Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Human Rights v. the Culture War

t has long been evident that the culture-war paradigm is inherently in tension with the goal of negotiating life in a free republic.  Civic life requires compromise, moral sympathy, and a respect for pluralism--all things that the all-or-nothing culture war declares an anathema.

The aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack has also revealed that the culture war may undermine more directly human rights in general.  After a terrorist attack, there's something bizarrely disproportionate about news anchors hectoring elected officials about their Twitter feeds rather than asking tough, probing questions about how law enforcement can better identify terrorist threats and how national strategies can make such threats less possible.  We might rationally be worried by the fact that so many in the media and politics--from the New York Times to cable-news voices to major political figures--have spent far more energy excoriating their tribal enemies rather than the forces of terror.  With its random violence, terrorism seeks to nullify all of our rights.  (Of course, terror cannot ultimately undo our inherent rights.)  When the culture war takes priority over serious efforts to fight terror, the enterprise of defending our rights suffers.

We should mourn the victims of Orlando not because of their belonging or lack of belonging to any narrow identity group, but because they are human beings.  The slaughter of innocents is wrong--no matter their race, religion, sexual identity, or political beliefs.  Defending civil society requires the defense of the rights of all members of that society.  The attack upon Pulse was an attack upon the ability of Americans of all kinds to gather peacefully and without fear of violence, just as the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack upon the ability to speak, write, and think freely.

As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has suggested, great tragedies should remind us of our common fellowship.  It is an act of moral cowardice and cultural myopia to focus on our petty tribal fixations rather than our deeper duties to our fellow men and women.

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