The Strong Case for Censorship

Here’s a puzzle: what’s wrong with Slavoj Zizek’s argument for censorship?

I like censorship, but what kind of censorship? Not ‘the office, you get imprisoned,’ but censorship which is a measure of cultural standards. What do I mean by this? For example, I wouldn’t like to live in a society where you argue against rape. You know, this reminds me of Ronald Reagan, you remember one of his legendary stories is that once he said when he was accused of tolerating holocaust denial, he said: “No, it’s not true! Whenever, at my dinner table, there are people who deny the holocaust, I strongly oppose them.” Well, the question being, ‘what kind of friends, yes?’ Yes, all the time oppose them!

But my point is that it’s the same with… you know, I like to live in a society where you don’t have to argue why rape is prohibited; why rape shouldn’t be allowed. I would like to live in a society where when somebody, in any way, tolerates rape, it’s simply—how would you put this—disqualifies himself, is perceived as either dangerous or ridiculous. This is what I mean by censorship, that it’s inadmissible, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. And the sad thing is that in Europe, the standards for what is publicly admissible are falling lower, and lower, and lower. Things at the level of racism and so on, which 20, 30 years ago simply were not possible, are today tolerated and accepted.

The answer is only this: he’s on the wrong side.

Conservatives outnumber liberals in the United States, meaning that cultural norms for censorship (which are always democratic in nature) will be firmly against anything that smacks of Marxism or Communism. In extreme cases, they will oppose even things which seem too intellectual, because to the layman, they appear untrustworthy.

Even if immigration eventually makes democrats outnumber republicans, the essential psychological breakdown will not have changed, because immigrants side with the democrats for personal benefits, not out of ideological loyalty. Hispanic Catholics and Muslim Africans may be fiscally liberal, but are socially conservative. Perhaps more importantly, they are functionally low in verbal intelligence as a group, due to language barriers, and this correlates with supporting political censorship.

What is most ironic about this support for cultural censorship is how conservative it is in its psychology. The leftist mind is open to experience, while the conservative mind is characterized by conscientiousness. Thus censorship–which establishes the stability in a society that Zizek alludes to, in which we do not have to constantly answer for established principles–will always work to the benefit of conservatives, and at the cost of liberals.

Perhaps more accurately, censorship solidifies a paradigm, while free speech opens the paradigm to criticism. Even if this criticism is answered, the energy and effort of answering it is a burden that detracts from the defenders’ ability to focus on other tasks in their society. Rather than focusing on the finer details of, say, property law, within the confines of an established legal paradigm, we have to yet again go over whether or not the very concept of property is legitimate.

Or whether or not rape is okay.

If such challenges are taken remotely seriously, then the entire structure of society rocks back and forth in an ongoing, low-grade earthquake. How high can it be built? How long can it even stand?

The only reason that free speech is plausibly defensible is that it can, sometimes, be used to identify flaws in the structure itself–not to exploit for demolition, but to strengthen the structure. The argument presumes that the harm that can be prevented through this speech is greater than the harm imposed by its existence. It also presumes a kind of socio-cultural coherence which Zizek alludes to. This coherence, Zizek and other leftists attack, as “racism” and “xenophobia,” despite being a necessary condition for the sort of society Zizek desires to live in.

What, then, should be done? Logically, the thing to do would be to establish support for free speech as a cultural metric for censorship: if you oppose free speech, then you are “dangerous or ridiculous.”

Whether or not this itself constitutes a paradox, I leave to the contemplation of the leftists advocating for repressive tolerance 2.0, as “cultural censorship.” Indeed, they would escape the seeming contradiction by advocating against free speech, rather than for it. I think, however, that they know as well as we do how that would turn out for them, were it accepted by everyone at the same time. They have the cities and the universities in their ideological grasp, but that is not nearly enough of a lead to win the censorship war that they are hell-bent on sparking.

For my part, I am this close to throwing up my hands and putting my redactor’s warpaint on. It seems as though protecting the value of free speech may require tightening the restrictions on the speech of those who do not share that value. Whether this is the more slippery slope to step on than allowing the left to maintain the reigns of cultural censorship, I do not know.

It certainly looks like a shallower angle though.

