By Mike Cronin
Q. What do all of the following have in common?
- The shooter in Thursday’s deadly attack on Dallas police officers, who “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
- Donald Trump wants to bar immigration of Muslims
- Original sin
A. You might be tempted to answer racism or bigotry, but that doesn’t cover the last item. The correct answer is that in all of the above examples, an entire group is being held accountable for the supposed sin of an individual or individuals. It is a hallmark of collectivism.
Consider: The sniper who killed the Dallas police officers on Thursday was seeking revenge for the deaths of some black men who had been shot by some white police officers in other states. In other words, in his mind, since some white police officers in other locations had killed black men, all white officers were racists. The sniper committed the very same crime he believed the white officers had committed: he held a group responsible for the actions of a few, or of one. He tried, convicted, sentenced, and shot the Dallas police officers for crimes they didn’t commit, or for the non-crime of being white.
Mr. Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims is less combative, but it still stems from a collectivist mentality: If some Muslims are coming here to do us harm, then we can reduce the potential for such acts by banning ALL Muslims from entering the country. There is certain soundness to the logic here: If no Muslims can enter, it must follow that the jihadist sub-set of Muslims can’t enter. Nonetheless, setting aside the difficulties in enforcing such a policy, the idea goes against the principles of individual liberty: it applies a sanction to an entire group for potential crimes yet to be committed by some members of that group.
Consider: If you take the Bible literally, then you believe God created Adam, the first human. Adam was tempted by Eve (who was herself tempted by the serpent) to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Human souls have been tarnished by this “original sin” ever since. Put another way: Humanity is being held to account for a supposed sin we could do nothing about, because it happened thousands of years before any of our births. In essence, we have been born convicted of a crime we didn’t commit and commanded to atone for it or suffer eternal damnation.
The problem is that collectivism belongs to our infancy. Our country was founded on the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility, but they conflict with the collectivist principles at the root of most religious doctrines, so there has been a constant duality in American culture. For example: During World War Two, The US Government rounded up US citizens of Japanese ethnicity and “interned” them in concentration camps for the sin of merely having common ancestry with an enemy; yet after the war, our government largely did not hold the Japanese people accountable for the brutality of their vanquished rulers. Instead, General MacArthur’s occupation forces went after the actual individuals who led the Empire.
It is all too human to project our fear, or anger, or hatred, or resentment over the sins or crimes committed by an individual onto a group, yet there is no justification for doing so. Humans have been doing this since we were stone-age primitives trying to protect our “turf” from rival clans. It takes some enlightenment to dial down our naked aggression and apply accountability with precision. It is a thing we must learn if we are to advance as a species.