Sudan, Gaza, and further reflections on the incompetence of the citizens
People who are stupid are bad. There isn’t really any such thing as pure evil. Evil is a religious construct without relevance if you’re secular as I am, and I don’t know whether you believe in God Claire, and I’m wary of prejudging your morals, but you come off as secular. Genuine sadists are few and far between, and that’s an understatement. The fact is, if conventional morality has any utility then you should be given to understand that what is good is intelligence, enlightenment, a certain reserve of inner strength that is loth to ask for help from others or to depend on others for a sense of belonging, for example by joining a base political movement like MAGA or “Social Justice.” What is bad is stupidity, ignorance, willfulness, laziness. What is bad is everything that is weak and petty and shameless about humanity. A bad person to me is someone without dignity, without honor, with no self-respect, who depends on the good opinion of others who look like her with whom she shares a shallow “identity” for example. Claire I’m afraid that even though you know this truth about morals, you too often give people a free pass or a license to behave stupidly, because it doesn’t match your definition of knowing, witting evil, which, as I said, is only a religious construct, and an unreliable vector of the virtue or lack of it that counts in the real world. To be sure though a post-Christian egoist like me, perhaps runs the risk of going too far in judging ordinary people for being... ordinary, or themselves. Nevertheless you are too soft because your definition of morality is too contingent on intention. I judge people by assessing the whole character of the individual. Perhaps it strikes you as unusual on the Neoliberal Standard incidentally how I am always making these character judgments. I think character is the best standard for moral evaluation. According to that principle the people who stormed the Capitol or the Gen Z’ers who support Hamas, though they are “stupid” to you, and they are stupid indeed, but they are stupid from my standpoint, because they are: lazy, entitled, selfish, lonely, pathetic etc etc. As an egoist when you realize that there is no such thing as good in the Christian sense, meaning altruistic and charitable behavior, nor is there evil either, meaning someone who inflicts harm just for causing harm, even somebody who enjoys that is only a psychopath with a contemptible personality disorder--and so if everyone is an ego, then the important thing is to judge the characterological type and quality of that ego and weigh its substance. Does it have noble or ignoble traits? How properly human is it? Human as in conscious, rational, free, dignified, modest, perhaps in a narrower sense bourgeois, modern. We determine with our morals--this is whole purpose of morals as a human invention--the kind of world we want to live in. Every moral value judgment is a creative act. This is why you should not let people off easy with a morality that relies too much on intentions, holding people to be innocent who are stupid as opposed to educated or something. We are not blank slates anyway. And if our culture has failed society, enabling what is happening, then the first way of helping it is to restore a less forgiving method of judgment.
I’m glad Claire’s coming around to the obvious. Twitter should be banned, voters of all stripes are idiots, and liberal Western democracy is dying. The United States has had a good run as republics go. 😜
Matt Taibbi disagrees. Also, the special prosecutor came up empty.
I agree that the Russians want generally to influence American elections. I can easily believe that DJT had lackeys eager to talk with them. I don’t think it rises to collusion.
Also, the HRC campaign pretty thoroughly poisoned that well.
I would not have known about Sudan, had I not read Claire’s article. Tragic. I had been concerned about Sudan perhaps 6 years ago and then it fell off my radar. The tweet by Karen is something I have been concerned about since 2019. For 5 years, Racial Equity Alliance’s “Equity Program” implemented by 100 mayors and 25 governors has instructed gov employees and K-12+ university students; “Identify yourselves not as simply American, but as a race group and don’t forget about the good race vs the bad race and remember to become hysterical over a growing list of grievances.” I visited the far left “Code Pink” website to read about Israel/Palestine. Zero mention of Oct 7 Hamas attack. Only mention of Israeli response. Even though Israelis and Palestinians are both multiracial; leftist story is White vs. non-White. I have been fighting against this propaganda for 5 years. I prefer that USA mot become Croatia of 1995. Then Kamala Harris and her “Islamaphobia” meeting and I anticipate censorship by big-tech as Biden Administration obsesses over a cease-fire(That was in place on Oct 6). My woke “friends” of 30 years refuse to discuss. I suppose Israelis should stop colonizing Israel and go back to where they came from- which would be Israel.
