Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Enforcing Norms

We're in a strange place now, where the norms of good behavior, decency, and mercy seem to be broken. Our president lies with abandon, the GOP doesn't pretend to be interested in anything but tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, and the internet is full of trolling, flamewars, and promises of violence.

How does a group enforce its norms and values?  The clearest way is by shunning those who break the norms.  The Republican party is particularly good at this, which is why it's striking when their members don't all vote in lockstep.  (Democratic votes, in contrast, are more like herding cats).

The Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianists are also quite good at this.  As I described in the previous post, the latest example of this was the attack on the elderly writer Eugene Peterson who dared mention that he just might support LGBT people and equal marriage.  Peterson has backtracked and apologized.

Fred Clark writes,
The thing about such apologies is they never work. And also that they’re not really apologies. An apology involves the admission of wrongdoing, along with the offer to correct the wrong, thereby rehabilitating the status of the wrongdoer. But these apologies are not about rehabilitating the “wrongdoer,” only about reaffirming the authority of the gatekeepers. That is their function.
... Battering them into an apology made examples out of them, and that is what they become, henceforth — living examples of what happens when you dare to buck the Powers That Be.
 And he says something interesting, about some former Evangelicals who didn't retract, pointing out Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans. 
It’s no coincidence that the clearest examples of “those who won’t be beaten into submission” turn out to be women. As women, Hatmaker and Evans were never permitted access to the kind of influence or power or livelihood that the patriarchal white evangelical establishment controls. To their great credit, neither of them ever really sought that kind of role. There’s a sense in which the levers of power the evangelical establishment uses to keep others in line don’t work quite the same way when they’re employed against those who were never allowed to get in line to begin with. ... 
Such resisters also demonstrate a fundamental weakness in the scorched-earth ultimatums employed by the gatekeepers. “Apologize and get back in line,” the gatekeepers demand, “or be cast outside the gates.” That’s not a bluff, exactly, but it turns out there’s a big, beautiful world outside of those gates.  
Sadly, Eugene Petereson wasn't brave enough to stand up to the bullies and venture into that new world.

And the members of the GOP who are decent and thoughtful aren't brave enough to stand up to their bullies, either.

No comments: