Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Quote of the Day (Hubert Butler, on Crises)

“Timid or stupid people often enjoy times of crisis. They can suspend, for the country or the cause, those careful discriminations, which tire the brain and do no good to the career. ‘Now,’ they cry, ‘is not time for academic straw-splitting and parlour theorizing. Close the ranks! He that is not with me is against me!’ And so there is always a drift towards crisis, a gentle, persistent pressure towards some simple alignment of Good and Evil, Friend and Enemy. Even the churches are drifting slothfully towards a crude Manichaeism of Darkness and Light and away from Christ, who said so inscrutably that we should love our enemies.”—Anglo-Irish historian, translator, and essayist Hubert Butler (1900-1991), “Crossing the Border,” in Independent Spirit: Essays (1996)

When Butler wrote these lines in 1955, he was talking about the border between the Republic of Ireland and Ulster. (Little did he know that the issue would become considerably more fraught and violent within a generation—or that, by 2020, unrest might raise its head again in this area.)

But he could just as easily have been talking about the post-9/11 atmosphere, or even now in the United States. People who should know better are falling in the social media for fake memes that appeal to their prejudices. It is precisely because an item strikes a chord with you that it should be investigated.

In bewailing “timid” people, Butler was not criticizing people who took reasonably precautions about their physical safety, but those who fell victim to a herd mentality, who followed a party line without thinking.

You would think that a public health crisis would be the one time that partisanship would be put aside. Instead, it has only exacerbated everything that has made these last two decades such rancid ones.

Avoid labels and embrace “careful distinctions.” Those actions have never been more necessary to the survival of this republic, or even the world.

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