Take The Heterodox Challenge | Opinion

Last week's July 4th New Yorker cover depicts an America divided. On the left side, a progressive lies in a hammock, a Black Lives Matter sign displayed prominently in the front yard. On the right, a paunchy man in a MAGA hat rests on his porch swing, behind signs supporting veterans and the police. The neighbors face opposite directions and stare at their phones. They do not speak.

Many of us would like to see these neighbors turn around and speak to each other again. This will require a multiplicity of ideas; no single approach will work. But I have a modest proposal for how to start. I call it the Heterodox Challenge, or, if you prefer, #HeterodoxChallenge.

To begin, we need to break away from the pieties that define our disparate tribes: pieties like the terse statements on those colorful "In This House, We Believe" lawn signs ("Science is Real" and "Love is Love") or the chants "Lock her up" and "Let's Go Brandon." There are certainly extremists who appear to agree with every last slogan on a given tribe's list—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Marjorie Taylor Greene, two loud and ineffective politicians at opposite ends of the spectrum, come to mind. But most people aren't extremists, and this should give us hope.

Those who aren't extremists understand two things. One is that thorny issues—the scope of vaccine mandates, or the legal and moral boundaries of gender expression, for example—call for nuanced evaluation rather than pieties. In truth, there can be no such thing as a thorny piety.

Another is that today's list of beliefs considered appropriate for your tribe isn't yesterday's and won't be tomorrow's. Many 21st-century conservatives object to "green" efforts, but it was Richard Nixon who established the Environmental Protection Agency; some progressives deem it retrograde to fly the Pride flag because it isn't the Progress flag. Even if you believe—as I do not—that being a good Democrat or a staunch Republican means toeing your party's line in every respect, is it even possible to do so when the line is always moving?

Furthermore, we ourselves—as individuals, not as followers of some organization—are not cookie-cut. No two people make precisely the same judgments. Your view of at least one issue is likely to be out of step with the general opinion of one group in your community, while your view of some different issue is likely to be considered anathema by another.

In a sane world, this would not need saying. We would simply get on with our lives, viewing differences of opinion as the spice of banter, not as reasons to sever longstanding social and familial ties. But since ours is not a sane world, I propose that each of us exhibit modest bravery by making a statement that at least some members of our circle of family and friends will disagree with.

lawn signs Virginia
AMHERST COUNTY, VIRGINIA - DECEMBER 18: Signs on a front lawn express conservative political opinions on December 18, 2021, in rural Amherst County, Virginia. Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

That statement might be about something big or something small. It might be brief or extended. It might be very public (a letter in a major newspaper) or as private as any expression can be (a Facebook post on a private account). The point is not to make extreme, aggressive comments that will rile people up. Some will do that, of course, and that's OK. The point is to reject the bizarre notion that we all have to believe the same things.

I'll go first. I have never expressed my views of abortion in print; I have only rarely expressed them to friends. And, to be honest, I'm not entirely certain that I should be expressing them now, of all times. After all, I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer, and I have no personal experience with abortion. I don't know that I am right about what I believe about this thorny issue, a divisive topic that should never be reduced to a slogan. What I know for sure is that the opinions I currently hold will not make me popular with many of my friends.

One opinion: I believe Roe v. Wade was a legally disastrous ruling and am not displeased that Dobbs v. Jackson returns decisions about abortion to democratically elected state representatives.

But another opinion: I would not myself vote for a blanket ban on abortion. I believe there are not a few circumstances in which a woman should have the freedom to make the consequential choice not to bring to term the child she is carrying. Relatively (though not entirely) uncontroversial is that abortion should be legal when the pregnancy results from rape or incest. But beyond this, while I find "shouting your abortion" despicable, I confess that my stomach doesn't turn when I contemplate ending a pregnancy early on, even when the reason for the termination is, in my view, bad.

The one opinion is unpopular with some people I hang out with, the other with others.

So be it. I've said what I've said quickly and imperfectly. No doubt I could've expressed myself more eloquently. And, yes, I have conspicuously failed to define what I mean by "early on." Abortion much past the first trimester makes me queasy, but at exactly what week would I wish to ban it? I don't know.

What I hope everyone recognizes is that I have expressed myself in good faith. Those who think I am wrong should feel free to tell me why. I am open to change, interested in others' convictions, willing to admit to flaws in my own thinking, and hopeful of making just a bit more sense of a thorny world. But I do not deserve to be humiliated for failing one or another litmus test. No one who acts in good faith deserves that.

I've now said what I believe. Your turn.

Joshua T. Katz is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.