Once upon a time, liberals and conservatives could converse easily. I know that sounds implausible, but it is true. Now, I am fairly old. Fred Flintstone was just two grades ahead of me at Bedrock High. Back then we could debate questions such as whether it was a good idea to let dinosaurs turn into birds without getting all tangled up in fights about which hominin species was destined to win the evolutionary sweepstakes. True, we occasionally butchered and ate each other, but that was like 1.45 million years ago. We were still evolving, and sometimes we were really hungry.
I bring this up only because our conversations of late have become so testy. For the last millennium, I have been the president of an organization that is full of good will to nearly all hominins. It is called the National Association of Scholars, but don’t let the name fool you. We were healers, priests, shamans, medicine men, alchemists, doctors, and other such “specialists” before we hit on the rubric “scholars.” It’s all marketing.
And when we adopted that cover, we were all good liberals. At the time that meant that we respected everyone’s right to speak his piece and to find a place around the campfire. It was considered extremely bad etiquette to kill and eat anyone with whom you disagreed. Even worse to kill him and not eat him, which was wasteful. We had “standards” back then, which meant that you couldn’t just throw anything on the campfire. You had to show it was combustible first, and also that it was within the bounds of good taste. Throwing water on the fire was out of bounds. Attempting to incinerate the Sun God was imprudent. And if you suggested putting out all the fires to prevent the glaciers from melting, you would have been judged mad.
Of course, there were disagreements. Some advocates for the Moon Goddess and the Earth Giant felt they weren’t getting a fair deal, but we were generally able to talk things through. And there were usually enough mammoth steaks to keep the rowdy youngsters in line.
These days, alas, the old peace has broken down. We at the National Association of Scholars still like to think of ourselves as “liberal,” at least in the sense of upholding liberal arts education, academic freedom, the pursuit of truth, and stuff like that, but the caves are almost all taken over by a faction that says we are obsolete. Our time has supposedly passed. They have rebranded us as “conservatives.” We fought that label for a while but then decided, “What the pterodactyl? Call us what you want. We still stand for the same thing. Live and let live.” As Fred used to say, “Yabba dabba doo!” which I think translates as, “Life is pretty good.” My memory for the old tongue is slipping.
But the New Troglodytes, who sometimes style themselves “progressives,” aren’t disposed to live with us in peace. They find us “hateful” and “oppressive,” and have deployed a new weapon they call “DEI,” which I believe stands for “Die, elderly infidels!” They just can’t seem to find it within themselves to talk with us in a civilized way.
I write now in the hopes of overcoming the divide. Maybe the hardcore progressives who would rather spear us than sit down and talk about Tocqueville or Barney Rubble are outside the conversation. Fiercely bad manners may make an oaf feel powerfully good about himself, but sooner or later he ends up surrounded by fellow oafs and no one else. But we know lots of liberals who are not oafs and who, deep down, still believe that a good argument gladdens the soul. It is also a good way to teach the young ones how to argue and get along with one another.
I’ve observed that some of you have begun to build your own heterodox campfires in an attempt to coax people out of the shadows. That’s good, but I’d suggest that halfway steps seldom succeed. The carnivores feast on the meeker prey. The sabertooths cancel them beside the still waters. Over here at the House of Fred, the lamps are still burning bright, and you will be welcome.
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