Double Standards, Moral Equivalence, and Suicidal Good Intentions

An excellent meditation on the problems of moral equivalence in the midst of a thrash of civilizations.


Double Standards and Appeasement

By Bruce Thornton

Acceptance of a double standard has always been a sign of inferiority. To let someone behave according to one set of principles or values while demanding that you be subjected to others is to validate a claim of superiority that justifies the inconsistent and unfair behavior. A double standard can also reflect incoherent thinking, a failure to apply consistently a principle that presumably has universal validity. In the West’s struggle with Islamic jihad, doubts about the superiority of Western values have coupled with a breakdown in ethical reasoning. The result is the appeasement of jihadist aggression and the confirmation of the jihadist estimation of the West’s corruption.

This is a syncopated account. Double standards are part of life. People who try to live an honest and morally upright life apply them all the time as a part of a therapeutic encounter with others. You don’t expect the same of everyone, and sometimes someone who’s not very disciplined needs encouragement. Our problem is that this therapeutic discourse has been not only mistaken for reality, but turned into a politically correct dogma. And in the framework of dealing with the Islamist/Jihadi attack, it’s proving fatal. Certainly something we cannot afford.

That’s why many Muslims demand from Westerners a hypersensitivity to Islam, all the while that Christians and Jews in Muslim countries are subjected to harassment, assault, and the looniest kinds of slander and insult. In the West, respect for Muslim ways such as the veil for women is supposed to be granted as a self-evident right beyond argument or debate. Yet Western ideals and values, such as the equality of the sexes, are derided, disrespected, and rejected as self-evident evils. The worst inconsistencies, however, involve the violation of core Western ideals, most importantly free speech. Many Muslims demand the right to deny the Holocaust, recycle Nazi-era anti-Semitic drivel, characterize Christianity as polytheistic idolatry, and excoriate a decadent, corrupt Western civilization. But no such criticism of Mohammed or Islam is tolerated, and in fact is met with violence and threats.

This paragraph delineates nicely the contrast between an integrity-guilt culture in which freedom, in particular, freedom of speech, is honored, and an honor-shame culture in which freedom of speech must be subordinated for the sake of image. The pressure from them is on us to show them the way they want to be seen. Thus a demopathic organization like CAIR can get thousands out to demonstrate against movies that portray Muslims as terrorist, but not much of a peep of public protest against Muslim terrrorists.

The past few years have seen numerous examples, from the riots over the extremely mild political cartoons featuring Mohammed, to the uproar over the Pope’s quotation of a Byzantine emperor. The exercise of free speech in all these cases is met with rage, violence, and hysterical demands of “respect” for Islam, but there is no reciprocal respect for Western values. And for the most part, we in the West go along with this double standard, and thus accept the logic of the jihadist position: we are weak and unsure of our beliefs. Our craven behavior is a sign of our inferior status and our justified subjection to those who passionately believe in the rightness of their faith.

I think it’s a bit more complex. It’s a combination of lack of confidence (are we embarrassed to stand up for ourselves?) and overweening arrogance. The “progressives” who espouse this stance think they’re the cutting edge of the moral universe, and covertly have complete contempt for the “authentic” cultures to whom they condescend with their generous concessions. And they translate their moral superiority into a kind of cultural invulnerability. We can allow them to say anything, hold back our criticisms, and freedom will flourish. Now that we have cultures committed to tolerance, they will last forever. So they don’t even see how vulnerable they are.

Let’s be clear on the roots of this cowardly response––the West has lost its faith. We have created John Lennon’s juvenile utopia in which there is “nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.” Shorn of transcendent validation, now all our beliefs are contingent and negotiable, easily traded away for security or comfort. At the same time, the therapeutic mentality bestows on the non-Western “other” a finely calibrated sensitivity to his culture, no matter how dysfunctional, all the while it refuses to extend such consideration to its own. Why would it? Haven’t generations of Western intellectuals and artists told the world how corrupt and evil the West is? Having culturally internalized this self-loathing, we are vulnerable to those who are filled with passionate intensity about the rightness of their beliefs and the payback due to us for our various historical sins such as colonialism or imperialism or globalization. And then we wonder why the jihadist considers us ripe for conquest, and destined to be subjected to the superior values of Islam.

That’s a golden paragraph. I’d disagree with the opening lines just in pointing out that this is one Western response, and granted, the currently dominant one. But I think Western culture is actually far more vibrant than the cramped world of politically correct has to show for, and that we can expect to see — already see — signs of both intellectual and moral resilience. As for the rest of the analysis above, it’s spot on, especially on the way that primitive responses of humiliated rage in the rest of the world (some of them valid) feed off of Western self-criticism to assault the West precisely for what we’ve done right. The biggest imperialists today, openly acknowledged, are the Islamists. And our chattering classes can’t even say it. But have no problem accusing the least imperialist of the powerful nations on the planet — Israel and the USA — of unforgivable imperialism. My sense is that the jihadis are laughing in disbelief at how easy we’re making it for them.

