Righteous Slaughter

March 11, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

George Zimmerman was signing autographs at a gun show in Orlando this week. Liberal blogs are all over it. Conservative bloggers seem not to have noticed.* (Google “George Zimmerman autograph” and see if any red staters turn up.) 

Zimmerman is not the issue. It’s his supporters. Only 200 showed up for the meet-and-greet or SigSauer-and-Signature or whatever it was called.  But Zimmerman has many supporters around the country, and, as Jonathan Capeheart says:
This leads to what should be an inevitable question: Who are these people glorifying the killer of an unarmed teenager in one of the most racially polarized incidents in recent history?
I keep wondering how Jonathan Haidt would explain this conservative embrace of Zimmerman. The liberal reaction presents no problems. Haidt says that liberal morality rests on two principles (he calls them “foundations”)
  • Care/Harm
  • Fairness/Cheating. 
Killing someone certainly qualifies as Harm, and, almost literally, getting away with murder is not Fair.

The Zimmerman side is that he shot in self-defense. That argument persuaded the jury, or at least created sufficient reasonable doubt. But it doesn’t explain why some people on the right see him as a hero. What moral principle does he represent? 

In Haidt’s schema, conservatives take Harm and Fairness into account but balance them with three others:
  • Loyalty/betrayal
  • Authority/subversion
  • Sanctity/degradation
(A sixth foundation - Liberty/oppression – underlies both the liberal and conservative side.)

It’s hard to see how any of these describe the autograph-seekers.  What else might explain that reaction?

The obvious candidate is racism. If the races had been reversed – if a Black man had confronted a White teenager, killed him, and then been acquitted on self-defense grounds – would the left have hailed him as a hero? I doubt it. Would those same autograph hounds in Orlando have sought him out? I doubt it.  And if Black people had then turned out to get his autograph, can you imagine what the reaction on the right would have been?

But it’s not just racism. It’s a more general willingness to do harm, great harm, to those who “deserve” it.  The liberal view (Harm/Care) is that while in some circumstances killing may be necessary or inevitable, it is still unfortunate.  But over on the right, killing, torture, and perhaps other forms of harm are cause for celebration, so long as these can be justified. In 2008, Republicans cheered Sarah Palin when she stood up for torture. (See this post from 2008.) In 2011, they cheered Rick Perry for signing death warrants for record numbers of executions (here). When Wolf Blitzer hypothsized a young man who had decided not to buy medical insurance but now lay in the ICU, and Blitzer asked “Should we let him die?” several people in the Republican audience enthusiastically shouted out, “Yes.” (here)

My guess as to the common thread here is a dimension Haidt doesn’t include as a foundation of morality – boundary rigidity. In those earlier posts, I referred to this, or something similar, as “tribalism.”
Morality is not some abstract universal that applies to all people.  Tribal morality divides the world into Us and Them.  What's moral is what's good for Us.  This morality does not extend to Them.
Could it be that as you get farther out on the right, you find more people whose boundaries are more rigid?  They are the hard liners who draw hard lines. Once those lines are drawn, it’s impossible to have sympathy – to extend Care – to someone on the other side. If you imagine that you live in a world where an attack by Them is always imminent, defending those boundaries becomes very important.

That seems to be the world of gun-rights crowd lionizing Zimmerman.  Their cherished scenario is the defense of boundaries against those who are clearly Not Us.  They stand their ground and defend themselves, their families, their houses and property, even their towns and communities against those from the other side of the boundary (including Obama’s jack-booted thugs).  It is a story they never tire of, repeated time after time in NRA publications.  Zimmerman is a hero because his story, in their view, embodies the narrative of righteous slaughter. 

* A local Fox outlet did a sympathetic interview with Zimmerman (here)– sympathetic in the sense that it tried to cast Zimmerman as victim. After two sentences describing the event, the story continues:
Fox 35 met up with him to talk about why he was at the store and what life has been like after his acquittal.

Fox 35's Valerie Boey: "You've always been concerned about your safety. Are you concerned about your safety today?"


Bob S. said...

Let's start with this statement:
Who are these people glorifying the killer of an unarmed teenager in one of the most racially polarized incidents in recent history?

