Not all things are "equally wrong" dear centrist

Some people are bad people. They laugh in your face when you point out atrocious behaviour by those in power and say things like “those people deserved it”. There is no talking to such people, obviously.

Other people have some semblance of sanity and shake their heads in genuine sadness when they hear of atrocities and oppression. These people can be talked to. But before conversations can happen, a hindrance needs to be gotten over - their toxic sense of priorities.

Because though they would agree that violence against the defenceless is wrong, they would add that destruction of public property is also wrong. Though they would agree that the subversion of democratic institutions is wrong, they would also argue that aggressive language being used against ministers is also wrong. Though they would agree that police brutality is wrong, they would argue that blaming police is also wrong. They would present counter-arguments for each point you make by presenting something else and calling it “equally wrong”.

The hindrance that needs to be gotten over is this toxic sense of equality of wrongs.

Because not all things are equally wrong. Theft and murder are both wrong, but they aren’t equally wrong. Spitting in someone’s living room and burning their house down are both wrong but they aren’t equally wrong. Wiping your wet hands on the curtain is wrong, but it is not as wrong as nuking a country.

But people do make this argument all the time. And this argument is borrowed by the more disreputable sort too when they say “Why do you talk about issue X but not issue Y? You are biased!”.

Before you start talking to the centrist who says “equally wrong” five times a day, you need to understand where their unwillingness to engage with evil comes from. It comes partly from a culture of victim-blaming and partly from a culture of Karma-centric thinking that assumes there is some natural moral balance in the universe.

What you need to explain to people is basically two things.

  1. Yes, actions have consequences, but they are not always proportional.

  2. People are not always responsible for bad things happening to them. Often - surprise surprise - it’s the fault of the person who did the bad thing.

Often, when people seek to hold the middle ground between two issues, they make the mistake of thinking they are equidistant from both issues. They like to pretend they are smack in the middle. When arguing with such people the first thing that needs to be pointed out is that they are not equidistant and that they are, in fact, much closer to one side than they are to the other.

This causes them to exist in a space that looks neutral but actually isn’t neutral. In fact, the only difference between their position and the position of someone who is farther down the extremist line is that they don’t want to be identified as extremists. They want to appear sane and balanced while continuing to hold on to the extremist views of the party they claim not to be on the side of.

In addition, they also enjoy the benefits that come with being part of the majoritarian culture that the extreme claims to stand for. This is why you might hear from these centrists statements such as “I come from an upper caste family but I don’t believe in caste” or “I don’t support violence against minorities but I don’t think my religion is to blame” or “A crime is just a crime, let us not bring religion or caste into it”.

They say these things because they are unaware of how much their religion or their caste or their social standing affects their opinion. They say these things because they need to believe they can fight evil while benefiting from an evil system.

Think about it. How do you justify an attack on peaceful protesters by saying they were engaging in abuse? Simple! You do it by equating verbal abuse with violence. How do you justify systemic bias against those who object to a biased system? Simple! You equate objections and protests with crime.

The way you explain to such people the error in their reasoning is by first speaking about the concept of proportional responses. Ask them if the punishment for spitting on the roadside should be life imprisonment. Ask them if they would be okay with their children being arrested for writing a social media post criticising the local MP or MLA (regardless of what party they might belong to).

The next part is more tricky and involves dismantling the idea of “deserving”. Ask them if they have received everything they deserve in life. Ask them if they know people who have gotten more than they deserve in life. Most sane people would give expected answers to these questions (nobody is happy with what they have). And when that happens, you can perhaps build on those responses to eventually get to your point - that “equally wrong” is a lie that is easy to get convinced of if you have nothing at stake and if you lose nothing as a result of such toxic centrism.

When someone has been wearing privilege-tinted glasses their entire life, it can be really hard to get them off. So to expect overnight changes is impractical. But I believe that with periodic interventions and repeated conversations, change can be brought about.

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