FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Empire of intentions
Back in 2012, when it become known he had donated $1000 in support of the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban in California four years previously, Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich insisted that his opposition to the re-definition of marriage was not founded in animosity toward homosexuals:
Ignoring the abusive comments, I’m left with charges that I hate and I’m a bigot, based solely on the donation. Now “hate” and “bigot” are well-defined words. I say these charges are false and unjust.
Second, the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity. Those asserting this are not providing a reasoned argument, rather they are labeling dissenters to cast them out of polite society. To such assertions, I can only respond: “no”.
If we are acquainted, have good-faith assumptions, and circumstances allow it, we can discuss 1:1 in person. Online communication doesn’t seem to work very well for potentially divisive issues. Getting to know each other works better in my experience.
That’s the very definition of “tolerance.” Fat lot of good it did him. Two years later, just a couple of weeks after becoming CEO of Mozilla Corporation, Eich was forced out by a vengeful mob, entirely because of that $1000 donation he made in 2008. He was not allowed to explain what was in his heart; the brownshirts did it for him.
This is a depressingly common thread running through our totalitarian culture, where everything is politicized. Those without the right political connections and ideological affiliation are given zero credit for good intentions. Their adversaries decide what really motivates them, and in the new Empire of Intention, motivation means everything. The worst failures are excused from people with presumed good intentions, while those classified as Enemies of the People can do nothing right.
Thus we have the Democrat Party relentlessly attacking the Koch Brothers, who likely donate more to charitable endeavors than every Democrat in Congress combined. When David Koch funded a new wing at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, left-wing activists turned out to protest it. And the hospital gift came on top of Koch donations including “$15 million to New York-Presbyterian’s Weill Cornell Medical Center, $30 million to Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $25 million to the Hospital for Special Surgery, $20 million to a dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, $65 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and $100 million to the Lincoln Center theater that is home to the New York City Ballet and the New York City Opera,” according to the New York Post.
No doubt a Koch-hating obsessive loon like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would say the Kochs just give away these millions to soothe their guilty consciences… well, no, strike that, he’d say they don’t have anything resembling a human soul. They’re probably just trying to fool everyone into ignoring their rapacious ways by financing hospitals and sponsoring the ballet. Reid should spend his free time lurking in those Koch-funded hospital wings, telling every departing patient his life was saved as a ploy to distract the public from a robber barony.
Sometimes the business of sussing out true intentions through the lens of totalitarian left-wing ideology gets really complicated. Take the case of comedian Stephen Colbert, who made a “joke” that was incredibly insulting to Asian-Americans, warbling in a phony Chinese accent to push his “Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” The full fury of the sensitivity police descended upon an astonished Colbert… who was astonished because everyone is supposed to understand he’s really a tolerant liberal in good standing. His comedy routine involves pretending to be a right-winger – all of whom are presumptively evil bigots, you see – and saying the sort of insensitive things he imagines people who disagree with him say on a daily basis.
What a knee-slapper! Are you laughing yet? Well, here’s the punch line: the “Ching Chong Ding Dong” joke was really meant as a dehumanizing insult toward Washington Redskins football team owner Dan Snyder, who had the unmitigated, insensitive gall to create a foundation that helps Native Americans, among other things by distributing cold-weather clothing on tribal lands during a bitter winter. Snyder has been tried and convicted as a hate criminal because he refuses to change his football team’s name, which some unmeasured, but loud, minority of Native Americans considers a racist insult. It doesn’t matter what Snyder says or does, or even what tribal leaders say about them – those he visited on a cross-country tour generally gave him high marks for sincerity. A gang of white liberals has decided Snyder is a non-person, so he couldn’t regain his humanity even if he cured cancer, and staffed factories to manufacture the cure exclusively with Native Americans.
