In this political climate, it can be tempting to surround yourself with like-minded folks and call it a day — online and offline. On our social media, it would be easy (and, let’s face it, understandable) to unfollow every user who posted a status update or wrote a tweet decrying a politician you admire or denouncing a policy you believe would help people. You could even replace the lost profiles with more accounts of people who agree with and amplify your views. But is this the right thing to do?
Well, as with many answers to complicated questions, there are certainly some shades of gray. If we unfollow all of the users on the other side of the political spectrum, several problems arise. For one, in some cases, we require the full context of the national — and sometimes global — political spectrum to fully understand our own beliefs. Without this, we lose out on what could be valuable information on the topics at play.
Think of your basic let’s-spend-more-on-education vs. let’s-spend-more-on-defense views. Each left on their own, you may find yourself agreeing with, disagreeing with or feeling unsure of either or each of the subjects. You might say, “How about we do both?” or “Well, are we spending enough on either of them now?” Fundamental issues of economics, as an example, may require background knowledge and debate in order for us to fully grasp the topics at hand and come to our own informed decisions, even if we disagree with our interlocutors.
I argue we need these tests of our knowledge and stances on at least a somewhat consistent basis. No, we don’t need our friends and relatives intellectually sparring with us on a daily basis to prove we truly believe what we say we do. However, each of us should be able to defend our opinions within reason. If you can’t articulate why you’re voting a certain way, why are you doing it at all?
That being said, I don’t believe we have a moral obligation to give each belief or opinion equal thought. In current times, politics have become personal. For some people, private lives and fundamental rights enter the foray with each election.
I once saw a comic on the internet that put it this way, with my paraphrase: Opinions are for things like, “I don’t like black coffee,” not for things like, “I don’t like black people.” When we argue that we should give all opinions equal consideration — and then count prejudiced sentiments as “just another perspective” — we lose sight of our moral non-negotiables. In the name of fairness, we end up debating neo-Nazis and white supremacists when what we should be doing is protesting, ignoring or correcting them.
You should know who the bigots are in this country. They are people who don’t respect the full personhood and dignity of fellow human beings. However, we need not explore the opinion of every racist, homophobe, sexist, bigot and transphobic person in between. If one of them is open to dialogue, we can try to explain to them the errors in their ways. We can try to understand their faulty cognitive processes in order to redirect them. But bigots are fundamentally different than the average person who disagrees with you on real issues, with real opinions and facts to back up those opinions.
Sexists, racists, homophobes, transphobic people — they don’t use facts to support their views. If they tell you their prejudiced judgments are supported by facts, they are lying. You may try to change that, but you do not owe it to anyone or to any interest in fairness to see some moral equivalency between a standard political view and outright bigotry.
Mia Gettenberg is a UF criminology and philosophy senior. Her column appears on Mondays.