I’ve noticed that a particularly nasty bit of insanity has been running rampant lately, “collective responsibility”. This is the “thinking” that if one or a few members of some group (racial, ethnic, religious etc.) commits some crime or other objectionable act then the whole group to which they belong somehow shares in their guilt.
The claims of collective responsibility have been flying lately from people involved on two somewhat related topics, the so called Ground-Zero mosque* and the threats by a few Christian preachers to burn copies of the Qur’an**.
The building of the mosque or “community center” or whatever, has brought out clear arguments for the collective responsibility of Muslims for the 9/11 attacks by those who oppose its construction. One need only to listen to a little talk radio or watch a few relevant YouTube videos to hear people say things like: “They attacked us on 9/11 and now they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero”, as if we were attacked by all Muslims that day or that all Muslims approved of the attack.
Likewise the mere threat by cult leader Pastor Terry Jones (and a few other like “minded” preachers) to burn a Qur’an sparked often, violent protests, in Afghanistan where cries of “death to America” and “death to Christians” could be heard as if all Americans or all Christians were involved with or supported the idea of burning the Qur’an.
This is essentially the same logic used by racists and bigots that says a black/white/Hispanic (whatever) person stole from me therefor all blacks/whites/Hispanics are thieves.
In this case it is “A few Muslims attacked us on 9/11 and therefor all Muslims share blame for 9/11” and “A Christian (or American) preacher is going to burn the Qur’an, therefor all Christians are guilty of this blasphemous behavior.”
I am reminded of a great line in the movie Gettysburg when a fictional Union Sergeant (“Sgt. ‘Buster’ Kilrain” played by actor Kevin Conway), is asked by his commanding officer (the historical Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain played by Jeff Daniels) his opinion of black people:
You cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a pea wit. You take men one at a time.
Anyway I have no big answers or particularly insightful wisdom to impart on this. I just wanted to go on record with my opinion that collective responsibility, and it’s close intellectual cousin “guilt by association”, are stupid, lazy, fuzzy headed nonsense and if our species can’t wean itself from engaging in these fallacious forms of reasoning then I truly fear for our future.
[* I know I am coming late to the game on this but my two cents on the Ground Zero mosque are that the people behind it have just as much right to build it (assuming it is compatible with local zoning laws etc.) as a group of Christians would have to build a church or a corporation would have to build a strip joint. However, I do have to wonder what the group wanting to build the mosque is hoping to accomplish. If it is to encourage feelings of good will towards Islam in the U.S. it is obviously doomed, rightly or wrongly, from a practical standpoint.
** As for the idea of burning the Qur’an, I think the idea of burning books, any book, is both base and stupid. But however stupid burning a Qur’an might be, this does not justify threats of violence in retaliation. Violence, or even the threat of violence in response to words or expressions of ideas (like book burning), however stupid or offensive is outside the bounds of civilized behavior and cannot be tolerated. ]