Our culture has developed restraints and rewards for maturity. Robinson’s letter to those on the Mayflower noted that as important as not “giving offense” was not taking it. We know the litigious mind – often the goal is less money than moral power. We hear the tattle tale sister, the battles over space and goods of pre-schoolers. We’ve sublimated the healthy desire for justice into our judicial system and have grown out of the petty battles of childhood. Maturity comes when we move responsibility into ourselves as often and much as possible. What others think or have or do isn’t important – the choices we make to build our lives is.
The great gift of our tradition is individualized responsibility. (Look at how Winthrop or Bradford accepted material hierarchies but consistently saw souls as equal; a community bound by the ligaments of love was likely to have unevenly proportioned parts, but the toe was no less a part of the whole than the heart.) Individualized responsibility also comes from our belief in the universal spirit – influencing much else in our country’s history. A century or two passed and these beliefs were give a form more political than theological and defined as inalienable rights.
We are now faced with those who believe in group guilt – whether they are aroused in a Libyan mosque or . . . , well, everywhere. Surely the drone strikes, the death of Osama bin Laden directly incited these riots. Surely, the memory of 9/11 was kept alive in the hearts of those storming embassies on that day – and what was seen to some as an earlier victory celebrated yet again. Surely, a video was useful when provocatively summarized. That the latter may have played the smallest part is probably also true – but it is the easiest to condemn and blame by the West and, in our country, removes responsibility from state actions. This context gives the mob power. Of course, this is also a post-colonial vision – the west can feel responsibiity. A convenient scapegoat is only useful if “hurt feelings” trump the ugliness of a celebration of 9/11; the ugliness of the film has been described by those who have diminished the actual sufferings of the Copts.
And that assumption leafs us to accept the power of another”s “hurt feelings.” (The hurt feelings of those who knew and cared about the Ambassador whose body was, apparently, dragged through the streets, seems of less important – indeed, such little importance that the very fact of the incident was given remarkable interpretations by our officials.) A statement from the Cairo Embassy, about to be stormed, is more understandable after the infantilization of American culture. Very deeply in some quarters beliefs have taken hold. They are ancient ways of looking at the world – at odds with the great moments of the 1600 and 1700’s that gave us western, American, and, indeed, modern thinking. The rule of law, our beliefs in open marketplaces for ideas and goods, speech and press gave the universalisation of rights and personal responsibility form – expressing those values.
But the beauty of that vision has been undermined, discounted and, often, not been taught in the last generations. The “hurt feelings” standard does not seem a strange criterion for those who have deeply accepted critical race and gender theory. It would have seemed strange not so long ago – our tradition was responsibility for what we did – not what Johnny did in class. This lay beneath the acculturation of our grandparents, parents, and those we pass on to our children. This is because we see it as right and true.
We realize a belief system that denies self-control and individual responsibility not only infantilizes, it leads to misery. I can’t control what you do – but I can control what I do. I can’t control what you think. I can only limit your success by chipping away at it. Burning down your house doesn’t make mine big or beautiful. Indeed, destroying others’ lives begins by impoverishing them and ends by impoverishing us all.
Our inalienable rights bring responsibilities. If we want to speak freely, we cannot muzzle someone who expresses opposing beliefs or opinions (or even jeers). Freely publishing our observations means not limiting the venues for others’ expression. Meeting with like-minded friends leads to acceptance of other communities. Conservatives & libertarians seem to accept this readily. Perhaps they are more rational; as Haidt observes, they are more able to walk in others’ shoes. But it is also because we hear the other – as we walk through a modern museum or watch a sit com, enter a class or a concert. The solution, though, was to find a medium – a few decades ago talk radio – or a backer for a film whose audience has been poorly served. The solution is not to threaten the speaker but to speak out ourselves.