I am taking my daughters to the Concert for Valor in DC. Concerts are so expensive and our budget is so tight that our children have not been to concerts other than at small local venues. Seeing live music has become so expensive it has become out of reach for many. This concert is free but for gas and metro which is still a decent hit to our budget. I worked the weekend to take the day off. I suppose the concert is controversial because why support troops? Well because they die for a job and a cause many, even they, don’t believe. A recent interview of a returned soldier on NPR noted that most of his fellow soldiers don’t believe in the war they are fighting, but rather each other. The friendships soldiers form are often lifelong. When a fellow soldier dies it can be as devastating as losing a close friend or relative back home. The trauma remains for years and often life.
During the Vietnam war it was popular to shun soldiers, and burn draft cards, while wearing flags and military jackets. That was more a FU than a sympathy. Soldiers were supposed to go AWOL and recruits leave for Canada, as my wife at the time said I must do if my name came up. I find this troubling. Yet, protesting a war can be a way of wanting to save people from death and harm in fighting. Yet, it is near impossible to watch others die in political predating and not wish to help. I see ISIS and I want war. I see death and I wish our soldiers could stay home. I see immigrants crossing the border and I want to give them shelter. Another side of me wants to turn them around, give them an AK-7, and send them back to change their country. Of course, it’s never so easy.
A troubling aspect of growing political didacticism and partisanship is the demand for perfection. It is very much like the feminism with which I grew up. The importance of relationships and political purity almost demanded a predatorial like-mindedness. So and so isn’t really a feminist. We won’t associate with her or them anymore. I saw the same later in environmentalism where if you didn’t recycle you were some sort of bad person because it’s just so easy to recycle. Never mind that that person might have donated 10% of their income to an environmental organization, or just might be over the top in the world, barely able to make food after work.This movable line in the sand has grown deeper and wider over time.
Now, if someone screws up they should lose their job, lose their family, and be punished for life. Meanwhile they talk about love, tolerance, and restorative justice. I don’t see how incapacitating a person’s income or social potential for life is in any way helpful. Nor do I see how ostracism, excommunication, and social shunning are any different than the high school clique wars that so many complained harmed them–it would seem they learned and joined the dark side, just a different group shunning. How on Earth can there be rehabilitation if we have marked people for life and put them in a permanent class beneath us?
Tristan Madden notes this inconsistency in religion.
For a long time, I struggled over the question of capital punishment. It didn’t seem right to end a person’s life, but it was often for that very reason these people were condemned to die. Being raised Catholic, I had grown up in a culture of moral absolutism. There was no gray area, because God clearly dictated what was good and what was bad. And while I was taught to separate the sin from the man, I would have been ill-advised to express any kind of pity for a serial rapist, for example, outside the context of Mass or Sunday school.
I noticed that in Mass, people would nod eagerly when the priest spoke of redemption and forgiveness, but when it came to murderers, rapists and similar offenders, these people who had so vigorously nodded their heads in Mass often refused to extend forgiveness. And I was the same way.
I believed people should be given a second chance, but I felt there were some people who were beyond redemption. I believed all humans should have a chance to repent, but the kind of people who were being executed, I reasoned, were something other than human. They were monsters who had sacrificed their humanity when they committed their heinous crime.
As another popular example now. I hate rape. I don’t even understand it psychologically. Yet, the current move to expel rapists from their occupations, schools, and families ensures the continuation of the condemnation for life as an underclass, never to be worthy of any kind of respect again. No amount of prison or restitution matters. It’s just not possible. This is social justice? How they hell can anyone change in isolation? A victim can only recover if they know their oppressor has a scarlet letter emblazoned on their chest and better if they are sent to the streets never to be seen again in polite company. This isn’t closure. It’s revenge and vengance. Perfectionism creates an atmosphere of crippling fear.
It is a steroidal version of debates about atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris and others where on various levels they have been found wanting and should no longer be followed or supported because they apparently have nothing to say to anyone any more of any value. The same with women who have ambiguous stories like Lena Dunham who many call a sexual predator and should now be excommunicated because everything she says or does must be poisoned. Let’s just impoverish her and make her homeless. We don’t even really know the facts of the case and yet we judge fatally with the rapidity of a tweet.
Maybe we should just shoot these people as studies have long shown than ostracism, shunning, and excommunication often feel, are, worse than death, and usually do lead to a kind of living death. Just as solitary confinement ruins people in prison for life and creates permanent criminals, psychologically screwed for life. One reason why shame-based cultures are even more powerful than guilt-based cultures.
The only thing that can come of this are lies, subterfuge, and the creation of private worlds that few know but all fear because we just don’t trust anyone anymore. it reminds me of a police ranger friend of mine who said everyone is a criminal. When called on it he said everyone has the potential to be a criminal. Isn’t the potential the point. Isn’t the ability to get over it why we don’t just shoot them?
My mother who helped form university-based child care and was an activist in women’s groups used to say the last perfect man died 2,000 years ago. She saw her friends getting swallowed in shame and guilt. I don’t think she really believed in Jesus at that point in her life but she got that demanding perfection of others harms all of us. At some point that gaze will come your way and no one can withstand it.
Jim Newman, www.froniersofreason.com