19 January 2015

On the embedded hypocrisy of movements

I saw this article over at Shea's today. In it he linked to this article at the New York Times. The NYT article, written by a man by the name of Frank Bruni and entitled: "Your God and My Dignity: Religious Liberty, Bigotry and Gays" is about the subject of how one person's rights of religious belief rub up against another person's right not to be discriminated against. Bruni's third last sentence is the source of Shea's article: "And I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts."

Shea's response is straightforward:

In short, freedom of religion means religious believers can say and do as their conscience dictates in the public square. Freedom of worship means that religious believers need to go in the Closet and not come out unless Frank Bruni says so. It is piquant that he says this in a piece claiming that he is just all about religious liberty ‘n stuff... I remember when the NY Times was all about Tolerance and people coming out of the Closet. Of course, I also remember when the gay community was all about opposition to Bullying.

I agree with Shea's evaluation, and have little to add, so rather than dwell on that, I would like to move on and consider Bruni's final lines: "But outside of those places? You must put up with me, just as I put up with you."

The first thing I want to point out about these lines, apart from insisting that believers leave their beliefs at home, is his auxiliary verb in the final sentence- "must"- and where it occurs. It is the believers who "must" do as he says. Believers "must" put up with him, whereas there is no such imperative placed upon him. He will put up with believers out of the goodness of his heart, presumably. It is with this lopsided obligation that I will begin in earnest.

I have said before on this blog that I like people, but I don't like movements. perhaps that is weak: I actually despise movements, and I absolutely do not trust them. This includes movements with whom I have some sympathy. Every movement I have met I find to be dangerous- not only to me, but also and perhaps especially their own members. I also find most of them to be fundamentally hypocritical, though they don't seem to recognize the fact.

Most movements I am aware of begin with a simple sentiment, which can be expressed as follows: "You can't tell me what I can and cannot do." The sentiment is seemingly simple, but it is simultaneously doing two things. First, and obviously, it is telling the addressee that the addressee cannot tell the speaker what the speaker can or cannot do. With this part of the sentiment, I am actually in total agreement. I have no interest- none, zilch, nada- in telling another person what they can or cannot do (except my kids, but that's only temporary.) But hidden within this seemingly simple sentiment is another assumption, for even as the speaker tells the addressee that the addressee cannot tell the speaker what they can or cannot do, the speaker is assuming for themselves the right and the power to tell addressee what they can or cannot do- because they are doing that in the very act of telling them so. "You can't tell me what I can or cannot do." Taken to its extreme, this declaration that no one has power over the speaker is also a declaration that the speaker has power over all. Look at Bruni's final line: it is not far from the sentiment of Thrasymachus: The strong will do as they will, and the weak will accept what they must.

This contradiction, or, more accurately, act of hypocrisy seems to be embedded in so many movements from the very beginnings, though I don't believe most members of the movement see it. They begin in earnest: they are only protecting their rights. However, they cannot escape the effects of their hypocrisy. Over time, if the movement is successful, the members become more and more comfortable in telling others what they must do, even under the guise of merely not letting anyone tell them what they can or cannot do. Judging from Bruni's article, he has become very comfortable indeed with that role. We must accept him and people like him as they are, just as he will accept us, as long as we do exactly what he says. That blindness and malice is one of the end products of the hypocrisy of movements. The argument breaks down into power, and who has it. In claiming that we have no power over them, they are claiming great power over us.

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