Part 3—Love of hate: Friend, might we liberals be in the grip of some epistemic enclosures?
We’re good at spotting the “epistemic closure” in the other tribe—and without any question, it’s there. But are any mental habits penning us in? Possibly holding us back?
We’d have to go with yes. One such epistemic enclosure would be the love of hate.
Are we liberals learning to hate the other tribe? Being encouraged to do so?
On Sunday, Maureen Dowd penned the first column of her ongoing makeup tour. She beat up on a no-name, accidental member of Congress while suggesting that he’s just a racist.
We liberals loved her pander! Below, you see the comment Dowd’s readers loved best among all the comments she received—the comment which was “recommended” by the most readers by far.
“Jarama Valley” is a reference to the Spanish Civil War:
COMMENTER FROM JARAMA VALLEY (8/24/13): Obama may be black, but it's not racism that is the cause of the hatred. 50 years ago this November, JFK was told not to fly to Texas, for the anger and vitriol down South was palpable, and there was a fear for the president's life.This commenter didn’t think the hatred of Obama was caused by racism, the sweet treat Dowd had dispensed. He recalled the hatred of President Kennedy, who was widely alleged to be white.
There is a strange part of America that fears any change to the established order. There have always been politicians who prey on fear.
The far right is a clear and present danger to the health and welfare of the nation.
I've had enough. I hate the haters. I despise the bigots. My skin crawls when I listen to the likes of Ted Cruz open their mouths.
In fairness, he also said he despises the bigots, perhaps implying that Cruz is numbered among their kind.
“The only viable alternative is at the voting booth,” this commenter said as he ended his comment. “Vote out the haters,” he implored, shortly after he himself had possibly joined some such club.
Among the 505 comments the New York Times posted, this was the most recommended comment by far. We liberals thrilled to its war cry: “I hate the haters.”
The commenter said he hates and despises. We liberals roared our assent.This struck us as a limiting, perhaps self-defeating sentiment.
It also struck us as perhaps a bit strange at this particular moment.
This week, we’re all honoring, or pretending to honor, the memory of Dr. King. And yet, the most consequential of Dr. King’s teachings may have been his insistence that we shouldn’t, mustn’t hate those who aren’t in our tribe.
Needless to say, Dr. King said and did many things in the course of his career. But his rejection of hate was central. It may explain his success.
Mandela also rejected hate. Indeed, the greatest achievers of the last century seem to fit in this camp. And yet, we liberals are now being whipped into a familiar old stance, in which we assert the greatness of our own tribe and announce how much we hate The Others.
Indeed, The Others are so vile that we now feel free to invent ugly facts about them. This is the oldest pattern in human conduct. It’s also the pattern Dr. King explicitly chose to reject.
In Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, Taylor Branch describes the night in 1956 when Dr. King’s home in Montgomery was bombed for the first time. For what it's worth, Dr. King had just turned 27.
Dr. King was informed of the bombing while at a public meeting; it wasn’t known if his wife and baby daughter were safe. By the time he reached his home, the mayor and the police commissioner were present. Also present: an angry crowd, some of whom carried guns.
After ascertaining that his wife and daughter were safe, King walked onto the porch. Branch records what he said:
BRANCH (page 165): King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. “Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the word will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”One year later, Dr. King published Stride Toward Freedom, his own remarkable account of the Montgomery bus boycott. In the book, he describes the earlier search which finally took him to Gandhi’s concept of non-violent resistance, and to what he repeatedly called “the love ethic of Jesus.”
In that book, Dr. King also described what he said on the porch that night. This was his own account of what he said, written in his own words:
KING (page 137): In this atmosphere I walked out to the porch and asked the crowd to come to order. In less than a moment there was complete silence. Quietly I told them that I was all right and that my wife and baby were all right. “Now let’s not become panicky,” I continued. “If you have weapons, take them home. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. Remember the words of Jesus: ‘He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.’ ” I then urged them to leave peacefully. “We must love our white brothers,” I said, “no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo through the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’ This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”We must meet hate with love, Dr. King said. But then again, what did he know?
Dr. King had some advantages. He wasn’t running an on-line magazine or a cable channel. For that reason, he didn’t have a financial incentive to create a world built around the pleasurable loathing of Them.
He had also studied long and hard, looking for an approach that would actually work as he tried to challenge an entrenched order. In Stride Toward Freedom, he describes the process by which he came to believe that the aggressive rejection of hate would provide that winning approach.
For a lengthy chunk of his account of that search, just click here.
Was Dr. King right as a general matter? In a provocative gesture, we will quote a man from The Other Tribe, who ends this passage from yesterday's column with a slightly odd set of statistics:
BROOKS (8/27/13): The idea was to reduce ugliness in the world by reducing ugliness in yourself. King argued that “unearned suffering is redemptive.” It would uplift people involved in this kind of action. It would impose self-restraint. At their best, the leaders understood that even people in the middle of just causes can be corrupted. They can become self-righteous, knowing their cause is right. They can become smug as they move forward, cruel as they organize into groups, simplistic as they rely on propaganda to mobilize the masses. Their hearts can harden as their enemies become more vicious. The strategy of renunciation and the absorbing of suffering was meant to guard against all that.Can statistics like those really have meaning? We have no idea. By the way:
In short, the method relied upon a very sophisticated set of paradoxes. It relied on leaders who had done a lot of deep theological and theoretical work before they took up the cause of public action. Nonviolent protest, King summarized, “rests upon two pillars. One, resistance, continuous military [sic] resistance. Second, it projects good will against ill will. In this way nonviolent resistance is a force against apathy in our own ranks.”
And yet it worked. And sometimes still does. It’s commonly said that nonviolent protests work only in a context in which your enemies and the watching nation have a conscience to be appealed to. But that is often enough, apparently. A study by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in the journal International Security found that between 1900 and 2006, movements that used nonviolent means succeeded 53 percent of the time, while violent resistance campaigns succeeded only 26 percent of the time.
We’re fairly sure that the phrase is question (second paragraph above) is “continuous militant resistance.” One day later, the typo remains unchanged by the Times, a small example of what we’re discussing.
Can people involved in just causes become self-righteous, smug, simplistic? Can they end up relying on propaganda? Can they even be cruel?
Yes, we can, as Obama might say! We’ll suggest on this memorial day that this obvious drift may keep our tribe from being decent—and perhaps from being effective in the wider world.
In various ways, the other tribe is in the grip of a glaring epistemic closure. In our view, corrosive forces are helping us liberals create our own enclosures.
Tomorrow: The endless enclosure of dumb
Dr. King later that night: Later that night, Dr. King thought about what had happened. In this passage, he describes a way he caught himself:
KING (page 138): I could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”Dr. King fought against “corroding anger” on the night his home was bombed. On-line today, money changers will urge such anger on you in a wide number of ways.
Which of these various people was right? In our view, the greatest achievers of the last century tended toward Dr. King's view.