One-uppers versus survival

Posted: Sep 19, 2002 12:00 AM

Among the many commemorations of the September 11th anniversary, the one at Berkeley was unique. The American flag was banned because it might offend people from other countries. "The Star Spangled Banner" was banned because it was considered too militaristic, while "God Bless America" was not regarded as an acceptable substitute because God is politically incorrect in Berkeley.

This might all be just an incidental sidelight on the silliness of Berkeley, except that such attitudes are far more widespread among academics, the literati, and the glitterati. Too often such attitudes are based on nothing more substantial than a desire to be part of the self-anointed elite who are one-up on everyone else.

Being one-up is so important to some people that it colors the way they see every issue and can even over-ride concern for their own safety in a world of international terrorism. One of the ways of being one-up is to jump on the bandwagon of the latest fads, like being non-judgmental or supporting multiculturalism and deconstruction. These clever sophistries are the self-indulgences of sheltered and comfortable people.

Does anyone suffering the agonies of some terrible disease question whether what he is experiencing is real or just a matter of "perceptions" that are "socially constructed"? Does a mother whose child has died in her arms question whether that is of any greater significance than swatting a mosquito? Do people who risk their lives trying to escape from some brutal dictatorship and reach American soil regard all cultures as "equally valid"?

People can define things inside their own heads any way they want to. It is only when they pretend to be talking about things outside their heads, in the real world, that they spread intellectual confusion and social chaos. Many a foolish policy is based on trying to make the real world match the picture inside someone's head.

Since all people and all cultures are equal -- inside the heads of the one-uppers -- any disparities in the real world are seen as injustices to be corrected. Therefore, if a high school punishes more black males than Asian females for misconduct, then apparently that school must be racist and should be sued.

Differences in income, mortality rates, unemployment, and innumerable other things are all automatically suspect as evils of society, because different groups cannot possibly be behaving differently, since they are equal inside the heads of the one-uppers. Countries that are poor cannot possibly be less productive, but must have been "exploited" somehow.

People who think this way are especially dangerous when we are facing mortal perils, such as international terrorism. Since there is moral equivalence inside their heads, their conclusion is that we must have done something wrong to make terrorists hate us.

It will never occur to such people that the kind of envy and resentments which they themselves promote incessantly may be behind the hatred from those who are lagging far behind the progress of the West and who can achieve significance only by destruction.

We cannot do anything about what is inside other people's heads -- except let it stay there and not get inside ours. But getting inside our heads, and especially inside the heads of our children, is the compelling urge of those who want to make the real world outside match their inner vision.

Why? Because theirs is a very self-flattering vision, which establishes them as morally one-up on the rest of us. Going against the common sense of ordinary people is the key to their self-exaltation, whether they are favoring criminals over victims, animals over humans, or other countries over America.

In a long war against terrorism, where we may have to both suffer and inflict terrible devastation, unity and resolve are the keys to enduring and prevailing. One-uppers are the last thing we need. They are enemies within, who can be the most dangerous kinds of enemies.

If they are so preoccupied with flattering their own vanity that they do not understand that their own survival is at stake, so be it. But the tragedy is that millions of other people's survival is also at stake.