Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Broken Road: Why do I live in a society that fears ideas?

The Broken Road: Why do I live in a society that fears ideas?

The art censorship scandal that occurred at the National Portrait Gallery has spurred much debate about free speech and constitutional rights-- all noble fights to wage for the greater good. However, I can’t help but observe an underlining sense of fear rooted in the core of some of the strongest individuals involved from both sides of this struggle. I for one don't fear ideas-- but I do fear extremes that desire to dominate all aspects of culture and thought.

It appears to me that contradictions are running rampant within the context of the debate due to hard-line extremes. That said, there is more than a few good servings of hypocrisy-- from all sides of the debate-- to go around. In my opinion, the social and political zealotry that has dominated the debate is a recipe for cultural disaster. Sadly, we live in an age of social and political extremes. Thus, it is not surprising that the ‘battle’ has went beyond the intention of the exhibit.

I doubt very much that the late David Wojnarowicz would be happy with the fact that his artwork is being used to spur division instead of rational debate concerning key issues. In fact, the debate has become less about what his video, titled ‘A Fire in My Belly’, was about-- and is instead being used as a rattling of blades from both sides of the political and social divide… Two extremes that will most likely never come to an agreement on the opposing views they hold close to their hearts. After all, agreement from either side would no doubt mean the defeat of one view or the other-- a silencing of ideas.

The end result of this debate amounts to a mess of people who are all afraid that their personal opinions-- as reflected in public exhibits or in other ways-- will somehow lose footing within the context of society. To put it bluntly, people from all sides of the debate are striving for a stranglehold over thought-- a control of culture… the left-wing extreme desires to dominate just as badly as the right-wing extreme. Both extremes are inherently evil in the face of balance-- and dare I say, peace.

The far left and far right-- always at each others throat. Are they not the same breed of lion when the day is done? Do they not both desire to cage the ideas of the other while escaping their own? Do they not both impede the travels of those who desire to walk down the middle of the road? It is all rooted in the fear of personal choice. Total opposition rules the day. That said, tolerance-- even tolerance of intolerance in some respects-- should be the victor. In other words, balance is often the only peace that one can find-- yet we find ourselves within a society that is constantly on the edge of struggle.

I for one find this behavior-- this fear of ideas from both sides of the social and political fence-- to be petty… Especially in the United States of America in the year 2010-- now leading into 2011. Have we not learned anything in our brief history? At some point people must agree to disagree-- and learn that balance is the reality that binds us.

The fact remains that the blunt of our nation is split on key issues and most likely always will be unless harsh words become hardened fists or loaded guns-- and I don’t think any of us want that. True, some ideas must be silenced for the greater good-- especially if those ideas promote physical violence toward a specific group. That said, when such a large portion of the population is split on key social and political issues it just seems reckless to take a stranglehold mentality when dealing with opposing viewpoints/ideas as a whole.

While reading comments discussing the NPG/Smithsonian debacle I noticed that one commenter was wary that the censorship issue at the National Portrait Gallery-- which is arguably a right-wing victory in the so-called Culture War-- may lead to Creationism being taught in public schools. In other words, the commenter is afraid that the ideas and theories that he supports will somehow lose domination in regards to the education of our youth. I have a different opinion on the matter-- I feel that there is room for various opposing ideas and viewpoints to be taught so that the young can learn and come to their own conclusions while improving their critical thinking skills.

Education, in my opinion, should be about learning-- not indoctrinating our youth with one opinion or the other based on political extremes. Education should not be about securing future votes for one political party or the other for that matter. Education-- via means of study-- should be about individual choice and personal growth based on what the student has learned from a plethora of ideas and viewpoints.

As I read the comments I could not help but wonder… Why do so many people appear to be afraid of opinions that are different than their own? Why have we become a nation of various extremes-- unwilling to bend? Why do so many appear to fear a balanced debate on key social and political issues? Why do so many strive to hide specific ideas/viewpoints away from the public as a whole? Perhaps it has always been that way.

The more I think about it-- the more I become ashamed that I live in a society that fears ideas. I’m wary of any society that slaves itself to social or political extremes as dictated by one political party or the other. I sometimes wonder if the rest of us will be able to press forward past the cracks these two extremes have placed in the road before us. I don't fear ideas-- I fear extremes... A balance must be found.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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