How did we get to this point?


There are so many issues to choose from – national politics, social movements, social change, the national economy, and the list literally goes on. Often times, I find myself asking which issue should I spend time-sharing my thoughts and observations. For the past three years there have been so many things going on that at times choosing an issue can be overwhelming.  Each day, I come across an article, a news segment, or a conversation with a student or coworker that will inspire me to think, “gee, I really should write about that…”

Today, before class, I had the opportunity to talk candidly with a couple of my students.  One of the rewards of teaching at the college and university level is being able to talk with others that have backgrounds different from mine.  I am in my early to mid-forties, grew up as a military brat and never lived anywhere longer than four years.  I moved from West Germany in 1988, during the middle of my senior year of high school, and would graduate from the same high school where my father graduated.  I don’t have the experiences of living in one place my entire life, of having grandparents that live down the road, or having cousins, aunts, or uncles attend ball games, band concerts, or 4-H events.  For me, I am amazed to hear of young people who actually had all those things.  To me, it is just as foreign as my childhood would be for many of my students.

A conversation about the stigma of personal opinion

Last week, America watched the death of an individual’s right to have an opinion that is not shared by the “masses.”  This was demonstrated in the way Mozilla’s board of directors handled the so-called controversy when co-founder Brendan Eich had been named the CEO of the company.  The board of directors forced his resignation as the CEO once it had been revealed that he had, in 2008, donated $1,000 in support of California’s Proposition 8 – a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited gay marriage in the state of California.  Upon the public announcement of his selection as CEO by Mozilla, there was an immediate mobilization by several pro-GLBTQ groups to punish the company for their decision.  Instead of being able to choose as its CEO someone who is highly qualified and understands the company’s product and the industry,  the company has been forced to choose a CEO based on a narrow segment’s stand on social issues.

The ten minutes before class began, there were a few of students and myself that were discussing this “criminalization” of personal opinion that seems to be running wild in American society.  As an American historian, I know that this trend is nothing new and has existed in some form or another; it existed during the Lincoln administration, the Wilson administration, the F.D. Roosevelt administration, Johnson administration, and especially so under the Obama administration.  In the past, one of the greatest things about American society is that there has always been room for honest debate and discussion when segments of the population have disagreed over issues.  Some of these issues both sides simply have agreed to disagree and they reappear each election time as campaign issues.  Some of these issues have been loosely resolved by legislation or court decision. In this case, Eich, who simply believes that gay marriage should not be permitted and privately supported his position by exercising his right to donate to whatever cause he deemed was in his best interests at the time, is now being branded a homophobe by those who demand tolerance and equality.  In other words, they only want equality when others agree with their social stand on certain issues; if you disagree with their social position, you become a target of Gestapo tactics until you are neutralized.

We are reaching a tipping point in our society where personal opinions and personal beliefs must give way to the demands of a politically correct society. As a college level educator, I have noticed that many of the young students I have in class are not able to express their own opinions and defend them, but will choose to adopt a politically correct attitude even if it goes against their own personal convictions.  While there may be some readers out there that will point to the persecution of the GLBTQ by mainstream society and simply claim that this is nothing more than promoting tolerance, it is a far cry from tolerance.  For myself, I personally believe that there are no greater civil rights than the rights of the individual – even if I disagree with their beliefs or lifestyle.  The way I see it, it is between them, their own sense of morality, and God.  With that said, I do not believe that tolerance means I must celebrate alternative lifestyles or laud its participants as some form of American champion.

Tolerance means that I maintain my viewpoints and beliefs without imposing my values on others. However, the model of tolerance being promoted by our society now is not tolerance.  It is a form of fascism where all opposing viewpoints are deemed as being offensive and must give way to the officially sanctioned and politically correct viewpoint.  Even on the American college campus, it is scary that what once was considered a “free speech zone” where the discussion of diverging viewpoints was encouraged are now becoming “politically correct” zones where opposing viewpoints are silenced in favor of political correctness.  Over the past three years, our nation has witnessed people such as Condoleezza Rice, Ben Carson, and other conservatives who were invited to speak on the university campus just to have the invitation withdrawn to appease those intolerant of a world view that is in opposition to statism and liberalism.  On many college campuses that were once deemed as the nation’s lighthouses of academic freedom and open political discourses are now zones of sanctioned speech only.

How did we get to this point?  How did we get to the point that a personal opinion and a political donation from one’s personal accounts becomes the basis of termination from their place of employment?  Yes, there have been times in the past when this did happen in the United States, but that was then – and supposedly we are a more “tolerant” society now than we were in the 1950s.  The next question that must be asked is if it is this way now, what will American society be like in ten years?

[A personal note:  The spring 2014 semester has been one of my toughest semesters because of designing a new course and overhauling another course while the course is actively being taught.  I have not posted as often as I would have liked to on this blog, but am hoping to do so as this semester is winding down.]

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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