Magic Turtle: Rights in Conflict? Part 2


How is Indiana Governor Mike Pence like ISIS? The nature of a bully.

It seems to me that there is a lot of confusion about the concept of “rights.” We hear a lot, for example, of one’s right to carry a firearm without any mention (or presumably comprehension) of the responsibilities that go with it. According to this way of thinking, carrying a firearm is an absolute right unfettered by either the moral or legal responsibilities or by the rights of others.

This is nonsense, of course. My right to practice my beliefs does not extend to imposing those beliefs and practices on others. In a worst case scenario, I may believe that some “evildoers” should be “terminated” for the sake of society and I will do so as an agent of God. (We seem to have such a case like this now primarily in the middle east.) But societies around the world have stood on the principle that all people have the right to survive and thrive (although many of our societies fail to fulfill this principle).

In order to press their misunderstanding about what rights are, it is necessary for proponents to elevate one particular “right” to a position of superiority over all the others. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to become a bully. Perhaps a look at the profile of what a bully is would be appropriate here.

The first characteristic of a bully is that the bully has no idea whatsoever that he/she is bullying. In his/her mind, there is always good and sufficient reason for the bully’s actions. Upon being confronted with the charge of being a bully, the bully’s response is to be dumbfounded that anyone could see such logical and necessary action as bullying. This applies equally to demanding lunch money on a playground and to beheading “nonbelievers” during a “revolution.”

A second characteristic of a bully is the belief that one view – the bully’s view – is correct and all contrasting views are wrong. This is frequently the orientation used by the bully to self-justify his/her actions. It is correct in the eyes of the bully to deny right of same-sex marriage to someone if it conflicts with their personal feeling that it is “ungodly.” Similarly, it is correct in the eyes of the bully to deny the right of life to someone who believes there is a different proper way to revere God – or even to revere a different God.

PenceAnd bullys are oblivious to those who accuse them of being out of touch and doing things against society’s rules. Anyone who criticized them, as they see it, is clearly a wrong-thinker and out to destroy one of their precious and irresponsibly-practiced rights. Bullys will complain all the way to the principal’s office that they are the one being picked on and threatening retribution on those interfering with righteous action.

So Governor Mike Pence (and the Indiana General Assembly members that voted for the new “religious freedom law”) and ISIS are alike in that they are both bullies


Bullying in political life.

Leaving ISIS to its own fate for the moment, let us examine the spate of “religious freedom laws” that have been enacted. I have not read the Indiana law, and so I will restrict my comments on the general character of these laws as passed in a majority of the United States. Keep in mind that one test of a good law (and keep in mind that it is not the only test) is whether it defines the nature of something rather than try to describe specific acts.

In the history of trying to control pornography, for example, those laws describing specific acts to be illegal usually failed to do more than perhaps change a few of the unwanted behaviors slightly. It was difficult to enforce many of these laws since it was easy for those who wanted the rewards to find ways around them.

The laws which described the nature of pornographic behavior – rather than specific acts – have been enforced somewhat better. Those which declare activity which offend the morality of a majority of those within a community, for example, have been successful in situations where more specific laws have failed. They have not been complete successes, however. One US congressman once lamented, “Pornography is very difficult to define legally. But I know it when I see it.”

So it is with “freedoms” or “rights.” One of the red flags indicating a “bad” “rights” or “freedom” law is that it specifies one particular “right” and not any others. All rights exist in a community of other rights and no “freedom” trumps any other “freedom.” (If some “right” were subservient to some other “right,” the subservient “right” would not be a “right.”)

It is interesting to study a map of the USA in which states are shaded which have passed a “freedom of religion” act. Almost all these states are located geographically in the same general area, the “old south” (as if there were a “new south” somewhere else). There are a few states such as Illinois and Pennsylvania which might be thought of as bordering this region and lonely Idaho which abuts no other “freedom of religion” state.

But to the best of my knowledge, none of the “freedom of religion act” states includes any other freedom in these laws except that of religion. The implication is clear even if not clearly stated. Religion is the primary “right” to which all other rights must bow. Which means that the right to practice your religion the way you want must dominate all other rights, including the right to live. I find this an unacceptable position for anyone to take who considers themselves civilized. To me, it is the essence of why ISIS is so wrong and why Indiana and the other “religious freedom” states are so wrong.


How Does One Resist a Political (or Any Other Kind of) Bully?

It is unclear to me if we can call a bully “hypocritical.” As I argued before, they do not see themselves as being in the wrong. Therefore it is not possible to reason with them since the premises they use are not the same as those of their victims or of the rest of their community. Prosecuting them as criminals will get them out of the way for a while, but might actually increase their “bullyhood” character eventually. Using the same methods as bullys use but using them against the bully is somehow demeaning to the victims and others.

There is one method which has seemed to work, even though it is subject to many of the problems mentioned in the previous paragraph. That is to put pressure on the bully to change his/her actions or suffer the direct consequences of those actions. In a way this means being a bully to the bully. This is especially effective if the counter-pressure is in a different area but it is made clear to the bully that others see a connection and the consequences of the acts of the bully are apparent to the bully.

Thus when Indiana passed a law on “religious freedom” which others saw as potentially attacking other rights (whether the law did in fact do this or not), boycotting Indiana events and commerce is a viable option. This sends the clear message that the community at large does not concur that the law does what its proponents claim. The law is shameful and the action of those who put it into law also shameful. The second (and perhaps more powerful) aspect of boycott action is the denial of revenue and relations that such an action would have upon the bully.

On a personal note, I like so many others have seen bullys at work throughout my life – and they disgust me. I have, however, been able to take a second look at them and how they act. I infer that they have no idea that what they are doing is bullying. They honestly believe that what they are doing is for their own and the common good. And like all zealots, they have no insight regarding what is really going on inside them.

So I am borrowing a phrase from Republican conservatism: “Tough love.” The toughness comes in standing up to bullys. The love is the understanding we have of them that they do not have for themselves.

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About Appleseed 20 Articles
I was born in 1937 and have been the subject of controversy in other ways as well. I dreamed of becoming a hermit when I grew up, but social issues which needed attention kept getting in my way. So eventually I became an activist hermit. My interests include mathematics (including statistics and computer science) and also range from history to sports (particularly ice hockey) to philosophy to narrative fiction (particularly science fiction) to music.

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