No ‘right to be right’

By Stefan Herlitz

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Despite their vast differences in ideology, members of all political parties and affiliations hold as sacred the rights to which we are entitled. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Socialists, Communists and even Anarchists all uphold rights as a source from which morality and good governance derive, yet here we are with “wars” on various rights, waged on various fronts.

The issue is that each and every one of the aforementioned groups – really, the voting population – doesn’t seem to truly believe in rights for everyone. What many do seem to believe in is rights for me and my own, leaving little thought for those of others. Many will vociferously fight and protest any attack on our own liberties, real or otherwise, but simultaneously support government action to weaken the civil liberties of others.

If I’m a gun owner, I may fight to the death to preserve my right to own a massive arsenal a military junta would be proud of, but if birth control and abortion are against my religion, a woman’s right to privacy might not matter to me.

If I’m an activist, I can protest as loudly and as disruptively as I like against corporate greed while trashing public parks, but when someone protests something I hold sacred, such as abortion, I may not just disagree with their flawed stance, but also protest their very right to protest.

Of course, these are extreme examples, but they highlight the issue at hand: we like to think we as a society respect rights, but to some degree we don’t. How else does one explain the fact that we continue to re-elect representatives who have created the most far-reaching mass surveillance program in history, one which spies on its own people? It’s because, to a certain degree, we want it.

I may be an upstanding, moral citizen and believe spying is a violation of my right to privacy, but also believe the government ought to spy on everyone else because they might be terrorists, right-wing racist militia members or communists. This is why our elected representatives seem to be violating our civil rights left and right: because that is what we elected them to do. We elect representatives we believe share our values, and sometimes our values involve protecting our rights while devaluing those of others.

However, since everyone has their own set of ‘allies’ and ‘enemies’ in terms of rights, our elected representatives don’t form a united front in their authoritarianism. Rather, we produce legislative bodies with astonishing partisan differences. On any given issue, there is a group of legislators who fervently seek to protect the rights of a given group while another group will just as fervently seek to deprive them of those same rights for some reason or another.

This is not solely an issue of the nation’s elite – as the saying goes, it’s a matter of the fascist ideology of our next-door neighbors. We’re a nation full of people who strongly believe that if everything went my way, if my beliefs were followed, the world would be a better place. That’s partly what democracy is about – people voting based on their views – but left unchecked it can be dangerous.

Many critics bemoan that our problems are the making of a corrupt elite that has seized power, but that’s misleading at best, as it absolves us of the fact we pick who most of these people are. The unsettling thing is that I don’t see this as malicious. It’s not like people are actively trying to disrupt society, and no one believes that they are doing something wrong. We all think we know what is best for America, but the problem is we don’t tend to consider the possibility that we are wrong ourselves, or that our own personal moral code ought not be enforced on others.

As a nation, we have to better understand the value in being able to disagree without hatred, to discuss, not with the goal of being right, but of finding solutions. In politics there are no right answers, so we need to stop blindly leading crusades of ideology and start accepting that the goal of politics is supposed to be finding solutions to problems as they arise, and that will inherently involve compromise.

Though we are entitled to numerous rights, both enumerated in the Constitution and otherwise, the right to be right isn’t one of them.

Stefan Herlitz is a Collegian columnist and can be [email protected]