My latest candidate for “Longest Title.” Thirty-one words, including the one in brackets. (And why shouldn’t we include the one in brackets?”)
In his recent column in the Sunday New York Times, Frank Bruni challenges a style of argument is which a certain behavior is justified – or at least deemed acceptable – because of a contrasting example wherein the behavior is significantly worse.
Examples from Bruni’s column:
"Sure, the Roman Catholic Church has not done right by women. But those Mormons have more to answer for!”
“Yes, there are college presidents with excessive salaries. But next to football and basketball coaches on many campuses, they’re practically monks!”
And, by far, the pukiest example offered by Bruni:
Arkansas senator Tom Cotton insisting on “perspective” for a “Religious Freedom Bill” allowing the state’s merchants to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation, offering the comparison that
“In Iran, they hang you for the crime of being gay.”
Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?
“We don’t hang gays.”
(IRANIAN GAY PERSON: “I’d take that any day. But I know what you’re talking about.”)
“They do it more!” exemplifies of a cluster of justifications that originate in the Fourth Grade schoolyard, and are perpetuated, with a surprising lack of embarrassment, by adults.
Do these sound familiar from Elementary or Middle School?
“They did it first!” (AKA: “They started it!” Justifying “finishing it” as brutally as they want to.)
“They do it too!” (Regularly argued by someone who also does it but considerably more often and inevitably more severely.)
“They do it more!” (AKA – Bruni’s point in his article: “Their behavior is worse!” As in, “So we lop off a finger. They lop off your entire head! Would you rather have that? Huh? Huh?”)
What we’re seeing with these arguments is a deliberate smokescreen, serving to exonerate – their supporters would call it “contextualize” – unacceptable behavior. Bruni concludes his observations with a remindering “Reality Check”:
“There are standards to which government, religion and higher education should be held… There’s right and wrong, not just better and worse.”
Which brings me, finally, to my question.
I am currently reading – on Kindle, and I am a whiz on Kindle, Yay! – a book called The Heart of Everything That Is – The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend, written by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.
Red Cloud was an Oglala Lakota Sioux warrior chief who, after rising to the top due to his victorious exploits against rival Indians, was (at least temporarily) successful in defeating the American forces marshaled against him, and in therefore slowing down the expansionism of the migrating settlers from the East.
NOTE: The issue of “Treatment of the Indians” is an ideological minefield. You cannot use a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb that somebody with an opposing perspective will not find objectionable, or at least biased, and then yell at you for using it. Let it be on the record that, like most people, although perhaps a little more so because of the ubiquitous “Jew Thing”, I condemn any policy in the direction of genocide.
Putting my folk art-buying dollars where my mouth is, my identification with American Indians is recognizably reflected in our living-room, adorned as it is with Indian photographs, paintings, pottery, and artifacts of various types, including a “Kachina Doll” and a small, metal “paint box” containing wrapped sachets of Indian “medicine” – I rub “Soar Joint Medicine” purchased at an Indian “Pow-Wow” on my barking thumb joints every morning. I am unequivocally “All in” with the Indians.
And yet I am still troubled by this question.
Let’s be grown-ups about this. Meaning, no “They did it too!”, “They did it first!” and “They did it more!” We are looking for answers, and those perspectives are not helpful.
Frank Bruni reminds us that, in certain institutional contexts at least,
"There's right and there's wrong."
"There's right and there's wrong."
Acknowledging the unforgivable behavior exhibited by the more recent arrivals to this country in their interactions with the people who were already there, setting aside all blaming and recrimination…
What exactly would have been the “right” way to handle things?
Maybe you can tell me.
As I am at a loss for a workable solution.
(Which in no way exonerates what we did.)