My Jewish friend sent me this text:
I’m fascinated with reconciliation. I still think the left cannot reconcile with the right… it has to come from the right. Or it won’t go anywhere, and the left’s best move is scorched earth.
As you know, I often say “Jews go first,” When I say this, I say it with the profoundest respect: In a conflict of irreconcilable visions, it is the deeper and more mature soul who will summon the will and wisdom to initiate reconciliation. This is what made me want to be Jewish.
When thinking and envisioning ways our nation might come out of our crisis of contempt, until recently I assumed that it would be up to the Left to make the first move. This belief was founded on a sincere and chauvinistic prejudice that the Left was most qualified and capable of initiation, and that the Right was, in all innocence, unqualified and incapable.
But after repeated attempts to appeal to those I believed to be better Leftists, I have come to the dreadful realization that the Left is genuinely incapable of reflecting on and accepting its own role in this conflict.
The Left is so trapped inside its own sense of intellectual and moral superiority — and so terrified of moral responsibility — that it can no longer find the humility, faith and philosophical freedom to pursue the reestablishment of mutual respect. It thinks the worst wrong-doer is the one who must go first, accept blame, give an apology, and ask for forgiveness — and this attitude is a symptom of moral impoverishment that shows going first is out of the question.
So, sadly, yes — I agree with you: the Right must go first.
Or, at least, someone other than the Left.
Here is something I know:
Nobody will ever consent to be led by any person or group who seems to despise them, who sees them as contemptible. People seek leaders who demonstrate respect and signal good-will.
Putting ourselves under the rule of others who despise us feels existentially dangerous. And it is dangerous. At best a contemptuous ruler will administer with benevolent disrespect, imposing their own personal standards of benevolence on those who do not accept it; at worst they will tyrannize and control for their own self-gratification. But regardless of their benevolence or malevolence, they cannot be counted on to listen respectfully and respond responsibly. They will rule according to their own constricted omniscience, which to them, and them alone, seems self-evidently true and just.
Here is something else I know:
Any person or group who tolerates contempt in themselves — who is unwilling to do what it takes to overcome it — lacks the qualifications for leadership — or at least leadership in a liberal democracy. And anyone who prefers contempt — or, God forbid, cultivates contempt — must not only be barred from leadership, but must be gently constrained and prevented from harming others, however much they see themselves as heroes of history.
Any person fit to lead will do whatever it takes to overcome contempt. They will surrender their own treasured sense of intellectual and moral superiority to accomplish it. They will accept their own responsibility for whatever damage has been done — which does not mean assuming blame, but rather setting blame aside and responding where response is possible. They will willingly suffer dark nights of the soul traversing the shadowy underworld of perplexity, refusing to look back, in search of the exit at the other side, which is an entrance: an entrance into a new accommodating faith and enworldment great enough for all to share.
And this is what I know most of all:
In the pursuit of conciliation and community, metanoia is the supreme means. It promises resolutions currently inconceivable and incomprehensible, because reality is inexhaustibly surprising. We can come to conceive the inconceivable, comprehend the incomprehensible and resolve insoluble problems — if we are willing to open our hands, let our white-knuckled conceits of all-knowingness and self-righteousness slip through the fingers of our minds — so that something else, something better, something grander, can be given.
Metanoia is no end in itself. Anyone who knows its ways assumes an obligation to use it properly — and not to hedonistically abuse metanoia like a drug.
Knowing metanoia, but getting off on it, while refusing its conciliatory powers, is not only wrongheaded but wronghearted.
This wronghearted and wrongheaded wrongdoing can be overcome — but this overcoming must be desired, and that desire is hard to accept.
2 thoughts on “Who goes first?”
Is there a unified right and left? I think our recent history shows the best strategy for creating a functioning politics. During the Cold War Democrats ostracized legit communist and Republicans ostracized the John Birch people. Today we need a left that ostracizes wokism and a right that ostracizes Alex Jones people.
That used to work, but I don’t think we have a strong enough middle, anymore, probably because we have so few citizens left who have experienced war — and who consequently see these intensifying conflicts as games, not as something that can potentially break the foundations of our everyday lives.
My entire adult political life I’ve been disappointed by the refusal for moderate leftist or rightists to break ranks with their illiberal extremist wing-mates when “their side” gains power. The “libertarians” went neocon when they needed to dissent, and now most “liberals” I know are squintingly sympathetic to abusive proggressivists.