On the train home from work last week my colleague expressed the opinion that if only we would all just respect each other’s views there would be less hatred and violence in the world. This is a nice idea from a nice person but I couldn’t agree with it less. I told her that in my opinion, respecting someone else’s views does nothing to prevent hatred and violence. It leaves situations completely unaltered.
Let’s imagine that I like dog fighting and you don’t. You respect my view that dog fighting is good and I respect your contrary opinion. So I continue fighting my dogs. The same number of dogs gets injured or killed, despite the amount of respect on show. The only thing that has changed is that each of us is now pretending to respect the other’s views. (I say pretending because you can never really respect an opinion you find repugnant or stupid. You can only tolerate it.)
The same is true for everything: I respect the burglar’s opinion that it’s okay to steal my stuff while he respects my right to the contrary view. Unfortunately, respect for his view isn’t going to keep my possessions safe. The only thing that will is if I disrespect his views, impose mine and club him over the head with a cricket bat when he enters.
I respect my (imaginary) wife’s desire for us to have a child and she respects my desire for us to remain childless. How has our mutual respect changed anything in our situation? Without so much respect one of us might have managed to persuade the other into changing their mind. As it is we have reached stalemate and agreed to respect that disagreement.
Some people say we should respect Muslims’ rights to perform clitorectomies on young girls who are later forced into marriages they don’t want. Call me an old Islamophobe but I disagree. I think we should disrespect practices that would make even a Stone Age flint-maker blush with shame.
Strangely, the same people who think we should respect the above ‘cultural practices’ don’t feel the same way about respecting some Muslims’ views about flying planes into buildings, planting bombs on trains and buses, hacking off the heads of off-duty soldiers and burning down parts of Stockholm and Paris. Why the sudden withdrawal of respect in such cases? Beats me. As far as I can see these are more views that we have been told we should respect.
Some might say that there is a difference between respecting a person’s views on the one hand, and respecting the actual harmful actions on the other. On this view you should respect a person’s opinion that fox hunting is okay, and respect his right to say it, but then come over all offended once he actually mounts a real life horse and chases after a real life fox.
Yet this is silly. All you have done is to state that you agree with free speech, which you could have done without all the talk of respect. But we are not arguing here about whether people should or shouldn’t have free speech. What is at issue is whether or not you should respect all views, no matter how ugly or stupid. I personally don’t think it is possible to order yourself to respect something you neither do, nor should, respect.
A person should be free to believe whatever they want. This even includes the delusional beliefs that Muslims had nothing to do with either 9/11 or the killing of Lee Rigby, which I wrote about here. But how could I respect such ignorant and slanted views? How could any thinking person?
It seems to me that pretending to respect all views is just a way for weak-willed people to avoid confronting dangerous beliefs while still feeling good about themselves. Instead of being ashamed of themselves, they call anyone who has the courage and integrity to stand up to hideous ideologies ‘intolerant’. Such people should feel twice ashamed: once for their timidity of heart and once for their treachery.
Months later. Here is a terrific article by Daniel Greenfield concerning the split in thinking that I talked about in my final paragraph above.