This evening I walked home past Parliament and passed some people wearing sandwich boards with the usual “they shall surely be put to death” bits of Leviticus on them. (As well as a Gay Men’s Chorus singing “Express Yourself” a capella, which had a much larger crowd.)
What one friend of mine would call conformist liberalism comes perilously close to wanting them silenced, and I’m pretty sure that’s not something I want. (At least that’s the mercifully irrelevant Ann Coulter off my back.) But I did have enough of a reaction to post about it on Facebook, and ended up starting a reply comment which was really much too long for FB – and which properly belonged on my turf, not FB’s.
I’ve had a hard time figuring out why I’m irritated by the situation (which I am — both the trivially small protest and my response irked me) and I think it’s down to fairness and asymmetry (though I’m open to offers). Starting with an appeal from authority that I don’t recognise frames any engagement as a battle and a zero-sum game rather than a conversation, and I quite like conversations. Which is why I am doubly-irritated at my own temptation to fling a few choice verses back at them: Ha! I could yell, You’re wearing mixed fabrics and you shaved this morning – double disobedience, you hypocrite! — but any satisfaction from that sort of slightly-too-clever-sixth-former response would be brief and hollow: all I’ll have proven is my own ability to win a game they were never playing in the first place, and that makes me as much of a bully as I think they are. The opening gambit sets the terms and I lack the intellectual dexterity or maybe the moral courage to start a dialogue on a level playing field. Perhaps I’m also irritated by the recognition that fairness and debate aren’t available options to the sign-wearers, whereas life is in my experience rarely so obliging as to be binary (and that’s a bugger to reconcile yourself to) – and by my shades of disappointment that this is still how we as a civilisation end up managing a small fraction of our interesting disagreements.
This puts me in the near vicinity of a hand-wringing “why can’t we all just talk this over calmly?” You know, I’m not ashamed of that impulse, but I’m not sure I’m any closer to finding a credible and repeatable way to beat obstreperous framing in debate. Yes or no: have you stopped beating your wife yet?