Behold the Empire of Intention in action: No one can speak the name “Washington Redskins” without having the worst possible intentions, even though absolutely no one actually means it as an insult. Dan Snyder can’t be sincerely interested in helping Native Americans. And Stephen Colbert can’t possibly be an insensitive jerk, no matter what he actually says – even when he hits an entirely unrelated ethnic group in a drive-by slandering. Never mind that the slander he actually intended to deliver, about the supposed deep-seated racism of conservatives and Dan Snyder, is every bit as disgusting as the “Ching Chong Ding Dong” stuff. You can smear conservatives all you want – and not just white conservatives – without losing any of your assumed credit for good intentions, because their bad intentions are a given.
Barack Obama is clearly the Emperor of Intentions. His perpetual campaign spends a great deal of energy slandering Republicans. He never engages with their ideas – indeed, he spends a great deal of time falsely claiming they don’t have any – but he spends a lot of time discussing their supposedly evil motivations. In his April Fool’s Day remarks on ObamaCare, he said he could think of no reason for Republican opposition to his health-care boondoggle except a cruel desire to take away health insurance from suffering people, just for the fun of it. Shortly afterward, he used grade-school taunts before a college audience to describe Republican budget proposals as “stinkburgers” and “meanwiches,” explicitly stating that his opponents are motivated by cruelty and greed. The media is happy to let him get away with this, even though they often fret about “divisive” rhetoric and claim to value “bipartisanship.”
This business of asking the public to judge behavior not on merit, but on alleged motivation, provides a path to both overbearing power and irresponsibility. Intentions are subjective. We don’t know what’s really floating in the hearts of people we read about on the news. And as seen in these examples, the imputation of intention becomes an exercise in political power. A howling mob decided what Brendan Eich really thinks about homosexuals; the Left is not interested in what either Dan Snyder or actual Native American tribal leaders have to say about the quality of Dan Snyder’s character; the media lets Obama define his opponents as monsters, while asking absolutely no questions about what truly motivates this President. In fact, his media palace guards become very angry when anyone floats theories as to his true goals.
Government should never be judged by the intentions of politicians. For one thing, they are, as a class, very good at portraying themselves as the soul of benevolence. As for the bureaucracy, its true primary goal is, everywhere and always, perpetuation of the bureaucracy. Plenty of individual people working for the government are compassionate, civic-minded folk of high character, but that doesn’t make much of a difference at the macro level. You can hope to find a good person that helps you out of a jam when you encounter local, state, or federal officials, but taken in total, the bureaucracy is a living organism that grows and protects its own interests.
And what difference does it make if the people behind a horrible policy had truly good intentions? Conversely, why should sound policy that respects our Constitution be disdained because a particular advocate is personally unpleasant? We’re talking about billions of dollars moving around, and immense coercive force crashing down on people… and their motivations don’t count for squat, do they?
In fact, the entire Big Government system is premised on the belief that individual Americans are greedy, short-sighted fools who won’t do the right thing unless lured with carrots and prodded with sticks. Earn too much money, and you’re judged guilty of offenses to social justice, and punished without trial. If you had a good health care plan before 2010, you must have stolen your coverage from a sick person who needed it more. We’re supposed to regard each other as predators, and view everything free people in the private sector do with suspicion. At the same time, we are required to view government as the avatar of benevolence. You don’t really “care” about an issue until you support a billion-dollar program to address it, and even if that program turns into an abject failure, you’re judged hateful of its beneficiaries when you call for its abolition, or even modest cuts to its budget.
The balance of good intentions shifts decisively to the Ruling Class as government grows, because if citizens truly respected each other, they wouldn’t support the deployment of so much coercive force against their neighbors. If we respected ourselves, we wouldn’t surrender so much of our liberty to the State, or expect it to take care of essential needs we’re apparently unfit to provide for our families. You cannot logically support the growth of government power without conceding that it means better than the people it governs, or else you would view that power as tyrannical. Our society has reached the point where we can barely speak to each other, without the assumption of bad intent behind every loaded word. Good manners are in large part the presumption of good intentions by others; a society filled with people who assume the worst about each other becomes coarse and rude. Power-hungry politicians have always understood that such a coarse, childish society will expect a good deal of adult supervision from its government.