When moral revulsion turns to moral evasion

When moral revulsion turns to moral evasion May 17, 2021

Apparently there is no literacy test for the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the US Space Force. “Space Force commander fired after comments made on conservative podcast.”

When pressed on what exactly he meant, [Lt. Col. Matthew] Lohmeier decried the New York Times 1619 Project, a historical look at how slavery formed America’s institutions, as “anti-American.”

“It teaches intensive teaching that I heard at my base — that at the time the country ratified the United States Constitution, it codified White supremacy as the law of the land,” Lohmeier said. “If you want to disagree with that, then you start (being) labeled all manner of things including racist.”

I’d say that Lohmeier’s desire “to disagree with that” is likely at least three-fifths racist. But it’s also just dumb — staggeringly ignorant and illiterate. And, given that it requires a level of extreme denial and obtuseness about the history of America’s military, it ought to be disqualifying for an officer in the US military. (True, the “Space Force” did not play a role in either the Civil War or, say, Little Big Horn, but the fact that Lohmeier refuses to acknowledge there was a Civil War still seems like a remarkable gap in his military education.)

Everything Gary Heidnik did was legal and constitutional before the Reconstruction Amendments transformed the US Constitution from its monstrous original form.

The Constitution of 1789 encoded and enshrined white supremacy in unambiguous, black-letter law. This is not “controversial.” It is an obvious matter of obvious fact easily available to anyone who has ever bothered to read that document, anyone who has ever noticed the monumental fact of slavery, and anyone who has ever spent even a moment pondering the Civil War that led to the Reconstruction Amendments that transformed and rehabilitated that original white-supremacist Constitution. The original Constitution upheld and protected slavery, and that slavery was explicitly white supremacist in its shape and form and reasoning. The who, what, when, where, how, and why of American slavery was all explicitly, transparently white supremacist.

But while boasting of his own ferocious ignorance and obtuseness, Lohmeier is most concerned that his fierce “disagreement” with undeniable reality might lead others to “label” him as being “racist.” He takes offense at that because he denies that his emphatic defense of legal white supremacy is motivated by any personal animus toward non-white people, insisting that his inability to accept obvious reality is influenced by any immoral motive.

I’m willing, for the sake of expediency, to stipulate that this is true. Let us accept, for the sake of argument, that Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier is wholly devoid of personal racial animus and that his anti-anti-racism is not a product of flawed moral choices. That would mean that the only remaining possible explanation for Lohmeier’s staunch rejection of the unrejectable is some kind of severe cognitive defect. A person afflicted with such a defect deserves our pity and our understanding, not our judgement. But it would be unkind and unfair to such a person to put them in a position to fail by allowing them to serve as an officer in the military.

In other words, the evergreen question of “Stupid or Evil?” doesn’t require a definitive answer here given that either possible explanation for Lohmeier’s bewildering statements leads to the same conclusion: He’s unfit to serve as a lieutenant colonel and would be better suited in some civilian capacity far removed from any direct responsibility for the well-being of others.

The binary of “Stupid or Evil?” can be clarifying. It suggests the usefulness of an Occam’s-razor-style parsimony in evaluating the words and deeds of people like Lohmeier. He claims to believe something spectacularly untrue, and if he really believed that, he would either need to be willfully choosing to believe this — suggesting that racism motivates his willful choice — or suffering from some extreme intellectual deficit. And because he does not seem to be otherwise suffering from such a deficit — he does not seem that stupid — then it would seem like the simplest explanation is the likeliest, and that the battle Lohmeier has chosen to fight against reality is a product of his racism.