Advertisements

Love, Hate, and Christianity

In In Defense of Hatred, I asserted that ἀγάπη (agape) is a form of love which is compatible with hatred, despite being incompatible with dehumanization:

Translated literally, it means “affection,” with a universal connotation, as in greeting strangers with affection. It also describes the respect and love shown to the dead. It is, then, a command to recognize the humanity and the “divine spark” in others, even in our enemies, because the English word “love”–which is much closer to the Greek philia than agape–cannot apply to the dead as dead, and is self-destructive if it applies to the stranger in the same way that it applies to our family and friends. It is an injunction to universal respect of the other as being like us, because they too are human.

As we often use the term today, “respect” means veneration and love. It means we “like” something. But respect used to mean that we recognized quality in something, whether it is a friend or an enemy. “Respect your enemy” meant to not underestimate them. “Respect nature” meant to be wary of storms and wildlife, and to understand the vastness of its power and unpredictability. In light of the original meaning of these words, “love your enemy” means you must see the humanity–the power, intelligence, memory, and in Christian theology, the divine nature–in your enemies.

Such a command is practical, spiritually powerful, and aligns with a theory of hatred which is justified in understanding one’s enemy, rather than willfully misunderstanding them. Your enemy is human. To call him a “cockroach,” a “rat,” or a “cancer” may feel empowering, but it commits the sin of misunderstanding the nature of your enemy, and precludes the possibility of either justifying your hatred or seeing that he is not, in fact, your enemy, whichever the case may be.

This recognition of likeness runs somewhat contrary to the ordinary understanding of the word ἀγάπη, which is generally understood to be both the highest form of love, and also the love of man for God, and of God for man. I feel that I did not go into adequate depth in justifying this claim in the book, so I will attempt to expand upon the concept here.

Here’s a question to start with: why does God love us?

Intuitively, we can suppose this to be the case because he created us. But he did not merely create us in the way that he created the plants and the animals and everything else; he created us in his own image.

Theology aside for a moment, it is common for us to have an attraction to people who look like us. And of course, we like things that we make, especially if we have made them well. The fact that this may sound like projection is, in fact, perfectly in line with the assertion that we are image-bearers of God: God creates us in his image, and we love things that look like ourselves. Why would God not love us because of our similarity with him?

A deeper, but relevant, question might be the following: in what sense do we resemble him?

This is difficult to pin down, and perhaps beyond our knowledge, but my guess would be that we share some part of our inward nature with him, and it is only this recognition between kinds that renders God knowable to us at all. Perhaps it has something to do with an underlying desire for the act of creation, or perhaps it has something to do with consciousness. It may have to do with something else entirely.

In any case, the love which God has for mankind appears to be related to our likeness to him, and this mirrors the love which we extend to each other in proportion to our likeness (that we love our family more than strangers, that we love members of our own race more than people from other nations, that we love humans generally more than primates, that we love mammals like cats and dogs more than we love trees, etc).

This means that my definition of  ἀγάπη as a “recognition of likeness” is not at all incompatible with the more generally held meaning, but is in fact a more precise explanation of its underlying nature. “The love of man for God, and the love of God for man” is as it is because of the likeness we behold in each other, and if we look closely, we can see this image in others too.

A cursory glance through the Old Testament–and through the history of Christianity more broadly–is enough to clear up any confusion about this interpretation requiring pacifism. But how can we hate someone if they bear the image of goodness itself? Outside the realm of theology, such questions are easily dismissed: a murderer is not only a murderer, and if he happens to work and sleep and take care of his mother, we do not condemn those aspects of him when we execute him for his crime. So too is the divine nature not the sole component of an individual. Indeed, one of the central questions of Christianity seems to be “why do any of us deserve to live at all?”

Needless to say, it is not our place to condemn anyone as completely good or evil, or even “mostly good” or “mostly evil,” since no one has final knowledge of what anyone’s life (including their own) amounts to. Nevertheless, this caution does not in any way prevent us from condemning evil as it exists in the moment. Indeed, the Bible repeatedly enjoins us to hate evil. Anyone who says that Christianity is against hate is either lying or does not know what they are talking about.

What about “love the sinner, hate the sin?”