It doesn’t help the public to trust information sources when some of it is in fact false. The narrative of Russian collusion in the 2016 is an example. I too didn’t and don’t want DJT as POTUS. That doesn’t make it right to lie about him. Nothing built on lies can last.
People may be starting to recover from what Michael Crichton called “Murray Gell-Mann amnesia”.
There are too many thoughtful things to comment on in this piece and I will certainly have to read it again.
I will stick to the stupid vs. evil argument. In general I would agree. I can forgive ignorance and stupidity many times, especially in democratic countries where people really want to just go about their business.
But this is not one of those times. October 7, 2023 was the most morally clear moment we have had in decades. There was no grey there. There are no ands-ifs-or-buts. Someone's sympathy for Gazans can be excused if they understand that Hamas is the cause of this.
In this case, stupid=evil.
Is there a way to get this in front of the pay wall. I am sitting next to a German colleague who would like to read it. No worries if not.
I tried to get through this on my morning commute through Paris (!) but can't. I get the general sense and will try to finish later
A lot of great points. At a very base level, people seem not stupid, just not curious. Nobody seems interested in learning anything that in anyway changes their view of the world. I've tried to get folks to be curious. But...
"Morons" needs no adjectives -- "socialist," "progressive," "left-wing," "right-wing," "populist," .. -- to make its effects and applicability more precise:
Amusing that Rosenberg thinks right wing morons threaten democracy- I trust he means Trump voters. It is a joy to see academics mourn the improvidence of the masses who vote a wrong think ticket. What is to be done? Well let’s fire the electorate and appoint a new one - after limiting the franchise to some TBD nomenclature like the DNC super delegates. Clearly this site is called the Cosmopolitan Globalist for a reason.
Everyone should consider that Americans vote most often in local elections about which they may be far better informed than expats or DC stakeholders could ever be troubled to discover. Plus foreign policy is rarely on the federal ballot as a serious issue. The executive branch does the decision making as divergent ME policies of Obama/Biden or Trump administrations clearly demonstrate. Sadly if I was an Israeli or even an American Jew, like my wife, less sleep would lost about hairy palmed populists slouching towards Bethlehem than state department bureaucrats, the academic elite, and editorial boards of MSM, left Dems, etc. Those who wield real power are not your friends. This inconvenient truth has quite suddenly become clear but how it impacts the “narrative” we don’t yet know.
Claire - I almost cried when I saw the images from the slaughter in Sudan. So much to say but will try to condense.
I do not have very many outlets where I can share what is probably an unpopular opinion - and please educate me (anyone!) if I am off base because I want to learn and understand - but I am really questioning the consistent use of the word genocide across many platforms since Israel started their attack. I grew up in the '80's/90's and remember very well the genocide in Rwanda. I wrote a piece about it for a media studies assignment in high school and my family was very news oriented. I remember reading the book Zlata's Diary written by a young girl during the Bosnian conflict. My husband's best friend fought in that war as a high ranking Bosnian with NATO. We have visited him in Mostar and seen where he did street battles and sat with his friends who lost families and livelihoods. I know the genocide that was perpetrated there (as I am sure most people here do). Make no mistake - the current attacks by Israel are NOT going to serve anyone and many innocent people are hurting, But is it genocide? No one is kidnapping Gazans, shooting them randomly on the street, raping women, seeking out specifically to take down with guns and knives. Part of me feels like it is being used in an incendiary manner to provoke more emotionalism (thanks for the new term!).
