The Telos of the Liberal Mind?

Remember the old joke from the 1960s about the liberal cleric who told his congregation that he had been mugged, but that he sympathized with his mugger, because injustice, etc. . . Whereupon an elderly lady in the back of the pews mutters loudly, “Mug him again.”

The joke has come to life in Georgetown, where a student who was recently mugged at gunpoint has written an article justifying the muggers because of his privilege. I’d suspect this of being a grand punk job, but I think the student, Oliver Friedfeld, actually means it:

Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle. The entire incident lasted under a minute, as I was forced to the floor, handed over my phone and was patted down.

And yet, when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: “Not at all.” It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal. While we aren’t often confronted by this stark reality west of Rock Creek Park, the economic inequality is very real. . .

What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing “thugs,” “criminals” and “bad people.” While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.

Not once did I consider our attackers to be “bad people.” I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay. They wanted my stuff, not me. While I don’t know what exactly they needed the money for, I do know that I’ve never once had to think about going out on a Saturday night to mug people. I had never before seen a gun, let alone known where to get one. The fact that these two kids, who appeared younger than I, have even had to entertain these questions suggests their universes are light years away from mine. . .

Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as “thugs?” It’s precisely this kind of “otherization” that fuels the problem. . .

The millennial generation is taking over the reins of the world, and thus we are presented with a wonderful opportunity to right some of the wrongs of the past. As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins.

I wonder where Mr. Friedfeld would draw the line? Murder, perhaps? His own, I wonder? What if the muggings and break-ins became less “sporadic,” like New York city in the 1970s. Way back in the late 1960s Daniel Patrick Moynihan wondered whether the nihilism becoming more apparent on the left day by way was “the telos of modern liberalism.” I think we see the answer in this story.

Postscript: The article says Friedfeld is a student in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He seems a perfect fit for the State Department. (The comments, by the way, are overwhelmingly savage. Hope, after all.)

Responses