After observing foibles of the human condition over many years, one axiomatic rule that emerged early is that there are some subjects in which consensus cannot be reached.
There is, for example, abortion, which has proponents and opponents who are so absolutely certain their position is correct there is no chance any argument, no matter how well grounded, will alter either’s stance.
And similarly, views held on religion, in which a certain percentage of the population will hold to the certainty they have found the only true way to God’s favor. There are, of course, many adherents in various mainstream faiths who are willing to concede there may be more than one way to earn God’s approval, but there are a substantial number who will never acknowledge that possibility.
One of the most onerous bugaboos in this list of non-debatable subjects is the approach some take to those who are different racially. While we have come a reasonable distance from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when the dividing line between race -- and for that matter gender, issues were far more unyielding -- there remains a substantial portion of the populace that harbors a deep-seated racial antagonism for real or imagined reasons. This is evident in the attitude some whites hold for blacks, and conversely, that some blacks hold for whites.
As with religion, there is a middle ground in which racial differences and problems can be discussed without opposing viewpoints resulting in shouting matches. There remains, however, a substantial number of folks who will not listen to any position if it differs from their own. This manifests itself in many forms, some of them very ugly and hateful.
Essentially, it’s apparent that people entrenched in unyielding positions are not prepared to listen to arguments that don’t reinforce their beliefs. The fire that burns in their eyes is not fueled by a willingness to hear arguments they believe in their heart to be wrong, but by emotional conclusions and beliefs that lead onto roads with no side streets.
I first began to recognize this as a teenager back in the mid-1950s, when racial discord in the South was peaking as federal courts begun mandating desegregation. I had an older cousin in Florida who was about 19 or 20 who would take me out on his father’s ranch and we would shoot a wide variety of guns, something I enjoyed. My cousin, who planned to be a licensed gun dealer, already had a stockpile of armament made up of mostly war surplus rifles.
This cousin was one of my favorite people. He taught me to shoot, and other interesting things such as how to make black gunpowder, for use in muzzle-loading rifles and pistols. He had a fire in his eyes, however, that led us to part ways. He confided to me that he was stockpiling weapons to arm the white population when the race war he thought was certain to come erupted, and sought to bring me around to his point of view.
He failed; I didn’t buy his argument of what he believed the future held, or the role he felt was to be his destiny.
My cousin later gained notoriety in the leadership of a local chapter of Florida’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, The Knights of the White Camellia. Eventually, when the race war he envisioned never happened, he moderated his stance and worked to advance a different organization, the Sons of the Confederacy, (an organization that I’m not suggesting was the equivalent of the KKK).
He taught me a valuable lesson: You can’t change the way people think if they believe, all reasonable arguments notwithstanding, they have seen the true light.
Any points I could make against solidly entrenched beliefs such as those held by my cousin would have been like hunting an elephant with a BB gun, serving no useful purpose.