Tuesday, February 14, 2012


One can read fundamentalists whose joy seems to come from kicking Christians more prominent than themselves in the balls. (Yes, wouldn’t I love to give you a list…not today.) There are often principles they are defending somewhere in there, which they may also believe. Call them Group A. In that tribe there are also those who believe the principles, and genuinely regret that there seems to have to be some battle and rancor about it, as they don’t wish to offend others. Call them Group B.

There’s a Group A and a Group B in every tribe. One can read liberals who make much of principle, yet over time, reveal pretty clearly that dressing down conservatives, or anyone they perceive as the powerful as against their underdog selves,* is what they are really about. Telling themselves that it is about the poor, or women, or the 99% or whatever is only that – what they tell themselves. Yet there is a Group B of liberals as well, who hold the principles with sincerity.

 Conservatives who get off on telling the elites to stuff it. Racialists with an axe to grind because of their own sense of failure. Anyone who considers him or herself part of a beleaguered group can easily – I said easily (can I get a witness?) – fall into the pattern of claiming that the other guys started it…our people tell the truth…look at all these anecdotes of what terrible people they are…someone has to stand up to them…we’re only trying to be reasonable.

We all think we are in Group B, don’t we? Some might admit a teensy-weensy bit of Group A-ness in their personality. Yet you sense immediately where I’m going with this, don’t you? Everyone who is a Group A member of a tribe is absolutely sure they are a Group B member. If anything, they are more certain than the actual Group B members. Dunning-Kruger and all that. Thus, some of us are absolutely deluding ourselves about what our motivations are. And…all of us are deluding ourselves at least a bit.

 Even for good causes. There are people who have (mostly) evil motives for joining good causes.

 As a Protestant, I look with some admiration on the Catholic practice of requiring confession – one has to at least give lip service to fault and sin. Then I think of some Catholics I have known where that hasn’t seemed to have had much effect, even over a lifetime, and I realise that’s not a foolproof solution either.

I don’t know in the abstract how to diagnose or fix this. I do have one place to start, though: If you hope you are in Group B, can you identify any in Group A? Whisper their names out loud, please.  Do you believe them too easily, not calling them to account?

*Like most Americans, I tend to be an underdog rooter. But I have grown tired over the years of the “powerful forces are arrayed against us” trope. It’s not just liberals. They do it more artfully, but not any worse. We all want life to go some different way but are prevented because of Powerful Forces. It’s called reality. We are each part of someone else’s powerful forces that prevent them from being elected Queen of the May.


james said...

I can't remember the title of the book now, but one scene had the hero meeting some nuns, one of whom told him she had taken as a discipline "Trying not to think I'm smarter than our politicians." He gallantly replied that he thought she was, to which she answered: "That's what makes it hard, I probably am."

It isn't good for charity or pride to think about how much smarter/wiser/concerned for the common man we are than those despicable opponents of ours. And they don't make it easy not to think about it.

Texan99 said...

I'm pretty sure I'm hip-deep in Group A thinking quite often.

One thing I'm perhaps not too prone to is the "powerful forces arrayed against us" thinking. I've had such a pleasant life, and treasure such different things from most people I've met, that I rarely encounter anyone who can inspire my envy. So it strikes me particularly hard when I do feel it. I was once ready to strangle a good friend, a fine, pleasant, admirable woman, who just kept getting pregnant over and over, seemingly without difficulty, while at the same time remaining stylishly beautiful, doing better in our highly competitive law firm than I was doing, inspiring friendly reactions in everyone who met her, and remaining married to an attractive, intelligent, successful man who loved and respected her. Dang it. I actually found myself sometimes thinking, "Well, that's nice for her. If life were fair, I'd have more of those things. She has some kind of unfair advantage."

I knew it was crazy, and I was (and am) very fond of her, but there was no escaping the knowledge that I felt that way. It helps, of course, to know that it's a fallacious and destructive attitude, so that I could combat it. Still, it was a revelation to know I could envy someone so bitterly, to the point of constructing little conspiracy theories to explain my own failure.