Everything by proxy

It’s interesting and frightening how pervasive the thought is, that people can be taken to represent or stand in for something else, in such a way that it’s useful and meaningful and appropriate to attack the former in order to punish or instruct or threaten the latter.

I just read one example in one of the answers to last week’s CIF ‘Belief’ question. Jonathan Romain knew a guy whose daughter was killed in a car crash whose cause was unknown.

But Henry knew why it had happened. God was punishing him for not going to synagogue. I told Henry over and over again that this was ridiculous and God would not punish his daughter for his supposed sin. But Henry was adamant. Suddenly I realised what was going and stopped rebuking Henry. He couldn’t cope with his daughter’s death if it was meaningless…

But he could cope with it by thinking his daughter’s death was about him. He could cope with it by thinking that the way God found to punish him was to kill a different person. It’s not just the obvious moral perversion that’s interesting, it’s the weird egotism. It’s the weird belief that he, Henry, was all-important, while his daughter turned out to be just an instrument for his chastisement. It’s the bizarre belief that his daughter was just some kind of symbol or copy for Him.

Then shortly after reading that I read Norm on anti-semitism in Sweden. The mayor of Malmö said ‘he was opposed to anti-Semitism, but added: “I believe these are anti-Israel attacks, connected to the war in Gaza…”.’ Norm commented:

[H]atred of Jews or attacks on them and their places of worship, schools or other institutions are nothing but anti-Semitism, whether they are linked to passions about Israel or not. For the targets of them are not, in fact, Israel; they are, in this case, Swedish Jews.

Just so. And Swedish Jews, as Norm says, are not Israel, and Americans are not America, and Londoners are not British foreign policy, and so on. People don’t stand in for other people or for abstractions, and random strangers don’t stand in for anything, because they are an unknown quantity. Knowing they are ‘Jews’ or ‘Americans’ or ‘Nigerians’ or whatever it may be is not to know enough. People aren’t proxies, and it’s always stupid and often dangerous to treat them as such.

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