Trying to get caught up on some links I need to share before we take a mini-vacation early next week.
Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in the New Yorker about Clive Doyle, a survivor of the Waco, TX Branch Dividian compound, and the lessons that are still emerging, 20 years later, from that disaster.
It’s a really interesting read. What stuck with me most was how the Federal agents, and really all the law enforcement agencies involved in the action, utterly failed to understand the people inside the compound. It’s hard to blame them, though. As I recall, public opinion was pretty firmly on the Feds’ side. David Koresh and his followers were widely assumed to be religious wackos who were likely involved in all kinds of irreligious, and immoral, behaviors. There was no push from the broader public to be more accommodating to Koresh.
I found this section to be especially profound. I think many of us, whether we consider ourselves to be open-minded or not, tend to dismiss people we view as not just outside the mainstream, but dramatically so.
Mainstream American society finds it easiest to be tolerant when the outsider chooses to minimize the differences that separate him from the majority. The country club opens its doors to Jews. The university welcomes African-Americans. Heterosexuals extend the privilege of marriage to the gay community. Whenever these liberal feats are accomplished, we congratulate ourselves. But it is not exactly a major moral accomplishment for Waspy golfers to accept Jews who have decided that they, too, wish to play golf. It is a much harder form of tolerance to accept an outsider group that chooses to maximize its differences from the broader culture. And the lesson of Clive Doyle’s memoir—and the battle of Mount Carmel—is that Americans aren’t very good at respecting the freedom of others to be so obnoxiously different.
I’m reminded of the old saying that everyone is for free speech, until someone else’s speech annoys or pisses them off. We’re all for freedom of expression for ourselves and people we’re comfortable with. But when someone else expresses them self in a way we can’t understand or that disturbs our sensibilities, suddenly we want to slam on the brakes.
Obviously the commentary on the Waco disaster is forever tinged by the political aims of those making the assessments. But this piece is a good reminder that there’s often more to a situation than the public is allowed to know. And if we claim to be considerate of the views of others, we can’t summarily dismiss groups that we find strange.
That said, the whole multi-wives, some quite young, is outside the bounds of acceptable behavior. Still, those poor people never deserved their fates because the rest of us found them to be weird.