Monday, May 24, 2010

Weapons of Our Warfare: Brains! (and Walking Miles)

We fight callousness. We fight brutality, inhumanity, apathy, antipathy, enmity. The atomic substructure of what we fight, however, is selfishness. Selfishness is basically known by its deficiencies. It lives in its own closet because it cannot overflow, it cannot protect, it cannot share - it lacks the power to do so. Fundamentally, though, it lacks empathy.

Lacking empathy is to look at the world through jaundiced and severely limited lenses. Blinders, really. The selfish can only take in what one considers important to himself. Which means that everything else must either fit into that particular grid of Self, or be manipulated until it does. This, as Fred Clark at Slacktivist has pointed out so well recently, leads to wanton stupidity. And then it only gets nastier from there. There's a growing list of people who get their kicks (if not their livelihood) by actually opposing empathy. Being anti-empathy (as many of the Beck/Palin/Republican leadership/Ayn Rand/Tea Party crowd actually boast) means to shut off the world in order to further advance one's own agenda. In this arena, 'common sense' is idealized, but not practiced. Not only is the sense not common, it's nonsensical. Logic takes a leap for self-perpetuating means.

And this is anti-Biblical, anti-Christ. Jesus declared outright that followers of God must follow the greatest commandment, "Love the Lord their God with all their might, strength and mind." To be willfully stupid (or even ignorant) is to sin against God. When linking that to the second commandment, "which is like unto the first," the case against anti-empathy becomes even more clear: "You shall love your neighbor* as yourself."

Consider the meme, now being popularized by erstwhile politician and Republican senatorial hopeful Rand (Yes. as in Ayn) Paul (as in, Ron, his father. Who named him after the worst. novelist. ever.**), that private property rights trump Civil Rights. Rand is being particularly effusive/stubborn/stupid here. But then again, private property (largely owned by a few white males) rights have largely been hardly-veiled code for practiced white supremacy. Much like the ubiquitous "States Rights" parroted by the Republican Party since the founding of the Southern Strategy.

But even beyond that, this claim that private business owners have a right to prejudicially exclude anyone they want to from their open business is ludicrous - sheer stupidity.

In the US, we tend to emphasize private over public. Private property, private lives, privacy. But even in the most private of locations, there is protocol for the public good. In private residence alcohol consumption by minors is forbidden (not that it doesn't happen), as is murder. But of course there is leeway as to what is allowed and what isn't depending on the degree of privatization.

"I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that accepts me."

A household or club can refuse membership or even entry based on pretty much any old standard that it chooses. Don't want to play golf with women? Or to be hit on by low-class guys in sneakers? Don't want homosexuals joining your church? Don't want mouth-breathers in your house? Only want white, non-Hispanic, Protestant males wearing your bed sheets - I mean, basketball uniforms?

Right or wrong, entrepreneurs and stake-holders have the opportunity to decide who passes the velvet ropes in a club setting. The truth of the matter is, although the club may be social, it's not necessarily public. One hopes that all clubs would be ethical and fair in their treatment of all - but clubs exist as a sort of safe-house, a place to mingle with like-minded fellers/ladies. Society needs clubs of one sort or another. As much as I believe that Jesus himself was all about inclusion, even he had clubs within his own clubs (his standards were notably different than most anybody else's and that's, I believe, a point we need to imitate).

A restaurant, store, porn shop, magic supply store, etc., however, has no such rights. Within law and reason (ie, it's pretty darn irresponsible to let people lacking shirts and shoes near your meats; but also, they can't sell alcohol, tobacco nor even firearms to minors) they must accept everybody who is able to do business with them. Because even though they are a privately-owned entity they serve the public.

