Douglas Wilson’s Letter From Moscow

A Few Svens

Douglas Wilson

Suppose we set up a thought experiment. Suppose that in the aftermath of the Brussels attack (and all the attacks before that), someone conducted a survey of Christians in North America and discovered that seventy percent of them thought that their Muslim neighbors were “much more likely” to have terrorist sympathies. This would be reported as a bigotry problem among the Christians, and not an instance of how insightful they were being.

If a survey were taken of Muslims, and seventy percent of them reported that they had “experienced discrimination” from Christians in some way, shape or form, this would be taken at face value, another evidence of a bigotry problem among the Christians.

The way such judgments break is not really telling us what Christians in this society are like, but it is telling us which group in this society is “justified” and which group is not. This is simply “heads I win, tails you lose” writ large.

Moral judgments are part of the human operating system. We cannot function without them, and they are so integral to our thought processes that we are frequently unaware of them. Fish don’t know they are wet, in other words. Because we are a fallen race, our moral judgments are frequently inaccurate or wrong, but we still make them. All the time.
And when it comes to public morality, which refers to how we should behave in large groups, we generalize. We necessarily generalize.

When there is a large population containing members of different races and religions, and we start dealing with the inevitable frictions that will arise between those groups, there will be an enormous pressure to have the official policy favor one group over against the other. When we have to count a huge number of people, we would much rather count by tens or hundreds than by ones. But justice requires we count by ones.

But by justice, I am referring only to the processes of an individual trial. Nobody should ever be convicted of a terrorist bombing simply because his name is Muhammad. Nobody should be shipped off to Guantanamo because of the country his grandparents emigrated from.

At the same time — and this is the kicker — we are so delusional that we want absolute even-handedness to be extended to every stage of the investigation, and this is where we run ourselves into absurdities.

Suppose we have a bombing in the Dearborn area, similar to the Brussels attack. Let us assume that an ISIS flag is found at the scene. For this thought experiment, let us assume that the police did not have to deal with political correctness in the investigation at all. They decided to question every person in the area named Muhammad, and they worked through that list methodically. Let us also assume that somebody in the department decided to establish a control group, and so they also questioned everybody named Sven. Now who doubts that that the first set of interviews would be much more productive?

Yes, but that’s profiling. Right. Another name for it is police work. Our (dangerous) political correctness does not prevent good police departments from profiling in an important investigation, but it does require them to pretend not to have done so. We have mandated hypocrisy, which is why a few Svens are thrown into the line-up.

One last comment. Every reasonable person ought cheerfully to grant that there is a vast different between a non-radicalized guy named Muhammad, and another guy named Muhammad who has all kinds of unsavory sympathies. But how are we to tell the difference between them? There is one simple test, actually. The non-radicalized Muhammad would understand fully why he was being questioned, and wouldn’t resent it at all.
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