Monday, April 29, 2013

The Perils of Equivocation (and Bombs)

Thinking is hard work. Sometimes it’s unpleasant. Often it forces us to admit we’re wrong, but worst of all, it occasionally necessitates disagreeing with other people. This is never more apparent than when we discuss issues that actually matter, like politics, religion, and the possible connection between the two in certain instances. We all want to avoid conflict, but how?

The solution that academia has offered us is moral-relativism disguised as diversity and sensitivity. We can all agree to disagree and simply avoid difficult conversations by making sure they never happen in the first place. Won’t that make the world a better, happier place?

Only if you’re willing to trade argumentation for explosions, but for some, these appear to be approximately as threatening.

What played out in the media in the days following the Boston bombing could best be understood as a collision between the relativism bandwagon and the freight-train of fact. Even before the dust had fully settled in Massachusetts, the political-commentary magazine “Salon” posted an online article entitled “After Boston explosions, a scapegoat emerges on the right,” which vehemently and preemptively denounced the blaming Muslims for the bombing. A few days later, Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Rep. Peter King of “develop[ing] some real disdain and hatred on public television,” for suggesting that there is a threat coming from within the Muslim community.

In an ironic but predictable twist of events, it turned out that bombers were not radical Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Christians, Quakers or Scientologists, but two brothers who subscribed to the same militant strand of political Islam as those who perpetrated 9/11, 7/7 and various embassy attacks, beheadings and bombings around the globe.

As stated by Randall Munroe, the artist behind the web-comic series “XKCD,” “correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there.’” Could there be a causal link between particular religious beliefs and acts of violence and intolerance?

I would posit that ideas have consequences. The belief that the eternal creator of the universe hates all unbelievers, an incessantly repeated idea within the Quran, could very well lead to the particular pattern of religious violence we’ve seen in the news over the last decade.

Before jumping to the false but traditional charges of “racism” and “Islamophobia” that people use to escape difficult discussions (as if a critique of an idea was a bias against an ethnic group or an irrational fear), think about the stakes for a moment. Just within April, two radical Jihadi men were sentenced to just under 20 years in prison for planning on attacking the Military Entrance Processing Center in Seattle, Canadian police arrested two more for preparing a major terrorist attack on the Amtrak-Via passenger line near Toronto, and three were arrested shortly before attempting to attack the British town of Wooton Basset. It would appear that the sheer effort of our intelligence agencies are all that stand protect us from something like a Boston bombing every few weeks.

Is protecting people’s sensibilities and avoiding the work of defending ideas on merit really worth that? If certain ideas—not individual rights, but ideas—remain off-limits to coddle people’s emotional sensitivities, then the odds of this pattern changing are slim. At the very least we—particularly college students, the future of our nation—must recognize just how high the ante really is. Lazy thinking and equivocating is an easy trap to fall into because it allows us to think of ourselves as good, moral people without having to take a stand if we can equivocate a bombing and the statement that the bombing might be part of a larger trend with a clear ideological cause. It’s so easy.

But thinking is not easy, and we should resist the desire to take the easy path because the safety of conformity is explosively deceptive. In his famous tract “Self Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson argued that in the pursuit of truth, we “must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.” It is a demanding task to critically evaluate euphemistic canned values like “diversity” and “tolerance,” but given the state of the world we live in, it might be necessary.

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