Dana Milbank argues that it is irresponsible for the Southern Poverty Law Center to classify the Family Research Center as a “hate group.”
Milbank’s main argument, used twice, is that it’s wrong to include the KKK and the FRC on one list.
Milbank’s argument is intuitively appealing, but falls apart on second thought. There’s no logical reason that a list of groups engaging in specified behaviors can’t encompass both some mainstream groups and some non-mainstream groups. (Consider that a list of “sports teams” could include both a kid’s 4-square team and an NBA team, even though those two teams have many important differences).
Milbank writes as if to ever utter a harsh word is wrong and uncivil. But he’s mistaken. Some groups genuinely have demonstrated a pattern of hateful behavior, and it’s legitimate to call them out on it. Civility requires us to always treat the humans we are talking to with respect; it does not require us to never say anything that another person might find harsh or discomforting.
The SPLC is, as far as I can tell, careful. They calmly criticize specific extreme behavior by a small number of groups, rather than painting all opposition with a broad brush. In short, the SPLC is not our problem.
The real problem is that American political rhetoric is now overflowing with casual, thoughtless demonization of political opponents. I hear it from both sides: People who disagree aren’t just wrong. Instead, everyone on the other side is evil and stupid and acting in bad faith. Our political discourse is consumed by wild fury, and the sneer has become our default expression.
In a recent interview, science fiction author David Brin talked about people being addicted to self-righteous indignation:
We’ve all been in indignant snits, self-righteous furies. You go into the bathroom during one of these snits, and you look in the mirror and you have to admit, this feels great! “I am so much smarter and better than my enemies! And they are so wrong, and I am so right!”
And if we were to recognize that self-righteous indignation is a bona fide drug high, and that yes, just like alcohol, some of us can engage in it on occasion — as a matter of fact, when I engage in it, I get into a real bender — but then say, “Enough.” If we were to acknowledge this as a drug addiction, then it might weaken all the horrible addicts out there who have taken over politics in America…
Read the comments following the political stories in newspapers and on youtube, and you’ll see dozens of examples of addicts getting their indignation high.
That’s the problem. And I don’t believe that scapegoating the SPLC does anything to solve that problem.
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That’s the end of this post, but I also recommend reading JHW’s excellent comment on why he’s suspicious of “civility talk,” and this blog post: If We Don’t Call it ‘Hate,’ What Shall We Call It? A hat tip as well to David Blankenhorn’s post, for the link to Milbank’s op-ed.
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