This attitude tacitly accepts a bias in favor of the goodness of man, which is not theologically warranted as far as I can tell. I think if we were to accept this honestly, we would be equally obliged to say “love the spirit, hate the flesh.” The injunction to hate the sin apart from the sinner separates agency from the actor, and finds responsibility for the sin elsewhere. Goodness comes from God, so if people must not be hated on account of the source of their sin, neither can they be loved on account of their virtue.

Was Jesus acting out of love when he attacked the money-changers in the Temple? If so, then by all means hate with love, but the grammar seems unnecessarily tortured.

Better, I think, to simply judge in the moment; to love what is good, and to hate what is evil, and always be willing to reconcile or re-evaluate. To do so requires us to really put ourselves in the shoes of others, and to see ourselves in them. We may love what we see, or we may hate it, but the act of truly looking at the other is what is asked of us when we are called upon to love–ἀγάπη–one another.

In sophistication, in the potential for intimacy and connection, there is no higher love than truly seeing another: not eros (erotic), nor stergein (familial), nor phileos (brotherly). To truly see someone, and to see yourself and to see the image God, does not render void the injunctions to hate what is evil, nor is it incompatible with a person being evil. So the theological injunction to “love” one another is not opposed to hating, but perfectly compatible.

And of course, any stergeineros, or phileos love is not worth anything if it does not hold within it the strength of potential hatred.

In Defense of Sargon

UPDATE: I have retracted the view I expressed in this piece, in light of further information.

To me, Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin is much like Christopher Hitchens: I don’t agree with him on very much politically, but there is something about the quality of his mind that is admirable. In my discussion with Greg Johnson, we both agreed that someone who is principled but wrong is better than a person who is right but unprincipled, because the person who is principled can eventually correct their error which will inevitably reveal itself, whereas the unprincipled person can deny their error or hide from it indefinitely. Moreover, the principled person is trustworthy, whereas the unprincipled person cannot be trusted, especially in the moments that it matters the most.

In his refusal to help Kraut & Tea’s dishonest operations, Sargon demonstrated a degree of moral integrity and fortitude that everyone likes to imagine that they have, but few are able to manifest when actually put to the test. He has repeated this elsewhere, in his humane treatment of Laci Green, and his consistency in discouraging doxxing, violence, or abuse of other people online with whom he disagrees. For all of his faults, Sargon has character.

Lately, Sargon has come under fire in the aftermath of his now infamous debate with Richard Spencer, and after a rather rough conversation with Mister Metokur. While there are many criticisms of Sargon’s political positions, the main claims being made now are not attacks on his position, but attacks on his character. He is being attacked for “having a big ego,” for instance, as well as for thinking he’s a leader, and perhaps most popularly (from Richard Spencer) for thinking he’s smarter than he really is.

I will go after Sargon all day long on his political positions. JF has leveled some devastating criticisms of the half-baked hybrid liberal-libertarian position that Sargon has amalgamated together as an alternative to the neoliberal and Alt-Right positions vying for the next generation’s metapolitical fealty, and I believe JF is absolutely correct in his criticisms. However, observing that someone is wrong does not mean that the person lacks character, and it is a threat to the value and respect of character to go after someone’s character merely for being wrong.

I would like to bring back to mind that Richard Spencer participated in the attack on Greg Johnson in conjunction with Daniel Friberg. Greg utterly refuted the claims, was vindicated by Aedhan Cassiel, and then again by John Morgan. (AltRight.com’s responses were weak and off-topic). Richard Spencer is an intelligent person, but he does not have character in the way that Sargon does. He certainly has a bigger ego than Sargon, not only for going to the media and participating in stunts (Charlottesville, HailGate) that give him publicity at the expense of the movement, but also for audacious and hubristic claims, such as that he would be the leader of the Alt-Right and would direct its course for the next hundred years.

Mister Metokur is, in my opinion, even worse than Spencer, who at least stands for something. Mister Metokur, so far as I can tell, does not stand for anything. All he does is tear things down… and man, does he do it well. By his own admission, he’s only doing this for laughs. Life is a big joke to him.

