Friday, November 8, 2013

How (Not) to be Open-Minded

This week, I invited one of my friends to come see the new "Ender's Game" movie, the recent film adaptation of one of my all-time favorite books. Her reply: "I'm conflicted. I want to see it, but there is that boycott." As it turns out, Orson Scott Card (the author of the Ender's Game series and one of the best writers of our time) is conservative when it comes to social issues. Specifically, he's anti-gay. And for that reason, LGBT activists and allies are calling for a boycott of the movie. In the name of tolerance, we should not watch a movie which profits an intolerant person. In the name of openness, we should close ourselves to anything produced by people with bad views. I humbly submit: Poppycock.

Ender's Game is about kids in space. Sort of.

What message are we asking society to send by boycotting movies like this? The movie, mind you, isn't about gay rights. It isn't about marriage. It's about space aliens. So again, I ask: What message does boycotting this movie send? Something along these lines: If you have bad thoughts, if you have regressive views, if you're not changing with the times, you don't deserve to be a part of our culture. You don't deserve to produce books, or movies, or gadgets. The good, progressive people should refuse to buy whatever you peddle, because we're not letting you play in our sandbox. You're wrong, so go away.

If that's the view of the open-minded liberals, then maybe I need to register Republican. That doesn't promote open-mindedness and tolerance. That promotes asking every salesman and schoolteacher, "Pardon me, but before I accept your services, I'm going to need to know what your personal views on the following social issues are. Because if I don't like them, I going to have to ask you to leave." When the conservatives did this with Darwinism in the educational system, we thought they were mad. Tables turned, are we taking the moral high-ground?

What if I were to say something non-progressive? What if I came out against Jews, or blacks, or gays? I suppose that means that, in protest, people shouldn't hire me for a job. (Wait, wait - that's illegal.) They shouldn't buy anything I help market. They shouldn't read anything I write. Cause if they did, they'd be supporting me and my bad views. People with bad views are still people, and it doesn't make you a better person to protest their very existence by boycotting anything they do.

A little while ago, Antony Scalia (conservative Supreme Court justice) came to campus, and someone pointed out to me something rather true about young liberals like ourselves: We love to claim that we're open-minded. So open-minded, in fact, that we proudly pounce on anyone who is close-minded. Conservatives? Intolerant people? Bigots? They're wrong, you see, and they shouldn't be allowed to have their closed-minded views. They need to be open-minded, like us. Well, that's a bit misguided. If we were truly open-minded, we would be interested the views of others. We would listen to them when they spoke. We would try to understand them. But it's so tempting, so attractively noble, to instead shout out against the "backward" thinkers, to line up outside the Scalia lecture and protest, to tell people why their views are too offensive to publish, why they shouldn't be allowed to say that on this campus.

That's not to say I disagree with the notion of protest. If someone makes a movie about how gays are evil, by all means, boycott that. If the movie theater doesn't want to let gays see the movie, boycott that. But we use boycotts to get people to change their practices. We get companies to stop using cheap child labor, or stop using paper from the rain-forests. Boycotts aren't meant to punish people for having bad views. If John Doe happens to think Christianity is the only true religion, or that English is the only language we ought to speak, or that men are better than women, who is society to turn around and say: Mr. Doe, we only do business with tolerant people. (Anyone picking up on the irony here?) It's bad enough to censor a film based on its content; now we want to censor what we watch based on the types of people involved in producing it?

I'm not saying you have to go out and see "Ender's Game" this weekend. If science fiction isn't your thing, by all means, "The Book Thief" got great reviews and was also an enjoyable read. But to the so-called liberal activists out there: If you think that refusing to associate with people who disagree with you makes you more progressive, more tolerant, and more open-minded, you're doing "liberal" wrong. Even if, when it comes to the issues, you're so right.

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