A recent incident has brought to my attention a common characteristic of activists.
The city of Olympia in Washington State has a very “progressive” population (in the sense of Liberal attitudes.) It includes an active gay population with plenty of support in the community. The local Gay Pride celebration has a 25 year history. As a long-time libertarian and member of the Libertarian state party, I personally paid for a booth for the use of the party at the local Pride venue. Washington also has an active 2nd amendment movement and is an open carry state. Some of the LP members are also active in the 2nd amendment group.
There was no notice online or on any documentation that open carry was not allowed. However, I asked the volunteers for the booth to not engage in open carry so as not to distract from the support of gay rights by the LP among the mostly progressive and anti-gun crowd. This just seemed polite and good marketing practice. When one of our members merely inquired of the chairperson of the event concerning their open carry policy, she flew off the handle and banned the LP from having a booth. When I showed up in person at the event to claim my booth, I was refused despite my repeated assurances that we did not intend to open carry at the event. Later, a separate group of open carry activists did show up at the event and was also refused admission.
The confrontation was filmed and distributed online. The incident was the standard Kabuki dance, featuring stereotypical outlandish costumes, standard outrage and protestations, and gleeful participants on both sides, enjoying the conflict and the opportunity to show how the other side was unreasonable, inconsiderate, unfeeling, and just plain evil. Afterwards, there was the standard victory celebration and self-congratulation by both sides. A good time was had by all, nothing was accomplished, and both sides went home even further ensconced in their previously held world-views.
What were the results? The 2nd Amendment and Gay Rights groups were confirmed in their previously held beliefs. The one group that agreed with the rights of both sides, was not confrontational, and merely wanted to peacefully market their beliefs – the Libertarian Party – was absent from a “free speech” event. No one was in danger at any time, but many attendees were disturbed and, even to some extent, frightened for no reason. The next day, busy police were uselessly engaged and had to inform a mob of “peaceful” progressives that they had to allow the open carry ”villains” to freely proceed and, under threat of arrest, not touch them. The cognitive dissonance that was evident in this scene boggles the mind.
I wonder why people behave so unproductively. Are their true intentions their stated ones? Or are they seeking some unstated goal? In the age of reality show stars’ behaving badly, is it a real goal to appear in the news, or on YouTube, or even (gasp!) on CNN or FOX no matter how one appears to the audience? Is there now some sort of personal satisfaction to be gained just from drawing attention to oneself? For someone like me with a strong concern for personal image, it is a troublesome thought.
What lessons can I extract from this event? As the Blue Republican, Robin Koerner, said in an article, “Productive engagement, and the pervasive acceptance of individual rights, involves bridging such cultural gaps.”
Sometimes, there are not “two sides” to an argument, or, rather, one side is so outrageously wrong that understanding is impossible. In many of these cases, the only resolution is, ironically, the use of arms. Even so-called democratic and “peaceful” resolutions based on politics ultimately depend on the enforcement of the decision through government by force. In this case, one of the main protections that a minority has against a tyrannical majority is force of arms, hence the stated main purpose of the 2nd Amendment.
However, this event did not involve issues at that extreme. I am reminded of my younger days as a “libertarian macho flash.” In those times, I enjoyed shocking people with my new-found libertarian positions. I remember the superiority I felt crushing the opposition with my unassailable logic and morality. What eventually dawned on me was that I was making few converts with my efforts. Why didn’t they see what was so clear to me? What was wrong with THEM? My present understanding came when I read “Conflict of Visions” by the inestimable Thomas Sowell. The basic premise of his work is that people operate off basic world views that are not driven by logic. When one tries to challenge another’s world view, communication is impossible.
Was this event motivated by two groups of people whose primary purpose was to have a confrontation or did they need to experience themselves as being in the right?. Rather than being disturbed by the conflict and visuals presented to the public, the participants seemed actually to have a personal need for those things. The effect on their respective messages seemed secondary. There also seemed to be an additional motivation of control of the venue being desired by one side and challenged by the other. On top of everything is the present environment, fostered by many in the media, in which conflict and visuals are preferred to calm analysis and conflict resolution. These factors need to be understood and taken into account by serious parties who wish to at least achieve a level of mutual understanding in this overheated political environment. Sometimes, the best that can be accomplished is for each party to acknowledge the beliefs of the other and agree that tolerance is not approval.