People who favor collectivism (socialism, Marxism, or communism) believe it brings total social and economic equality, that wide swaths of the population can be “equalized” by banning and criminalizing certain disfavored behaviors, as well as the thoughts and beliefs that support those behaviors. If we are all to behave alike, accept the same standards of living, we all must believe the same things, and the central government will tell us what those things are.
If there is one independent thinker left, what the collectivists seek is a functional impossibility. One tall blade of grass ends that charade and the brutality that necessarily follows in the cutting of that blade down to a common height displays the evil, coercive power of the state.
But if collectivism means equality, it must follow that it means collectivism in all things, including guilt and punishment.
These two terms are inexorably intertwined. Normally the term ‘collective guilt’ defines a notion wherein a large population of actually or seemingly related individuals feel responsible for the actions of a few who claim or are assumed to be part of, or otherwise represent, that group. Collective punishment takes that idea through the next steps by converting the allegations to a crime, then into a guilty verdict and then meting out punishment as if the alleged crime were real.
But collective guilt/punishment is rarely about an action, it is almost always about punishing a disfavored belief or attitude. It is an ideological and political weapon used to eliminate the opposition.
An interesting (and deadly aspect) of the collective guilt/punishment is how its practitioners use generalization to widen the net and capture more of their enemies. Laura Hollis, an attorney and contributor at TownHall, identified how the contemporary race merchants do it, writing:
“Contemporary race theorists and activists have chosen to expand their definitions even further to encompass what they now call ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white privilege.’ These newer, broader definitions of the reprehensible sweep much wider swaths of people into the ‘racism’ net, no matter how beneficent and inclusive their personal attitudes and actions may be.
According to these theories, one is culpable simply for having ‘benefitted’ from a system in which blacks and other minorities were – and are – discriminated against. ‘Race’ is not only a ‘social construct’; it becomes a matter of economic identity, rather than ethnic identity. Even nonwhites who have succeeded in this system become ‘white’ by virtue of that success. Conversely, whites who have endured poverty, discrimination, broken homes, substance abuse or countless other factors beyond their control that have impeded their own upward mobility are told that those struggles are irrelevant to their ‘privilege’.”
The thought process of collective punishment is already at work in America:
- If you are against illegal immigration (which is a matter of law, not race), you are branded as a xenophobe, a racist and a bigot.
- If one person commits a mass shooting or other crime using a gun, every single gun owner, even if they have never committed a crime and have always followed the laws, must have their guns restricted, banned, or confiscated.
- Rather than isolating the sick during a pandemic, the state chose to isolate both the sick and the healthy across an entire country, state by state, abrogating the Bill of Rights and ending social interaction through the coercive force of law.
- If you believe there are only two biological sexes and genders, you are guilty of homophobia or transphobia.
Contemporary America is experiencing the same kind of collective guilt/punishment that sent millions of European Jews to their deaths in the gas chambers of the German death camps. The Jews were, of course, “guilty” simply because they were Jews. Today, if you are white, you are responsible for the institution of slavery, an institution that ended a century and a half ago. You are guilty down to your DNA – but only if you are white and not a leftist, a progressive or a Democrat. Just as every good German knew the Jews were guilty, every good leftist knows you are a racist.
How does the idea of collective punishment/guilt square with American traditions and values?
The short answer is that it does not. Not at all, not even a bit.
First, the idea of traditional American justice has never included the punishment of a group for the actions of an individual.
Secondly, we do not punish people for their thoughts. “Wrongthink” is not a crime, as it was in Orwell’s “1984”. Punishment for “wrongthink” is the very death of freedom. For any legal system to be legitimate and fair, the emphasis must be on conduct, actions which can be clearly identified and prohibited. When it is, both individuals and groups that engage in prohibited conduct can be correctly penalized for those actions.
Lastly, America does not believe in generational guilt. Americans know that the crimes of the father do not pass on to his children. When one considers where the cycle of collective guilt/punishment ends, the answer is that it never ends. Correlation is not causation, a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”* kind of concept is not a valid basis for the assignment of guilt. It is extremely easy to connect people who allegedly “benefitted” from tragic or horrific historical events – I could be “connected” to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Spanish Inquisition, and the sacking of Rome, while never being responsible for any of those events.
We know how this story ends.
The examples of countries “prosecuting” collective guilt are fresh on our minds – the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror and the Committee for Public Safety, the Holocaust in Germany, Stalin’s purges and gulags, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, Pol Pot’s killing fields – all are examples of how far collective guilt/punishment can go.
And it is beginning here in America.
May God have mercy on our souls if we do not stop it.
*As a side note, there is real science behind the “Kevin Bacon” game (that anyone on earth can be connected to Kevin through six other people, and their six other people, and so on and so on, until you are in a flour mill in the Midwest, dancing with Ren McCormack). In a 2011 study of degrees of separation on social media, an algorithm found that out of the nearly 300 million active Twitter users, there was an average degree of separation of 3.43 between any two random users.