Hayward Daily Review, 07/13/05

America takes pride in its commitment to freedom.  This must include a freedom of thought where consensus is reached through reasoned debate on complex issues that multiply as our society comes to grips with emerging technologies and changing demographics.  It requires a serious commitment by citizens to inform themselves on thorny issues that are rarely black or white.  Unfortunately, the simple expedient of zealotry appeals to many who are loath to independently investigate and analyze the facts.

The rising influence of extremist voices on the public debate reflects the reluctance of many Americans to deal with the increasingly complicated questions we face.  Issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and the separation of church and state are prime targets for zealotry.  Uncritical acceptance of extremist doctrine greatly oversimplifies the issues and leads only to strident and unconstructive bouts of thoughtless name-calling and derision.  This has poisoned the well of public discussion and threatens the ability of our society to cope with a rapidly changing world.

Citizens must recognize the influence of zealotry and not be fooled by the seductive appeal of easy answers to complex questions.  Reliance on inflexible doctrine is the hallmark of theocratic regimes that seek to control through irrational fear and suspicion.  The antidote to this requires serious consideration of all the possible viewpoints and a synthesis of strengths and weakness in the different arguments, none of which is completely correct.  Instead, we are told one is either "for us or against us", a simplistic false dichotomy.  If freedom and democracy are to persist in this country, it is time we citizens reclaim the debate from the zealots and apply the legendary Americanknow-how to solving the troubling issues we face as a nation rather than as a collection of warring special interests.