“I am a citizen as well as an individual soul and one of the things citizenship teaches us, over the long stretch, is that there is no perfectibility in human affairs… In this world there is only incremental progress… It might look small to those with apocalyptic perspectives, but to she who not so long ago could not vote, or drink from the same water fountain as her fellow citizens, or marry the person she chose, or live in a certain neighborhood, such incremental change feels enormous… We will never be perfect: that is our limitation. But we can have, and have had, moments in which we can take genuine pride… Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”
“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong”
— Thomas Sowell
It’s been just short of a week now since news broke that the President of the United States had contracted the novel coronavirus and subsequently was taken to Walter Reed to undergo treatment for COVID-19. Since then many liberals and leftists have taken to social media to voice their fear, anxiety, and compassion for the President’s recovery.
In the ensuing uproar of opinion and speculation, the party has broken into warring factions as the misinformation swirled and tempers rose. On one side many on the left sent well wishes to the president, and many others sent wishes not just of severe and worsening illness but of death as well.
Each side attacked the other, preaching and moralizing about whether or not the act of wishing well or wishing ill on a man who had caused the suffering of so many was right or wrong. They debated what this said about the Democratic party, where it’s been, where it is headed, and how it has become—in the eyes of both sides of the argument—exactly what it professes to hate.
If I am honest, I had myself been fervently wishing the President, and his entire administration would contract the virus since at least last March. I heard his downplaying and his rhetoric. I saw how little action was taken. I marked the way blame was passed, and became disgusted.
I wanted him to catch it not so that he would die from it but so that he would understand the severity of the pandemic, empathize with those most affected, and step up and lead the world. I wanted him to protect those he was elected to represent. I wanted him to learn and if he must learn the hard way, then so be it.
This is not the first time I have wished harm on those who believe and vote politically opposite me. For most of my life, I’ve watched as politicians stood behind podiums to spew hatred and disgust my way as well. I am a woman. I am Black. I am queer. There has been no election cycle I can remember that left me unscathed, and year after year I watch as they take and exchange power and give no thought or care to those like me.
This is why I cannot bring myself to sustain friendships with those who identify as conservative or vote Republican. I know my value as a human being and my experience under their power is of no consequence or care to them. They extend me no well wishes for healing or happiness. Their platform is full of wishes for quite the opposite.
And from where I have stood and fought, as one person with so little power that there are years I believe I have none at all, from here, sometimes, all I have is my anger, my disgust, and my hatred to get me through the shame and fear and disappointment.
These past four years I have clung to those emotions and, if I am honest, I never did have any well wishes for the President or his administration. Then, when the news first broke of the President’s illness, I went a step further and reveled in the jokes and the irony. I empathized with the death wishes and I have to admit I was somewhat disturbed by those purporting to take the high road and wishing the President a full and speedy recovery.
How quickly we forgot the hurt him and his supporters had visited on the most vulnerable and the hurt they yet plan to visit on us. How quickly we forget the victims and those who received no such well wishes or resources for full and speedy recoveries. How quickly we bring the enemy into our hearts.
I wish this man no such healing, but I recoiled at the thought of wishing him from this world. In some ways, it felt right to do so, but I stopped short, though I could not put into words why I felt both ways at once about it.
Wishing death on someone, to me, is not morally wrong, it’s just futile. A wish is not a reality. A wish is just a thought and thoughts come both from us and from outside of us. Thoughts come bidden and unbidden, sometimes understood, sometimes not. We think things we mean and things we don’t mean and those thoughts can lead to action or they can be released to float along back to the void whence they came.
A wish is nothing more than the expression of the emotion and history it was born from. Wishing death on someone speaks more to who both the “wisher” and “wishee” are than about what the universe is capable of or what the future will bring, of which it has absolutely nothing to offer.
Only action can influence an outcome and our thoughts and wishes can influence action, sure, but they will not bring about the desired end alone. But maybe that isn’t the why of the wish at all? Perhaps a wish is just a kind of outlet for all that anger, all that hurt, all that disgust, and that unfathomably deep hopelessness so many of us have been navigating somewhere between these past four years and our entire lives.
When the world hates you, wants you dead, and often kills those who live and look just like you no matter how you beg, reason, or fight isn’t it at least reasonable to see the death of those who incite and justify such cruelty as the only, or at least the most available solution? And when the possibility presents itself through an ironic and almost hilarious turn of events, would you not revel in their fate yourself?
