April 30, 2018

On Neighbors

All politics is local.

Three years ago, I’d have told you that we no longer tolerate racists and anti-Semites. Sure, a few people still had awful opinions, but they kept those opinions to themselves. Three years ago, I was delighted to find that people no longer tolerated casual misogyny and gay-bating.

Then the disaster happened, and now, here we are. Our local Facebook opinion group has become a den of white-supremacist cant. Right now, the hot topic is how the Council On American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is responsible for taking down statues of Confederates. There’s also a lot of talk contrasting the members’ sainted ancestors who immigrated legally and today’s “illegals,” people who didn’t (or couldn’t) obey the laws that those sainted ancestors erected to keep Jewish scum and evil Chinamen out.

Wikipedia is now fighting (not very successfully) against a concerted effort to whitewash the WWII German officer corps. Klansmen burn swastikas, and the president says there are good people on both sides.

What should we do locally to oppose local malice and prevent local evil?

We’re inclined to listen, to argue, to try to understand, to seek to persuade. That’s good. But enough is enough: some people like to be bigots. Some of our neighbors, having thought things over, have gone nuts and gone Nazi. In better times, we’d ignore them, treat them as doddering old fools. But these are not better times; those doddering old fools may lead us into catastrophe.

Public shunning might help. If you know of a local social media clique that’s become a meeting place for kooks, let them have a piece of your mind. And tell your friends and neighbors to do that, too. Not once, not twice, but often. For as long as it takes.

Private shaming might help. Talk to their parents. Talk to their grown children. Talk to their friends, if they have any, and tell them why they ought not to be friends anymore.

We might be entering boycott territory. If your mechanic is a white supremacist or wants immigrants to go back where they belong, you can find a new mechanic. So can all your friends, and all the decent people in your community.

This is a kindness. After the emergency, we’re going to have an aftermath. People are going to prison. If this gets as bad as I fear — mass deportations or worse — a lot of people are going to prison. Not just national politicians: repairing the damage after Vichy meant a lot of mechanics and a lot of Nazi pals found themselves in very hot water.