Harm/Fairness -First "unarmed" doesn't mean non-violent, helpless or even innocent.
The forensic evidence, supported by witness testimony, the survivor's testimony and Martin's own words via cell phone texts, etc all show MARTIN to be the aggressor who confronted Zimmerman and attacked him.

The "unarmed" teenager was pounding on Zimmerman -- what should Zimmerman have done - DIED?

And the "most racially polarized incidents"? Jiminy Crickets the media invented a brand new term to push the racial narrative "White Hispanic" !
Kinda makes the idea the conservatives are behind the racial aspect a little suspect doesn't it?

Was Zimmerman treated fairly?
His personal life was dragged through the mud in public for all to see. Martin's drug use, school suspensions, fighting, possession of firearms -- NOT so much.

Loyalty/Betrayal -- Zimmerman's accusers tried to to make him out to be racist; yet it was Zimmerman who showed loyalty to his neighbors, his friends regardless of skin color. Shouldn't people stick up for someone who helped him?
Shouldn't people respect such a person?

Authority/subversion -- Let's see Martin was suspended from school 3 times, resulting in his being in Sanford. His own texts shows him to be involved in drug use -- who respects authority?
Zimmerman worked with the police, so much so they offered him a position in the Citizens on Patrol group.

Liberty/oppression -- This is huge in the reason; it appeared to many that the political machinery was out to run over an innocent man. The police did a thorough investigation -- they found no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's story. The FBI investigated him for violation of civil rights, they found no evidence to substantiate that charge. The state, bowing to racial pressure, brought charges any ways. Charges most legal scholars had trouble believing made it to trial.

The Judge repeatedly ruled against common motions and sided with the state in grossly unfair manner to Zimmerman -- Yeah, Oppression had a lot to do with it.
We've seen this time and time again lately. Used to be that the minorities did have a point that the state and people were oppressing them....now it seems to be the other way in cases like this.

heir cherished scenario is the defense of boundaries against those who are clearly Not Us.

BULLSHIT. This isn't a case of race, this isn't a case of "us/not us" -- a simple reading of the facts, not the media narrative will tell you it is about self defense. That is why he was found not guilty, that is why people are up in arms. We see our rights being stripped away, eroded time and time again.

Zimmerman is a hero because his story, in their view, embodies the narrative of righteous slaughter.

Good grief !! Do you not consider the actual facts around homicide, self defense, etc?

Most deaths are intra-racial! Righteous slaughter -- that is ridiculous. There are 300,000,000 firearms in the country, 85,000,000 firearm owners. If people were after righteous slaughter the body count would be considerably higher.

There is a core value principle here that is being fought over; typified in the Zimmerman case -- should the criminals be given more regard then their victims.

The left/liberal wing would have us not fight back against someone trying to rob us, trying to rape women, pounding people's head onto the concrete.
The criminal's past shouldn't be used to evaluate him but the shooter -- drag him through the mud.
How is that right?

Bob S. said...

Okay I get you aren't going to answer.

So let me try a different tact. Is there any doubt Martin smoked dope? was involved in street fighting, likely was complicit in burglaries if not committing them?

Is there any doubt he was pounding on Zimmerman- regardless of who started the shebang?

After studying the evidence, I have no doubt about those issue.

So what value does Martin represent to the liberal gun control crowd?

Why do they idolize him?

Jay Livingston said...

In case you didn’t notice, and obviously you didn’t, this post was not about the facts of the killing or about who was right and who was wrong. You can find talk about that all over the Internet. It was about the moral foundations of the different stories that people construct. The liberal gun-control crowd constructs a story that is fairly consistent with Haidt’s version of liberals. That story emphasizes Fairness – racism being an important subcategory of Fairness. And it emphasizes Harm – killing being an important category of Harm.

The Zimmerman-as-hero story is somewhat less easily crammed into the Haidt foundations box, as I said in the post. My point was that what’s missing is something like boundary rigidity. Here, that means drawing a very solid and permanent line between Us and Them – a very hardened form of tribalism where anything done to Them is justified. (And by Them or Not-Us I don’t mean only just race. The boundary is moral, though it’s easier to see moral differences when there are other diferences as well.) So the story constructed by the pro-Zimmerans makes him a protector of his community and makes Martin a dangerous outsider who penetrated the boundaries of that community and was therefore a threa. But as I said, I’m not sure that this is really what Haidt means by Loyalty.