Deconstructing something is easy. Anyone can notice that the epistemology supporting any particular view of the world is incomplete, and can point out apparent inconsistencies and flaws. If they do it with humor, this deconstruction can be particularly devastating, but it doesn’t help anyone. It’s a hell of a lot harder to create something, which Mister Metokur seems adamantly opposed to doing. Listen again to his conversation with Sargon, and see if you can hear anything else. Functionally, Metokur is a nihilist. But he makes you feel superior while you’re following him down, so it’s okay (because those people were trying to feel superior to us; joke’s on them!). If there’s someone out there putting in decades of thought and research into bringing meaning and purpose into the lives of the next generation, Metokur is the kind of guy who would rather shit on his work than try to do something better.

Sargon is better than Spencer or Metokur. He may not be the smartest guy in the world, or the most well-read. He may not be a natural leader, or a even a “moral genius,” to borrow a phrase from Sam Harris. But he is reasonably smart, he works hard, is a good organizer, is charismatic, and most importantly, he has demonstrated his good character in virtually every case in which it has been tested, which is more frequently in public than most people will experience in their lifetime.

I understand why Sargon wants to shirk his role as “leader” of anything. Strategically, it is risky, since being a leader makes one a target, and targeting leaders has been a consistent SJW strategy. Being “leaderless” was one of the things that made #GamerGate so successful. It was difficult to attack, because it was difficult to pin down. For this reason, it is also personally stressful. Finally, it is distracting from other goals and plans, such as “making shitty video games.”

That said, however, I think Sargon should step into a leadership role, and would urge him to do so, if not within the “Liberalists,” than in another classical liberal advocacy project.

Strategically, the problem with leaderless movements is what’s morally wrong with Mister Metokur. If ground is to be defended, real people, with real names, have to defend them. #GamerGate was defined as successful not because video games were protected, but because most of the Gaming journalism sites changed their official policies and Gawker went down. This was no small feat, but the same enemies that were aiming for video games have been relatively successful at infiltrating comic books and movies, not to mention schools and businesses. #GamerGate is one small victory in a war that has been generally looking grim… or at least had been, until Donald Trump and the Alt-Right began, mostly independently, challenging the underlying Left-Wing cultural hegemony over society. Guerilla fighting can be successful in the weeds and in the swamps, but this war will be decided on the battlefield, where real people face off in real-life, with elegant ideas more metaphorically like gleaming swords and shields than like the rusty dirks of “dank memes.”

Personal risk is a serious problem, and cannot be ignored. I would only respond by quoting my friend Augustus Invictus: “I wonder which is more terrifying: to lose a child to a cause – or to lose the respect of that child when she discovers that her parents were cowards who made a virtue of submission?”

This is the kind of sentiment that is easy for people like Mister Metokur to laugh away, but it is the kind of sentiment that strikes a chord with anyone who simultaneously possesses self-respect and sincerity, both of which Sargon possesses.

Anything worth doing is hard, and changing the world is a lot harder than making shitty video games. In my opinion, that alone should guide Sargon’s choice of priorities.

It may sound suspect that I, an ideological opponent of Sargon, would be giving him advice about what he should do. But for me, ideology is a secondary loyalty. Loyalty to good character comes first, which is why I like Sargon more than Richard or Metokur, despite both of the latter coming closer to my own political views than Sargon. Ultimately, no political movement can succeed if it is run by people with poor character, and a civilization is composed of multiple political movements with differing positions on a variety of subjects. At the end of the day, Sargon and I are on the same team, fighting for a similar social ideal (a Republic, infused with English-American values). We just have different ideas of how to get there.

I also happen to think that the Left does have a lot to say about politics, and that if the Left is represented by bad people, the underlying concerns that the Left usually seeks to address will not go away, but will only reemerge stronger and more pathologically down the road.

Finally, as I stated in my book, I want strong enemies:

I do not want my enemies lying to themselves. Perhaps they have something important to say, that I can learn from. […] I want strong enemies. When I was in debate club in college, I could demolish liberal students whenever a politically partisan issue came up because none of them had read conservative arguments, as I had. They were unprepared, weak. And I was a less skilled debater than I could have been because of it.

[…]

And is it not simply more satisfying to defeat stronger enemies? Whether it is in literal warfare, or the more metaphorical variety–politics, law, culture, or even sports–the strong man never gets a sense of satisfaction from defeating pathetic, weak enemies. It is only from defeating challenging enemies, worthy of one’s hatred, that your own strengths can be vindicated and demonstrated. As Nietzsche pointed out many years ago, it is in this way, at least, that we can learn to love our enemies.

