Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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]



5 Responses to “No ‘right to be right’”

  1. Richard on March 12th, 2015 9:50 am

    Stefan – very well articulated. What you have described is exactly my point about diversity not necessarily being a good thing. We have gone from a fairly homogenous nation with Judeo-Christian values, to a melting pot, free-for-all society that does not respect the values that this country was founded on. Of course, important strides have been made in civil rights and other societal ills. But what you describe goes much further than these. We now live in a nation where there are so many religions, so many viewpoints, so many agendas, so much DISPARITY (read: diversity) on virtually every issue that we have nearly ceased to function as a society. People who have come here over these past 50 years or so (particularly the last 20) by and large have NOT assimilated and, abhorrently, are trying to change the culture to mirror their own. They probably will be successful because of sheer strength in numbers. This country’s strength over the past 100 years was celebrating our ancestors’ heritage while forging our own. That’s gone now. Everyone is a hyphenated something or other who seems to hate this wonderful country to which they have fled from their own cesspool. THIS is why diversity will prove to be a failure. By the time that will be definitively known, we will be a multicultural Tower of Babel where nothing works, no one gets along and nothing is accomplished. I hate to be right on this but the writing is plainly on the wall. I celebrate diversity in music, art, food, sport, etc. The best and brightest should continue to be invited here to contribute to the society. But this idea that everyone should be let in with open arms is a ridiculous fallacy that will ultimately destroy this nation. It’s already happening and I am pessimistic that the America we read about in textbooks, and in whose waning glory days I grew up in, is gone. The Greatest Generation is rolling in their graves seeing what their children and grandchildren have done to this place they saved in WWII. Take that to your history professors – just see what kind of nonsense you get in response.

  2. Stefan Herlitz on March 12th, 2015 1:27 pm

    Richard, I apologize, but you seem to have greatly misunderstood what I wrote.

    My piece is about listening to one another, to differing points of view, and forging solutions through compromise- diversity of all kinds is an inherent, essential part of that process. Wishing for the halcyon days of your youth is, to put it bluntly, irrational and naive, as not only is going back to a time of intolerance absurd, but the idea that America ever experienced the kind of ideological unity you claim is willfully ignorant. The “Greatest Generation” benefited from a global system in which all nations that weren’t either ideologically opposed to business or undeveloped other than the US were devastated by WWII, which is not a reproducible situation.

    Everything and everyone that comes into America is American- that’s what makes us special, that we’re a magnificent salad bowl, rather than a melting pot. To quote my article,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.

  3. Richard on March 12th, 2015 3:25 pm

    I did not misunderstand. What I applauded is that your thesis is correct, even if your solution is filled with idealism and naivete. I was trying to point out the real world consequences of how diversity works in practice, rather than the pollyanna view that we must all get along. Everything that comes into America is SUPPOSED to be American – but these days, most decidedly are not, and don’t even try to be. That’s where we differ in our interpretation. There is obviously so much more to say on this topic. I appreciate your thoughtfulness from an ideological standpoint, but I am saddened that my experience tells me we have degraded the society for no particularly good reason, and seem to be going further in the wrong direction.

  4. Stefan Herlitz on March 12th, 2015 10:38 pm

    My thesis was that partisanship and attacks on rights are so commonplace nowadays because of people not considering the possibility that they are wrong and trying to force their own moral code on others rather than considering others’ perspectives and compromising.

    Your solution is that you are right and that everyone should follow your moral code.

    Please tell me you see the irony in this.

  5. mike on March 14th, 2015 1:14 am

    Compromise is often a bad thing, and also often consists of one side getting some of what they want and the other side losing some of something. Look at ALL of gun control for an example.

    I want to live in a country where a gay couple can get married and without being spied on and while protecting themselves with ARs and standard 30 round magazines if they so choose.

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