October 17, 2006

"apparently inexplicable behaviors become obvious..."

I saw this in a post by AOG:

...This post at the Daily Duck about the NCAA’s rabid enforcement against “offensive” logos reminds me of an incident that was formative for me back in my college days.

One of the second tier protestors of the fad at the time (anti-apartheid, I think, but doesn’t really matter) was a friend of a friend and so I exchanged views with her now and then. I thought even at the time that the protests were silly and their stated policies more likely than not to be counter-productive to their stated aims. I pursued that subject and eventually ended up with the following scenario as a litmus test:
There is a village and the people in it are starving. You can carry in food yourself and distribute it, saving 10 people from starving. Or, you can have a robot carry the food in and it, being stronger, would transport enough food to save 100 people. What do you do?
To both of this this required no thought but for different answers. As you may guess, I was for the robot. The FOAF was for carrying it herself, because other[wise] it wouldn’t be evident that you cared. It took me a while to really come to grips with the concept that ordinary, non-deranged people thought that way but it has come to symbolize for me the essential narcissism of the MAL and provide a powerful analytical tool. It is frequently the case that if you presume that the protestors of this ilk are driven primarily by concerns about their own image (internal and external), apparently inexplicable behaviors become obvious.

In this case, it’s not about the feathers, or the Native Americans, but about the enforcers looking like crusaders for the oppressed...

Well, we see this sort of thing every day. Try explaining to a liberal that raising the Minimum Wage is not going to help the poor. Or try telling a "pacifist" that their actions are causing wars, or killing people, as I have. They won't engage the question in any logical way, but the message of their squirrelly answers is that that's perfectly OK! As long as you are doing the "right" thing, as long as the symbolism is right, the fact that they are hurting the poor, or causing wars and killing people is of no moment. (And the subtext of their subtext is that even using logic and clear thought is heartless and contributes to climate change.)

There are other reasons for focusing on symbols. It's often much easier politically. It's easy for a politician to denounce confederate battle flags, hard and unpopular to tell black constituents that its time they pulled up their socks and got to work. Or on the conservative side, easier to denounce the Dubai Ports deal than to make difficult strategy choices in the War on Terror, and stick to them.

Similarly, Global Warming has become a symbolic issue. The fact that the US is doing better at reducing carbon emissions (correct me if I'm wrong on this) than Kyoto-waving Canada means nothing. It's kleider machen leute all the way down.

Also, most people just don't want to think about large issues. They want to reduce any big question to a simple little one. (Which is why I'm blogging, rather than expressing myself in conversations.) It is easy to denounce Nazi regalia, way too hard to think about where Nazism came from. (And way way way too hard to ponder the awful (in the original sense of the word) question of why there was never a backlash against Communism when the Iron Curtain fell, comparable to the backlash against Nazism.

And, engaging real issues means you may have to define what it is you believe. Underlying all these underlyings, it seems to me, is a deeper problem of nihilism. People hate to define problems, or define their beliefs, because they don't really believe anything...

Posted by John Weidner at October 17, 2006 8:30 AM
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