06 October 2014

Another tedious notion

Guilty by associations.

In politics and much of life, what seems the quickest way to a problem, other than sending photos of your genitals to other people, is to carry along some baggage in the form of people who say or do some "shameful shit". And then to have one's opponents, anyone looking to point and laugh, people who appear willing to endorse a world of pain upon others quickly, spend most of their time running about talking about how terrible it is that you (not they) carry that baggage in the form of things you must think or want done in your name.

This is hardly limited as a phenomenon. Atheists deal with this in the association and sometimes espousal by some of their number with all manner of far-left ideological positions (communism for example), and the historical assumption by the public that secularists must all be godless communists or some such.

Christians have the Westboro Baptist Church. The Tea Party has Sarah Palin. Muslims had Osama bin Laden, and so on down the line.

Libertarians deal with it all the time with some of the ideological travelers it carries and brings along for the ride (Randians, Austrians, gold standard folks, paleoconservatives, secessionists, anarchists, and outright racists at times). "States' rights" in libertarian circles (usually) means something about decentralized power and an attempt, misguided in practice but perhaps sound in theory, that a more localized government be used. The theory is that this would be more adaptive and responsive to the local knowledge and wisdom of local institutions and public and in that way provide a "freer" society under which to live than one ruled by a distant and central authority with only a vague need to respond to local demands and concerns. (In practice, public choice and regulatory capture issues demonstrate that local governance is often ignored by the public and more easily swayed by "special interests", where funds and policy can be diverted to benefit the few at the expense of the many, and a decreasing quantity of cities and towns have a local beat that provides some added scrutiny to these forms of governing behaviors.) "States' rights" in normal conversation means Jim Crow and segregationists, and the legacy of slavery that came before it. That gap of language and communication exists. Libertarians do themselves little credit to pretend it does not. It thus does little good to run around talking about a complex philosophical theory of politics when what the public hears is "we would like to be race supremacists and hang around with other racists!". And then to have a variety of public figures of vaguely libertarian dispositions who have done little to disassociate or disabuse the public of that impression.

When one is of a commonly known, accepted pluralist institution, say the Catholic Church or Christianity in general in the United States, it is quite easy to cast aside the notion that something ridiculous and offensive, if not outright awful and terrifying, that someone is doing, has done in the past, etc, doesn't involve "you", as a person of similar faith and practices. Almost no one puts out a demand for denouncing such people in order to accept as decent and respectable those people of similar dispositions. No one demands anyone stand up and do so. No one looks around to see that it is done. Denunciations come anyway of course, because what is said or done may well have been terribly reprehensible on its own grounds (the priest abuse scandals say). But no one is checking the work to hold it against them later.

Suppose one is of a maligned, oppressed, misunderstood, or relatively unknown minority instead. And now the equation flips. Denunciations come anyway for reprehensible actions by people of similar dispositions (for calling out racist sentiments, acts of terrorism, etc), just as before. But now they go largely ignored by the horde of people who are demanding such denunciations in the process of declaring that whichever disfavored minority group must tacitly support such activities if it doesn't issue such things. A minority group, particularly when composed of somewhat radical persons, has a strong duty imposed upon it to police its own members, its own fringes, and its own fellow travelers to avoid baggage.

If racism and terrorism make up a fairly low probability effect in the average person's interests, it doesn't occur to most of us that we need to denounce the behavior of "other people", even if they look like us, or attend the same civil and religious institutions. I suspect part of the reason school shootings attract so much attention is that there's a growing disposition to park young men in this category of dangerous and hostile, despite it being a fairly rare quality that most young men partake of violence of any kind. If it does not occur to most of us in some minority population that these shared characteristics require us to acknowledge the offending or heinous actions of (supposed) fellow travelers that we may or may not feel any special kinship toward, it should not be surprising that most such people do not speak up against them in some special way, just as it is not surprising that most people in a larger and more entrenched plurality for some society might not. It also should not be surprising that attempts to denounce such groups in this way can have the counterproductive effects of a) not demonstrating to the group a specific problem caused by perceived or actual members of it as they are already feeling disassociated from these aggrieved members and see no need to disassociate further, or b) conforming the group around to defend the activities, up to a point, of these aggrieved members rather than condemning and reforming any actual bad behaviors by supporting the emotional reaction that the group is under attack.

