The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Spreading and Changing Ideas

Honestly, I could care less about the various bits and pieces of writing mentioned in this editorial from the NYT. I don't think they're really that popular, I doubt they're anything I would be particularly interested in, and I frankly think that most of us are better off just ignoring them.

What I do care more about is how the ideas in them and the ideas that motivated their authors to write them spread from those people onward. Whenever the left starts talking about racism or white supremacists, one of the nearly inevitable responses is that there just aren't that many of them and that they aren't actually that influential (or sometimes that they wouldn't be influential if we would all just ignore them). I've never really agreed with that notion; partly, this is because I think the mere presence of people as extreme as the ones portrayed in this article shifts everyone's perception of where the center is and what a reasonable person on each side of the line looks like.

However, the other part of it is that I don't think they have as little influence on the ideas we talk about as we might hope. The story at the end of the article - about how someone inspired by one of these novels started talking in a certain way, convinced some less extreme people to mimic him, and finally got similar language closer to the center of the right wing - is exactly why I think so. Those ideas are changed and moderated a little bit as they work their way through the different parts of the right wing, but they still end up being a lot closer to the extreme right than any of us might wish.

I don't necessarily think that makes anyone in the center who ends up repeating something borrowed from the extremes a hopeless racist, though. Nor would I bother wasting my time trying to convince the originators of such thoughts that they're wrong. If anything, I think we need to focus on the people in between those two; where they are simply slapping enough of a cover over extreme ideas to make them appear acceptable, they should not be tolerated or listened to, but where they legitimately are trying to alter what's being suggested into a format that's more acceptable and less flawed, they're doing something useful.

Telling the difference is not an easy task, given the thin line separating those two methods, but I think it's a necessary one.

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