Wrong Doesn’t Mean Evil
Today I am proud to present a guest editorial by my friend, writer, filmmaker and intellectual activist Stewart Wade Margolis. Stewart has been my very good friend and fellow advocate for reason since our days together at UCLA. He’s also been a guest on my podcast, Way of the Renaissance Man. In this short essay, Stewart warns against falling into the trap of demonizing your ideological enemies and failing to make the effort to see that there are values-based reasons why people support their side. You may think they are wrong — and they may well be wrong — but they are not evil. And to believe that they are is not just a mistake, but a prescription for societal destruction. I loved this essay, so much in fact that I asked Stewart for permission to present it to you. He graciously agreed, and that means I get the privilege of sharing his thoughts with you.
Wrong Doesn’t Mean Evil
By Stewart Wade Margolis
A great deal has been written lately about the rise in partisanship and tribalism. But even so, all too often, I see people falling into the trap of demonizing their ideological enemies, assuming that anyone on the “other side” is not just mistaken, but corrupt, bad — even evil. They cannot understand how any good person could possibly support X, or believe Y. Some of this is just a failure of empathy or the desire to even try to understand where someone else is coming from. But a large part of the problem is that our ideological camps come as package deals. Of course you can be someone who supports a woman’s right to choose, and also believes in free markets (I am such a person), but you won’t find a comfortable home in either of the prevailing ideological camps. Since virtually everyone demands that you choose sides, what is the average person to do?
For me — and for a lot of people I know — neither side is truly a good fit. But we’re told we have to pick a side. And once you pick, you’re expected to toe the party line. I think people might be less prone to demonizing the other side if they recognized that a lot depends on which part of the package deal you focus on.
Conservatives I know simply can’t imagine how anyone could align themselves with progressives. They focus on the leftists who are nihilists, communists — or just plain crazy — and they don’t see how any good person could end up in this camp. But most of the liberals I know dismiss those elements as fringe, and focus on the issues that concern their daily life: the freedom to love whomever you choose, reproductive freedom, an end to the war on drugs and police reform. If these issues are important to you — as they are to me — it’s not that hard to see how one could end up on this side.
Similarly, liberals I know find it incomprehensible that any good person could support Trump or the conservatives. They focus on the apparent racism, misogyny, homophobia, as well as the lies and the anti-science attitude and they are horrified. But most of the conservatives I know are intelligent and educated. They are not racist, homophobic, or misogynistic. They are focused on the fact that Trump seems to be pro-America, pro-business and anti all the worst elements of the crazy left. They don’t necessarily like or approve of the way Trump conducts himself, but they believe that the core values of the nation are under attack, and they like that Trump seems to “fight back.”
I am profoundly pro-America, not in a my-country-right-or-wrong way, but because in its founding, America was the first country to lay out a system that protects individual rights. It did so imperfectly, but it was still a profound leap forward for humanity. So, if I were to focus on this aspect alone, I, too, might end up supporting Trump. After decades of our intellectuals denigrating America, it’s not surprising that “Make America Great Again” would resonate with people.
My point is not to try to convince you to change sides. My goal is to make you see that there are values-based reasons (that you could relate to, if you made the effort) for people to support their side. You may think they are wrong — and they may well BE wrong — but they are not evil. And to believe that they are is not just a mistake, but a surefire way to keep America on the road to destruction.
This is well-trod historical territory. Do you like how this worked out for Weimar Germany? It’s not too late to return to a world where we debate ideas, with the understanding that the other party is also trying to figure out the right path. I know that right now this seems like an impossible, utopian ideal. But I don’t think it is. The first step: dump the package deal. You don’t have to buy into it. Vote how you think is best, but don’t kid yourself that one side or the other is all good or all bad.
But is that really the case? It’s tempting to think the opposite when so many people espouse utter nonsense on social media. And it’s easy to think the “other side” is evil when they viciously attack you on the internet. But the internet is not real life, and when I think about the discussions I’ve had in person with people I disagree with, I don’t think I’ve ever come to the conclusion that I was dealing with an evil person. I’ve talked with a lot of profoundly WRONG people, but if I took the time, I could almost always see where their beliefs came from. Often it was a place of fear, other times of wishful thinking or some other kind of mistaken premise. Almost never did their mistakes come from true evil, from a desire to destroy — at least not entirely. Nihilism does exist, but I think it usually co-exists with other, better, impulses.