Consider the following cautionary tale, from San Francisco State. Last October the College Republicans held an anti-terrorism rally during which posters painted to look like the flags of the terrorist gangs Hamas and Hezbollah were walked on. Since those flags have the name of Allah in Arabic, a complaint was filed in which the College Republicans were accused of “incitement,” “creation of a hostile environment,” and “incivility.” The complaint is now headed for trial before one of those campus star chambers created to monitor and police student behavior.

You don’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to see that this investigation is a gross violation of the students’ First Amendment right to free speech. This sort of institutional intervention creates what the ACLU––which never seems to make a peep about this sort of “progressive” censorship––likes to call a “chilling effect.” The Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Robert Shilbey, has pointed out the obvious: “At a public university, stepping on a flag—even burning an American flag—is without question a constitutionally protected act of political protest. The right to protest is at the very heart of the First Amendment, and means nothing if only inoffensive expression is permitted.”

Here’s where the double standards and incoherence of much politically correct behavior comes in. On any college campus in this country, every day, inside of class and out, you can encounter speech that is “insensitive,” “uncivil,” or “hostile.” But of course, this speech is directed towards Christians, or “conservatives,” or Israel, or Republicans, or “straight white males.” Nobody attempts to censor this speech or haul people before tribunals to answer vague charges such as “incivility,” which will be defined according to the subjective standards of the complainants. And if someone does complain, the faculty and administration will immediately go into high dudgeon mode and start preaching the glories of
unfettered free speech no matter how offensive. In other words, free speech for me but not for thee.

It’s actually a double-double standard. Not only can we not say nasty things about them which we can about ourselves (double standard), but they can say about us what we cannot say about them. Again, the dysfunctions of self-criticism in contact with honor-shame. We protect their feelings, but we’re “big men” and can take the criticism without becoming enraged. Pushed to its limits — as many have done it — and you’re incapable of even honest indignation and self-defense.

But the ill effects of this hypocrisy are nothing compared to the damage done when the institution caters to the unreasonable demands of those Muslims who, convinced of their spiritual superiority and righteousness, are active enemies of the West and think they are justified in imposing their standards on everybody else, even if those standards violate a core political value such as free speech. And when the appeasement comes from the university, which supposedly exists in order to foster what Matthew Arnold called “the free play of the mind on all subjects,” the message is quite clear: we don’t really believe in all these goods we profess and benefit from, but we will abandon them at the first
threat. And if we don’t believe in them, why should the jihadist?

Which suggests the following speculation. Universities will begin to separate into those dedicated to “the free play of the mind on all subjects” and those dedicated to politically correct taboos. The latter, violating their principles consistently, will begin to lose their authority. The best minds will prefer the realistic and free institutions. With cyberspace making knowledge far more democratic, the big dinosaurs, no matter how powerful now, are in for a chill.

4 Responses to Double Standards, Moral Equivalence, and Suicidal Good Intentions

  1. Thursday Morning Links

    Why John McCain’s campaign is going down the tubes. Ace.Department of Geeky chairs. Marg. Revolution"It’s exceedingly hard to run a business." SippicanSissy takes the David Brooks piece a bit further. SISUPowerline reminisces about the glob…

  2. igout says:

    Unless human nature has changed, most students will reject both pc taboos and the free play of the mind and opt for whoring and drinking, which should keep them out of trouble. Better blotto than brainwashed, right? A certain campus was once scandalized when a Brecht play ended early under a barrage of beer cans. The scribbling old toady of the Iron Curtain deserved it. Vivant inebriata!

  3. phrawg says:

    I think one of the final conlusions is wrong, if England is any example: this will get worse before it gets better. It is very fashionable to hate our own side and love anything that isn’t the status quo, no matter how reactionary it may be, these days. America’s failure in Iraq and the corruption of this administration make for atractive targets, as does israel simply because they are supported by us and because they get bad and distorted press re: palestine. Lefties and liberals will rally around anything that isnt the USA simply because they dont like what we’re doing. This is intellectualy irresponsible of them but it is extremely fashionable these days and will likely get out of hand.

  4. RL says:

    I think one of the final conlusions is wrong, if England is any example: this will get worse before it gets better.

    i think that’s true no matter what we do. the real issue is, will it get better (and by that i don’t mean will it get better 600 years from now (which is what happened with europe after the roman empire fell).

    It is very fashionable to hate our own side and love anything that isn’t the status quo, no matter how reactionary it may be, these days. America’s failure in Iraq and the corruption of this administration make for atractive targets, as does israel simply because they are supported by us and because they get bad and distorted press re: palestine. Lefties and liberals will rally around anything that isnt the USA simply because they dont like what we’re doing. This is intellectualy irresponsible of them but it is extremely fashionable these days and will likely get out of hand.

    it is both out hand and not just “irresponsible” but suicidal. can the left rein in their resentment enuf to survive (and support really progressive causes)? it’s a huge challenge.

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