Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2005 / 25 Tishrei,
Us or them ?
A reader recently sent me an e-mail about a woman he had met and
fallen for. Apparently the attraction was mutual until one fateful day
the subject of the environment came up.
She was absolutely opposed to any drilling for oil in Alaska, on
grounds of what harm she said it would do to the environment.
He argued that, since oil was going to be drilled for somewhere
in the world anyway, was it not better to drill where there were
environmental laws to provide at least some kinds of safeguards, rather than
in countries where there were none?
That was the end of a beautiful relationship.
Environmentalist true believers don't think in terms of
trade-offs and cost-benefit analysis. There are things that are sacred to
them. Trying to get them to compromise on those things would be like trying
to convince a Moslem to eat pork, if it was only twice a week.
Compromise and tolerance are not the hallmarks of true
believers. What they believe in goes to the heart of what they are. As far
as true believers are concerned, you are either one of Us or one of Them.
The man apparently thought that it was just a question of which
policy would produce which results. But many issues that look on the surface
like they are just about which alternative would best serve the general
public are really about being one of Us or one of Them and this woman was
not about to become one of Them.
Many crusades of the political left have been misunderstood by
people who do not understand that these crusades are about establishing the
identity and the superiority of the crusaders.
T.S. Eliot understood this more than half a century ago when he
wrote: "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want
to feel important. They don't mean to do harm but the harm does not
interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are
absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."
In this case, the man thought he was asking the woman to accept
a certain policy as the lesser of two evils, when in fact he was asking her
to give up her sense of being one of the morally anointed.
This is not unique to our times or to environmentalists. Back
during the 1930s, in the years leading up to World War II, one of the
fashionable self-indulgences of the left in Britain was to argue that the
British should disarm "as an example to others" in order to serve the
interests of peace.
When economist Roy Harrod asked one of his friends whether she
thought that disarming Britain would cause Hitler to disarm, her reply was:
"Oh, Roy, have you lost all your idealism?"
In other words, it was not really about which policy would
produce what results. It was about personal identification with lofty goals
and kindred souls.
The ostensible goal of peace was window-dressing. Ultimately it
was not a question whether arming or disarming Britain was more likely to
deter Hitler. It was a question of which policy would best establish the
moral superiority of the anointed and solidify their identification with one
"Peace" movements are not judged by the empirical test of how
often they actually produce peace or how often their disarmament tempts an
aggressor into war. It is not an empirical question. It is an article of
faith and a badge of identity.
Yasser Arafat was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace not for
actually producing peace but for being part of what was called "the peace
process," based on fashionable notions that were common bonds among members
of what are called "peace movements."
Meanwhile, nobody suggested awarding a Nobel Prize for peace to
Ronald Reagan, just because he brought the nuclear dangers of a decades-long
cold war to an end. He did it the opposite way from how members of "peace
movements" thought it should be done.
Reagan beefed up the military and entered into an "arms race"
that he knew would bankrupt the Soviet Union if they didn't back off, even
though arms races are anathema to members of "peace movements." The fact
that events proved him right was no excuse as far as members of "peace
movements" were concerned. As far as they were concerned, he was not one of
Us. He was one of Them.
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