Sunday, July 09, 2006


The Desire to be Fair

There is a saying in my religious tradition: those who are merciful to the cruel are cruel to the merciful. This saying, naturally, tends to repel liberal minded people and attract reactionaries. But I think it is time we liberals reclaim this saying which really does come from a liberal tradition (albeit any sort of Christian might have a problem with this saying as it does diverge from what Jesus said about loving enemies and not judging -- which makes it odd when supposedly religious Christians display this kind of thinking -- although the case could be made that Jesus was referring to personal enemies rather than cruel people and that judging others is actually ok as long as you do it in a manner that respects, shall we call it, instant-karma).

Reactionaries like this saying because they think it means that it's not only OK to be cruel to people you think are cruel but in fact it's wrong not to be cruel. The problem with how they view the saying is epistemological: how do you know the guy that was picked up off the street in an occupied land was not violating curfew for perfectly legitamate reasons? It is not OK to be cruel to people you think are cruel or even withhold mercy from them, 'cause you never know ...

However, when someone is demonstratively cruel, one should feel no obligation to give them too many benefits of a doubt. Yet this is exactly what newspeople, who are generally liberal in their own minds and view anyone more liberal than they as an unhinged moonbat, do (thus spreading a stereotype of liberals being effete: I wonder, when people think of an "effete liberal" are they thinking of Russ Feingold or Joe Lieberman? So much for supporting Pres. Chimpy McFlightsuit making a person look tough, eh?) -- when Republican political operatives are cruel to them, do they burn those bad sources, etc.? No -- they, like the Holy Joes of the world (who oddly, when it comes to the war on terror, etc., love the reactionary misreading of what it means to not be merciful to the cruel; I guess people like Holy Joe and the Neo-Cons -- how's that for a rock band name? -- just get this sort of thing 100% wrong), feel that they still must be "fair" even when their sources mislead them, Republicans mislead them, etc. We all feel the need to say "both sides are wrong", but when both sides are not equally wrong, why should we descend into the through-the-looking-glass version of moral relativism (every act is equally bad rather than every act is equally good) otherwise peculiar to extreme Christian fundamentalists who take "do not judge" and "all have fallen short of the glory of God" in an odd way, in which being a petty-thief is the same evil as being a mass-murderer, and condemn the petty-thief with equal vehemence to the mass murderer? It is being cruel to the merciful to equate their blunders with the sins of the cruel even if or rather especially if one is trying to be fair-minded and merciful to the cruel. To minimize the sins of the worst of the political lot by saying all politicians are bad and both sides do it, is to be cruel to those politicians who are a little bit better and more merciful than the rest. And such cynicism breeding "fair and balanced" cruelty to the relatively merciful, such through-the-looking-glass moral relativism of the Mainstream Media generates, I would imagine, far more cynicism about the political process than any episode of the Daily Show.

Let's campaign that we stop misreading this statement as a justification for being cruel to those we think may be cruel and start reading this statement as a principle of when it's unfair to be fair, so to speak, and how we liberals can still be liberals but not effete.

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