The accusation of sexism and the accusation of anti-semitism share some interesting parallel. Both are raised on the condition that no definition of the term sexism or anti-semitism is provided. There are no necessary and sufficient conditions given. It’s just the plain allegation.
The consequence of such a lack of definition is obvious. Without it, the plaintiff is prosecutor, judge, and jury in one person. The defendant cannot step out of (or perhaps: step into) this circle of accusation, proof, and verdict, because there is no „common ground“ which both sides might share and from which the objectivity of the charge can be scrutinized by all parties involved. As nobody knows how the plaintiff means the allegation (often he doesn’t know it himself), it’s the plaintiff who decides not only when to raise the allegation but also to decide when or if it’s fullfilled or not. In case the accused tries to oppose, his stubbornness is seen as further proof of the necessity of the allegation at hand.
This rhetorical procedure comes with a price: When the plaintiff is prosecutor, judge, and jury in one person, there is no way for him to counteract times or cases of paranoia. Someone who claims others to be sexists or anti-semitists without giving a definition will start seeing them everywhere. The lack of definition, of necessary and sufficient conditions, forces to rely on guts-feelings that are diffuse and may change over time. As the plaintiff will have no clear counterexamples when some alleged cases are not instances, the truth of such allegations will depend on his momentary situation. In consequence there will be a fog of possible or alleged cases in waiting. The enemy is everywhere.
The first advantage of this practice is to exert power over other people by charging them with something they have no means to object to. The second advantage for the accusing person is the feeling of being special. This feeling – being uniquely sensitive, being the only one who can detect persecution in advance, etc. – contributes to the feeling of isolation and the impression of being misunderstood. Both can play into moral complacency.
Especially in the case of anti-semitism it would be necessary to have some at least tentative definitions, even with shaky necessary and sufficient conditions. Applying such defintions could help to detect cases that may look like but in fact are not cases of anti-semitism. This could re-open conversations where they are now blocked and could calm emotions when they run wild.
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