Eddie Murphy used to have a hilarious bit in which he said that you could say anything in French and it would sound classy, even bathroom humor. Relating in graphic detail what happened the last time you visited the commode? J’ai fait une poo-poo très puante! I laughed myself silly the first time I saw it—and also learned a valuable lesson, in a raunchy Schoolhouse Rock sort of way: Often, it isn’t what you say, but how you say it.
But what happens when we’re not allowed to say anything at all? For a communicative species—especially one that never quite knows when to shut up—the result is a lot of anger, kind of like we’re seeing in the culture now. No matter the topic, it’s getting harder and harder to have conversations with people who have differing opinions without spiraling into a fight. There are lots of reasons for this, of course, not the least of which is the metastasizing of politics into a fetish rather than simple policy differences—but I also think a big part of it stems from the inability to raise those differences with one another in a constructive way.
That, by the way, didn’t happen by accident. It’s a pattern that has been developing over the last couple of decades, during which an increasing number of subjects have been declared off-limits, and that any deviation from the prevailing wisdom is considered not only wrong and ill-informed, but downright evil. The right has had its own dalliances with this attitude, to be sure—but given its command over the media landscape and the popular culture, much of this corrosive influence has originated from the left. Bit by bit, it seems as if every controversial issue has moved beyond the realm of discussion—or compromise.
Climate change is a good example. If you express skepticism that human activity has an outsize influence on global temperatures, you’re immediately branded a denier, as if the failure of all the past doomsday proclamations that never came to pass couldn’t possibly give any rational person reason for doubt. Never mind that scientists can’t even predict with accuracy where a hurricane will make landfall five days out; we’re supposed to just take their word for it that they can predict what temperatures will be like five decades out, if we don’t heed their warnings and stop using fossil fuels. As Al Gore once said, “The time for debate is over!” Accordingly, we’re not allowed to talk about it.
Illegal immigration is another one. Among an alarming number of Democrats and Republicans, we’re not supposed to think that a nation is allowed to control its own borders. In fact, not wanting tens of thousands of undocumented “migrants” to pour in unencumbered makes you hard-hearted, and pointing out the myriad problems that accompany illegal immigration makes you racist. Sorry, folks—you’re not allowed to notice those things, much less address them. No compromise to be had, I’m afraid.
More recently, we’re now seeing the same template applied to the abortion debate. I’m old enough to remember when Democrats like Bill Clinton campaigned on keeping abortion safe, legal and rare—at least acknowledging at the core of his argument that having an abortion was a grave decision with tragic consequences. That’s no longer the case, as this recent tweet from NARAL makes crystal clear:
In the left’s view, having an abortion is no longer a decision that has profound moral or psychological implications. It’s just another medical procedure, one that should be “destigmatized” so that nobody has to even worry about it anymore. That beating heart eight weeks into a pregnancy? Ignore it. Technology that shows us that babies aren’t just clumps of cells, and can feel pain even at early stages of development? Doesn’t matter. Widespread public support for restrictions on abortion in the second and third trimester? You’re anti-choice. And if you’re a man, you’re not allowed to have an opinion at all.
No discussion. No understanding. No compromise.
Plenty of anger, though—and the framing of the issue as if this was a war, rather than a policy difference. That’s the reason states like Alabama have drawn a hard line, after years of a creeping abortion regime that has grown more and more extreme. If people can’t hash out their disagreements by talking, they’ll fight instead. What other choice do they have?