I recently devoted my biweekly column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles to analyzing why most Jews believe that people are basically good despite the fact that this belief is neither rational nor Jewish. In a lifetime of teaching and writing on Judaism, I have never encountered a single normative statement in 3,000 years of Jewish writing that asserted that man is basically good.
As I expected, the reaction — apparently all from Jewish liberals — was entirely negative. Almost an entire page of the journal was devoted to letters attacking me. One of the seven letters — from a prominent Hollywood screenwriter — bordered on hysteria.
The question is, why?
Why would liberals in general, and Jewish liberals in particular — given the Jews’ singularly horrific history at the hands of other human beings — react so strongly against someone who wrote that people are not basically good?
In my original article, I offered one explanation: Since the Enlightenment, the secular world has had to believe in man (or “humanity”) because if you don’t believe in God and you don’t believe in humanity, you will despair.
But one critic opened my eyes to an even deeper reason most liberals do not acknowledge that people are not basically good.
This is what he wrote:
“What a sad world it would be if we all believed as Dennis Prager that mankind is inherently evil.”
And this is what I responded:
“I did not write that man is inherently evil. I wrote that he is not basically good. And, yes, that does make the world sad. So do disease, earthquakes, death and all the unjust suffering in the world. But sad facts remain facts.”
“A distinguishing characteristic of liberals and leftists,” I concluded, “is their aversion to acknowledging sad facts.”
Years ago, a woman writer, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, first made me aware of this. She wrote about liberals rejecting many facts about male and female natures. She used the French expression “les faits de la vie” — the facts of life.
The left, she wrote, rejects les faits de la vie.
I believe this is so for two reasons.
First, as with my correspondent above, people on the left tend to be unwilling to accept the sadness and pain that recognition of such facts creates. Leftism is often predicated on avoiding pain. That is a major reason why the left dislikes capitalism and free markets. Free markets create winners and losers, and the left does not like the fact that some people lose and some win.
This antipathy to having losers expresses itself on the micro level as well. Many liberals oppose children playing in competitive sports because they can lose — sometimes by a big score. That is why many schools now emphasize “cooperation instead of competition.” They do not want children experiencing the pain of losing, let alone losing by many points. That is also why liberals introduced the absurd idea of giving sports trophies to all kids who play, win or lose. God forbid that only the winners receive trophies; the kids who didn’t win may experience pain.
Second, the left lives by theories and dogmas into which the facts of life must fit. That is why left-wing ideas are usually wishful thinking.
Though either explanation suffices, the two explanations reinforce each other.
Here are four descriptive statements rejected by the left for these two mutually reinforcing reasons.
1. People are not basically good.
Leftists tend to reject this because a) It is too painful to accept, and b) it undermines the leftist dogma that people do bad because of outside forces — poverty, capitalism, racism, etc.
2. Men and women are inherently different.
Leftists have rejected this idea because some of the differences are too emotionally upsetting to accept. Men are variety-driven by nature? Too upsetting. Women may have less yearning for, and ability in, math and engineering? Only a sexist like former Harvard president Lawrence Summers would say such a thing. Moreover, the belief that men and women are inherently different violates the left’s foundational principle of equality. Many liberals admit that they reject talk of male-female differences because it can easily lead to gender inequality.
3. Black males disproportionately commit violent crime in America.
Leftist reactions to this truly painful fact are to label one who notes it a racist and to decry American society as racist because there are more black males in prison than in college.
4. The United Nations is a moral wasteland.
Since before the U.N.’s founding in 1945, liberals placed much of their hope for a peaceful world in the United Nations. That the U.N. has turned out to be an abettor more than a preventer of violence is a fact that the left finds too painful to acknowledge. And it violates the left-wing belief that nationalism is evil and internationalism is the solution.
It is generally believed that as people grow older, they reject much of the liberalism they believed in when they were young. This is true, and one reason is relevant here: As we get older, we tend to make peace with painful faits de la vie.