Monday, April 27, 2015

Minor Update

(Bumped because of Comments)

I am set on my heels in the evaluation of "Darn Nice People."  I have learned more than I am willing to share, but one important point:  There is a continuum of underdog rooting that eventually gets to the pathological.  Yet underdog rooting is in itself a good human quality.  It is along this axis that part of the trouble lies.

As with most other sins, this is virtue out-of-control, unchecked. I am tempted to say that in half-measure, this would be good.  But I have read enough Lewis (and Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, MacDonald) to suspect first that this is a quality that has evil in it down to the root, which only manifests as quantity increases.  Dangerous territory, of course, because that is easily said about the virtue of conservatives as well. Subtle dangers cut to the bone.


james said...

It sounds nice to speak of a preference for the poor, but Leviticus 19:15 'You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.'

Maybe mercy will outweigh justice from time to time, but it should never make justice vanish.

Laura said...

To my mind, this hinges in part on the question of mixed motives. For example, "I was just trying to help" and "I was meddling" might be (and quite often actually are) both true. Being fallen humans, all of our motives are mixed. The best we do is still at least partly driven by base motives. Likewise, the worst that we do presents itself to us at the moment of decision in the form of some good (and note: the good is probably a real one, even if misdirected or disproportionate). Being humans, we tend to over-state the good parts of our own motivations and minimize the bad parts-- but very much vice versa for our opponents and adversaries.

The problem with the "nicest people" is an unwillingness to consider that their own motives are mixed, and that their adversaries have good as well as bad motives. So, "I wanted the best for everyone" might be true, but heavily contaminated with the unadmitted determination that "the best" involves personal score-settling with certain specific people. Likewise, "so-and-so is greedy" might be true, but also so-and-so might be totally correct that you have no right to take his property by force and he has no responsibility to subsidize someone else's bad decisions. The "nicest people" don't want to hear all that-- their motives are good and rational, and their opponents are either stupid or evil (as proven by their opposition to the "nice" way).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

James, to my mind, mercy does not exist except in the context of justice being more usual. Without a core of justice, mercy is just letting everyone do what they want without consequences.

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up, long, long ago, "mind your own business" was advised. This remains very good advise. "Do gooders" seldom have a total understanding of the situation they are trying to help and there is the assumed superiority on the part of the "do gooder" of their advice".

jaed said...

That puts me in mind of this post from a while back. I'm wondering whether the "underdog rooting" you mention here might be related to the "extraordinary compassion" you talked about in that post.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

jaed, I seem to have said more intelligent things five years ago than I did this time around. And your comments them bear holding onto as well.

Earl Wajenberg said...

"Yet underdog rooting is in itself a good human quality. ... As with most other sins, this is virtue out-of-control, unchecked."

I'd say the virtue in question here is pity, exaggerated at the expense of justice.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think that's a good distinction. Let me try that on in my brain.

jaed said...

The thing is, I don't actually think it is pity. The victims are too unreal to the one who feels whatever-the-name-of-this is. It's getting the emotional charge of pity without the actual encounter with those pitied.

Dangerous territory, of course, because that is easily said about the virtue of conservatives as well.

If we posit that whatever-the-name-of-this-is is not virtue gone wrong or in excess, but is instead a vice masquerading as a virtue, maybe it would be useful to ask what virtues conservatives believe they are following that are actually not virtuous at all - just wearing a pleasant-looking disguise.

The first things I think of are opposites to the purported virtues - uncaringness under the flag of tolerance, or complacency framed as respect for tradition - but I think those are too obvious. Respect for tradition and tolerance are both virtues, so these failings would be failures to keep two good things in balance, not outright bad things. Hmmm.

(Of course, with such a failing, one wouldn't expect someone who had it to be able to see it. Hmmm.)

Texan99 said...

I sometimes sort this out by distinguishing forgiving from condoning, though it doesn't always work. Maybe forgiving means letting go of anger and the desire to enjoy retribution, which is not quite the same as encouraging the malfeasor to go right on robbing the liquor store.

It does get more complicated when the wrong is done against someone other than ourselves, but I think not quite in the way you have formulated. If we find it easy to forgive a wrong against another simply because it's no skin off our nose, that's obviously a cheap evasion and likely to be as offensive as it is harmful to the victim. But that doesn't mean that we're entitled to nurse feelings of angry vengeance simply because the wrong was done to someone else. As C.S. Lewis notes in Screwtape, that's just taking on the viewpoint of a third person far enough to feel outraged against his enemies, but not enough to make his enemies our own and therefore the proper subjects of our forgiveness.

Forgiveness may well come with an unalterable demand that the wrongdoer do whatever he can to redress his wrong. Isn't that what priests are supposed to do before granting absolution? Strictly traditional priests, anyway. Sometimes I try to imagine that the wrongdoer is someone of whom I'm desperately fond and more than normally inclined to make excuses for. That seems to help me separate the desire for justice from the desire for salving my angry resentment.

Of course, it's a lot easier to forgive someone when he's actually sorry, and especially when he doesn't seem likely to keep on doing whatever it is.

jaed said...

Forgiveness is often compared to writing off debt, so let's use that as an example: your friend owes you some money, and your father tells the friend that he, the father, is willing to forgive the debt, and then tells you that your friend no longer owes you the money, since the debt has been forgiven. Kind of silly, kind of missing the point, and also kind of harmful to you: it's one thing for you to offer to forget about the debt, but your father here has committed a financial offense against you. (Notice how different this becomes if your father instead pays you the debt on your friend's behalf.)

I don't think this is actually forgiveness, or even related to forgiveness. It's either a way to harm the victim or a way to morally preen, by elbowing your way in between victim and perpetrator and putting yourself at the center of something that's not about you.

Either way, it has the effect of aborting whatever forgiveness might have been possible, and that's not the least of the offense; it may well be the worst thing about doing this.