Seltzer: Accepting prehistoric thinkers
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I freely acknowledge my technological limitations. I can, of course, use basic computer programs, do email, and even send texts. But I am not a member of any social networks that I know of. I have no hash tag. I do not write or read blogs. And I do not read novels or watch movies on my phone.

Nor do I want to do any of those things. I am just comfortable with things that I know and understand.

I think about that as I observe people who oppose gay marriage, applaud the Supreme Court's dismantling of the Voting Rights Act's section 5 pre-clearance requirements, and support only immigration reform that continues to block citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country.

Just as some would dismiss me as a Luddite, others are quick to dismiss those other people as bigots, or just to call them racists and be done with it.

I am not equating my pre-digital attitudes to their prehistoric mindset. Obviously, there are differences. My refusal to become fully connected harms no one but myself — if, indeed, it harms me at all. Their response to social change harms other people by denying them their rights as human beings.

Their fear that "traditional" marriage is undermined by granting gays the right to wed is absurd. Heterosexual marriage is under siege from divorce and out-of-wedlock children, not from loving same-sex couples. Trying to stop African Americans and other minorities from voting is not just abhorrent, it is impossible. And trying to ignore the reality of our changing demographics is both futile and wrong.

Still, there is something sad (as well as sick) about these desperate efforts to cling to the past. Everyone with power and privilege wants to keep the system that rewards them as it is. They are comfortable with the system. They grew up with it, they understand it and they benefit from it. They want it to persist, even if they know it can't.

That doesn't excuse or justify their positions. But it does give us a more complete view of them. It does make it harder to reduce their motives to mere prejudice. And it gives us a clue to how to change their minds about the shifting realities of our society.

The key to persuading anyone to change is to understand why they hold the position they do. Just shouting slogans and simplistic labels like "racist" may make those on our side feel better. But that virtually assures that attitudes on both sides will be strengthened and solidified rather than moderated or modified.

Despite on-going opposition, gay marriage has gained more acceptance than voting rights or immigration reform. And the reason is simply that more straights have come to know gays and lesbians. They are members of their families: They may not approve of them, but they know and understand them. And it is harder — though, unfortunately, not impossible — to hate people you see as something other than stereotypes.

Too much of our politics has been reduced to name-calling and too little has been based on trying to understand the lives and motives and reasoning of those who disagree with us. The search for understanding leads to common ground, to compromise, to compassion, and, ultimately, to progress.

Bob Seltzer retired recently, which gives him more time to be frustrated by the level of public discourse. He lives in Sandy.