Before we begin to lay the incendiary charges of racism, however, it is especially essential in this day and age to define what is meant by this word. This is especially true due to the fact that when most people (especially most White Americans) hear the word 'racist,' they only think of one,outdated mode of racism and understandably get upset (especially if they believe in the false claim of 'color blindness'). These handy-dandy definitions given to me by a Mr. Bob Hunter - of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and a man who has seen the original segregated lunch counters first-hand - are a must-read and help to make a common language:

Old fashion racism -- Pre 1950 racism that was measurable by simply asking people if they disliked another group -- say a white person about black people. This racism was straightforward and unashamed in identifying itself. This racism became virtually unidentifiable after 1940-50, many think because of the holocaust and the Civil Rights movement. Racism was shamed underground

Modern Racism -- this was a scale psychologist used to get at anti black sentiment that no longer would or could be expressed through direct anti black statements. It was developed in the 70's. This is the scale used in the Tea Party study. it is not without controversy, though it has correlated with real world findings. For example it does seem to consistently score Republicans as higher, but then there have been only 3 black congressmen since 1935 -- is that related? BUT there is also a kind of racism that score liberals higher -- see below. Those falling into the modern racism category are very unaware of their racism and are angered by racial discussions that they are sure are related to other things. The racism is well hidden.

Aversive racism -- this is a kind of racism measurable only if the person is not made aware of race in a situation. Aversive "racist" are very afraid of being racists. Unlike the modern racism, they admit racism and fear being racist. But they overreact to it. When made aware of a racial dynamic they will over compensate. But in situation where they are oblivious they will score poorly on racial scales. Liberals are more likely to fall into this category of behavior. This behavior has come to be know popularly as PC ism.

Internalized racism -- most studies show that minority people do NOT hold to anti white sentiments so much as they feel negative feelings about themselves. Internalized racism may be one of the factors making racial dialog hard. for example most whites and many blacks may think that black reactions are based on a backlash toward whites. But often the deeper issues is that in a culture that has a lot of anti black sentiment -- it is hard for black people to not get infected by that sentiment as well. In hard discussions it is usually assumed that black people need to learn to accept whites, but in reality it is usually about self acceptance. Strategies to impress black people to learn to love whites are often counter productive. A better strategy is for black people to recover personal dignity lost in a racist culture.

Structural racism -- This is not a individual racism, but racism that is carried through structures. Our institutions, practices, cultural sensibilities can all have been established in an era of racism, but their continued practice also continues the discriminatory practices long after the worst of the racist may be dead or moved on. This category of racism is most often overlooked by people in the majority culture who have a greater privilege to be seen as individuals. It is often what minority people are referring to when they name racism. it may be referred to as the "man", or the "system". One problem with popular Christianity is that it has not spent much time exploring the concept of structural sin, therefore it has no Biblical categories to understand and deal with structural issues of race -- or anything else. this has made Christians more susceptible to indifference in the face of structures of racism.

The type of racism that Rand Paul and similar thinkers are dealing with isn't one of the more-or-less hidden racisms. It's beyond structural. It's a shameful version of old-fashioned racism. And whether or not they acknowledge that doesn't change the fact that they are okay with excluding minorities from public places. It only means that they are too willfully stupid to accept the fact that they are racist.

*In case anybody at any time raises an objection that one's neighbor is just like him (especially in the era of gated communities and otherwise segregated, redlined housing), consider the story Jesus used to counter that mental image, the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans and Jews did not get along (much like, well, take your pick...) and were known to preach about the animal-ness of each other and pray against the others' health. To a righteous Jew of the time, a story with a Samaritan hero (or vice versa) would be sort of like a White Supremacist hearing about the great deeds of a handsome, intelligent and empathetic Black president. At the end of his story, Jesus asks the smart lawyer who the good guy was and the lawyer couldn't directly answer him, he couldn't confer a cultural identification because that would just blow his freakin' mind, to think that The Hated Other is a good person. He might as well have said, "That one."

**I retract that statement. Apparently, his name is Randal. It's his wife that gave him the nickname Rand. And he stuck with it because he's a really big fan of the. worst. novelist. ever.

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