When looked at through a lens beyond morality and through one of human suffering the wish itself is not beyond understanding and those who long for it are not beyond our understanding, but there is something somewhat distasteful about it, no?
The internet and its nests of social media platforms and their promise of anonymity and insulation make it too easy. I worry we say things we normally wouldn’t. I worry we say things we don’t mean to. I worry we urge one another to emotions we might not otherwise feel or express if it weren’t for the bubble of approval and ever-growing radicalism the algorithms place us in.
So, what is right, and what is wrong? More importantly, how do I really feel? I have said the same ugly things I see coming up my timeline. I’ve liked, retweeted, and lent affirming words to those dark wishes. I’ve let myself be dragged along by this dark turbulence and I will tell you it has, at times, felt satisfying, even good, even right and I still leave myself open to the possibility that it is right.
To save 200,000 lives, would you sacrifice one? To prevent the starvation, the mutilation, the indignity, the dehumanization of hundreds of thousands, would you give one? That is how some people see it, and who am I to condemn such a point of view so long as it begins and ends as an opinion and free speech? Who am I to know this is not the greatest good or the justice that the arch of the universe so bends?
I can only decide for myself, and if there is no harm to the world if I wish my dark little wishes and dream of easy resolutions to the pain I want desperately to soothe, then why not? I am, after all, only human and what I want is what any human would, a world where the cruelty makes sense, where great suffering is met with great justice and the righteous always win. I want the satisfaction of an eye for an eye.
Still, I pause, and take note of the claim that when I wish that harm on others, I do something darker and more harmful unto myself. They say the soul becomes soiled and we become what we hate most when we put our hatred to language.
Though I don’t believe in souls, I am conscious of how easy it is to get caught up in your emotions, desires, and need to have the world made right by any means necessary. I know how easy it is to lose yourself before you know you are gone. I know there is darkness in each of us that must be daily kept at bay. So, I ask, what do I do to myself when I wish ill on the living? And what does the desire to see those I’ve decided are “them” say about who I am and who I consider the corresponding “us” to be?
When I wish ill on others, I suppose it says that I am angry. It says that I have found no greater outlet or resolution to my anger. It says I have begun to believe some people are unchangeable and unredeemable and that heir harm cannot be made right. It says that I see their bid to retain power puts all of our lives at risk. It says I am afraid, and when a person is afraid they lash out. They lose rationality. They think and even act in violent and tribal ways. It says I am hurt and sometimes when we hurt we want to see others hurt too.
When I stop to reflect on who I am when I wish others would hurt, I don’t like or even recognize that version of me. I don’t believe wishing the worst on someone makes me a bad person, and I certainly do not think it makes me as bad as the ones who would misuse their power, but I am disturbed by those thoughts. I don’t like what it means for what I believe about the worth of human life and the right each of us has to a certain level of respect and dignity. I don’t like what it means for human redemption and or the possibility for growth and contribution.
Of course, I have my doubts people such as these would ever change and I have further fears for the future should the next four years follow the path of the last. I still cannot, or perhaps will not, bring myself to long for full and speedy recoveries. I simply have no sympathy left for those who would not extend it to the vulnerable ones who suffered before or because of their actions and inactions.
What I would like to do is take some control or at least offer peace to that place in me where those dark thoughts have taken hold. So, I have been thinking of a third path, a place where I can give space to both sides of myself and let my most human emotions and thoughts be free but preserve that sense of optimism in the human spirit and believe if the worth of every life.
For those who have hurt me, hurt others, and hurt the world, I do not wish them ill, nor do I wish them well, instead I am allowing myself a place and the peace of neutrality.
I empathize with those who think their useless thoughts and wish their pointless wishes from places of pain, grievance, and fear. I also give space to those who from their place of protected privilege would extend sympathies to those who have caused great harm but who remain human, and for my part, no matter how the outcomes unfold I will not feel disappointed nor will I feel satisfaction.
I will feel nothing, say nothing, give nothing of myself because the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, and this is what I choose to extend to those who have used their power to harm and divide, or worse. I offer no wishes at all and no feeling whatsoever for your fate. I leave you to the cold, uncaring universe and watch with bated breath to see how you fare with all the rest of us in such a place.
