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Ari Ne'eman @aneeman
, 20 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
I've been grappling with why so many people I otherwise respect persist in blaming mental illness for obviously ideological political violence. I have a theory.
In large swaths of educated, "highbrow" America, we seem to have given up on the idea of good and evil as relevant concepts in political life.
There is a profound desire to believe that we all come from a common moral universe, that the things that divide us are at best misunderstandings and at worst corruption.
We see this in the periodic milquetoast calls that all our country needs is dialogue and togetherness to solve our problems, as if we are all really on the same page on where we want to go.
The idea of people who subscribe to a moral universe that is truly counter to our own, that considers what we believe to be good as evil and what we consider as evil to be good, is so foreign to many of us as to be incomprehensible.
When faced with people who advocate things that are morally alien to us, like racial or religious hierarchy, we assume that they are merely misinformed about the facts. "If they knew what we knew," we think, "they couldn't possibly believe that."
But that simultaneously gives them too much and too little credit. Many people do hold sincerely held beliefs that are horrifying to our moral universe. They operate from a different moral foundation, one that is abhorrent to our sensibilities.
But we're so used to believing that all our differences can be reconciled through dialogue, that to understand the other is always to end in a position of greater sympathy with them. What if that isn't true? We can't imagine it.
It is beyond us, today, to conclude that we have enemies whose moral universe is such that loyalty to our own morality requires us to understand it and them as evil.
We have abandoned the idea of evil in our modern mode of thinking. And so when faced with the incomprehensibly abhorrent, we can only understand it as mental illness.
The ability to medicalize evil renders it an individual flaw. We are thus protected in our belief that our moral universe stands alone, without challenge. We don't have to acknowledge the reality that we have real ideological enemies whose own beliefs are sincerely held.
This tweet captures an important part of it, I think. There is a significant element of "end of history" thinking. We don't want to believe that we still have to defend equality and other dearly held liberal values.
We want to believe that any sane person already endorses those values, or if they don't, doesn't only because they lack the proper data.
But this complacency, this inability to imagine a moral universe other than our own, leaves us ill-equipped to understand and fight our opponents.
If you insist on believing that every racist and anti-Semitism is crazy, you aren't taking racism and anti-Semitism seriously as a force you need to fight.
It isn't an individual character flaw. It's a worldview, one that has held sway over large swaths of humanity for most of human history.
The Nazis were not mentally ill. The KKK was not mentally ill. Every horrific regime throughout history was not mentally ill. They were evil.
To pretend otherwise is to define mental illness down to simply mean "people who do abhorrent things". That hurts people with mental illness. It also leaves us unprepared to fight evil, because we refuse to believe it actually exists.
To solve the problems facing our society and face the threats our liberal society has arrayed against it, we need to resurrect the ancient and seemingly outmoded concept of evil.
Only thus will we be able to comprehend the forces that lead people to kill in the name of racial hatred and stop them.
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