bill Maher, Sam Harris and Ben Affleck debated Radical Islam on Maher’s show. Harris made a fact-based critique of certain Islamic doctrines and highlighted how the influence of extreme interpretations of those doctrines presents a greater threat to Western values than most people realize. He made the case that more efforts should be made to empower progressive Muslims to reform the faith. Ideas were the target of his criticism, not people. Ben Affleck erupted like a petulant child and accused Harris of being a racist that made a career out of Islamophobia. Affleck refused to even consider Harris’ facts and argument. He simply dismissed Harris as despicable and killed the debate. I’m sure that Ben thought he had the truth. They always do.
Another cringe-worthy example of heart-thinker idiocy occurred earlier this year at the University of New Hampshire. Dave Rubin, a progressive liberal turned libertarian commentator, gave a talk on free speech. Dave used to be part of The Young Turks, a progressive online news channel, but parted ways after the site’s leader, Cenk Uygur, catastrophically debated Sam Harris during a three-hour discussion on Islam. Uygur was about as composed and coherent as Ben Affleck. Disgusted with Uygur’s disingenuous performance, he left and started his own show. Rubin, like Jordan Peterson, has criticized the left for its absurd allegiance to identity politics and social justice (what I would call heart-thinking). I included the link to the video. It’s worth watching in its entirety.
Due to security threats from angry liberal college students, the venue had to be moved to a giant hockey ring. Over the course of an hour, Rubin calmly explains his views and takes questions from the audience. Throughout the entire presentation, he is interrupted by some of the most childish, anti-intellectual and uncivil behavior that I have ever seen. It’s worth noting that Rubin is a married, gay Jew, so he’s not exactly a Nazi. He is pro-choice and many of his other policy positions align closely with progressives. Nevertheless, the crowd berates him for being despicable.
Not one student is able to have a civil back and forth with Rubin. They either repeat a phrase over and over, such as “Black Lives Matter” or “We’re Not the Problem.” Several students brought glass jars filled with beads and shook them to drown out Rubin. Many shouted out angrily. One of the university’s gender studies professors shouted expletives at Rubin. These kids didn’t know how to debate. Their worldviews were shaped in a university echo chamber. They did the only thing that they knew how to do as liberal heart-thinkers: they tried to kill the discussion. Every time a protester made a rude outburst, Rubin graciously asked if they’d like a microphone to ask a question, but no one took him up on the offer. School officials offered to kick the students out, but Rubin stopped them from doing so. I don’t agree with everything that Rubin has ever said, but I believe he set a great example for how to conduct civil discourse.
Rubin’s point was that citizens in a free society, where free speech is guaranteed, are allowed to say whatever they want, short of inciting violence. An anti-Semitic comment is disgusting and it must have negative social consequences; people will lose their jobs and will be publicly shamed. But it isn’t an illegal act. All prejudices and hateful actions are despicable and should be criticized and marginalized. But if we outlaw hateful speech, we outlaw free speech. It’s not a crime to hurt someone’s feelings. While I personally think there are worse things than outlawing hateful speech, doing so would open up the possibility of making hate speech required by law. When it becomes acceptable for a government to tell its citizens what it can and can’t say, the precedent for totalitarianism has already taken root.
This petty childishness has to stop. People with differing viewpoints have to be able to engage in honest debate, where the goal isn’t to win bu to uncover the optimal solution to a problem. The University of New Hampshire students made clear what they wanted. They wanted Dave Rubin to get the fuck out of their house and never come back. They wanted everyone like him to go away and stand down. They wanted their truth to prevail over all of their opposition without the struggles of debate. They wanted to shut their eyes and pray to God, “Dear Lord, Wipe them out. All of them.”