So what to do? Or, rather more pressing, what purpose does this all serve? Primarily the arguments of this kind take the form of "these silly people ALL must be like this crazy mofo", in the seeking of dismissal of their kind for partisan gains (be that party political, religious, or some other division). This is effectively why people argue, not to discern what is true or false about a thing or person or their associates, loose or otherwise, but to win arguments in a social context, and to drive people to or away from goals being sought by others. Sometimes these arguments are of convenience, seeking allies without. Sometimes they are of purity, seeking to restrict and annihilate heresies from within. But always, the goal is to advance one's interests. Not to find and to do what is "right".

To deal with this, minority groups should have twin goals. First. To police their own of the most radical and offensive notions, in particular those of harmful intention toward others, and to declare these notions as out-of-bounds, marginal, or otherwise unjustifiable (in most instances). And second to declare their own positions more fiercely and publicly so that the public can not easily use heuristic positions to simplify their thinking into something more offensive. For something like say, suicide bombing, it is common to declare that Muslims are "fine" with such things. In fact, outside of the Palestinian territory, most Muslims are not. The vast majority even in most countries (including the United States). Where they are accepted as "sometimes justified", it is possible to see such attacks as a form of asymmetric warfare, where there might be particular forms of attacks (upon soldiers or supplies of soldiers, and civilians working on a military base of a perceived foe, for instance), that might indeed be seen as "justifiable" in the context of military conflicts, and others which are clearly reprehensible. There does not appear to be much work done to determine if this is the thinking being used of course when answering questions (that these are somehow "legitimate targets"). It probably is not in many cases and that there is a vibrant minority which expresses support for what would legitimately be a horrifying position morally.

That there is any substantial population expressing favor for such thinking should be viewed as a problematic development that should require some response internally. And if we look around, we find that it can be treated as such. It has been decreasing in popularity already over the last decade. There are various clerics writing and declaring that it is harmful and wrong. Various strategic leaders within some extremist/fundamentalist groups understand that it does little to advance their purported cause, particularly when civilians may be killed. The violence of extremist groups is overwhelmingly listed as one of the biggest problems with such organisations (not their extreme ideological or fundamentalist views, but deprivation of life and the retaliations that brings). The abhorrent views of such groups might be still problematic for their own reasons, but it is the violence that foremost attracts the ire and attention of both the outside world and the internal Muslim communities. This should demonstrate that it may be possible to both clearly identify the worst offenses of some group, and to work to condemn, constrain, and as much as possible eliminate such offenses from the constellation of activities that a group of persons is to engage in.

There's another flipside to all of this. How is it that the majority or large pluralities can be favored so well that their "sins" are forgiven and ignored, or at least declared the acts of lunacy and depravity that they often are, without some grander accounting. Put into practical terms, does this serve us some good in reducing such activities of offense or harm to declare it the acts of insane minorities, themselves sub-groupings that are clearly delineated from the whole by some arbitrary measure? If the affront is committed by some members of a more popular, and thus socially favored group, say police or the military, how does a community respond? Why does it not respond in the same way? Why are we quick to declare that "of course not all cops are bad", as a caveat when some legitimate grievance does emerge, but we may more easily saddle up to the notion that certain religions declare and command violence (but not other religions, certainly not "our's") or certain political ideologies command and worship greed and selfishness (but certainly not "our" political affiliations). What service does this perform for us in attending to any institutional reform needs of these more popular places to be able to hang one's hat as a member? Or to the expulsion or if possible the rehabilitation of its most heinous members?
Post a Comment