You Will Be Judged, as You Judge Those Who Came Before You

Why are the Democrats falling over each other to condone Obama?

Posted Aug 05, 2019

Elio Martino
Source: Elio Martino

It’s January 5th, 2049, protestors gather in broad daylight on the 40th anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration as President, to tear down a statue of him resurrected in recognition of his accolades: first African American president and Nobel Peace prize winner, to name just two. His crimes, however, dwarf his achievements. His character is unimportant, his position in history insignificant when paralleled to his heinous crimes towards… animals? Barack Obama, you see, not only ate meat, he condoned the enslavement of animals by virtue of inaction in a position of unparalleled authority. In 2049, cultural anthropologists may say that his record is tarnished by allowing animals to be farmed, enslaved and bred for the sole purpose of being eaten. Indeed, he himself continued to eat meat, despite our knowledge of the living conditions of most domesticated animals destined to be a steak. Context is irrelevant, in 2049 eating an animal is barbaric, therefore anyone who ate meat can only be viewed as barbaric.  Next to the torn down, shattered statue a strew of signs are left behind. One reads “a man of hate does not belong in our history books”. Another hastily scrawled “does not represent MY America”. If they had their way, President Obama’s name would be lost to the sands of time as an “evil man”.

Without the context of time and space, few great people have lived a pure enough life to inoculate them from the judgment of radical social justice. It’s a simple fact that needs to be addressed in a time of removing artwork depicting the life of historical figures because they reflect some ugly truths about America's history. As Roberta Smith, writer for the New York Times notes:

“Those favouring destruction think that they know what the art is about, and that they have the right to decide for everyone, now and in the future, what will be accessible, what will be known”

It is deeply unpleasant when you ponder the fruits of the labor we enjoy from flawed people. Do you feel guilty when reading HP Lovecraft, knowing full well he was outwardly racist, extremely xenophobic and homophobic? You are paying money to the estate and publishers of a man who hated black people and Jewish people; is this OK? Should his books be allowed in public education? These are not easy questions to wrestle with; it is tempting to follow a knee jerk reaction of disgust, a blanket ban and erasure of his significance to fiction by banning his work and likening anyone who reads him as associated with his views. In fact, most people’s works you love in literature, something few people would want to be parted from, are likely to have unpleasant world views when judged by today’s sensibilities.

Psychologically, people appear to be responding to four major mechanisms when wishing to erase these individual works from cultural consciousness and label them as problematic:
1) Virtue signaling to their ingroup
2) Disgust
3) Guilt or original sin
4) The need to put things into boxes.

The most recent 2019 democratic debates and social media in-house fighting serves as an excellent anthropological study into the first on the list: virtue signaling. When an ingroup sets a narrative based on core beliefs and principles, the ever-growing gap from the perceived outgroup is not relevant, all that matters is that one is seen to be chanting from the clearly defined rules that govern that ingroup. Ingroup-outgroup dynamics are one of the best understood and studied areas of Psychology. It’s an axiomatic survival mechanism that is part of the human condition, whereby we rely on social hierarchy and group cohesion for survival, mating opportunities, and safety. Piaget notes how children will build their views of the world and sense of self, a detriment to themselves, to maintain the status quo of an abusive family dynamic as a survival mechanism. In other words: better for you to be the problem than the group/parent you rely on for survival. But if one wishes to lead this group, to be the High Priest, then it’s not enough to simply toe the line. In order to lead, one must go further, wittily emphasized by comedian Bill Maher following the democratic debates as ‘falling over each other to be the most outraged, the most woke, the purest”. In an academic sense, it is a casebook, now a historical example of virtue signaling to the ingroup to wrestle over and assert dominance.

Disgust sensitivity is a personality trait that has recently resurged in popularity to explain worrying trends in authoritarian, rigid beliefs and behavior within society. At its core, it’s about intolerance to perceived negative stimuli, something one finds uncomfortable and distasteful. Recent research has linked higher disgust sensitivity to conservatism, but also outright authoritarian beliefs in general, beliefs that gave rise to the most intolerant, truly evil doctrines of the world. The need to purify the world external to yourself, to avoid and purge or vanquish this impurity has obvious evolutionary motives as being an intrinsic part of humans’ reactions around diseases and rotting or poisonous food. It becomes apparent how this part of the brain can be ‘hijacked’ or focused onto social stimuli, outgroups and people who one would have a kneejerk disgust reaction to, based on group cultural norms.

