Power Shifts

I follow the culture wars, and here’s something that I’ve been struck by—the fact that there seems to be a paucity of people who are willing to understand that what they say reveals far more than they want to.

Here’s an example.

Recently, there was a fellow who went on a bit of a rant about social conservatives. This is nothing new, as at least a tenth of the Internet is composed of rants about social conservatives. This particular one, however, was exceedingly interesting because of how completely oblivious it was to its hypocrisy—or, if it wasn’t, to the bile within its author. Here’s the quote:

“Fundamentalism, whether raining down terror abroad or in homilies from our home parishes, is the enemy. It is the death knell of tolerance, progress and compromise. Fundamentalism is, in all practicality, nothing but an invitation to bigotry. … The next time someone dares to say, ‘Just because I don’t approve of homosexuality doesn’t make me a bigot,’ we must all answer back, ‘Yes, it does. Not only does it make you a bigot, it makes you a criminal, a danger to me, my family, my community, my city and my country.’ Intolerance is not a matter of opinion. It is a call to violence.” (Harvey Feinstein, The Huffington Post)

Now, let me make clear what the problem is here. Mr. Feinstein says here that saying that one does not approve of homosexuality is tantamount to treason and calling for violence against homosexuals. Very well then. That is his belief, and he may hold it, despite that fact that he’s wrong. The problem here is that Mr. Feinstein seems to not understand that if saying that one does not approve of homosexuality is a call to violence, then, by his logic, he has just called for a pogrom against all fundamentalists. (His lumping together of all forms of fundamentalism is worthy of a response all its own.)

That is the kind interpretation, and by far the most likely one.

Now, if someone were to mention this notion to Mr. Feinstein, he would probably do one of two things: 1. Give the mentioner a blank stare; 2. Go on a massive rant about the crimes of fundamentalism.  Either one of these betray a problem that people in general have: the utter inability to think that conditions could be other than as they are—in this case, the inability to think that persecutors could be persecuted, or that the persecuted could be persecutors. (For clarification’s sake: I am not talking about any sort of current “persecution” of Christians in America. That day may well come, but it ain’t here just yet.)

I’ll explain why this is a problem. It skews everything and does not allow for actual realization of the facts on the ground in various situations, which causes bad judgment and bad decisionmaking. For instance, consider the Crusades. One group sees only the atrocities perpetrated by the Crusaders, and as a result cannot see that the Crusades began as an answer to a call for help by the Byzantine emperor that came from Muslim encroachment, as well as a response to the Seljuk Turks’ abuse of pilgrims. The other group sees the latter and doesn’t seem to see the former all that well. As a result, neither group actually understands the other—or understands the Crusaders.

Going forward, let’s talk about the Middle East—specifically, Israel. One group thinks of the Jews as a persecuted minority, which causes them to lose sight of the fact that the Israelis are the 300-pound gorilla in their neighborhood, and have done some things in their self-defense that are morally questionable. The other group misses the part where Israel was attacked on the very first day of its existence; has, to some degree or another, been surrounded by people who want it gone ever since; and still remembers a little incident called the Holocaust. The result? Neither one actually understands how that whole dynamic works, which leads to lots of really stupid notions about how to conduct our foreign policy there, which ends up adversely affecting our foreign policy there as Congressmen shoot their mouths off.

Long story short, it should be pretty obvious that the positions of various groups changes over time, and the sons should not be made to pay for the sins of the fathers, nor should receive payment for their fathers’ misfortunes.

If we continue to forget this, the consequences will be extremely painful. Extreme examples have been observed in the Balkans, Africa, and other such areas. The consequences for the United States, while less immediately dire and violent, are still troubling, with identity politics running rampant, with the attendant lack of focus on the actual issues—like 16 trillion dollars of federal debt and counting, China’s rise, the falling apart of the Middle East, and the catastrophes of machine politics.

Evaluate the arguments, not the arguer—unless they’re trying to use those arguments to gain power. Then, evaluate away.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness


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