Some people seem to engage in political discussions only to tout their own neutrality. When asked whether they lean left or right on the political spectrum, these people shrug and place themselves directly in the middle.
They take pride in being the arbiters of extremism, perched as they are outside the whirlwind of passion and stubbornness that is most political activity in modern America.
Using their own detachment as the metric by which to judge all political involvement, they become troubled when others get aggressive or defensive when discussing politics. Online, they can be found trailing behind controversial articles and social media posts, issuing reminders about the Golden Rule.
The fortress of moral superiority from which this critique occurs is built on the premise that everyone would choose neutrality if only they gave adequate thought to the disadvantages of being politically hot-headed.
But this is an overly simplistic view that romanticizes apathy and rewards the privileged. Because that is the uncomfortable truth about total neutrality: it is only possible when you are insulated from the immediate effects of political decisions.
From this protected vantage point, it seems that everyone else, vocal and upset, is being unreasonable. Hysterical. Over-sensitive.
Neutrality proponents, having therefore developed—and denounced—an association between politics and intense emotion, ban it from their dinner tables and break rooms in favor of other, less incendiary, topics.
For those directly impacted by politics, however, having more pleasant conversations is not an option.
Nor is translating their visceral reactions into the calm, reasonable dialogue expected of all worthwhile political discussion. They use crude language. They fling insults. Their rhetoric gets ugly.
And all the while, there is an Internet referee suggesting they just calm down and have a rational discussion.
Commentating from their self-imposed exile to the middle of the political spectrum, the neutrals like to remind everyone that the voices on either side of them are equal. All opinions, they say, deserve equal respect.
Certainly, self-expression is a constitutionally-protected right and should not be denied to anyone. But the fallacy lies in assuming that because all opinions have an equal right to exist, all opinions have an equal right to receive polite treatment.
They don’t. No opinion has the right to go unchallenged. And no opinion has the right to be sheltered from the negative reactions of the people it targets.
If those people respond with verbal aggression, so be it.
But in the minds of opinion equality advocates, the original opinion, if expressed politely enough despite its harmful nature, is coded as right, the response attacking it is coded as wrong.
There is a certain haughtiness in nitpicking the words used to convey a message instead of listening to the message’s content (a phenomenon commonly referred to as “tone policing”).
Sure, when it doesn’t matter to you whether the message lands or flops, inspires a change or gets buried in an Internet graveyard, it is easy to single out what does ignite an emotional response in you: whether or not the writer is using mean words.
But those who advocate for neutrality need to consider that the point of politics is to be incendiary. Without lighting a fire, how can we burn down what has broken? Without raising our voices, how can we call for change?
Sometimes, doing this means hurting feelings.
If you’re privileged enough to boast of being neutral, be thankful that you’re being hurt by mean comments about a political policy, not by the policy itself. Some people aren’t so fortunate.