For those who missed it, Jodie Foster said in an interview a week or so ago that she would not abandon Mel Gibson, despite his anti-Semitic rant of a few years ago, or his rage-filled phone-tapes of more recent vintage ( There’s no stock in sticking by fallen idols, nothing to be gained by not shunning the shunned. Except integrity.

Jodie Foster has risen several degrees in my book, though probably not in my Mom’s. The only reference to Mel Gibson I recall from my Jewish mom was a Tourettes-like reaction to hearing his name, quick and seething. But Jodie Foster understands what friendship is, and what loyalty is, and I tip my yarmulke to her.

Jodie says, “When you love a friend, you don’t abandon them when they are struggling”. Nor should those of us who preach that we should love our fellow human beings abandon even strangers who have become easy prey for our more vile instincts.

There will always be those who test the limits of forgiveness, the really heinous predators who feed their own dark appetites at the expense of others. But we have become (or have always been?) a people who do not wait for those limits to be tested. We revile at the drop of a hat, nurse grudges and wax with righteous indignation at the failings of others while exhibiting far more pronounced ones of our own in the process.

Ours is a history of scapegoats vented on, of lepers always found or created when one is needed, to be stoned in an orgy of self-indulgent rage. The Bacchanals are never far away, ready to tear at the flesh of the sacrificial victim.

Anger is one thing, a momentary reaction to an insult or provocation, sometimes a mere misunderstanding. It is to be avoided, perhaps, but it is not the disease to which I am referring. Nor is contempt for an odious ideology, which reasonable people of goodwill may have an affirmative responsibility to oppose, and even to try to shame those who adhere to it to rethink their own position. Nor is it even the occasional interpersonal reactions to ongoing provocations, that may not be temporary, but still are something that others have fostered with their own intentional ill-will (and that should, if not avoided altogether, at least be relinquished as soon as the provoking ill-will is relinquished). I am referring instead to something that is nursed for one’s own gratification, that was not in reality interpersonally provoked, that cannot be justified as any kind of service to any kind of ideal, that is in fact an act of sustained ritualized violence and nothing more.

I have my faults, but I have never been a fan of this time-honored public ritual, repeated periodically, a different face filling the role of object of our disgust, members of the modern lynch-mob smugly patting one another on the back for being so commendable for being so mean-spirited. It is often enough to be accused; public condemnation requires no more than that. It is one of those things almost universally accepted, certainly cathartic, but deeply unhealthy for our spirit as a people.

One of my favorite stories of all time is “A Christmas Carol.” I used to read it on Christmas Eve to my brother and sister-in-law in Boston when I lived in Connecticut and spent Christmases with them. I’ve loved it since the first time I saw my first version, starring the animated Mr. Magoo, as a small child. It is the story of a person who is eminently revilable, but of those, both living and dead, who refused to revile him. As Marley’s ghost said, when Scrooge told him he had always been a good man of business, “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.”

On both the left and on the right, in different ways and draped in different raiment, these values are in shorter supply today than they were even in Dickens’ Victorian England. The right has made a virtue out of indifference to the welfare of others, cultivating an ideology which eliminates the possibility of using our agent of collective action (government) to address some inequities, misfortunes, or social injustices, pretending that by removing that responsibility from the public sphere, it will magically be met in sufficient quantity through private charity, something for which there is absolutely no evidence, but plenty of historical experience to the contrary (before we briefly became a compassionate enough people to use our agent of collective action to address the problem). And, of course, those who adhere to this ideology see those who oppose it as evil purveyors of a scheme to control their lives, despite the complete absurdity of that conclusion.

The left, in contrast, is more ideologically generous, but nonetheless prone on an individual basis to indulge in the same predatory rituals, finding the right targets, feeling the same surge of moral superiority released, ironically, by acting in a particularly morally inferior way.

This is not about judging and hating the haters, engaging in the same error being critiqued, but rather about cultivating among ourselves a renewed commitment to not just fight for a kinder, gentler world, but to act as if we mean it. This does not mean that we cannot condemn acts or ideologies that are characterized by bigotry or a lack of compassion or some underlying folly, or rebuke those who adhere to such ideologies for doing so. It means that we should not indulge in orgies of individually targeted outrage when doing so.

I cannot feel toward Mel Gibson and Michael Richards what I am apparently supposed to feel. In both cases, I felt only sadness to see such self-destructive acts, and only the wish that whatever inner-demons were at play, that these two not-particularly-horrible people somehow find a way to exorcise them, something that is better fostered by the goodwill of others than by public orgies of outrage.

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