See no evil

3
Apr
2012

A friend of mine on facebook recently posted an image of homophobic (among other things) graffiti from Egypt that he preferred to read divorced from this context. And it really gave me pause, because I realize that  people with strong beliefs on both the left and the right often share a common feature of true believers: A convenient dismissal of the ugly elements in groups or causes or ideologies they support.

It is all too human to want to see the world (and especially our own, curated world) as being good or bad. And though we pay lip service to logic and cool reasoning, they often fall by the wayside when we want to believe that our cause is (all) just. So, for example, with the graffiti above my friend prefers to only see the positive aspects of the critique on the military/religious power structures at play in Egypt, and downplays or ignores the homophobic context. To take a similar example from the same region, people on the left that support Palestinian statehood (as I do), seem to be at odds with accepting that Palestinian homophobia is real and Israelis are far more accepting on this score, despite the other grave offenses of its government. Here at home on the (so called) left you have some people glossing over the continuation of Bush-era policies of state surveillance and abuse of power by the Obama administration. And on the right you have gun proponents ignoring messy facts about violence and death that get in the way of their goal to arm every man woman and child in America.  In a similar manner, people who support capital punishment need to somehow be ok with (or flat out ignore) the facts of innocent people being put to death, and the unequal (and often racist) application of capital punishment laws since it does not square with their need for “justice”. We could go on and on, cutting across political, economic, and social lines.

The intelectual contortions that people make, and the justifications they have, can astound.. Why is it so hard for us to hold the idea that there are repellent elements even in broader causes we support? Does it make us impure? Well, I have news for you: we ARE impure, all of us. And I think it would be better to be honestly critical of the causes we support, even in our fear of doing them damage, to make them stronger and more just in the long run. I suppose for many people these are issues of loyalty. Giving “comfort to the enemy” by critiquing causes they support is anathema.

2 thoughts on “See no evil

  1. It takes maturity and a real tolerance for ambiguity to criticize one’s own “team.” Americans are a bipolar people–we like bright lines and either-or duality, not messy reality.

    I think much of the problem–and I agree it IS a problem–is that we tend to approach politics and public policy like a team sport: we want winners and losers, good guys and bad guys….we want to divide the world neatly into us and them, and root for “our” team. If we admit that our team has flaws, that causes extreme discomfort.

    Is this intellectually defensible? No. Is it typical? yes.

  2. What I have really tried to mindful of is what I love about “my team” as well as what needs improving. More difficult is my newest pursuit – trying to find admirable qualities and ideas in the “opposing team.” This has stemmed from my very brilliant and free-thinking youngest son who has decidedly conservative views. My son’s political leanings are entirely his own as his parents are the proverbial “yellow dog Democrats.” Did I ever think I would raise a Republican? Nope. Could his views change as he matures and furthers develops intellectually? Yep. But if he stays on this course, I will continue to love, respect and admire him and his thoughtful world view.

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