|Jeff has packed more wisdom in his previous two posts than has appeared on certain Web sites and blogs (probably including my own) in the past six months. Great job, Jeff.|
He fleshes out exactly what I meant in post #60 about Certain People's curiously sudden, extreme, mercuric changes of opinion -- changes of mind not just about one or two people or groups, but a whole host of them. What begins as soaring, improbably lofty, unremittingly hyperbolic praise, transforms overnight into raging, improbably condemnatory, unremittingly hyperbolic vituperation. Yesterday's archangel becomes, in a heartbeat, the devil incarnate.
And when you see that sort of thing happening over and over again, you have to ask yourself why.
One good thing about the Internet is that it provides a permanent historical archive of an individual's public words. If you take the time to trace the history of comments made by Certain People about others, you will shake your head in disbelief -- not just at the astonishing extremes of initial praise and subsequent damnation, but often at the sheer pettiness of the issue that sparked their overnight changes of opinion.
The pattern is always the same. Once some disagreement, no matter how minor, occurs between Certain People and another individual, Certain People interpret it as a "flaw." Because they previously held an exorbitantly lofty image of the other person, they immediately inflate the "flaw" into a "moral flaw" -- which they interpret as a fundamental insight into that person's entire character.
From there, a whole torrent of rationalistic deductions then ensues: "If X believes or is motivated by that (evasion, evil, lie, etc.), then he must ALSO believe or accept Y, Z, A, B, C, etc."
At that point, Certain People try to reconcile their new, ugly interpretation of the individual and his alleged evil motives with their entire past experience with that person. They do this by rationalistically reinterpreting that history to make it conform to their new paradigm. Suddenly, all the good or benign words and actions of that individual are seen "in a new light" (more accurately, in a new darkness): e.g., he was "really" being a fraud and manipulator all along; what he "really" meant by those words and actions was something secretly malignant; his "real" motives were (fill in the blank) envy/malice/exploitation/etc.
Now most ordinary persons who have had first-hand experience with the targets of such wrath will shake their heads in disbelief at such accusations. That's because the overwhelming majority of those targets are exceptionally nice, remarkably productive, and highly ethical people. Are they perfect people? Absolutely not. Do they sometimes make mistakes? Sure. But overall, they're way, WAY better than your average schmuck.
That people of such quality are singled out for seething, enraged vituperation seems so wildly disproportionate that a reasonable person asks himself: What in hell is really going on here? From experience, whenever I spot words and behavior that seem wildly disproportionate, I have learned to suspect some form of platonism: a commitment to some premise torn from a full factual context.
Sometimes, the platonism begins simply as infatuation with a person, as in a romance. "Infatuation" differs from "love" in the same way that rationalism differs from rationality: the missing element is context. But whenever the full context finally IS acknowledged, the result is a painful "disillusionment." Yet that very word -- disillusionment -- suggests what has been going on all along: the maintaining of illusions.
There can be many motives for this kind of context-dropping. On the benign end of the spectrum, it can be the simple craving for heroes and perfection. (I speculate that Ayn Rand succumbed to this tendency more than once, and thus tended to infatuate about some individuals -- with explosive consequences.) On the malicious end of the spectrum, it can be any of a host of ugly motives.
But whatever its motive, one thing can be said with certainty about this mercuric m. o.: it is unjust. Because assessments of people, positive or negative, are made apart from the full context of ALL the relevant facts about them, those individuals are either praised or damned excessively. They are not treated exactly as they deserve to be -- as they have earned.
For to treat a basically good person as an angel, or a somewhat flawed person as a devil, is not "moral judgment": it is an evasion of moral judgment -- an evasion of the difficult responsibility of rendering a careful, fair, proportionate judgment.
A personal word in closing. Some months ago, I promised readers of my blog that I would address some of the personal attacks that Certain People had publicly launched against me, and the methods underlying their attacks.
Well, I believe that I just did.
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto
on 5/07, 3:24pm)