“So then my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to SPEAK, slow to wrath…” – James 1:19.
“An acknowledgement of an individual’s freedom to hold an opinion is not an invitation to air one.” – G. V. U.
Dear proud Nigerian Homophobe,
I am constrained to write to you about opinions and hurt. Brevity has never been my strong suit so pardon the length of this. I write to you because I’m saddened by the swagger with which your opinions on homosexuality are brandished.
It is no news anymore that you feel your opinions are, by right, inoculated against criticism by your sense of entitlement towards them—entitlement, no doubt born of our nascent, yet timely subscription to the tenets of freedom. “It’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it” is supposed to automatically shut any month of dissension. You say it often in arguments and debates—on social media and in your social circles—and then stand back, perplexed (sometimes to the point of crying ‘persecution!’) when your opponent refuses to keep quiet and continues to come at you (“such insolence!”).
But here, think about this: think about the most absurd idea your mind can conjure up. Really, try it. Good. Now, here’s the shocker: that idea loses all sense of absurdity in the mind of another individual once you’re able to impart your idea to them and cause them to accept it wholeheartedly. Convince a hundred people through carefully worded sophistry and rhetoric of coercion to accept your idea and your idea ceases to be absurd to one hundred people. Convince a billion and you have a billion less people to worry about.
It therefore seems apparent to me, as to you, that consensus grants opinions and ideas validity. There is no idea that is impossible for the human mind to accept. Given enough time the human mind would believe anything—an attestation to the power of words; of language, and an indictment of the evolution of the human brain.
You see, opinions rule the world. With regards spheres of human interactions and intellection, opinions run the gamut. From cute, harmless disagreements on the choice of dress fit for a ball to disagreements with more serious and urgent implications like deciding whether the loss of innocent lives is worth it in the aerial bombardment of a known terrorist location. What we deal with most of the time are opinions. In light of this, how then does one decide which opinions to hold as valid and which to discard?
While wading through the murky waters of public opinions—deciding which is valid and which isn’t—can be difficult, two simple rules of thumb may, in my opinion, help you decide what a faulty opinion is.
1. IF YOUR OPINION goes against established facts, i.e., goes against nature and its laws, it is simply wrong. You lose your sense of entitlement to it the moment you air it. It is not okay to think autism is caused by vaccines or that natural disasters are caused by your ideas of immorality. You can have your opinions about anything. But you cannot have your own facts. It doesn’t work that way.
2. IF YOUR OPINION causes your neighbor to come to any form of physical harm then your opinion, no matter how concise, well-worded or well thought-out it is—no matter how sanctified, anointed or backed by theological exegesis—is simply a bad opinion. The Four-Way Test, adopted by the Rotary Club, expounding on these rules of thumb even go a long way in elucidating how we should treat our opinions.
Your opinions on homosexuality, most of the time, violate not just one but two of these simple rules. You peddle falsities as certitude—falsities that not only ostracize members of your community, but malign them and open them up to physical manifestations of hate—to lynching and mob violence. You might be oblivious, sitting behind your computer screen in your room, to these manifestations of hate on the streets, but that is the very reality a lot of homosexuals live everyday; one of fear and caution.
Because guns don’t kill people. Opinions do.
For long before a high caliber bullet stops your beating heart, a mind behind the gun that discharged that bullet had decided that yours was not a heart worth allowing to continue beating.
I salute your rallying cry against violent acts of xenophobia in South Africa, of which some of your kinsmen were victims. I especially love how you were able to quickly identify this hate crime against your brothers, immediately advocating for a boycott of all South African products.
What I find befuddling is how you do not see the similarity of your opinions on homosexuality to the opinions that informed the xenophobic attacks on your kinsmen.
Because, you see, in nomenclature our hatred finds validity and acceptance. One is quick to declare their anti-Semitism to the world while holding the opinion that racism is evil. The proud Homophobe lashes out in anger at anyone who dares call him an islamophobe. The misogynist condemns the opinions of the ethnic bigot. From religious bigotry to prejudice against sexual orientations, these classifications give us the illusion that our hatred is legitimate—that we are right in our alignment with one or more of them.
But strip these of their complex nicknames and realize that at their very core is the same hate.
My dear, I find it instructive to re-echo to you the wisdom of liberal sages and philosophers throughout history: the fostering of civilization’s progress in unity, fairness and liberty. That the priority of the individual, the smallest unit of a society, is to ensure the protection of the society through protection of the rights of other individuals that make it up. Where an opinion is thought to be counterproductive to the progress of the liberal society, (where it falls on society to choose between an opinion and its progress) that opinion must be relegated to the background of our consciousness.
Once you understand this, you begin to understand why your opinions on homosexuality start to lose validity the moment you air them. You begin to understand why rights advocacy groups, pressure groups and different left-of-center political movements lash out at every opinion thought to be inimical to freedom. You begin to understand why feminists and LGBTQ advocates have low tolerance for ideas and opinions that would malign or ostracize individuals under their ambits of concern. Not even jokes are spared the harsh rebuttals.
In the pursuit of the enthronement of fairness, justice and equal rights as fundamental defining characteristics of our societies, you’d be confronted with many ideologies you hate to hear about. You’ll hear things that simply make you uncomfortable. Roberto Bolano’s quote is especially pithy and captures this thought succinctly: “If you’re going to say what you want to say, you’re going to hear what you don’t want to hear.”
And it might seem that society is conspiring against you to strip you of your right to hate. It might seem unfair that your voice is being stymied. Like the racist White Southern American, post civil rights era, perplexed that it is no longer acceptable to haul racial slurs at black neighbors, your confusion and anger are understood. But this is the path we have chosen to trudge on towards progress and your opinions are unwanted cordons, blocking the path towards progress.
I beseech you therefore to think. To think carefully of your opinions. To examine them in light of reason; of established facts; of empathy; and most importantly, in light of fairness and equality. I beseech you to think of your neighbors and what your opinions might do to them. And lastly, I beseech you to understand that you’re not entitled to your opinions. Only to your informed opinions.
A concerned Nigerian.
Written by Godswill Vesta