Monday, February 11, 2008

On Demonization IV: Hatred and the Motives of the Hated

This is the fourth in the series of posts whose table of contents may be found here, and it assumes that you have read its predecessors here, here and here.

Very well, hatred makes you stupid in general, because it takes you out of the frame of mind in which you can learn anything -- which is bad news because everybody has lots of stuff he needs to learn, and if he refuses to learn them, his only other option is stupidity. But there's another reason hatred makes you stupid in one particular arena especially, which is to say, human relationships and human behavior, which includes politics:

Hatred corrupts your judgment of other people's motives. ...continue reading...

I don't think I have to work too hard to convince you of this one. Just don't think about politics for a moment. Instead, think of every divorced couple you've ever known. Think about what they were like when they first got married. Did you ever try to convince a man that his fiancee was not a very nice person? How successful were you? You know the old saying: "Love [meaning, the emotion of extreme infatuation] is blind."

Now think about that same man as he and his wife fight their way through divorce court. And imagine trying to convince him that his soon-to-be-ex-wife is actually a fairly nice person. How successful are you likely to be?

Hate, you see, is also blind.

What really happens is that practically everything that most people do could be done out of several different motives, some of them nice, some of them not so nice. In fact, because we human beings are the complicated, non-self-aware, mixed-up people that we are, lots of the time we're working from several different motives all simultaneously, some of them nice, some of them not so nice. You will almost always be able to imagine bad motives for practically anything another person does (have you ever tried to logically prove to a paranoid person that other people aren't really out to get him?). And if you hate the other person -- then you'll usually convince yourself that the bad motives are the ones he's working from.

This is why demonization is so closely linked with hatred. Demonization is most of the time concerned to blacken people's motives -- they aren't "committing torture" because they misguidedly think it is in the best interests of innocent Americans, but because they are consumed by an evil desire to prove that they can do anything they want to do whether the Constitution likes it or not. They haven't set up a welfare state because they are well-intentioned idiots, but because they are "traitors" deliberately out to destroy our nation. What demonization does in rhetoric, is precisely what the hate-filled person does within his heart.

I want, again, to quote Alexander Hamilton on something that everybody with a liberal education used to know, back when a liberal education was actually an education, and back when people in academia still had a clear understanding of what characteristics and thought patterns set good and habitually wise people apart from malicious and habitually foolish people.

I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views. Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable--the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Now, in comparison to that genuinely liberal and generous and wise attitude toward those with whom one disagrees, let me assume a persona that we all will recognize (I mean, just a general persona, not that of any specific real-life person):

"Their agenda is to centralize political and economic power -- government subsidies for big business, tariffs for favored industries, what we call 'corporate welfare.' It's really all Dubya cares about. It's what he's built his political career around. And all these policies he's always wanted to implement, things Republicans had never been able to get away with before 9/11 -- he was able to push them through with 9/11 as an excuse. Since 9/11 it's been about consolidating and using power. He's violated Americans' civil rights using terrorism as a pretext to grab power. He's the opposite of a saint."

I'm not quoting any particular Bush-hater, you understand...but doesn't that sound familiar? Couldn't you instantly point at half a dozen persons of your personal acquaintance, and a countless horde of infuriated commentators on-line and on the Times's editorial page, who would pretty much endorse that whole speech point-for-point?

And before we go further, if you don't like Bush, can I ask you -- in the privacy of your own mind, without having to share with the rest of us -- whether you can imagine yourself saying those things? Just try it and see whether it sounds like you. The rest of us will wait thirty seconds or so...


Okay, welcome back.

Now, let me give you a direct quote from Thomas DiLorenzo, a man who believes (a) that he pretty much knows who the most evil of all our Presidents was, and (b) that it wasn't Dubya -- it was Abraham Lincoln. (The quote is taken from Andrew Ferguson's outstanding Land of Lincoln, which I unhesitatingly recommend to Americans of every possible political persuasion.)

I'd read a lot of economic history, of course, and I started to read a lot about Lincoln as a sort of hobby. And it became clear to me how deeply Lincoln was involved in the Whig economic program of the early nineteenth century. The agenda was to centralize political and economic power -- government subsidies for big business like the railroads and banks, tariffs for favored industries, what we call 'corporate welfare' today. It was really all Lincoln cared about. It's what he built his political career around. He was a railroad lawyer, a rich one. Certainly he wasn't interested in slavery. By his own admission, he didn't even make it an issue till 1854....

This man was not the saint I was taught about when I was going to public school in western Pennsylvania. And it started to dawn on me, the whole Whig platform, all these centralized policies that they hadn't been able to implement by democratic means in the first seventy years of our history -- they were all implemented within the first six months of the war.

And then, once the war began, it was about consolidating and using that power. Lincoln shut down hundreds of newspapers that dared to criticize him. He suspended habeas corpus. He had at least eighteen thousand Americans -- the estimates vary -- he had them thrown into jail on the flimsiest pretexts, or with no pretext at all. He clearly detested blacks and used slavery as a pretext to grab power. He was the exact opposit of what we've been taught.

Now before we go any further, let me just invite anybody who could see himself buying my anti-Bush version of essentially this very same rant, to ask himself whether he really wants to sound like Thomas DiLorenzo. If not, then this should give you pause -- and that's even if you are too abysmally ignorant of American history to know how much more reasonable is DiLorenzo's case against Lincoln than is the modern-day Left's case against Dubya.

