Wednesday, July 06, 2011

She's More To Be Pitied Than Censured

Setting the stage...

I was sent a Cynthia Boaz HuffPo column. You can see that her focus is peace and change, nonviolent studies, that sort of thing. Just to kick her right up front, I direct you to her articles on how encouraging Egypt's February (sorta) revolution was (How'd that work out?), and how evil it was to leap to the conclusion that Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan's "motive was jihad and that the murders fell into the category of political terrorism," except of course, that this is exactly how things turned out. Why would I start out by slamming her, when my purported goal is to try and see her actions in a different light? Perhaps I'm just not so nice as I hope to be. But my own thought is that the amazing wrongness of these essays is what drove me forward to think more deeply.

Had I written such essays in a national, public setting and then been so quickly proved wrong, spectacularly wrong, I would be ashamed to appear out in writing public again. These are not Strong Opinion Pieces with which one might disagree, nor are they areas where she got things partly right and partly wrong.

She's not the only one, of course, and I'll warrant that if challenged, she and others could come up with elaborate rationales why what they said was understandable in context and still containing much worth listening to, etc. But in all normal circles - at work, in school, at church, in the neighborhood - making pronouncements like this and then having them served to you to eat just a bit later would cause us to slink away. What gives?

(If you really want to torment yourself, you can try On The Moral Depravity Of Capitalism In 21 Tweets. As thoroughly vacuous an essay as you will find.)

The essay sent to me, however was on the topic of how Fox "News" brainwashes its viewers to be dangerously stupid, and what a dire situation that is for the future of the republic.

Just a word or two on that. "News" in quotes. The first sentence includes the phrase "nothing more sacred..." Yet she is complaining about the attempted manipulation by others. When I read this language, I don't envision brave, unclouded souls speaking Truth to Power. I don't have images of stalwart faces staring off to the horizon, resolute and stern. I see Victorian women with wrists to the forehead, looking for fainting couches. Or is you prefer a deeper historic allusion, a David Garrick production of "The Merchant of Venice," Portia with heaving bosom. Or best of all, the Tragedians of comedy: Henry in "The Fantasticks," or Jack in Chapter 13 of Lewis's The Great Divorce.

So if I were to follow my usual script, I would excoriate her for being such a dangerous, violence-enabling airhead. I would make my usual demurrer that most liberals are of course not this stupid, noting only that they give such folks far too much credibility; that more lefties have some element of this than admit it to themselves, etc, etc. Yeah, fine. But I've said that for years, and is anything any better? Do we know any liberals who have, on the basis of being trounced intellectually, asked themselves "I wonder if there is even a 1% chance that we are wrong, not just in method or strategy, but in core principles?" Of course not.

Another possibility
As I am currently primed to consider anosognosia and the Dunning-Kruger Effect, I wondered why intelligent people - for this sort of liberal is usually intelligent in some sense: educated, facile with words, familiar with popular culture references* - thinks this way.

The second article sent with this one, plus a discussion at Althouse about music therapists, brought it into focus. The other article was about a team of people sponsoring an event in San Luis Obispo displaying quotes from holy books and having people guess which one they were from. The point being, of course, that there are some nice things said in the Quran, and therefore Muslims aren't really evil. A Methodist minister was involved in the design.

Reality check here: Anti-islamic prejudice in SLO is responsible for precisely none of the problems in international relations. What type of insane mind thinks that running such a program has any effect whatsoever? Then I remembered the music therapists, which reminded me of aromatherapists and "bodyworkers" and the artist in NYC who made female superhero sculptures after 9-11 so that women would feel empowered and safer. People pretend that what they do is useful, because it's all they have to keep away the night.

Cynthia Boaz is like that kid in the country song who wants to buy red shoes for his dying mother, but only has thirteen cents. "But it has to be enough, mister! It's all I've got!" Yeah, I know, there are other stories with that same plaintive cry, the wail that one is giving all one has, how can that not be enough? The world is dangerous and evil people want to kill us. We cannot bear to do nothing, so we employ a variety of psychological fantasies to keep the horror at bay. We blame ourselves; we pretend our paper swords are deadly; we declare the evil already defeated. It's just our pathetic, human nature selves.

This attitude can be noble, pathetic, or destructive in the human soul. There have been dramatically beautiful works of literature, as well as a thousand saccharine but uplifting stories, about those who gave their loaves and fishes and changed the world. It can be. But all good things can be made dark, and this one goes to especial darkness. The first key is humility. There is a difference between knowing that one only has thirteen cents, or a few loaves and fishes, or mere hobbit-strength to battle against evil - and claiming that such items are the great power that enables you, the elevated and noble, to hold the dark at bay. And still worse is the attitude which says that all those others are getting in the way of you and your thirteen cents conquering the serpent with your all-purpose goodness, and those others must be brought to heel and made to worship at altars you direct.

Yes, such things can go wrong. All good can be poisoned. But for the moment, have pity on the Cynthia Boaz's and Cindy Sheehan's and earnest rescuers. They at least started out loving the poor before they became addicted to the pleasures of kicking the powerful. They started by hoping everyone could get along, like in the movies, before the resentment of not being Princess overtook them.

75% chance of more to follow.

*Less-popular culture, such as anything between Sumeria and 1950, less so.


Texan99 said...

I so like reading your pieces.

Texan99 said...

And now I've got that song in my ear, thanks:

"She's more to be pitied than censured
"She's more to be helped than despised
"She's only a lassie who ventured
"On life's stormy path, ill-advised . . . ."

And remember, a man was the cause of it all.

@nooil4pacifists said...

Excellent! See also Coyote Blog:

"It is so tiring to see both parties ascribing horrible and hostile motivations to their political opponents. Your last paragraph is just absurd, implying that everyone agrees with your economic prescriptions and that the only reason everyone is not following them is either a) political self-interest or b) loathing for the poor and helpless. . .

I really don’t understand this absolute insistence on ascribing bad motivations to those with whom one disagrees. Is it ego, or just insecurity? If one admits his or her opponents can be smart and well-motivated, it certainly creates an edge of doubt and uncertainty. Deal with it. That’s healthy. It keeps us intellectually honest."