“Moral cowardice requires choice and action.”

Commenter Chris G pointed out this quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real.

Coates was writing about the defenders of the Confederate flag. Coates points to this quotation from one of the founders of the Confederate government:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth …

As Coates says, it takes some effort to look away from this history.

What is the default attitude when confronted with criticism?

Coates’s insight is interesting and unexpected in that one would typically think of cowardice or denial as the easy option, the default when confronted with evidence that your beliefs don’t make sense, or are contradicted by the evidence, or (in the case of racism and white supremacy) lead to reprehensible behavior.

Coates’s point is that, while cowardice or denial may well be the default option from a psychological perspective, it is not an easy position to hold from a logical perspective.

From an intellectual perspective, cowardice—or, more generally, intellectual dishonesty—requires choice and action. It takes effort, a continuing effort to defy logical gravity, as it were.

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