Rule of Thumb
A reading from the Book of Acts:
About that time there arose no little stir concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only at Ephesus but almost throughout all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable company of people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may count for nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
When they heard this they were enraged, and cried out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion; and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. Paul wished to go in among the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; some of the Asiarchs also, who were friends of his, sent to him and begged him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, wishing to make a defense to the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all with one voice cried out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be contradicted, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against any one, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. ( Ac 19:23–41).
File this story away for a moment, and then consider this meme, beloved by the MAGA Cult whenever there is civil unrest caused by the injustices beloved by the MAGA Cult:
Now let’s return to Acts. In addition to personal responsibility (something the Party of Personal Responsibility always demands of brown people while its Cult Leader declares “I take no responsibility at all”), the Church teaches that there are such things as structures of sin. We see this in, for instance, in the guild of Ephesian silversmiths. Paul didn’t just threaten an imaginary goddess named Artemis with the gospel. He threatened an entire socio-economic system based on her cult. There was a ton of money to be made in the sale of Artemisware. That socio-economic system is an example of what the Church means by a “structure of sin”.
There are lots of such structures in the world. Another example is whole police departments specifically organized to defend murderers in their ranks. Or a theopolitical cult of racists who adore a visible-from-space racist in the White House. Denying such structures of sin exist is the main task of that quote by Reagan above.
Here’s the rule of thumb to note: When white conservatives are defending violence by white people, they always attribute it to “lone nuts” utterly disconnected from a structure of sin that declares Nazis “very fine people” while denouncing peaceful black protesters as “sons of bitches”.
But when these same conservatives speak of their culture war enemies, they suddenly invoke vast shadowy conspiracies implicating untold numbers of people across the planet
Somehow, instead of individuals acting alone, suddenly “the media” or terrorists or Dems are all guilty of somehow engineering a global Pandemic, and the economic collapse caused by Trump’s feckless mishandling of it. All of society is scheming against MAGA and is somehow to blame for the murder of George Floyd, who somehow killed himself, or faked killing himself, in order to make Trump look bad. Suddenly, whenever the MAGA Cult requires it, the crimes of individuals are not their personal responsibility alone, but indict “Liberals” or “Antifa” or Muslims or “shithole countries” or whatever other mass grouping they want to blame.
Indeed, when authority figures beloved by MAGA commit crimes, they are often not even personally responsible or responsible in any way. Their victim is. So when Breonna Taylor gets murdered in her sleep or Tamir Rice get slaughtered for playing with a toy, all of a sudden we hear that the reason people are “rioting” (not protesting) is not because of the personal responsibility of their murderers, but because of The Breakdown of the Black Family or some other collective sin of the victim.
Pay attention and you will see the pattern again and again. For the MAGA Cult of Personal Responsibility, white criminals like Dylann Roof always act alone, even when they were part of white supremacist social media groups. When a white man who loves MAGA regalia massacres people in a Parkland high school, there is no link at all between the massacre and the MAGA. When somebody writes a MAGA manifesto larded with Trump’s rhetoric as his rationale for targeting brown people in a mass slaughter in El Paso, there is zero connection between the president and the predator. Brown criminals always show you the true nature of all brown people, as well as all human groupings who resist MAGA’s rhetorical sleight of hand, especially “the liberals” and “the media”–all of them, en masse. If a Latino criminal kills somebody, it is an indictment of 20 million immigrants who need to be deported because they are all criminals guilty of his crime. If a horde of Nazis march, we must be extremely careful to realize that some Nazis are very fine people.