To anybody familiar with American history, the Left's hysteria about Bush's "assault on the Constitution and civil liberties" would be hilariously absurd if they weren't in such deadly earnest. You want a man who pushed the United States into a war that exacted an enormous price in American lives and prosperity? You could take Bush's Iraq war, with its 4,000 Americans dead while the economy back home roars merrily along...or you could take Lincoln's Civil War, which resulted not only in staggering loss of American lives but also in the utter economic devastation of half the country. You want a man who violated civil liberties right and left with the war as his pretext/excuse/reason? Nothing Bush (or even McCain and Feingold) has done even remotely approximates Lincoln's thorough-going attack on the First Amendment, not to mention Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus. You want somebody who undermines the balance of power between the three branches of the federal government, or the equally Constitutional balance of checks and balances between the federal and state governments? Try FDR's threat to stack the Supreme Court unless the Court gave in and used the Commerce Clause to effectively toss out the Tenth Amendment; or his and later Democrats' creation of immense federal regulatory agencies that combine the functions of, and thus abolish the checks and balances between, the legislative and judicial and executive branches of government; or the activist Supreme Courts of the mid-twentieth century that ignored the will of the people and the plain meaning of the Constitution in order to usurp the legislative branch's power and impose an extremist political agenda by judicial fiat. You want somebody who took all of the conventional rules for civilized war and the protection of innocents and flushed them down the toilet, to the shock and outrage of the civilized nations of the world? Check out Lincoln and Sherman's resurrection of the primitive doctrine of Total War: the March through Georgia, the destruction of Atlanta, the starvation-inducing blockade of the South. Are you far enough out there to want to try to turn a President into a co-conspirator in an enemy attack on American soil? For heaven's sake, even then, you've got a lot more evidence to work with on Pearl Harbor than you do on 9/11.

See, a thoroughgoing libertarian could make a case that Bush is attacking American freedoms, and a very strict Constitutionalist with a few somewhat questionable premises and emphases could satisfy himself with a certain degree of rationality that Bush is in danger of undermining the Constitional system of checks and balances. But that same libertarian would have a much stronger reaction against the wartime measures of Lincoln and FDR, against the corruption of the Supreme Court under FDR and then even more vigorously under Brennan, against the gargantuan federal agencies and the demise of the Tenth Amendment at the feet of an obscenely distorted Commerce Cause. Is Clarence Thomas (the one modern Justice who still takes the Tenth Amendment seriously) your favorite Supreme Court Justice? Then you genuinely care about maintaining Constitutional checks and balances, and genuinely resent those who undermine them by means other than the amendment process.

But show me a person who, when asked to name our three greatest Presidents, would respond, "Washington, Lincoln, FDR," and yet at the very same time also bitterly accuses Bush of overthrowing the Constitutional system in general and the Bill of Rights in particular, and I will show you somebody engaged in making a spectacular ass of himself. And I know of no such persons...except for those who hate George W. Bush.

Understand that I emphasize this particular example only because Bush Derangement Syndrome is temporarily the dominant form of lunatic hatred in the American system. Ten years ago I would have emphasized the form of lunatic hatred which was most prevalent at that particular time, namely the virus of Clinton-paranoia. Want to drag in La Raza? Feel free. Want to point at Sean Hannity? I won't object in the slightest. Bill O'Reilly? Bill Maher? Maher's former horizontal-bop partner Ann Coulter? Randi Rhodes? David Duke? Cynthia McKinney? It's not like the field of examples isn't rich to the point of absurdity. BDS is only the most temporarily widespread and obvious incarnation of the pattern.

But let's set aside the absurdity of those who manage simultaneously to consider Lincoln and FDR mighty defenders of freedom and Dubya a raving tyrant, and go back to the more reasonable form of the Bush-as-usurper mindset. This would be the strict libertarian view...that is to say, my view, more or less. I do think Sherman's actions were despicable; I do think that insofar as Lincoln's actions turned out to be historically justifiable, they are not justifiable on the motives that probably moved him; I do think that war is, unavoidably, a dangerous time for civil liberties, and a decades-long war against terrorism likely to be especially so; I do think the original scheme of checks and balances encoded in the Constitution was deliberately and thoroughly undermined by FDR and that the scheme with which he replaced the Founding Father's vision was much inferior to theirs.

And yet at the same time I can recognize that both FDR and Lincoln were doing what they thought was best, at a time of national crisis in which no choices were easy and obvious -- and that Bush is as well. As dubious as were the measures Lincoln took and as many bad long-term consequences followed from it, and as disastrous as I think was FDR's effect on the American system of government, I am still not lunatic enough to think that either Lincoln or FDR intended tyranny. "So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society." And if I, who so detest the measures FDR introduced and the methods by which he introduced them, can yet see that he was a man of good intention doing his best in unimaginably difficult circumstances, can it really be so hard to imagine that the Patriot Act is intended (however unwisely) to defend American freedoms, not subvert them?

You see, the picture the Bush-haters paint of Dubya is one that anyone not hate-blinded can see is distorted and unjustifiably uncharitable. But the Bush-haters can't see it, any more than the people who blamed every death within fifty miles of Mena on Clinton-funded hit men could see how they had lost the grip.

And that's because hatred makes you stupid, by turning your discussions into arguments.

The next post in this series is found here.


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