Cut off

I think there is a particular evil of our time, one that cuts across the ideological spectrum and demographic groups. It’s the idea that in response to some perceived offense in the world, our highest moral imperative is to cut ourselves off from the offense… or some person or institution or place or practice associated with it.

The theories that underly this moral isolation vary. Some people say they are assuaging their consciences or protecting their rights. Others imagine they can punish or shame another party into change (a theory that is so ineffective yet so persistent in human affairs that it seems diabolical). Still others affect a kind of strutting victimization, claiming that there is some thing in the world that they (or a group they allegedly stand for) are uniquely unable to countenance.

But I think that when you look at the outcomes of this ethic of separation, it is always the same, whether it comes from the right or the left or traditionalists or radicals. It sets up a privileged group: the ones that can *afford* to stand apart. Some can afford it because resources and privilege enable them to isolate themselves. Others leverage access to an identity or experience that their moral stance necessitates they deny to others. Maybe the most tragic group are those who can “afford” isolation because their pride exceeds their love, and they mistake this for some sort of virtue or strength.

In some ways this is a difficult evil to fight, because doing so seemingly forces us to give up a piece of our identities, the index currency of the day. Yet I think fighting it is also so easy, because it involves actions of common decency: listening to others even when they are wrong, being polite even when we feel someone else doesn’t deserve it, or simply waiting our turn to express ourselves.

Those actions of tolerance for others are often interpreted as passive or meek, but in today’s world, I think they are uncommonly brave.