My best wishes and hopes go out to Sargon, whom I think of as an imperfect but worthy and respectable opponent in the battle of ideas. Like Henry V, or Hamlet, I think Sargon should step up and take his crown as “leader,” heavy of a burden as it is, because ultimately it is worth the cost. For his own sake, and for his movement’s sake, he should step up to the plate, and we who disagree with him — about race, or individualism, or rights, or anything else — should support him in this if we also believe character and virtue to be more important than the details of political theory.

Don’t join in the crowd of resentful losers, leaping on any wounded animal they can smell like hyenas. That is the path of weakness.  Rather, respect great men, because the only chance anyone can have of becoming great is by recognizing and venerating the qualities of greatness in others. As measured by character, Sargon is a great man.

Sargon, if you ever read this, thanks for all the great work.

God in Solitude and Society

Here’s an odd question: are we closer to God when we are with others? Or are we closer when we are alone?

I recently made the case that God has made his home in the Church, and exists in the unity between its congregation–the church itself being the body of believers:

Jesus is the redeeming quality of self-sacrifice and love latent within humanity, which counterbalances the disobedience revealed in man by Adam. This archetype literally is the bond of connection between people, whether in friendship, in marriage, or merely over a meal.

This is theologically grounded in much of the New Testament, which instructs us first and foremost to love and to serve one another. Because the entirety of the law can be summarized in the two commandments, and because Jesus adds that serving others is a form of serving God, it may be tempting to think that almost the entirety of Christian spirituality is to be found in relationships with other people. Indeed, the fact that one of God’s first comments on mankind is that “it is not good for him to be alone” seems to imply that at the very least, being alone runs contrary to God’s plan for humankind (human nature).

What then are we to make of Jesus going out into the wilderness? The wilderness, of course, is not the only time Jesus goes off on his own; it is only the longest and the most memorable. He also takes some time to himself before walking out to his disciple’s boat, and he spends some brief but valuable moments praying alone in the hours before he is betrayed.

Nor is Jesus the only biblical holy-man who takes time off from the crowds, to spend closer to God. Jonah, though perhaps not very intentionally, wound up in the proverbial wilderness for three full days, and it was this experience that transformed him into a courageous man of the Lord. Moses too experienced his formative–and perhaps most important–experience with God when he was alone in the desert.

This juxtaposition speaks to a mutually-reinforcing duality, rather than an either-or choice or a simple contradiction. To draw from a classical source, G.K. Chesterton once wrote about how Christian theology is full of such dualistic relationships. In his case, he had been persuaded in his younger days–as many Nietzschean types are–that Christianity seemed purpose-made to turn men into sheep. A subsequent reading of history, however, indicated to him that Christianity was so violent and bloodthirsty that it ought to be condemned for making wolves of mankind.

Which was it?

The answer is… yes.

It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasized celibacy and emphasized the family…it has kept them side by side like two strong colors, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates the evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty grey […] All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colours coexistent but pure.

The New Testament, even in its most pacifistic beatitudes, does not contradict the Old Testament’s dictum of the seasonality of human purpose. There is a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to love, and a time to hate.

Clearly, we are to spend some time with others, and some time alone with God. Which of these is greater is arguably less important than the importance of practicing both. To answer the original question in a somewhat speculative manner, we may be manifesting distinct but symbiotic aspects of the ideal human in relationship with the divine.

The new questions become the following: first, what is the relationship between time alone and time spent with others? Secondly, which should we spend more time doing?

I suspect the second answer will vary drastically, depending on the individual. A father of twelve and a trappist monk will have different demands made of them, from society and from God, respectively, despite both having an obligation to some balance. Even a father of twelve ought to find regular time alone to pray and to “sharpen the saw,” so that he can fulfill his obligation to love God. Even a trappist monk ought to spend regular time with other people in the world, so that he can fulfill his obligation to love others as he loves himself.

After all, is there anything more spiritually self-indulgent and selfish than keeping God all to yourself?

