It is my standard knee-jerk response to historical accusations, whether that be against Americans, Catholics, Western Civ, Colonialism, Europeans, Christians, Caucasians, New Englanders, mental health professionals, Evangelicals or Mainstreamers, Jews in the Middle East - all the usual targets.
It is always enormously revealing of the accuser's blind spots.
A lack of history education or interest is a huge detriment as it is always good to learn from mistakes in the past.
We have a "town farm" here in our suburban CT town, once deeded to be the poor farm in the 1880s. Now it has been leased to various farm enterprises. One of the latest was a dairy farm that struggled to survive and offered unpasteurized whole milk at a premium. The local Whole Foods carried it and several people got seriously ill. Our clueless first selectwoman said when the farm went out of business that the next tenant would not have farm animals since that was the source of the infections. She seemed to be totally unaware of the former prevalence of milk borne illness prior to the once famous Louis Pasteur!
The warrior culture of the northeast Indian tribes was well respected in Colonial times. The atrocities on both sides in the French and Indian wars were well known to most people upto recent times.
Notably, the Northeast Indians who interacted with the English got along better with them than with the other native tribes, and the colonists got along better with those Indians than they did with the other Englishmen and Europeans back home. Cromwell, Treaty of Westphalia, and all that. It was perfect, but it was darned good "Compared to ...just about anyone."
This increasingly unraveled after 1673, but was a good run while it lasted.
The warrior culture of the northeast Indian tribes was well respected in Colonial times. The atrocities on both sides in the French and Indian wars were well known to most people up to recent times.
My 8th grade teacher started the day off by reading The Boy Captive of Old Deerfield to us, about a Deerfield boy captured in an Indian raid in 1704. Compared to what? I had aunts by marriage who were 1/8 Indian, whose ancestors had been forced to trek from Georgia to Oklahoma.
Compared to what is a very good starting point. My time in Latin America gave me something to compare the USA to. For the most part, the US did not suffer in comparison to Latin America with regard to competent government, treatment of the common man, or racial prejudice.
During the Civil Rights era, many in the North were comparing themselves to the South when 1) they had little or no contact with blacks and 2) little or no contact with the South. Having had a black classmate from elementary school on, in addition to black elementary teachers, I had some basis for comparison. It wasn't difficult for me to conclude that the South had no monopoly on racial prejudice. From my southern grandmother, I learned that things aren't that simple. She was a good person who also had some racial prejudice. In addition, she got along well with her mixed race ( 1/8 Indian) daughters-in-law. One of my aunts called my grandmother the most tolerant person she knew, because my grandmother maintained a relationship with her daughter-in-law after my aunt divorced- with good cause- my uncle.
Assistant Village Idiot: Compared to whom?
It's the difference between absolute and relative standards. So, in the 1960s, a reformer might note that there is injustice in America. You then ask (seemingly to minimize the problem), "Compared to whom?" They might then reply, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Just because America may or may not compare well to other countries doesn't mean that efforts at reform are misguided. Indeed, the reason America often compares favorably to other countries is because America continues to confront its flaws and looks towards its ideals.
One answer to the "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
"Perfect is the enemy of the good."
Not just because of the risk of paralysis by analysis, but because there is generally no such thing as perfection in complex problems. What you end up with is a balance of competing interests. Humans do not all value everything the same, and so what is perfect to one is flawed to another. Introvert or extrovert? Materialistic or spiritual? Empathetic or not?
On top of which I would observe that injustice somewhere, anywhere, is NOT a threat to justice everywhere. That is just utter nonsense. The universe cannot be made perfect. Trying to proselytize the world is just imposing your own viewpoints on people who may not want to have anything to do with you. The worst of human behavior has been committed under that kind of rationalization.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" is far too sweeping a claim for a human to make. I leave the demonstration of this (a simple thought experiment) as an exercise to the reader.
There are better arguments for dealing with an injustice, but they require actually taking your hearers' ideas into consideration. It may be there are other injustices or duties they are called to deal with.
This claim is usually used in motte and bailey style, and, as AVI notes, generally from those who demand urgent action because the problem at issue is "the worst thing ever."
ruralcounsel: "Perfect is the enemy of the good."
Sure. As you note, complexity means tradeoffs.
ruralcounsel: On top of which I would observe that injustice somewhere, anywhere, is NOT a threat to justice everywhere. That is just utter nonsense.
So you're saying that Dr. King should not have gone from Atlanta to Birmingham, and should have just stayed out of their business? Or that because "USA is #1" in the 1960s, there was no need for improvement?
james: There are better arguments for dealing with an injustice, but they require actually taking your hearers' ideas into consideration.
Indeed, the quote "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" is Dr. King taking his "hearers' ideas into consideration."
I again do not recommend interacting with Zachriel. He is never wrong, not even 1%, and focuses on select quotes, in some bizarre imitation of precision, while disdaining to take your entire point into consideration.
"Compared to whom" is a good question for many situations. If you ask, many people change the subject or pull a nevermind. It's good to flush such people out. You can have a reasonable discussion with some of the others.
Zachriel: "So you're saying that Dr. King should not have gone from Atlanta to Birmingham, and should have just stayed out of their business? Or that because "USA is #1" in the 1960s, there was no need for improvement?"
I said no such thing. Please, leave the strawmen arguments out of this. I did not say, as you are implying, that it is NEVER right to go stop injustice. Particularly when it is occurring under your own roof, in your own tribe, and even in your own country.
But it is important to draw boundaries, and it is important to prioritize injustices, because not all injustice is equally serious, and not all injustices are yours to correct. How many of your countrymen are you willing to sacrifice in some foreign war just because you think that foreign culture or government is unjust? You begin to sound like a Crusader. Or worse, someone egging others on to be Crusaders. And I would argue that is a rather greater injustice you would be committing.
And of course, there is the BIG question. Who decides what is justice and what is injustice? And how likely are they to be correct versus just cocksure of themselves.
This was one of Milton Friedman's favorite opening questions when presented with a challenge on economics.
ruralcounsel: Please, leave the strawmen arguments out of this.
It's not a straw man. We quoted King. You said it was "utter nonsense." It was a pointed *question* in an attempt to draw out your actual view. Note we agreed that social complexity entails tradeoffs, so we appreciate your general position.
ruralcounsel: But it is important to draw boundaries, and it is important to prioritize injustices, because not all injustice is equally serious, and not all injustices are yours to correct.
We agree, nor did we say that just because there is injustice, and even granting it is a threat, doesn't mean direct intervention is the proper recourse.
The original post did not provide a concrete example. We provided the 1960s civil rights movements as such a concrete example for discussion. The U.S. was already a beacon of liberal democracy by that period. Yet people still clamored about injustice. "Compared to whom?" was often used as a defense of the status quo, which is why King said moderates were often more a stumbling block to freedom than the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner.
Sure. The question "Compared to whom?" can sometimes be enlightening, but it can also sometimes be used to deflect from the issue being raised, such as "All lives matter."
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