I got into it with someone on the intarwebs today. I posted a link to a $4 a day challenge. Here it is if you want to see it. It’s this thing where you attempt to eat on what the average SNAP recipient receives in benefits – USD$4 a day per family member.
It’s a fairly simple thing, and I thought it was interesting.
I posted a small update about that on Facebook. Pretty much immediately it got backlash. People love to talk about how anyone who is the recipient of Government funds is the lowest of the low and how they deserve nothing, let alone empathy.
It went back and forth. Everyone sort of turned on each other, and it got ugly in an occasionally civilized sort of manner.
Then there was wall fallout. The enigmatic updates that people make in outrage on their own wall after they’ve had it out with other people followed, as they do.
This one was special, and totally unremarkable in that it is something I have often heard directly or the echoes of:
I am getting tired of people saying I have no right to think as I do, to write what I write, or to say what I say. I have that right. It was given to me by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. You have the right to think that I am wrong, just as I have the right to think that you are wrong. But I still have the right to voice my thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions, as incorrect as anyone thinks they may be.
Not once in the entire exchange did anyone threaten this person with imprisonment. They did not get threatened with a fine. They were not threatened with any loss other than social status.
So, let’s get this straight. You have the right to be an asshole. You have the right to be disagreeable. You have the right to think that the world is flat, the Earth is the center of the Universe, and that sunshine and unicorns fly out of your flatulence. No one is going to imprison you for it.
People regularly stand on street corners with signs saying that the end is near and they are not arrested for it. At least once a year someone comes knocking on my door to ask me if I’ve heard about Jesus Christ (hint, I have). I say thank you, tell them to have a nice day and close the door. Never once have I had to call the police on them because their opinion differed from mine. It never even occurred to me to do so.
That’s what the First Amendment guarantees. It’s doing a pretty shitty job of being upheld lately, but I can quite honestly tell you that I am not the person fighting to get rid of it and remove you from your right to be an asshole. Nor do I know anyone that wants to.
You have the right to be an asshole. In the event that you should be an asshole, though, there are some consequences. First up is that I don’t have to agree with you. I don’t even have to be nice about it. If you say something absolutely ridiculous, misplaced and hateful like Rep. Todd Akin with his incredibly stupid quote about pregnancy not being able to happen with “real” rapes? I get to question your position as a representative of plain old reality. That is also my not so humble right. I also get to say that you’re misguided.
Reality is not an opinion survey. As Americans we seem to have become unstuck from reality, like Billy Pilgrim and his little problem with time. We pick and choose opinions and base our understandings on them. Opinions. Opinions, man. We go back and forth with opinions about race, science, socio-political understandings, and history like we’re choosing a drape to match our carpets. “Do you have anything in a nice just-world fallacy to match my religion? This poverty thing is really clashing hard with my bible.”
The problem isn’t that you don’t have a right to your opinions. You do. The problem is that you want your opinions to inform reality. When they don’t, you turn off the stream to that person and insulate yourself among the other true believers of your particular set of beliefs. You sit together in your Facebook cabals and rage over how “they” think you don’t have a right to your opinion. You vote with your opinions, and because of this, your opinions impact me. They impact people I love.
I wouldn’t take away your right to vote, nor would I say or think that you must vote as I vote. That First Amendment thing that you wanted to quote there? I believe in it.
I will, however, reserve the right to say you’re an asshole for it. I’ll usually not say that. I often won’t even think it. Mostly I will think that you’re misguided and cynical.You have a right to that, though.
Sometimes I won’t even think that. I’ll try to engage you in conversation and hope that we can come to some kind of consensus. That’s my hope. Like your cynicism, I have a right to it.