The predisposition for guilt or the anxiety of being judged as guilty, with no obvious concrete remedy has been manipulated for as long as mankind has formed ideologies/cults/religions to lead to behavior linked to being ‘purified’ or pure. Difficult emotions such as guilt can rapidly become intolerable, with a need to find a suitable way to elevate the guilt through action. Following a set of dogmatic, agreed-upon rules that are policed through ridicule and stigma serve as a means to encourage individuals to rapidly distance themselves from those perceived as guilty as to not be contaminated, and to demonstrate to self and others that they are a ‘good person’ i.e. ‘not guilty’ of the perceived crime. What naturally follows is how those perceived as guilty are now morally disgusting, to be avoided lest we become stained or tainted.

As part of our wiring, humans are excellent at taking information and attempting to format this into condensed boxes, to better make sense of the world. Difficult, complex and ambiguous ideas make this tricky, therefore easy to manage, black and white issues are far easier to assimilate and help reinforce one’s world view. Grey areas that do not fit into these boxes can cause distress and cognitive dissonance; therefore, they can often be avoided for as long as possible to avoid anguish or changing one’s world view. It is far easier, for example, to suggest that someone is a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ person than to simply state they are a ‘person who was both good, and bad’.

It becomes clear how these four mechanisms feed into one another as a feedback loop, which leads to rigid ingroup condemnation of perceived outgroup beliefs. It is essential for survival to swear allegiance to the perceived ingroup.  The way this is demonstrated is through signaling to the group that you adhere to its norms and it is imperative that you clearly demonstrate it by distancing yourself from the perceived outgroup, the guilty person, so that you may not become guilty by association, or contaminated by their ‘racism, bigotry’ etc. Due to the difficulty in navigating grey ambiguous information, and to avoid distress and cognitive dissonance, it is far easier to ‘double down’ on the group ethos that reject its policies and go against the group established norms. Disgust to traits reinforces that the group norms are correct and lead to the tribal, survivalist behavior of rejecting the perceived negative stimuli, rather than investigating potential pros as well as cons in a balanced manner. Therefore, a perceived historical figure who is deemed ‘problematic’ is something one wishes to avoid being associated with and will quickly have to reject in order not to deviate from their group’s safety and be ‘pure’ and not ‘guilty’.

 It is not outside the realm of plausibility that the future will see a world in which the idea of mass, commercialized enslavement and breeding programs of animals for consumption will be considered not only barbaric but a black mark on human history. This need only requires a few factors to change: science suggesting animals are considered conscious and progressive talking points skewing heavily toward animal cruelty vs the mass availability of lab-grown, ethical meat. Especially so in a time where we not only had the knowledge of the cruelty that goes on and the effects on the ecosystem but the ability to do something about it. Through that lens, will a leader such as Obama be humanized as a loving father and husband, admired by millions, who cared about political matters that affected his country and the world? Or will none of it matter because he ate animals and did nothing to stop their ongoing torture?

Human history is full of horrific savagery, violence and brutality. Here is Steven Pinker’s description of  a crucifixion:

“These prisoners’ arms would then be tied around a hundred-pound crossbar, and he would be forced to carry it to a site where a post was embedded in the ground. The man would be thrown onto his shredded back and nailed through the wrists to the crossbar. (Contrary to the familiar depiction, the flesh of the palms cannot support the weight of a man.) The victim was hoisted onto the post and his feet were nailed to it, usually without a supporting block. The man’s rib case was distended by the weight of his body pulling on his arms, making it difficult to exhale unless he pulled his arms or pushed his legs against the nails. Death from asphyxiation and loss of blood would come after an ordeal ranging from three or four hours to three or four days. The executioners could prolong the torture by resting the man’s weight on a seat or hasten death by breaking his legs with a club.”

Today the vast majority of people would find it very difficult to understand how such an act of cruelty could be not only tolerated, but widely practiced, and yet history is full of such examples tolerated by millions.  Great people have condoned, or not actively fought against terrible things, usually out of ignorance, based on their time and place in the world and their own social group norms. Still, they have laid the foundations some of our crowning achievements. Pause for a moment and consider that Martin Luther King believed homosexuality to be culturally acquired medical condition, to be promptly treated by a psychiatrist. With this in mind, can we remember these imperfect beings within the context of their time, acknowledging the things we don’t like and detest, as well as why we should remember them? Or as Rickey Gervais said with humor regarding a plaque suggestion for Confederate statues:

“They should just have amendments on them. ‘Great general. A bit racist.’”