A cultured individual does not talk about certain things in public. Well, not at least in cultured settings, but the taboos of discussion have expanded far beyond the realms of the cultured, and are now coffeehouse, and pub taboos as well, unless of course, one is willing to tacitly agree with the most disagreeable things.
One might expect that sexual content is at the heart of taboo discussion, or perhaps racial jokes – and though this is true to a certain degree, these taboo topics typically fall along specific fault lines, which are based in political or moral positions. So, it is more acceptable to tell a bawdy or racial joke, than to take an opposing position on a subject of sexuality or race.
So much for intelligent conversation.
If one is sitting among a group of conservative religious folk, giving credence to Democratic positions or atheistic arguments, it may invoke anger, jokes, or references to low IQ. And conversely, if one sits among progressive non-religious types, the invocations of stupidity and personally directed biased humor are reversed. Of course, there is a spectrum of religious to non-religious and progressive to conservative, and few of us hit an exact mark of the stereotypes. The fact that so few of us are stereotypical, places many of us in a middle zone stuck between the taboos.
When political and religious issues are divided between aggressive and un-nuanced sound bites, and the talking points are built along false either-or arguments, it is far too easy to perceive the other as the enemy. This is highlighted in the current political season. Votes are being purchased by playing to our fears, and in a show of how taboo disagreement in politics has become, Donald Trump is proud to be throwing people out of his rallies for showing disagreement. Lest, we simply mock one side against another, Democratic rallies have vetted those who enter their domain so aggressively for so long, that they have affectively kept the taboo people outside the doors. Wasserman-Schultz found other ways to attempt to silence Bernie Sanders, who is the left’s own taboo talker – that fortunately did not work. Those who stand in the middle zone attempting to bring understanding and peace to extreme and sometimes violent disagreement are effectively exiles to the systems of power. This, of course, is why I am a Jesus follower. I love the exiled God.
When one does not see the other as an enemy, and is willing to speak on their behalf, they are often treated as a traitor to their own position. I want to suggest something wild. I want to suggest that speaking on behalf of the radical other – the person or the party I disagree with most, may in fact be an act of social justice. The power of identification with the other is seen most clearly today in the “Western”* responses to Islam. Many people are adopting fearful positions that treat all Muslims as dangerous and violent. It is clearly an act of social justice to speak the truth on behalf of the majority of non-violent Muslim people. But Islam is not the only group in need of social justice defenders speaking up on their behalf. Republicans need this help from Democrats, and vice versa. Minority and yes, even majority, ethnicities need this kind of help from others. Any position, which is falsely caricatured, needs this help from the other. Until speaking across the divides of these taboo topics becomes a norm, until learning to find weakness in my own position in an attempt to defend the other becomes natural, and until we learn to understand why people believe what they believe, we will remain a culture which has turned some of our most important issues into taboo topics. And that does not bode well for the West.
* I realize this is a poorly defined word,