To repeat, I’m not so much interested here in the facts of the case. Those are merely things that each side chooses and shapes for the purpose of buttressing its story.

Bob S. said...

The liberal gun-control crowd constructs a story that is fairly consistent with Haidt’s version of liberals. That story emphasizes Fairness – racism being an important subcategory of Fairness.

And by pointing out the actual facts in the case, I'm showing that the "Fairness" is completely fabricated.
The moral foundations of the people involved shaped how they responded to the situation.

Zimmerman -- trying to reduce crime.
Martin -- there because of misbehavior and probable crime.

And it emphasizes Harm – killing being an important category of Harm.

And the liberal story completely ignores the harm that Martin did -- to the people he fought, to the people he probably stole from, to his parents --remember his mom kicked him out of her house.

if a Black man had confronted a White teenager, killed him, and then been acquitted on self-defense grounds – would the left have hailed him as a hero? I doubt it.

The left has less use for hero and more for victims -- yet poor little Trayvon is certainly being held up as someone who typified the left ideals -- the distortion about getting candy for his 'little brother' - not mentioning it was probably drug precursors.
Yelling about how Trayvon was 'unarmed' but ignoring the street fights and the evidence Martin was pummeling Zimmerman.

This is what I don't understand.

You talk about 'tribalism' and 'us versus them' completely misses the mark. Why can't you see that?

Jaime Andres said...

What a load of bogus crap. Zimmerman supporters, myself included, come from various backgrounds, some completely misguided and others quite valid. Sure, you have the gun nuts who see every gun case as pivotal to their glorified second amendment, and you have your White nationalists who see George as a racial cause, by implication (Zimmerman is actually a person of mixed ancestry and the child of an immigrant from a non English speaking country so he usually represents their worst fears. But, in this case, he was painted as White, and thus became an avatar, a representative, of what could happen to them in a similar situation), but the fact remains that many of us support him, not as a celebrity, but as a survivor to a media promulgated pogrom, where he was used by both sides for their agendas, but it was the liberal side who scapegoated him and portrayed him and the evidence falsely to push profiling and Stand Your Ground issues which didn't even apply to this case. We celebrate the fact that the judicial system worked and that it didn't bow to media and special interest pressures. Do I think Zimmerman is perfect? Not even close. But he was not proven to e guilty of breaking any laws that night. And any subsequent irrational behavior can be attributed to the paranoia and PTSD he has developed from the attack and subsequent media persecution, death threats, hiding, and basic loss of any ability

Jaime Andres said...

Didn't notice the follow up comments option

Jay Livingston said...

Sgt.: It goes without saying (which is why I didn’t say it) that the generalizations I was making don’t apply to everyone. There is a diversity of views on this case, not just the two that are in clearest opposition. I was trying to use those two to test Haidt’s ideas about Liberal and Conservative moral foundations.

"he was used by both sides for their agendas."
That was part of the point I was trying to make. Each ideology has constructed the Martin and Zimmerman that fit with their moral foundations, selecting and interpreting the facts that work for their view. The post was questioning whether the Loyalty dimension really fit with the difference in the acceptability of killing. I speculated that Loyalty might fit into a broader category – something like boundary-rigidity.

Your comments on post-trial Zimmeran are well taken – that the unfortunate incidents since then are an almost inevitable reaction to the experiences and circumstances imposed on him. But I’m sure you realize that the anti-Zimmerman view interprets the same events as illustrating not the power of external forces but Zimmerman’s essential violence-prone instability. That, by the way, is an inversion of the usual liberal-conservative split on this issue. Liberal views often emphasize external circumstances. Conservatives emphasize individual factors; they talk about personal responsibility, choice, etc.

And by the way, just a tip for commenting on this blog and others: starting a comment with, “What a load of bogus crap” is not exactly an invitation to reasoned discussion. (For some reason, at least among commenters on this blog, the preference for that kind of approach seems to go along with the pro-gun, pro-Zimmerman position. Small n, but interesting nonetheless in light of that NRA dictum about an armed society being a polite society.)