As for the question of the relationship between the spirit in solitude and in society, I believe the most important one is the latent utility to others within the character that can only be properly developed in solitude. Nietzsche once argued that the development of will and spirit was fundamentally born out of the experience of boredom, and indeed, there is probably no more important virtue for social interaction than patience. Learning to come to terms with the sound and rhythm of your own mind is perhaps only really possible by confronting it directly, without distractions, and without external circumstances that allow us to pin our annoyance with the experience of being on anything outside of our mind… or, conversely, to identify with certainty that our sources of annoyance are coming from outside of our mind. This too we can only learn by discerning what our mind feels like.

With prayer and meditation in solitude, we can understand ourselves, which paves the way for formation, reformation, and transformation. Our own reflective experience turns us gradually, on the pottery wheel of our own consciousness into the sort of person that others appreciate and enjoy as well.

Thomas Aquinas once defined contemplative prayer as “finding the place in yourself where you are here and now being created in the image of God.” In this regard, we are closest to the Father (the Father of creation) when we are alone. By the same token, we are closest to the Son (the Mediator and the Bridegroom) when we are loving and serving others.

Perhaps for this reason, it is all the more important for the father of twelve to come to better know the primordial Father, and for the monk who devotes himself to Jesus to emulate and more closely resemble Jesus the self-sacrificial servant of man.

Video Games as Narrative High Art: Skyrim

I recently completed a lengthy essay on why Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim qualifies as high art and as a good story, in the classical sense. The piece is a bit on the heavy side in addition to its length, but if you are a mythology buff or are into video-game lore, you may find it worth the meander.

Here’s just one thematic exploration from the game:

The achievement the game awards the player with upon killing Alduin is “Dragonslayer.” It may seem a bit superfluous, after already having killed any number of dragons prior to defeating Alduin, but it marks the complete attainment of the identity of dragonslayer, since Alduin is, essentially, the King of the Dragons.

This brings up another critical point. Who, or what, is Alduin? In the game, he is a very powerful dragon, the first-born son of a God, and the legendary harbinger of the end of the world. Mythologically, Alduin is the great serpent, the snake in the Garden of Eden and the Great Beast of Revelation, Jörmungandr and Fenrir. Psychologically, however, Alduin is the Shadow of the Dragonborn.

The Shadow is the dark and emotional side of our personality, always dangerous, but not necessarily evil. It becomes evil, however, when we are not aware of it, and thus cannot control it. It takes on a mind of its own, pursues its own desires, which are often at odds with what we want, as well as with morality, society, and the world. If it is allowed to grow, the shadow can become a true monster.

[…]

After confronting the shadow, the resurrection from death is simultaneously a transformation into something new. You are both dragon-born and dragon-slayer: a self-slayer, and self-overcomer.

Check out the full piece at Medium. If you think it’s interesting, leave a few claps.

Cursed Are The Peace-Enforcers

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
–Matthew 5:9

Everyone looks up to the work of “peace-making,” whether it is for secular humanitarian justifications or for religious ones. No one wants to be the source of conflict, yet many go above and beyond this general standard, seeking not only to avoid starting disputes, but to make peace. But what does it mean to “make peace?” The question is less obvious than it at first appears, because in different senses of the phrase, the spirit beneath the word may be contradictory.

Consider the story of Adam and Bob. The two brothers get into a dispute. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that the brothers are five, and the dispute is over a toy. There are two directions this dispute could take. First, the two brothers could work towards a resolution between themselves. Second, the mother could intervene and resolve the dispute for them.

On the first path, it is possible that the dispute escalates to the point that one boy kills the other. This is wildly unlikely, which means that a dispute which is not resolved to both boys’ satisfaction will likely reemerge at a later date. Each brother will have to learn to get along with the other if he wants to avoid being miserable himself. This is how children gradually acquire the skills of empathy and the foundational instincts of game-theory-morality. Conflict, in other words, generates the environment necessary to learn the skills that will be expected of us as mature adults.

What of the second path? What if the mother intervenes and “makes peace” between her two sons, perhaps distracting and placating them, or maybe even adjudicating the dispute in one side’s favor? Trying to get their minds off the matter will certainly solve the immediate predicament, but it does so at the cost of the experience the children would gain in learning to make peace among themselves.

