As Ron White notes, you can’t fix stupid. To that I would add that you can’t fix fascist. No better example can be provided than the aftermath of the Boston bombing. As a libertarian blogger, I mostly hear from thoughtful people wondering how we allowed government to grow so big and what we can do about it. Then there’s the anarchist fringe–people who believe that everything, and I mean everything, that government does is illegitimate. Even they have something valuable to offer–a thought-provoking if sometimes kooky lot. Not so for the scum-ridden worms who managed to turn Boston into an excuse to flaunt their fascist side.
I have always refrained from blocking people on Facebook, deleting posts on my page, or otherwise squelching points of view with which I disagree. Intellectual honesty demands that thinking people expose themselves to the ideas contained in The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, and the NY Times editorial page if for no other reason than to remind oneself that people really do think like that. I altered my no-block policy when mindless vitriol starting showing up after the second alleged bomber was caught. I blocked and/or deleted the posts of more than one person whose skull is teeming with spiders.
The offenders were convinced that Muslims in general were to blame for Boston and should be killed. I neither practice nor defend any organized religion, but I do have the good sense to know that Muslims, like libertarians, Christians, and redheads, are not all cut from the same cloth. Some of the sicker posts gleefully noted that the death of the first brother meant one less Muslim on the planet. Just to be clear, I have no qualms whatsoever about killing a man who is lobbing bombs and firing guns at the police. I do have a problem with hateful simpletons who equate his actions with the millions of people who practice Islam peacefully.
One popular post shows a crusty old man looking down the barrel of a gun toward the camera. The caption reads, “How to wink at a Muslim.” Now I ask you, if you have even considered passing that one on, what in heaven’s name makes that funny? Other posts delighted in making references to celebrations of the first brother’s death with a feast featuring pork. To kill someone who poses an imminent threat is perfectly legitimate; to celebrate it in such a crass manner is disgusting.
Is there, within all of us, a dark corner where such bigotry and hatred lives? I wonder sometimes, given the growing number of radical Muslims, homophobic Christians, misogynists, and misandrists who seem to come crawling out of the cellar lately. Is it just easier to assume that every member of a group of people is the same and deserves contempt or is something much worse than laziness at work here?
I suspect bigotry and its political manifestation fascism is a highly contagious disease, but for all my musings about the root cause, there remains a more important question. What should good people do about it? Talking to bigots rarely works; talking to fascists never does. If they were capable of listening and learning, they would be incapable of holding the views they hold. I learned this recently when I (admittedly impolitely*) suggested to someone that calling for the death of all Muslims was, well, misguided. In my view, the author had leapt over bigotry and done a belly-flop in the cesspool of fascism. His response was to offer to put his boot in my mouth. To paraphrase an old saying, don’t try to teach a fascist to think–it just frustrates you and energizes the fascist.
Yet to let such things pass unchallenged is little better than participating oneself. The less noble part of me wanted an chance to grab that boot, twist off the foot within it, and bludgeon the offender unconscious. It was not one of my better moments and I am not particularly proud of it, but maybe, just maybe, there was someone reading the exchange who not only agreed with me, but who learned from me when to shut up and walk away. Perhaps there was even a bigot reading it who will now think twice before becoming a full-blown fascist.
I have no pat answer, no rule of thumb, no guide for good people. I wish I did. Perhaps each one of us must answer the question for ourselves as to when and how to challenge hatefulness. I do know one thing, though. Letting it fester in our society will be our undoing. Better to challenge a bigot now than deal with a fascist later. Just be careful out there–a true fascist can’t be fixed.
*I told him that if he could not do better than that to just shut up.