Rebecca Solnit: We Don’t Need to Meet Nazis Halfway

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

Writing for Lithub, Rebecca Solnit on On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that “you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.” This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore “fuck your feelings” shirts at its rallies and popularized the term “snowflake.”

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naive version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. This inanity is also applied to the questions of belief and fact and principle, with some muddled cocktail of moral relativism and therapists’ “everyone’s feelings are valid” applied to everything. But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?

Reading this, I was reminded of the paradox of tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

And also, I can’t remember where I heard this recently, but it’s perhaps worth noting that in game theory (I know, I know), when you’re dealing with an iterated prisoner’s dilemma situation (where two competitors are engaged in repeated confrontation), one of the the best strategies is called generous tit-for-tat. Playing a generous tit-for-tat strategy means cooperating on the first move and then mirroring whatever the other player did on their previous move — but, crucially, occasionally cooperating after an attack as a opening to potential future collaboration. So, if the other party cooperates, so do you. And if the other party attacks, attack back…but not every time. Attempting to collaborate in the face of repeated attack leaves the door open to reestablish a virtuous cooperation cycle. The real world of national politics is not quite so simple, but it seems like a shift in strategy for progressives might be in order. (via christopher jobson)