From the first Morning Jolt of the week:
No, Those Aren’t Swastikas On Your Sidewalk.
The best line in the otherwise deeply-disappointing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: “Your focus determines your reality.”
This is the “secret” to a lot of self-help books, including The Secret. (Whoops, spoiler alert.) It isn’t magic or the Force, it’s mostly psychology: Whatever you look for, you tend to find. If you walk around believing that the world is out to get you, you will find circumstances and examples to fit that belief. If you walk around thinking life is full of opportunities, you will perceive more of life’s circumstances as potential opportunities.
And if you walk around believing that the United States is on the verge of a violent takeover by neo-Nazis, you will see things that you interpret as evidence of an imminent violent takeover by neo-Nazis all around you.
Comedienne Sarah Silverman, on Twitter yesterday:
As many Twitter users pointed out, it’s not a botched swastika; it’s a pretty standard utility line marker. Now that you’ve had it pointed out to you, you may start noticing them on the sidewalk in your community, too.
Silverman later wrote that her misinterpretation reflected the unbearable amount of anti-Semitic hateful messages she gets on social media. Presuming that’s the case, that’s awful; no one deserves to be treated like that.
But her instinctive reaction does give a sense of the troubling place that her mind is right now, and she doesn’t seem to be alone.
We’ve entered an era where one significant chunk of the American people – the passionate Left – have concluded that the driving force behind those who disagree is pure evil. Some might argue that this has always been the case, and that there are plenty on the Right who perceive liberal Americans as pure evil. What I think we’re seeing now is an increasingly widespread eagerness to interpret innocuous symbols, events, comments, etc. as further evidence of a malevolent conspiracy. Think back to the ThinkProgress editor who wrote about his post-election fear of his plumber:
Ned Resnikoff, a “senior editor” at the liberal website ThinkProgress, wrote on Facebook that he’d called a plumber to fix a clogged drain. The plumber showed up, did the job and left, but Resnikoff was left shaken, though with a functioning drain. Wrote Resnikoff, “He was a perfectly nice guy and a consummate professional. But he was also a middle-aged white man with a Southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week’s news.”
This created fear: “While I had him in the apartment, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether he had voted for Trump, whether he knew my last name is Jewish, and how that knowledge might change the interaction we were having inside my own home.”
When it was all over, Resnikoff reported that he was “rattled” at the thought that a Trump supporter might have been in his home. “I couldn’t shake the sense of potential danger.”
Folks on the Left are now arguing whether it’s okay to sucker-punch a Nazi in the face. Come on, now. Laws against assault and battery are there to protect all of us, even those with grotesque or abominable views. Outside of war or self-defense, the only Americans who should be punching Nazis are archeology professors on sabbatical. Once one murderous ideology justifies a sucker-punch without legal consequence, how do we rule out the other ones?
A little while back, Tim Kreider wrote in The Week, “A vote cast for Trump is kind of like a murder; there may be context to consider — a disadvantaged background, extenuating circumstances, understandable motives — but the choice itself is binary and final, irrevocable.” For most of human history, murder was perceived to be the ultimate crime, one of the few that even our compassionate society believed warranted the death penalty. Now we’re comparing the ultimate crime to a vote.
Over the weekend I saw some further social media discussion of the notion that “being apolitical is a privilege.” It’s not merely those who disagree who are being cast in the role of enemies, but even those who fail to care as much.
The easiest way to ensure that there is a violent conflict between Americans of differing political ideologies — or a People’s Republic scenario — is to adopt attitudes like these. Blur the line between the genuinely hateful, dangerous groups and run-of-the-mill political disagreements. See anyone who disagrees or who could potentially disagree as a potential personal threat. Conclude that there is nothing redeeming or appealing about someone who disagrees with your politics. Ensure that the portrait of them in your mind is dehumanizing, with nothing worthy of respect. Contend that unprovoked violence against them, like punching them in the face without warning, is a justified response to how they offend you. Finally, adopt an attitude that anyone who is not explicitly with you is against you, just another part of the problem, and in need of reeducation.
We don’t have to go down this path. But to avert this, enough of us have to want to steer onto another one.