Green Light People

Clifford D. May has been noticing what I’ve been noticing:

The controversy over plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan has taken an odd twist. On one side are those making arguments in opposition to the project, along with those who merely have questions they would like answered so they can decide for themselves whether this project will honor the victims of 9/11, or mock them. On the other side are those who support the project wholeheartedly and who respond to both arguments and questions by saying: Shut up.

Most prominent among the second group is New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. It would be one thing if Hizzoner were saying: “I hear your concerns and I have questions, too, but municipal laws and the First Amendment permit this project to go forward.” But he is not saying that. He is saying instead that those with misgivings about the 13-story Islamic center that is to rise near where the Twin Towers collapsed “ought to be ashamed of themselves…It is a shame that we even have to talk about this.”

All together now, one, two, three: “‘Shut Up,’ He Explained.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.

A perfect example of this exists at Ed Darrell’s place. I took great exception to the statement so breezily included in a piece he embedded…

No one knows how many Muslims died on 9/11, but they number in the hundreds.

How in the world could that be true, I wondered? We know, down to a nose, how many people perished in total; we have their names; but we cannot even ball-park the number of Muslims? Suffice it to say, after much discussion that has ensued, I do not have an answer to my question but I have lots of evaluations about my personal character, or lack thereof, from people who do not know me.

Cordoba Center should be given the green light, and anyone who says otherwise is a terrible person.

Well, that dog just won’t hunt this time around. If Cordoba Center is intended as a soothing balm for the relations between the Islamic world and the Western world, nobody connected with Islamic terrorism has anything to do with supporting it or funding it; if that negative can be somehow proven; then still, there are some vestigial reasons for opposing the issuance of a permit. I cannot think ill of someone who would so oppose. It’s pretty hard for me to think well of someone, who would counsel me to think ill of that other someone.

Does all this really even need to be said?

Apparently, not only does it have to be said, we’ve got quite a few people who will never catch on. Truth and decency are casually conflated into one thing, the “red light” and “yellow light” people are fused together in one big group of “you people.” And “you people” are all bad, of course.

The problem with that is, that if these people were as good at logical thought as they claimed to be, they’d not only recognize this as ad hominem but they’d recognize the reason honest people frown on ad hom: It’s all bullsh*t because it’s all irrelevant. If you’re caught being wrong about something, it means — nothing. Intelligent people are wrong. Decent people are wrong. Honest people are wrong. You don’t have to wait long to see it happen.

Stupid people often turn out to be right. Let’s pause here and carefully define exactly what I’m saying: Glittering personal attributes are not reverse-barometers of good ideas. That would be a silly thing to say. They are irrelevant, or mostly irrelevant.

And so a sound debate will revolve around the ideas. Not the character of the people who are debating them.

The “green light people” who think the Cordoba Center should be given the go, offer us a picture of why the national discourse has deteriorated in recent years. How could it not? They have settled upon an idea that they think insulates them from any lasting accusations that might concern their moral deterioration; this is demonstrated because they leap so quickly to condemnation of anyone with a different idea, as morally deteriorated. They don’t agree with my observation, up above, that good people can have bad ideas & vice versa. They think an idea is both a litmus test and a lodestar.

This mindset does two things. They’re both bad.

One. Since your beliefs shape your personal character, and your personal character shapes your beliefs, and both character & beliefs are on one side or the other of a line separating goodness and badness — beliefs cannot change over time. It is quite out of the question, since the object of the exercise is to manifest personal wonderfulness, and all that progress is going to be set back if the slightest bit of personal ugliness (or questionableness) is tossed in the mix. The idea, therefore, must be unrelentingly consistent. This is a mindset that is anti-learning. It will not permit the evolution of a thought; it will not permit change.

Two. It creates rancor where there’s no reason for it to exist. That thread over at Ed Darrell’s place is a perfect example of what I am talking about. You have the right idea and so you are wonderful. What, then, do you think about someone who does not have the same idea? There is only one answer: You conclude, with no uncertainty whatsoever, that this must be a moral reprobate. Bigoted. Ignorant. Xenophobic. And you get to list, endlessly, all the groups of people who are hated — by this person you do not know and are never going to meet. Anybody else who takes the same point of view must be equally loathed, equally damned. And what do you do with them? You cannot leave them alone. It becomes a glorious crusade to make sure they cannot have any influence upon anything. Oh, and it goes without saying that if this is a person ensconced in a position of power and authority, that person should be driven from it.

So this mindset held by the green light people, promotes both ignorance and hate. These are the two things they are supposed to be opposing.

Nowhere does this become more evident than with their dealings with the “yellow light” people. And I guess that’s me. I do not live anywhere near Lower Manhattan, I don’t know anyone who’s lost a relative in the attacks. And I must admit, I find the singling-out of one religion to be extirpated from free expression within the vicinity, for whatever justifiable reasons, to be disquieting.

But I do find terms applied to the red-light people, like “prejudice and ignorance” and “narrow-minded intolerance,” to be unfair. For daring to raise my voice about it, I am to be subjected to the same criticism they are.

Intelligent, honest people do not argue a point by shunning, and that is a primary characteristic of shunning — that it is contagious, that it cascades. This is how you know you are in the presence of an intellectual lightweight. You are to be shunned, whoever does not shun you shall be shunned, whoever does not shun he who failed to shun you, shall likewise be shunned. These are signs of a big mouth coupled up with a weak mind.

Politics have become contentious, because this has become our chosen technique for discussing them: ostracism, alienation, excoriation, derision, all of it spread by contact. And I blame our most strident liberals. I think that’s fair. And the “green light people” at the center of this particular issue, represent the most brilliant example of why I think this way. They have created the situation in which the rest of us are living, and we have been allowing them to create it.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Washington Rebel.

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