Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Taking Pains

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a would-be censor has taken to purposefully misfiling books that are critical of President Trump or contain topics concerning progressive politics, gun control, LGBT-related information, how the criminal justice system deals with minorities and women's suffrage. In a sense, this is unsurprising. Coeur d’Alene is, after all, there the Aryan Nations decided to set up shop. The public library was previously targeted back in the 1980’s after the city used money from a civic courage award to buy books on human rights. So far, so Coeur d’Alene. The place’s reputation is such that a friend told me that when the company his parents worked for opened an office there, they were unable to find any non-White employees willing to move there to staff it.

But the bit that I find most interesting about this entire situation was the note to the library director that concluded, “Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.”

As the parties become more homogeneous and more alien to each other, “we are more capable of dehumanizing the other side or distancing ourselves from them on a moral basis,” Lilliana Mason, a political scientist and the author of Uncivil Agreement, told me. “So it becomes easier for us to say things like ‘People on the other side are not just wrong; they’re evil’ or ‘People on the other side, they should be treated like animals.’ ”
Civility Is Overrated
“I take pleasure in the thought that I am hurting you,” is simply a next step along that path. As the one thing that people of differing political persuasions have in common becomes the idea that the other actively enjoys acting in bad faith or to the detriment of the nation, we would expect to see more and more partisans expecting that thwarting the actions of those they dislike would cause them some pain. But from there, it’s a short distance to seeking to injure them out of the sense that such injury is not only pleasurable, but a laudable (self-)defense of what is right and just.

The alienation of partisans from one another makes both the sense that the other enjoys acts of “evil” and that there is righteousness in causing them pain more common. There is, at this point, an industry that had devoted itself to supplying the need for caricatures of “the enemy,” and one that tends to see itself as responsible for righteous anger, yet innocent of anything that proves embarrassing to the broader cause. And as taking pleasure in the supposed suffering, mental or physical of others become yet another arena in which partisans compete with one another to show their devotion, the risk rises that the whole situations starts to spin wildly out of control.

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