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Michael Barbaro: You used the word “prudential.” And that caught me a little bit. Because you’re not using a word that conveys morality or faith. You’re saying “prudent,” if I’m hearing that word correctly.
Marjorie Dannenfelser: Yeah. I think actually religious people use that term quite a lot. Because it acknowledges a hierarchy of goods and evils involved in any decision. That decisions of great consequence often involved a blend of goods and bads.
And your job is to figure out where the highest good is found. Which choice leads to the highest good. And that’s the choice we had to make in that moment.
I had never heard of Marjorie Dannenfelser before this interview and though, obviously, her views are as opposed to mine as possible, I am very interested in her views and strategies in politics.
Democrats, Liberals, and Leftist have been at each other’s throats on social media these past months, or, really, these past years and elections cycles, over what is the best way forward to both keep our principles intact and win.
I’ve found myself torn between the warring factions of supporting perfect candidates only or choosing the lesser of two evils. I do not think either strategy is morally wrong per se, but I can see the possible harm both paths can lead to.
If you support less than perfect candidates and ideas progress move more slowly and you are complacent in the harms that candidate and their ideas inflict as well as the norms you reinforce by sending the signal that those harms are okay.
On the other hand, if you only support perfect candidates and ideas then change may never happen and, worse still, the other side wins again and again and greater harms can be inflicted in the short term on a greater swath of the population. Just look at how many have suffered and how much we have lost in just the last 4 years because the left could not unite behind Hillary Clinton.
The upside is that you can (in theory) claim immunity against those harms and, when the change does come there is a higher chance it will come faster, be of greater benefit, and benefit a greater swath of the population than you would get through any other imperfect candidate.
In listening to the above interview with Marjorie Dannenfelser I am struck by how simple, how easy, the choice is for her. She looks at the choices she has in front of her of her, not the choices she wishes she had, or the choices she may have four years, eight years, or a generation from now, the choices she has right now, and chooses what, in her mind, will lead to the greatest good.
I think this is the most realistic and the most effective way not just to vote, but to engage in politics on all levels.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, I’m sure, does not like Trump personally. I’m sure his actions disgust and outrage her, just like the rest of us. I’m sure she had to hold her nose when she cast her vote for him, but she is seeing her vision realized through this choice because she knows what she stands for and she saw how to get there. She is willing to make a hard choice for those she believes are vulnerable and need protecting.
Shouldn’t we be doing the same?
And what are we doing on this side of the political spectrum? We are floundering. We are in a constant state of reactionary politics and reshuffling our focus and principles. We blame each other. We ask too much of each other. We do the enemy’s work for them, and all this outrage, worrying, preaching and putting one another down for not engaging the way we want in politics as we wish it was played is not leading to the greatest good. It just feels good.
It’s also a privilege. To have the luxury step out of the ring and refuse to play or support anything that doesn’t perfectly align with your views means you know that in doing so your life will hardly change at all. There are a lot of people for whom the last four years have not been all that different from the four years before that, and for them the next four won’t be all that different either.
The Supreme Court granted me the right to marry. The Obama Administration gave me health care, a diagnosis, and affordable treatment for a condition I might have otherwise died from. My life is vastly different than I ever thought it would be because people voted and my life could vastly change again if people don’t.
I know Biden isn’t perfect and increasingly I doubt any politician ever will be. The thing we have to keep in mind is the wide-ranging changes to all levels of government, everyday life, and the country’s consciousness simply by him being elected, and that is the greatest good I have to focus on right now because who knows what turns the future will take and what we’ll be facing or what choices we’ll have in another four years.
This is what we can control.
This is what we can choose.
“And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize. Not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.”
I have watched this video through dozens of times just in the past couple of days. As frustrated and infuriated as I am with what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to go through I’m happy she was able to respond in this way.
She took her personal but not at all unique experience and brought it to the national stage in a way we can all identify with, internalize, and learn from. She is showing us all how to stand up and speak up, how to hold others accountable for dehumanizing language, and articulated perfectly the very real harm that this language inflicts on all of us.
I only hope Rep. Ted Yoho and men like him learned something too…
[I]f the father works and the mother works, nobody is left to watch the kids. In societies where these families constitute the majority, either government acknowledges the situation and helps provide child care (as many European countries do) or child care becomes a luxury affordable for the affluent, and a major problem for everyone else.
— Ariel Levy, Lift And Separate