Demonizing The Opposition

All Libertarians don’t care about their fellow man.
All christians are ignorant.
All believers in conspiracy theories are delusional.
All people against gay marriage are homophobic bigots.
All Republicans are tea-baggers.
All tea-baggers are racists.
All cryptozoologists are foolish.
All gun advocates are would be militia members intent on overthrowing the government.
All psychics are intentional frauds.
All… Well you get the point.

Far too often we demonize those we disagree with. We act as if no sane, rational, honest person could EVER disagree with our views. We compare those we disagree with to Hitler, Stalin, and other villains. We dismiss anything they have to say out of hand, and ridicule them for daring to suggest anything different from our own ideas.

But let’s stop and think for a minute. Aren’t they saying the same things about us?
Aren’t they claiming all Liberals are anti-American?
Aren’t that shouting that all skeptics are debunkers?
Aren’t they proclaiming that all atheists are immoral?
Aren’t they calling all people who do not like guns, fascists intent of taking their weapons from them?

Well we know these things are not true, because we know we’re not all immoral, anti-American, debunkers out to trample of the Second Amendment…
We know that we can be part of a group and not be one of the extremists in our group.
We know that these stereotypes are nothing more than straw-man arguments, and we rightly point this out.

But we are still far to quick to use the same arguments against those we disagree with. I am as guilty, perhaps more so, as anybody at pointing out the worst of the worst in a group as representative of the whole. And I am wrong when I do this.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that not all christians are Pat Robertson types. I know that not all republicans are blissfully and willfully ignorant. I know that not all psychics are lying, cheating, intentional frauds. But I still generalize, because it’s easy…

But this must be stopped.

We must not allow ourselves to demonize the opposition. I may disagree with Republicans, christians, psychics, believers in conspiracy theories, etc, but I have to acknowledge that generally MOST people have the best of intentions in mind. Almost all people generally believe the things they say, and they are of the view that their opinions are the best. Very few people are “out to destroy the country” or truly want to “suppress free speech” or whatever the issue at hand is. Most people generally want to do what they believe is the best thing, not just for themselves, but for others.

Everybody needs to keep this in mind when discussing topics with those who hold opposing views.

Except Yankees fans, they really are just evil bastards intent on destroying the world…

About Jeff Randall

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
This entry was posted in Critical thinking, Politics, Psychology, Religion, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Demonizing The Opposition

  1. Jeffrey H says:

    Barry Goldwater I think, said extremism in pursuit of freedom and justice is not a vice, and moderation in pursuit of freedom and justice is not virtue.
    I like extremism. It’s immoral not to be extremist. Just so long as your extremist for correct things, not for incorrect things. Moderates are icky mushy-brain-heads
    Moderation is OK I guess if you haven’t really thought clearly about an issue. Moderation means taking a poll and placing yourself in the middle. You should be open to changing your views with new knowledge. But when one side wants to drive off the cliff faster and the other side wants to drive off the cliff @ slightly lower speed, you take extremist position of wanting to stop the car before you reach the cliff.

  2. Jeff Randall says:

    I agree that in some cases “extremism” is more valuable than moderation. But that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is about understanding that no matter your disagreements with somebody, in almost all cases, the other person honestly believes that their position is the best one, and they believe this with the best of intentions…

    They can be wrong. Horribly, unequivocally wrong. But they generally are doing what they believe is best. And attacking the person is not the way to handle it. Attack the position, not the person.

  3. Gator Opus says:

    I was an extremist until I found those who proclaimed a belief in God. I them became a fanatic until I questioned their motives. I them became a heathen until I learned that I was not invincible. Then I became determined until I found myself alone. Moderation and extremism are simply two ends of a societal label we use to pick our position in society. Now I look at extremists and remember when I felt that way and think of myself as a moderate by trying to understand the viewpoint of both sides. I wonder what it would be like to have been a moderate and become an extremist? Could that happen?

  4. Collin says:

    I agree 100% with this article. That’s why it disheartens me to see you’re a member of CFI.

    A few days ago, I flipped through Rushdoony’s manifesto. (I couldn’t bear to read beyond the summaries.) I saw how he framed the entire universe as a battle between God and “humanism”. I saw how he set out a plan to take over the world.

    Today, I looked at the mission statements of CFI and I saw the same thing. CFI is clearly not a secular organization — at least not by their own definition of secular.

    I firmly believe, despite most of the Bible to the contrary, that God is absolutely not a warrior. I’m Jewish, and I pray in Hebrew. I respect the Hebrew prayers, not just in the religious sense, but also as an heirloom of the Jewish community.

    When the media accused Richard Dawkins of being descended from slave owners, he missed the point. It wasn’t about insulting him. It was about pointing out an inconsistency. The Bible verse they read to him as he hung up, the one about “sins of the fathers”, was brought up as an irony. Most people (I hope) disagree with that verse. Richard Dawkins, however, uses the same principle in his arguments — except referring to memes instead of people.

    CFI makes a brief mention of an ontological, cosmic God such as I believe in, and then calls it a huge dishonest leap to identify it with the God of the Bible. But there’s nothing timeless about the Bible. It was adapted from myths of other tribes who interpreted the themes very differently. And these interpretations continue to evolve. In fact I’ve read that even the supposedly immutable Torah scrolls have been found by computer analysis to have slight differences from one Jewish enclave to another.

    It is, of course, entirely illogical to preserve the Bible in a form people mostly reject. But I don’t consider the Bible the foundation of anything, I don’t read it, and I don’t attend a Synagogue. So it’s not my business to try to change something I have no stake or expertise in.

    In my Hebrew prayers, I use the Hebrew words for God, because I feel an attachment to the ritual. To me, these words do not refer to the Bible. To me, they are semantically unmarked, except for the meaning I choose to co-opt them for.

    Despite some people’s claims to “revealed” understanding, every believer is doing some co-opting.

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