I am taking part of what I wrote in this piece and posting it as something separate so I can link to it more easily. I have edited it slightly.
The three stages of stupidity
The three stages are:
1: Holding the urge to protect and support the underdog above all other motivating forces to the point of myopia. Support for the underdog is felt by most humans, thankfully, and should be. But it is so strong in some that it is followed unequivocally and other motivations are ignored.
2: With that as a motivating principle each problem is approached, subconsciously and consciously, by dividing all actors in a situation into the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed’. This is done along demographic lines, be them race or gender or sexuality or whatever. If you are part of that group you’re treated as the group. The view struggles with seeing individuals at all.
3: The thinker then falls for Bertrand Russell’s fallacy of ‘The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed‘. The weaker group in the binary situation is of superior virtue. No. Matter. What.
So: Unequivocal support of the underdog, dividing into oppressor/oppressed, assuming the superior virtue of the oppressed.
Let us take believers in Islam as an example.
Muslims in the West are a religious minority and (normally) a racial one. In the world, Muslim nations are weaker than America and/or the West. So both times they are ‘the oppressed’ regardless of what incident is under discussion. This means for people following those initial three stages, terror attacks cause a problem because they don’t like terror but must like the ‘oppressed’.
Individuals are ignored here and are reduced to being part of a demographic grouping. So rather than just blame three Muslims with Ak47s who made decisions to murder at the Charlie Hebdo offices, it becomes a situation of Muslim oppressed vs the Western oppressor and the actions are relativised and excused away with a shift of blame and responsibility. They have to be. Reflexively. Or else the cognitive dissonance is too much to bear.
Of course good people don’t think it was ok to gun down cartoonists. But the actual gunmen cannot be to blame as individuals. The oppressor has to be. So you then get to see the articles that begin “Obviously I condemn this action but let me explain why it wasn’t their fault…”.
This is utterly standard but many people do it without knowing why. So therefore when seeing these pieces, written instantly and with dubious proximate causal-reasoning, we see more at play than an intelligent search for nuance and the greatest understanding.
Take this line from Gary Younge’s piece immediately following the Charlie Hebdo attacks:
They are personally responsible for what they did. But we, as a society, are collectively responsible for the conditions that produced them.
By this logic we can say the same about anything. Everything is all everyone’s fault and therefore it is nobody’s fault. The fact is though the personal responsibility of the individuals is far more important than societal factors. Evidence this is true is that such similar actions are being carried out under very different societal conditions and that people under identical societal conditions choose not to carry them out.
So yes, there are other factors, but they don’t seem contingent. He writes as if they are balanced and equal, but they simply are not. Younge’s line is not an appeal for more nuance, despite his piece being titled ‘The Danger of Polarised Debate’. It is an attempt to ensure we cannot make a member of the ‘oppressed’ the guilty party here and the most that can be gotten away with is that it is our fault just as much as the gunman’s. So that is what is implied. The three stage mental process won’t allow anything different. The blame must be shifted and shared or their heads will explode. But alas, he doesn’t know this.
This helps explain why in their writing, if an ‘oppressed’ nation or peoples does something objectively awful, as a reflex to hold off the cognitive dissonance it is instantly explained away as an inevitable and inescapable reaction to one or other action of the oppressor. Of course fairly soon this becomes de facto racist in that various ethnicities are robbed of agency, choice and responsibility based solely on their ethnicity and its relative power ranking. Any of their work on Israel/Palestine demonstrates this instantly.
These stages require all sorts of mental wrangling to maintain. With some perverse outcomes.
When a person is in more than one group at the same time, a female Muslim for example, cognitive dissonance is pretty high. To solve it a readjustment occurs and the individual in question is assigned to one or other group. Usually the largest or whichever allocation allows the assumptions of the three stages to remain most strongly in place for the duration of that argument.
So let’s say there is an article in the Guardian about the oppression of women in the Muslim world. The Muslim woman becomes part of the oppressed minority of Muslims against the oppressor, which is the West, and her individual struggle as a woman is then subsumed. Despite solicitous studies in the field of intersectionality, you really are only part of one group at a time with this process.
Because the people speaking of feminist ideals become part of the West they have to be bad. For although feminists are on the oppressed side in a UK based topic, these ones are up against Muslim men, who are lumped in simply as Muslims, and therefore the feminists must conform to their larger identity, Westerners. Hence why we see committed feminist writers, plagued by this process, willingly abandon their sisters in a Muslim country under talk of cultural relativism and of different standards applying.
This 3 stage process is found so often on so many topics that it is of serious importance in understanding why people so smart can be so utterly wrong.