That seems even more likely here given Lohmeier’s condemnation of factual history as “Marxism.” He’s using the term there in the sense of “cultural Marxism” — a phrase with ugly racist origins that has proliferated and been popularized for white-supremacists purposes and has currency only in white-supremacy-friendly circles. There’s a good discussion of that here in Katherine Stewart’s essay on David Niewert’s Red Pill, Blue Pill:

Neiwert dissects the current right-wing obsession with so-called “critical race theory” and “cultural Marxism.” He meticulously gathers the evidence to show how this strand of conspiracy came together out of fabricated texts and willful misrepresentations dating at least as far back as the 1990s. As Neiwert explains, Paleoconservative William S. Lind, an associate of the New Right leader Paul Weyrich, built a cottage industry around his ‘cultural Marxism’ theory. “’Cultural Marxism is a branch of western Marxism, different from the Marxism-Leninism of the old Soviet Union,’” wrote Lind. “‘It is commonly known as ‘multiculturalism’ or, less formally, Political Correctness.’” Lind spread these ideas through speeches and videos, and at events including a 2003 Holocaust denial conference, where he pointedly told the audience, “’These guys were all Jewish.’”

Lind’s ideas were picked up by, among others, Patrick Buchanan, the paleoconservative former candidate for president, and Frank Ellis, a contributor to the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance, who cast “cultural Marxism” as an attack on the principles of free speech. The late Andrew Breitbart described his discovery of this theory, around 2007, as an “awakening.” On Fox News, Breitbart told Sean Hannity, “Cultural Marxism is political correctness, it’s multiculturalism, and it’s a war on Judeo-Christianity.”

So, if we stick to the simple binary of “Stupid or Evil?” as an explanation for Lohmeier’s “disagreement” with reality, the evidence seems to point toward “Evil.”

And I think that’s true and accurate as a description of the hateful, unreal nonsense Lohmeier is spewing. But it may also be misleading as a description of Lohmeier himself or of the reasons he has half-chosen, half-doesn’t-quite-know-how-he-got-here to engage in this losing war against what is. I rather doubt he is a cackling fiend who, fingering the tips of his waxed mustache, set out to promote white supremacy due to his wholly conscience and wholly willful, almost religious, devotion to it as an evil ideology.

I would guess, rather, that he wound up where he is not due to malice, but to cowardice — to a lack of nerve.

And that is, in a sense, understandable, because the reality he refuses to accept really is an awful, horrible thing to look at without flinching. Slavery was a monstrous evil that endured for generations with the complete protection of the law and the Constitution, the blessing of the church, and the complicity of the overwhelming majority of the white population. Everything that we rightly revile about Jeffrey Epstein or Gary Heidnik was perfectly legal and constitutional in the American colonies and for more than a generation after the ratification of the Constitution.

No one should be able to look at that without recoiling, without some part of you desperately wanting not to see it, desperately seeking some excuse to look away. And some people can’t manage that. They’ll turn away and then run away, chasing after whatever flimsy pretexts they can find for never having to look at or think about any of that ever again.

Some can manage to look, but only by compartmentalizing and cauterizing the thoughts that might lead to the implications of what they’re seeing. They can look if all they allow themselves to see is a distant evil involving other people in another time and place. They can stomach what they see only by projecting all of their disgust back onto it, reflexively, without ever worrying about, for example, the way that those evil others in the past found ways to live inside and alongside such great evils while still imagining themselves to be virtuous, maybe by projecting all of their own moral disgust outward at some deserving other. Which is to say that looking at this past honestly takes great courage, but looking at it honestly with humility and introspection takes an even greater courage than many of us can manage most of the time.

It’s possible, then, that Lohmeier set out on this strange path of “disagreeing” with reality for reasons that were not altogether wrong. He caught some glimpse of that reality and some part of him cried out that it ought not to be. And that’s true! That’s a correct observation and a correct moral impulse. But thereafter, it seems, he lost his nerve, allowing that moral revulsion to turn into moral evasion. He ran away, fleeing into the waiting arms of the grifters and swindlers eager to sell him a complete package of Deluxe Moral Evasion.

And so now he finds himself here, at a place where his words and actions render him indistinct from someone who is either profoundly stupid or devotedly evil. However he got there, and however one chooses to describe it, that’s not a good place to be.

(Note: We could have had much this same conversation about former movie-poster blurb provider Michael Medved instead of Lt. Col. Lohmeier. But Medved’s case seems to require far more consideration of financial motives, which are quite powerful, but less interesting. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”)




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