Bigot!

The repetition of a complaint may become by degrees detached in our minds from its basis, and appear to us a problem in itself. Whether or not a movement’s particular legal-political goals deserve on their merits to be opposed, the movement itself or the people who make it up may seem to be, and that a sentiment is understandable, excusable, and justified for the person who holds it, or sympathetic on its own terms, may not make it a sentiment we wish to foster or, especially, to empower.

***

If bigotry is for us a or the primary social sin – the exception under an ethics of universal non-discrimination because by definition discriminatory – to seek to brand someone a bigot is an assault with intent to injure, justifiable only as self-defense, and to prosecute the charge of bigotry out of narrow self-interest, or on the basis of pretext and with minimal regard for harm to others, must be taken as itself unquestionably the conduct of a bigot. Raised to the level of a habitual mode of operation, it associates a movement against bigotry with injustice, identifying its members first as the most certainly bigoted whether or not the worst, second as hypocrites, third as untrustworthy witnesses, and fourth as of a kind with the enemy against whom they have urged us to act.

***

It will be as easy to spot the new bigot as it ever was to spot the old one. The insistence on pre-emptive denial and suspension of critical faculties as proof of moral worth will be the same for both.

***

The simple bigots or those initially charged with bigotry are provided a new argument, putting them in the right even if only contingently. They will be rescued from setbacks, and will reasonably expect an at least provisional, otherwise unjustified restoration of public sympathy.

***

As for the swing constituency, whatever its true size, observation even of a relatively minor or trivial exchange of roles between offender and offended may drive them into neutrality or even opposition, not or not merely as a result of irrational overreaction or political manipulation, but out of a well-reckoned self-interest held also the interest of all: If advancing the anti-bigotry movement forecloses freedom of speech and opinion amidst charges damaging to reputations and even livelihoods, if it entails acceptance or encouragement of hostile rhetoric and destructive action against those who maintain alternative points of view or even a mere openness to alternative points of view, then previously merely abstract concerns regarding social change become concrete, and careful re-consideration of aims and methods in light of unexpected and unwanted consequences will seem prudent.

***

Some will ask, if even the anti-bigots are bigots, then what is to be done but go on from whichever bigotry to whichever other one?

***

The bigots of anti-bigotry become enemies of their own cause, and there will be nothing more likely to slow, halt, or potentially to reverse the progress of a movement against bigotry, and justly, than a perception, or even a mere credible suspicion, that its promise is fraudulent. Recognition of this potential, or political counter-potential, ought be second nature to lifelong idealists, especially to the unjustly late beneficiaries of a general commitment to freedom of choice and conscience. For the same reason, where the recognition seems absent, that absence must encourage further suspicion.

***

Among the anti-bigot bigots, who like all bigots keep to their own, the losses incurred alongside whichever latest victory will tend to remain underestimated where not invisible, until they re-appear as if from nowhere, as the stubborn unreason of all the others, and basis of a firm, self-reinforcing, and increasingly encompassing prejudice.

 


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