Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for February 19th, 2007

The banality of courage

Posted by metaphorical on 19 February 2007

I guess I’ve been walking around in some kind of dream state for 50 years. A number of people, it seems, are far more callous and cruel than I’ve understood. Have I been side by side to what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil” all these years? A innocent-looking thread on a mailing list forced the question upon me.

One list member threw out a simple question: Does economic inequality matter?

After the usual fits and starts with an open-ended query like that, one member stated the case for lessening inequality with this:

> For crying out loud, even if we tax someone making a million dollars 50%,
> how morally impoverished do they have to be to complain they are as
> “wretched” as a family living on $15,000 a year?

To which another member, R., wrote the following (reprinted here with permission):

> > Whose morals are you using? I frankly don’t give a damn about the
> > family living on $15K – or $50K – a year.
> > You want to steal – via armed robbery – half of what I make, or
> > more. That is wrong. Government *has* to treat me equally to all
> > others. That means a either a flat tax or a sales tax.
> > This progressive BS has to stop.
> > Must we terminate all the progressive tax advocates to make this go away?
> > We can do that. No guns required.
> > When are the “progressives” going to get *it* that their position is
> > armed robbery?
> > When we nail them to an “X” and leave them out to die, Roman style?
> > Yeesh.

There’s so much to be repulsed by here it’s hard to know where to begin, but “I frankly don’t give a damn about the family living on $15K – or $50K – a year” is as good a place as any.

Now R. happens to be a very pleasant guy on the mailing list most of the time. While you never know who’s really sitting at the other end of a keyboard located deep in cyberspace, he comes across as a member of a type you see often enough if you’re on-line often enough, for long enough: a Rocky-Mountain-state engineer or other professional, white, upper-middle class, middle-aged and almost always divorced.

The R.’s of the world are politically libertarian, though usually making a good living off the government teat indirectly as an employee or consultant for some large corporation with big defense or, nowadays, homeland security contracts. They hunt and fish, seemingly build their mountain redoubts by hand themselves, and extol the virtues of every self-sufficiency from dressing their own meat to home-schooling their children, two activities that can sound frighteningly similar when they brag of them. (Elsewhere in the thread, R. blamed the inferiority of inner city schools not on poverty or inadequate funding, but on teachers’ unions.) They have almost as many guns in the home as books and the 2nd Amendment is by far the most important, since we can recover from the loss of all the others by using our home armories to “take back the country” whenever necessary.

And yet, it’s hard not to find an R. entirely unlikeable. They’re usually excellent raconteurs who seem to find on-line discourse difficult owing to the impossibility of reaching through cyberspace to refill your glass from their own bottle, which is likely to be a well-chosen, well-aged single-malt. And they’re usually men (R.’s are uniformly men) of responsibility and honor. If they’re quick to go to war, at least they’re veterans themselves, and while it’s difficult to turn their minds around, it can happen from time to time when you least expect it.

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