This pattern emerges in parental modeling as well. Recent psychological research seems to indicate that conflicts between parents in can actually be beneficial to the children, so long as the resolution to the argument is also observed:

Some types of conflicts are not disturbing to kids, and kids actually benefit from it,” says Cummings [E. Mark Cummings, Notre Dame University]. When parents have mild to moderate conflict that involves support and compromise and positive emotions, children develop better social skills and self-esteem, enjoy increased emotional security, develop better relationships with parents, do better in school and have fewer psychological problems.

“When kids witness a fight and see the parents resolving it, they’re actually happier than they were before they saw it,” says Cummings. “It reassures kids that parents can work things through. We know this by the feelings they show, what they say, and their behavior—they run off and play. Constructive conflict is associated with better outcomes over time.”

Even if parents don’t completely resolve the problem but find a partial solution, kids will do fine. “Compromise is best, but we have a whole lot of studies that show that kids benefit from any progress toward resolution,” says Cummings.

By contrast, children who witness even a moderate argument, but who are not allowed to witness the resolution, experience a gradual building of tension and stress around the relationship. Resolution to arguments proves that relationships with people are resilient, even antifragile. Unresolved arguments, by contrast, tend to inflame and enlarge the tension and anxiety surrounding relationships. The world becomes unstable when there is no clear pattern linking calm to storm-clouds, and no visible path from the latter back to the former.

This means that the mother of Adam and Bob, in her intervention, is actually robbing her sons of the experience necessary to become peacemakers themselves.

This simple and illustrative example is by no means a catch-all, implying that in no circumstances should a parent ever intercede in their children’s interactions. Rather, it is a criticism of a particular reason why parents–or friends, family, even strangers–may intercede in a nearby conflict: “conflict is bad, so I will stop the conflict, and this will make me good.” Or, “conflict is bad because I cannot tolerate it, so I will stop it.”

In my recent debate with Zach Ryan Mora on Satanism, I argued that the essential quality of what is satanic is that which is proud and what is judgmental and accusatory in its pride. It may sound a little hyperbolic to describe self-appointed peace-enforcers, who come around and battle against conflict on other’s behalf, as “satanic.” But it touches on a real pulse. Whether they are unable to cope with the potential instability they associate with conflict, or they can’t resist the impulse to push others down to elevate themselves, those who make peace or else are not doing God’s work. This is why Dolores Umbridge is such an easy character to hate: under the pretense of being nice, she neither wanted nor tolerated disagreement, and stifled everything that was good in the process.

Intolerance for disagreement is stifling and hateful because what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true, all matter. Being able to distinguish these qualities from their opposites are what makes life itself either good or bad, and since no one person has the answers, or will ever have all the answers, the sincere pursuit of the good within life will inevitably lead to disagreement, perhaps even conflict. But this conflict is not antithetical to what is good; it is only antithetical to peace.

Arguments and debate represent turning points in the recursive oscillations that move us closer and closer to the ideals that make life good. The helicopter moms and Dolores Umbridges of the world impede, or even obstruct, these oscillations, perhaps out of pride or fear, maybe even envy. But this behavior is not “peacemaking,” in the sense intended in the beattitudes. A more complete elaboration on what “peacemaking” looks like can be found later on in the book of Matthew:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Biblical peacemaking does not avoid confrontation, but actually requires it. It is also not pursued on another’s behalf, but on one’s own behalf: first because we all have our own troubles that are likely great enough; second, because we may not be aware of the full extent of the subject; third, allowing people to become outraged on other’s behalf opens the door to all sorts of perverse incentives and social power-plays, and there is no end to that hallway.

In other words, what Jesus advocates is not “peace” per se when he says “blessed are the peacemakers.”

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
–Matthew 10:34

Rather, what he advocates is reconciliation. Reconciliation is itself a form of forgiveness, which is arguably the heart of Christian spiritual practice: “…forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

No one is perfect, which means that participation in the dance means we will inevitably miss some steps. There are two options: correction (and forgiveness), or stepping out. There is no way to take option one and also have peace: the only peace that is even theoretically possible is the silence of death. Whether that death is literal or figurative is essentially irrelevant for those who live there. Life is conflict. There’s simply no getting around it, and it’s a living death to move about the world avoiding any and all collisions with other people.

So blessed are the peacemakers, for they keep fighting fun, and life vivacious. And cursed are the peace-enforcers, who condemn life itself as intolerable or immoral, even if they themselves do not know it.