Things I'd Be Way Behind If It Wasn't For That

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 16.884% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I’d be a lot more comfortable with groups using their persecution as a way of inspiring their other members to act… if humanity was good at recognizing when they’ve won.  But we’re not.
The latest evidence in this “poor ability to demarcate victory” comes from this essay on “Invisible Christian Privilege,” wherein American Christians genuinely believe that they are a persecuted, minority faction who are being silenced by large, powerful forces. Their evidence?  Well, people are trying to change aspects of the culture they live in. Though Christian themes are largely dominant in America (check the link for some good examples), the fact that there is any resistance at all means that they’re being backed into a corner.
Thing is, it was true once.  Christians did start off as a small, persecuted sect.  (And to be fair, there are places in the world where they are still.)  But though that sect grew, the self-image of themselves as a small band of people fighting against a world that hates them remained a tremendous marketing tool. I always think about Garrison Keillor’s observation that he never felt more Lutheran than in New York – in Minnesota, being Lutheran was an assumed thing that you never had to fight for, but in the tussle and rumble of New York, he felt defined (and, one suspects, energized) by the competing forces.
This isn’t just Christians.  You can see it in conservatives (who don’t see how thoroughly their ideas of “anyone who raises taxes has done a bad job” and “government is inefficient” has permeated mainstream thought, thus defining even Democratic elections), and Israel’s often shameful treatment and justification of Palestine (even though, admittedly, Israel is in a place where it can lose badly if it drops guard), and, well, pretty much everywhere you have someone in power.  Considering that most powerful groups start out as a small group of rebels, they’re going to start out persecuted – and that air of persecution stays with them all the way to the top. At which point they use it as an argument to try to quash genuinely persecuted groups.
The problem I have is that these small groups are legitimately persecuted… for now.  And it’s useful, really useful, to be able to point to a clear enemy of The Other Side and say that they’re winning, and are always going to in, unless we fight them now.  But regardless, I always have a discomfort when any group uses that persecution as a way of energizing the base, because no group seems to notice that point when it’s started winning the battle. Even if I want them to win, which I often do, I’m pretty sure if they achieve victory that sense of outrage will then be used to elbow other, smaller, groups to one side.
Speaking of winning battles, I was thinking that in theory, I’m for the draft.  I think that America’s gotten too addicted to bloodless wars, fought by a small percentage of increasingly invisible patriots.  The needs of military families are such that often, only other military families really understand – so they cluster together to form their own culture.  Which means the next generation of America’s soldiers coming from a place that doesn’t really intersect with “mainstream” American culture – growing up in New England, I knew hardly anyone who enlisted in the Army, and out in Ohio, I’m not close friends with anyone who has multiple close family members in the military.
What that means is that we have our wars fought disproportionately by people who most of America never interacts.  Unless you’re in that culture, you don’t have anyone close that you’ve lost in multiple wars we’re fighting… So those wars become invisible, fought by people “over there” who do all the dying for you, while you stay in the suburbs and have a cappucino.
That makes those wars very easy to have.  Sure, why not go into Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq?  What does it cost most of America?  A couple more newcasts with flag-draped coffins – and certainly no higher taxes.  So we can just keep justifying them.
So in theory, I like the idea of a draft – if we’re going to have wars, we should have the sacrifice come from all over America.  So whenever we have some sort of conflict, America is forced to be constantly in touch with the human cost.  It can’t all fall on the shoulders of these poor valorous bastards over here; if you think the cause is just, you have to wager the most precious thing you have.
Unfortunately, then I realize what happens at the beginning of every war: we’re going to win it!  Historically speaking, if you listen to the politicians, every war that’s ever been fought will be over in a few months!  No casualties!  This will be easy!  The politicians never seem to consider what will happen if they’re wrong, and they always overestimate the abilities of Our Fighting Forces because we’re totally the best, how can you say we might lose to those scruffy nerd-herders over there?  And once we get in there and find it’s not quite that easy, we start tallying the costs of this unwise maneuver, and how can we pull out now without a clear victory?  Look at all those dead people!  Do you want them to have died for nothing?
So we find it easy to get into wars, because they’re sold to us as trivial things, and we find it hard to get out because once we’ve spilled blood we can’t admit we’ve made an embarrassing mistake – which means that really, reinstituting the draft just means we wind up with more Vietnams.  (Plus, yes, I know, our military is better as all-volunteer because the quality of someone who want to be a soldier is a lot better than “random dude who was dragged in against his will.”)
Sadly, I don’t see a way out.  The core problem is that politicians are eager to start wars – again, partially because of that whole persecution complex of “Those guys over there are evil and want to destroy us” makes it an easy sell.  That’s not really changing, and I don’t know how to fix that.


  1. Dan Bressler
    Aug 15, 2011

    I agree with your point here, but I have to wonder how much of other groups persecution complexes is actually spillover from the Christian Us Against the World mindset. As the article you referenced points out, Christian privilege is so pervasive in our culture it takes actual effort to notice it. Growing up with the constant assumption that the world is trying to undermine the hard-won gains of the righteous might make it that much easier to make that same leap in otherwise unrelated situations.
    On a side note, thank you for noting that Christians are not the only groups that do this. Its just that we are really, really good at it. Now that I think about it, maybe theres a sermon in there somewhere.

  2. Dan Bressler
    Aug 15, 2011

    Off-topic comment:
    Im commenting here because, unlike on LiveJournal, I dont have to comment anonymously. At LiveJournal, the only way to not be anonymous is to have a blog there, which Im not interested in.

  3. Robert Gruver
    Aug 16, 2011

    I think it was Heinlein who talked about an interesting way of dealing with war. Before a war is declared, the people vote on the matter. It is not an anonymous vote. If the war vote passes, every single person who voted for the war then gets drafted to fight in said war.
    Seems to me this would solve a lot of the problems we have had since Korea.

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