Saturday, March 26, 2016

Understanding and Evil

Many on the right have a fondness for speaking of the left's love for "preferred minorities", or even accuse the left of actively favoring various groups, promoting, for example, Islamic interests over Christian ones. In most cases, the right paints this as a sort of covert scheme, some effort to undermine traditional values, or some similar agenda. I believe, while there is some truth to the allegations of the right -- though not as much as they think -- that the real motive, at least in the majority of cases, is much less sinister. In fact, it is almost understandable, though the consequences are every bit as harmful as many allege.

First, let us agree there is a definite double standard when it comes to the handling of some groups. When, say, a Christian group blows up an abortion clinic, it is portrayed, rightly, as nothing but a hateful, criminal act. On the other hand, when Moslem's rioted because of cartoons about Mohammed, some responded with "it is a bad response, but...", and a few did not even bother with that first bit. Nor are those isolated incidents. Time and again, when certain groups -- religious, racial, or other -- act in ways that would be denounced were they anyone else, the left will either qualify their criticism, or even avoid criticism entirely and call for "understanding" because of whatever provocation they allege motivated the acts. And, because the left's world view tends to inform the media,popular culture, and so on, this narrative becomes the accepted view, the conventional wisdom.

So far, I am in agreement, I believe, with most conservative critics, my problem comes in the motives. You see, I do not believe most on the left, especially among the rank and file, have any agenda in this behavior, it all comes from simple, almost understandable, motives.

My belief is, many on the left, rightly or wrongly, believe there is a strong history of bigotry in this nation*, and they believe they not only have to distance themselves form it, but do what they can to remedy it. And that is generally what motivates them. They imagine most who hear of rioting Moslems are imagining it is just another sign of Islamic barbarism, and so they feel the need to point out the motivation, to explain why it happened, to show that Moslems are not mindless brutes. And it is the same with others, with various minorities of all sorts.

Now, I am not saying this is the agenda of every liberal. As with environmentalism**, and many other movements, there is often a disconnect between the rank and file, the "man in the street", and the policy makers and politicos. Some may take a sincere grassroots movement and twist it to enact some other agenda. Some may even create a popular movement to promote a second, hidden agenda. But, for the most part, I believe the bulk of those promoting a movement are sincere, they are acting for the reasons they say. Oh, maybe a few are hangers on, mouthing a line to appear good tot heir friends, to pick up girls or boys, to get in with teachers or professors or bosses, or what have you. That is true of everything from church attendance to choices in music or movies, and certainly applies to politics as well. But if we ignore the people there just to be seen -- and those at the very top -- the rest are generally acting for the reasons they claim.

In short, I think most who seem to have a double standard are not promoting any culture war, are not trying to covertly undermine western civilization, but really are just doing their best to promote understanding and tolerance as they see those concepts.

However, there are two problems with this world view.

The first is that it is terribly insulting to the groups it supposedly embraces. When a person criticizes Christians and Jews and other westerners for doing something, but simply shrugs when Moslems do it, it does not show understanding for Islam, but rather a patronizing attitude toward its practitioners. When one does this, it implicitly says "we really can't expect better of Moslems, can we? But you, Christians, we expect better of you." It is akin tot he way teachers and parents hold older children to higher standards than younger siblings. And to treat fully grown Moslems as if they were younger brothers is insulting, and does not show understanding, but rather a patronizing attitude. The same is true of liberals who claim to show understanding to young black criminals by excusing their crimes, by saying they cannot help themselves, while white children can, is not being understanding, it is being insulting***.

The greater problem is that such efforts at understanding often end up excusing real evil. Does it help those being slaughtered by ISIS to hear that it is the result of Bush interfering in the Middle East? Does it make those dying in religious civil wars in various states to know that westerners who could help don't because they have adopted an enlightened view of historical religious conflicts?

Think of it this way, would the world be better had we "understood" how Hitler's rise was assisted by the Versailles Treaty which provided a pretext for nationalist complaints and stayed out of the Second World War?

No. The fact that we recognized the Nazis as a force for evil and worried about their motives, about the forces that made their rise possible afterward, that made the world a better place. Similarly, trying to understand those who do evil, rather than first recognizing the evil, is a recipe for inaction, and certain to do more rather than less harm.

And that, in the end, is why I say understanding, at least as understood by the modern left, is harmful. It insults those it supposedly helps, and makes the rest of worse off by excusing evils large and small.

On the other hand, I do recognize why so many adopt such views, and why this particular element of liberal thought is so widespread. And it is a hard position to argue against, given that it is easy to portray arguments against this sort of "understanding" as arguments for racist, chauvinism and intolerance. Which is why I think we need to point out, as often as we can, both how potentially harmful such beliefs are, and, even more, how insulting such understanding is to those it supposedly benefits.


* In a way, I can almost sympathize, as there certainly are those who make it easy to believe this. I cringe whenever I see some comment on a conservative site ranting about towel-heads or sand-ni**ers. I grant they are a minority -- and not all Republicans, as many blue collar Democrats have the same beliefs -- they definitely can give an impression that Americans are very different than everyday experience leads me to believe. And, imagining someone who lives in the "liberal bubble" of the Northeast, or academia encountering such comments, it is easy to see how they could imagine it represents a majority belief in "flyover country" and elsewhere, even if that is far from the truth. Sadly, as we have seen with the Trump movement, a vocal minority can often come to appear as a majority. (Cf "The "Liberal Bubble" Becomes Universal")

** See "The Lie of Environmentalism".

** See "Eurocentrism? Racism? Liberal Traits All", It Is All In How You Say It", "The Costs of Understanding", "The Important Lesson of Racism", "The Racism of the Left", "Mainstreaming Hate", "Tyranny Without Tyrants", "Three Versions of Evil and the Confusion They Cause", "Misguided, Deceptive or Evil?".

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