This article really spoke to me because in the past two weeks I have found myself questioning where all these people are protests, in colleges and universities and online have been even in the last 20 years? Suddenly this is massive important to so many people but yet it has been there all along. And yes, why aren't people talking about Ukraine? About Sudan? About Yemen? My theory has always been that America is just so big it generates it's own news (unlike my native Australia where at least growing up, our news programming was more often than not dominated by international news - which wasn't a bad thing!) and so the domestic/local news is all people have the brain space for. But I found myself nodding along to the education system and the cultural aspects of your thoughts. I have a Japanese friend who spent most of her childhood education at boarding school in Venezuela, then her last two years of high school back in Tokyo, and has attending colleges in Japan and the US. We meet often for coffee and bond over the fact that we're foreigners (ha ha!), but since the Trump election in 2016, she has found herself very disappointed in the lack of teaching of critical thinking in the US education system - something that I don't think was always the case?
Regardless thank you for writing such an honest and informative piece (and also for giving a refresher on Sudan).
There are further reasons why there is a protest movement against Israel in the West.
First, Israel is supported openly and directly by the western powers. The protesters feel that the blood of the Palestinians is on western hands too - that's one way that this is different from what happens in Sudan.
Second, Israel is considered a creation of western imperialism and neocolonialism, and one of the axioms of today's left is that all that should be reversed as much as possible. This is consistent with the first point.
It is also worth remarking on the relation between the internal politics of the West, and the politics of the rest of the world. In American terms, the two big alternatives to liberal centrism are Trump and Woke.
Claire has argued that there is a global phenomenon of "New Caesars" and that Trump is one of these. Autocrats outside the West would find it very agreeable if the West too wsa governed in that way.
On the other hand, Woke is usually viewed as a western creation and western export, and even something used to destabilize the rest of the world. But, there is one element of Woke that fits a global trend, and that is anti-imperialism, end of global white supremacy, and continuing the anti-colonial revolution by rejecting western tutelage in political, economic, and cultural matters.
Keeping up with all that is going on everywhere in the world takes a lot of time. Many people's ignorance is a result of them choosing to spend their time on things other than reading and learning. Having been self-employed most of my working life has allowed me some control of my time and now in retirement I've had even more time to read. For 15 years my work had me on airplanes where I read a lot. Most people have most of their time absorbed by work and family. When they have free time, they often spend it on mindless entertainment.
Hence, a population ignorant about most world events and not motivated to learn.
Then there are the young who appear to believe all the knowledge required to function in this world can be absorbed from 30 second videos. That may be the thing most concerning.
Democracy is indeed a fragile thing. When it comes in contact with human nature, it is, given enough time, doomed to fail, The USA is the first republic of its kind. It is an experiment that will determine if a republic so structured can be a form a government that will endure in spite of an ignorant and ill-informed citizenry. Human nature is a formidable obstacle in the establishment of successful self-government. The verdict on the long-term success of our republic is still out.
Lots of interesting themes here, thankyou. Two non-lit-crit thoughts:
1. "Most of our citizens aren’t sufficiently well-informed to vote. They don’t know enough about anything to choose good leaders..." Then again, *voting* in a democracy mostly isn't about chosing leaders. It's about peacefully removing failing administrations. (Binary binding referenda are a truly terrible idea in part for this reason - luckily no recent examples here to point at...). Popular suffrage, "wisdom of crowds" etc is an *alternative* to individual expertise, not a product which depends on it. So I'm much more bothered by the people who think it's OK to violently hijack the peaceful transfer of power than those who don't understand the law of comparative advantage or how a syphon works.
2. How do we measure the prevalance of stupidity? A side-effect of the internet and social media is dramatically more access to content of all kinds - including what would have been private and local expressions of dullitude. Call it thickness-as-a-service, pick any misunderstanding of any given topic and I'll probably be able to find someone proudly expressing it (in a nice hat) on Youtube (in English at least, German costs more). This definitely shows we're more distractable - and I saw distraction was part of the Doom thesis - but I don't know if it shows more underlying stupidity, just fewer inhibitions.
Winston Churchill wrote a book called “The River War” about the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of Sudan in 1896-99, part of which he was present for. It still feels relevant.
I haven't finished reading this yet, because I vanished down a carefully curated rabbit-hole in the middle that ended in... "Oxford on Acid?!"
But yes, I hear people like newsletters.