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Monday, January 20, 2014

Intolerance - The Arrogance Of The Left

In principle the most tolerant people in America should be academics.  They, more than any of us, have the advantage of scholarly pursuit, historical reference, and the luxury of consideration of a wide range of philosophies and schools of thought.  Even an amateur review of history shows the endless battles over differing religious beliefs, economic systems, and social organization.  It doesn’t take much digging to discover that human beings have always acted in the same, self-protective, expansionist ways and have done so under the banners of nationalism and faith, or for the glory of king and kingdom.  Ten thousand years of human settlement and civilization have confirmed one universal characteristic – intolerance.

So, why then are American intellectuals, trained to rigorously maintain objectivity so often very biased?  Why have they staked out such partisan liberal positions on historical events?  Why are they in lockstep when excoriating the South, dismissing it as a retrograde, second-class region whose residents can never cleanse themselves of racism; and whose racial prejudice is at the root of their hatred of women, gays, and Latinos? According to these Northern academics, the South is a cesspool of villainy – a region of unreconstructed slave-owner mentality, corrosive and distorted views of federal beneficence, and a visceral hatred of the North.  Everything about the South is a result of slavery – its religious and political conservatism, Biblical fundamentalism, rabid individualism, and ignorant dismissal of Darwin.

There have been many bloody Civil Wars in history – The French Wars of Religion, the Roman Civil Wars, the War of the Roses, the English Civil Wars, and the Byzantine Civil War just to name a few of the bloodiest. 

This list does not even begin to include more modern conflicts such as the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War; nor does it touch recent wars in Nigeria, Nicaragua, El Salvador and now in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although all of these conflicts were fought over land, resources, geopolitical dominance, and political self-interest, there were certainly two sides to the story.

Shakespeare chronicles the War of the Roses in the Henriad, Henry VI, and Richard III and there were plenty of claims and counter-claims to go around, and it is impossible to take sides.  The Roman Civil Wars were no different, and it is just as impossible to identify the good guys. The Post-Caesarian civil war (44-43 BC), between the Senate's army (led first by Cicero and then by Octavian) and the army of Antony, Lepidus, and their colleagues were especially convoluted and ended up in a truce and the joining of forces anyway.
The American Civil War was no different.  There were differing opinions of political and economic philosophy; conflicting economic interests and entrenched social systems; and a different genealogy and European history.  Slavery was nothing new and had existed since Mesopotamia if not well before.  Someone had to fire the first shot, so by that criteria the South started the War, but of course the North was spoiling for a fight, and the polarities were so great that conflict was inevitable and inescapable.  Yet American scholars seem to give the South no purchase and no ground.

The same is true with the lockstep solidarity of American ‘progressive’ academics on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  Recently the Association of American Studies decided to boycott Israeli universities because of what it considered was that country’s racist, brutal, unconscionable treatment of the Arabs.  They overlooked the conflict in racist, corrupt Syria, the repressive theocratic regime in Iran, and a hundred other countries which are ruled by corrupt dictators, and honed in on Israel.

Once again, one assumes that intellectual academics are able to appreciate the conflicting claims of both parties, although this might not be an easy task.  Trying to figure out who was in Palestine first – a primary source of dispute – requires an understanding of the movement of Semitic tribes in Arabia millennia ago, parsing of the Bible as a historical record, and digging through archaeological artifacts.  Modern history is simpler, but no less contentious.  Surely the Jews had a right to return to their homeland after 5000 years of persecution; and the Arabs had at least a claim to their property lost in the creation of Israel.

Yet the intolerance of Israel persists.  Perhaps it is because Israel militantly defends its right to exist and will repel all challengers to that premise; or perhaps because of instinctive ‘progressive’ sympathies with the dispossessed and downtrodden; or perhaps because of anti-Semitism.  Whatever the reasons, the academic Left is universally critical of and hostile to Israel when a more dispassionate historian would conclude that both arguments have merit, might has been right throughout history (and it is now Israel’s turn), and the wheel of human events, constantly turning, is a given. 

There is no doubt that the conservative Right has its own prejudices, and even a short visit to the Deep South, the most conservative region in the country, will bear this out.  Conspiracy theories abound about the socialist, godless North, the devil Obama and his African loyalists, the corrupt autocracy of the federal government, and the unholy cabal of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. In some quarters there is not even an ounce of give concerning any social issue (guns, marriage, sexual rights).  There is no such thing as two sides to the question.  This all is not surprising when a solid majority of Southerners believe in the literal word of the Bible and take their secular guidance from it.

The point is not that there is intolerance in the South.  Of course there is, just like everywhere else.  The issue is why are supposedly objective scholars, steeped in the theory of dispassionate inquiry, as intolerant as their red dirt cracker brethren?

One can only conclude that there is no such thing as objectivity; and that intolerance is as much a part of human nature as aggressiveness.  Intolerance of others is a way of defining one’s own beliefs. You either wear a red rose or a white one, sort through any niggling doubts about your choice, and then never turn back.  Progressivism trumps objectivity because dispassionate analysis deprives one of the chance for conviction and a display of social conscience and group solidarity.

So far so good, but these intellectual moralists are never content just to swim in their own familiar waters; but are missionary in their zeal to convert those who have remained ‘objective’. It is immoral, they suggest, not to take a stand, thus adding sanctimony to intolerance.

Intolerance is apparently only for others.  Academic inquiry is meant to discover moral truths, intellectuals say, not historical certainties.  After ‘studying’ the South, one is forced to conclude that it was – and still is – an immoral curse on America. After studying the Middle East, there is only one conclusion – that Israel is an immoral predator.  More objective students of history say that they are looking for commonalities, not truths, and believe they have found them – the perennial, ineluctable display of an aggressive, self-serving human nature; the inevitable conflicts over resources, territory, and power; and the insatiable hunger for wealth. These are the roots of all historical events and under these deterministic conditions taking sides is foolish and naïve.

Intolerance is a fact of life and history.  It is only surprising that those who should know better are the most intolerant of all.


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