The world today, with its 24-hour news cycle and social media, tends to amplify our awareness of all that is wrong in the world. It’s easy to become cynical. But if the majority (or even a substantial minority) of people are evil, not just mistaken but fundamentally bad, then humanity is doomed. If that were the case, though, I don’t see how we ever would have left the caves, much less created the modern world. The fact that progress happens, that we are orders of magnitude better off than people just a few generations ago, demonstrates that there IS a lot of good in the world.
Ayn Rand wrote about the “benevolent universe” premise. This is the idea that reality is a place where human flourishing is possible. As part of this premise, I think it makes sense to recognize that most humans are values-seekers. They want to do good, to be happy and successful. They might not have the right ideas on how to accomplish this (in fact, centuries of bad philosophy mean that most don’t), but their motivation is essentially positive. Demonizing those who disagree with you negates this premise. It also tends to make you angry and hostile, which is not a great way to win friends and influence people. You’re far more likely to change someone’s mind if you treat them with respect and recognize your shared goals and values.
Stewart Wade Margolis is a writer, filmmaker and intellectual activist who champions the virtue of rationality. You can find out more about him at https://stewartwadefilms.wordpress.com/.
ETF Talk: Gain Exposure to Small-, Mid- and Large-Cap Banks
(Note: third in a series on post-pandemic boom ETFs)
The SPDR S&P Bank ETF (NYSEARCA: KBE) tracks an equal-weighted index of U.S. banking firms of various sizes.
The exchange-traded fund (ETF) tracks the S&P Banks Select Industry Index. It seeks to provide exposure to the bank segment of the S&P TMI, which is comprised of the following sub-industries: asset management & custody banks, diversified banks, regional banks, other diversified financial services and thrifts & mortgage finance sub-industries.
KBE is designed to track a modified equal-weighted index which provides the potential for unconcentrated industry exposure across large-, mid- and small-cap stocks. It allows investors to take strategic or tactical positions at a more targeted level than traditional sector-based investing.
Heavily weighted in banks at 87.74%, the fund also has a significant stake, 5.6%, in property & casualty insurance, and 4.95% in investment management & fund operators. KBE’s top five holdings include SVB Financial Group (NASDAQ: SIVB), 1.99%; MGIC Investment Corporation (NYSE: MTG), 1.72%; First Republic Bank (NYSE: FRC), 1.71%; Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), 1.71%; and Voya Financial, Inc. (NYSE: VOYA), 1.69%.
Chart Courtesy of StockCharts.com
The fund’s share price currently trades around $41.50. It has $1.2 billion in assets under management, 86 holdings and an impressive 3.16% dividend yield. It has an average spread of 0.3% and an expense ratio of 0.35%, meaning it is relatively inexpensive to hold in relation to other exchange-traded funds.
To sum up, the popular ETF tracks an equal-weighted index of U.S. banking stocks. Equal weighting puts big-name banks on equal footing with smaller ones and increases the emphasis on smaller firms on the whole. KBE fills a niche by providing exposure to a broad selection of banks in an equal-weighted wrapper. Overall, costs are low, too. KBE is tremendously liquid, charges a competitive fee and tracks its index well. However, I urge any interested investors to exercise their own due diligence in deciding whether this fund fits their individual portfolio goals.
Remember, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.
In case you missed it…
Your Pandemic Solution Revealed
When it comes to figuring out a solution to the global pandemic that is COVID-19, our experts would be well-served to listen to the wisdom of crowds. That’s especially true if the experts were privy to your pandemic solutions, with “your” being the nearly 300 respondents to last week’s survey on how best to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Recall that in the prior week’s issue of The Deep Woods, I asked for your opinion, and you did not disappoint. The response was overwhelming and far more than I had anticipated. So, before we dig into the detailed results, I want to thank those who took the time to complete the survey.
I am both honored and profoundly humbled that you would spend time interacting with me here. The way I see it, a person’s time is the most precious of all commodities. That means your choice to spend time engaging with me and your fellow readers also is precious to me, and I will always hold that choice as a sacred bond to be respected and honored.
Now, here’s a recap of the questions I asked in the survey:
Which of the following statements best describes your view of how best to deal with the coronavirus pandemic:
1) Hard Quarantine. This pandemic is serious enough to justify the government imposing an economic lockdown, closing schools, restaurants, gyms, concerts, conventions, travel and nonessential businesses.
