Wednesday, June 23, 2004

On Demonizing Opponents

One night on Hannity and Colmes, Sean Hannity interviewed Al Sharpton. Sharpton had recently visited Fidel Castro in his island paradise. Hannity was quite shocked to hear all the fine things Sharpton had to say about the Cuban dictator. I had the impression that Hannity would not allow even one good thing to be said about Fidel. Fidel is an evil dictator, so there cannot be anything good
about him! That seemed to be Hannity’s (specious) reasoning. Here we encounter the phenomenon of demonizing one’s opponents, a phenomenon found on both the Right and the Left. Although Fidel is an evil dictator, it does not follow that he has no good attributes. The same goes for Adolf Hitler, who practically everyone cites as the personification of evil. But it is obvious to any clear-thinking person free of political correctness that Hitler had many excellent attributes. He was disciplined, idealistic, courageous, resolute, a great orator, etc. No doubt Hitler had the wrong ideals, but having the wrong ideals is not the same as lacking ideals. No doubt Lenin used his courage for the wrong ends, but using one’s courage for the wrong ends is not the same as lacking courage. It took courage to break all those eggs especially when there was no guarantee of an
omelet. A bad man can have (some) good attributes, just as a good man can have (some) bad attributes.

Democrat party operatives thought they could smear Arnold Schwarzenegger by claiming that he had once praised Hitler. Suppose he had. That by itself does nothing to cast aspersions on Schwarzenegger. Qua instance of courage, discipline, etc., Hitler is surely praiseworthy. That is not to say that Hitler was a good man. To repeat, a bad man can instantiate (some) good attributes. But
people are so blinded by political correctness, so befuddled by uncritically imbibed speech codes, that they cannot wrap their minds around such simple points as I am making. People say that liberals don’t think, they emote. I would add that when liberals do try to think, they rarely do more than associate. “Hitler bad man! Schwarzenegger mention Hitler! Schwarzenegger bad man!” Another tactic used against Schwarzenegger was to claim that his father had been a Nazi. Suppose he had been. What does that have to do with our man? Do these lefties in their imbecilic group-think mean to suggest that the guilt of the father is inherited by the son?

Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor once got into a silly argument with Bill Maher. Maher had praised the 9/11/01 hijackers for their courage, which elicited howls of protest from O’Reilly, who called them cowards. Now surely my man O’Reilly, right as he is about so much, is in the wrong here. Muhammad Atta and the boys displayed great courage in the successful execution of their nihilistic acts. No doubt the acts in question were unspeakably evil; but courage and cowardice are (dispositional) properties of agents, not of their acts. A courageous person is one who is typically able to master his fear and perform the difficult act that he envisages. It doesn’t matter whether the act is morally good or evil. So although courage is a virtue, hence something good, it does not follow that every act of a courageous person will be morally good. Equivalently, the performance
of an evil act does not show that its agent is a coward. A cowardly person is one who is typically unable to master his fear, and is instead mastered by it, with the result that he cannot perform the act he envisages. It is clear that Atta and his crew were the exact opposite of cowards.

At the root of O’Reilly’s confusion was his demonization of the opponent. He could not allow that Atta and his gang had any virtues, so he could not allow that they were courageous, courage being
a good thing.