2) The Middle Ground. This pandemic is serious, justifying the wearing of masks, social distancing, limitations on large gatherings, but without closing businesses, schools, restaurants and travel.
3) Laissez-Faire Position. This pandemic is not that serious, and should have been handled by individuals, institutions and businesses deciding for themselves how to respond without government mandates.
4) None of the above reflects my views.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of respondents chose option “2) The Middle Ground.” I say not surprisingly, because based on the best scientific consensus information we have, this middle ground position does seem to be an eminently rational choice. Option 2 was chosen by 65% of respondents.
Of course, for freethinkers and those with a more libertarian orientation (like myself) Option “3) Laissez-Faire Position” also has a lot of appeal. That response captured 25% of those who took the survey, and it was here where I found some very interesting comments sent in by readers.
Only 5% of respondents were in favor of option “1) Hard Quarantine.” The remaining 5% of respondents chose option “4) None of the above,” but many of those respondents wrote in to say they either favored a hybrid position between option 1 and 2, or as one reader put it, “My view is 1.5.”
My own response is also reflective of the majority of opinions here, and it is a combination of options 2 and 3.
Here is my own response to the survey, the one that I sent to Dr. Mark Skousen when he originally sent me the survey questions:
“I would say somewhere between 2 and 3. 2 In the sense that I think it is serious, especially for vulnerable individuals. I have no issues with the social distancing and large gatherings limits. However, I am more in the 3 camp in that I think people, not government, should be deciding for themselves how to rationally respond to a medical situation.”
My thoughts on this matter were very similar to a number of respondents. For example, one reader wrote the following:
“The prescriptions in the Middle Ground should be guidelines, not mandates. We need to restrict the power of the state to declare emergencies and usurp powers. Any such declaration should be very temporary and require legislative approval to extend.”
I concur with this assessment, as did many other respondents. Some took that view a step further and were much more libertarian:
“This is less serious than the annual flu and the results are less than deaths due to legal prescriptions. The restrictions imposed are preparing us to be controlled.”
One reader who favored the Hard Quarantine used this valid point to support the selection:
“We have tried the Middle Ground and Laissez-Faire and we still have cases and deaths increasing.”
While cases and deaths continue to rise in some areas of the country, I think a hard quarantine at this point would do more damage to the economy than Americans could handle. As one reader put it:
“I think it’s nearly criminal the damage that has been done to the economy. Having said that, I can see the benefit in following some logical guidelines.”
I agree with that assessment as well, although I am sympathetic to the notion that a true hard quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic would have reduced the number of cases substantially, and that would have likely put us in a better position to deal with the virus now. Of course, we can never know that for certain.
Here’s yet another very good reader comment that I received on the issue of businesses and government shutdowns:
“I think businesses should be smart enough to figure out what they need to do to safely service their customers, particularly restaurants. The government has no right to shut down restaurants.”
The reason why I like this response is because it reflects my views that businesses, and individuals, are smart enough to figure out solutions to this, and just about any other, problem we face.
Indeed, figuring out solutions to problems is what human beings do best. That is, in fact, the one thing we do better than any other species — and that is why we are the dominant species on Earth.
It is my opinion that our ability to come up with creative solutions to problems, even problems as gigantic as a global pandemic, is what makes our species so beautiful, and so successful.
It is this creativity that is going to get us through this pandemic, and back to the upward slope of progress that Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker calls the “Enlightenment Now” era.
Finally, once again, a huge thank you to those who participated in the survey and who have helped me gain a deeper sense of enlightenment on this crucial issue of our time. It is proof positive that there is indeed a “wisdom of crowds,” provided that the “crowds” are as smart as The Deep Woods readers.
Learn It All Again Tomorrow
If my wheels were square
But the earth was jagged
I’d roll along and be no less ragged
Than I seem to be today
I’m usually this way
Learn it all again tomorrow
Learn it all again tomorrow
Nothing I have you can’t borrow or steal
Yes, I think we have a deal…
–Ben Harper, Ellen Harper, “Learn It All Again Tomorrow”
If you want to treat yourself to some excellent music, with beautiful lyrics and heartfelt sentiment between mother and son, then do yourself a favor and check out the brilliance of Ben Harper and his mother Ellen Harper on their album, “Childhood Home.” And remember, even if you’re wheels are square and your earth is jagged, you can still roll along and be no less ragged — if you keep your head about you in this crazy world.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,