Blind Justice by Anahuac. DeviantArt 2008.
I consider myself a liberal. I believe in a strong social safety net, progressive state and federal income taxes, and fighting economic inequality. I’m not too hung up on the size of governments. Big, small, or medium sized, I want elected officials to represent constituents not donors. I believe in the rights of the individual with measured limitations. The phrase “Your freedom ends at the tip of my nose” comes to mind. I was a Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign volunteer. That being said, I think it’s important that people on the left engage our movements with critical thinking. It’s not right for us to blindly support ideas simply because everybody else is doing it. This applies to talking points and behaviors that are moderately easy to recognize as well as the deep and subtle thought patterns that are much harder to rout out. The same goes for the far right. When someone is making an argument that you disagree with, make a better argument in rebuttal. If they aren’t threatening you with physical violence, don’t physically attack them. These are pillars of civil society. Allow for people to be different. Not all black men will share all my opinions. I wouldn’t expect them to. An idea making its rounds through our political culture is that, if you disagree with someone vehemently on an issue, then you can’t agree with them on any issue. I think capital gains should be taxed at least 30% and I think people should be able to own assault rifles. We need to be able to discuss our differences with each other without resorting to fist fights. There are greater fights to be waged. The sitting U.S. President once said black people couldn’t help being lazy and the U.S. Press Secretary is spreading “alternative facts”. The Islamic state would kill us all and climate change may be beyond the tipping point. Let’s be reasonable and communicate with each other for a better today and a prosperous tomorrow.
The political and nonpolitical alike are committing appreciable acts of unreasonableness in 2017 America. The regressive left has become addicted to outrage and largely fails to uncover real evidence for accusing almost every out-grouper of malicious racism and callous injustice. It has become overly sensitive, unfunny, and censoring. The expanding prevalence of these attitudes has been helped enormously by a seemingly left-biased mainstream media that often portrays conservatives as unintelligent, insensitive, and bigoted. Conversely, the American far right has become so skeptical of intellectualism and scientific reasoning that it has begun to separate itself from objective reality. The willingness of some conservatives to accept as true the growing number of demonstrably false claims made by the Trump administration is a violation of reason in response to the uproarious name calling and political correctness of the bigoteer left. The idea that “They’re wrong. Therefore, I’m right.” has seeped into political debate on both sides and it needs to stop. Understandably, we are well into the information era and we’re all suffering from information overload. In a post-truth society, it has become incredibly difficult to filter, decipher, and validate all of the information that makes its way into our minds. There are, fortunately, some basic moral principles that can keep us all grounded in reality. We must make serious efforts to maintain and protect the physical well-being of all participants in our collective culture, even the people with whom we vehemently disagree. Sucker punching and/or killing unarmed people is not to be tolerated. We must be committed to strict interpretations of the words news, fact, and truth. Let us remember Christopher Hitchens, “…the elementary rules of logic [inform us] that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” We know that the Earth is round, the Sun is a star, and biological cells rule the world because groups of people dedicated their intellectual lives to the pursuit and description of objective reality. This article takes aim at the physical attack of Richard Spencer, the anti-Milo demonstration at Cal-Berkeley, identity politics, the alt-right, fake news and the unreasonableness imbuing the talk around these events and phenomena. The time has come to reaffirm ideals that will bring us together rather than rip us apart.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” There is an implicit “peacefully” at the end of that declaration. It is not considered a human right to tweet “Everybody kill celebrity x.” without legal repercussion. The moral principle behind this freedom is the right of an individual to express a minority opinion without fear for his or her physical safety. That’s one glorious characteristic of the global society which we are creating. The American left, with the best of intentions, is violating this principle. On January 20, 2017 the conservative far right thought leader Richard Spencer was sucker punched in the face during a live television interview. It was a completely unprovoked physical attack. Mr. Spencer was unarmed and behaving civilly. His human rights were violated when a large hooded man blindsided him with a right hook. In a civil society, the attacker should be punished to the full extent of the law. The attacker should be regarded as dangerous and arrested, if we want to live in a society in which people who would perform acts of violence are physically separated from the rest of us. What’s doubly wrong about this incident is the celebratory spirit in which the assault was received on the left. Bloggers and tweeters openly took joy in the attack because Mr. Spencer is racist. It would be unreasonable to refer to him as something very different than racist but that does not sacrifice his right to physical safety. Members and supporters of the Mr. Spencer’s movement, known collectively as the alt-right, subsequently raised a bounty for the lawful arrest of the attacker.
Many view racist, hate filled, divisive speech as counterproductive to an open and healthy society. I’m inclined to agree. Yet, silencing those people is not the answer. On February 2, 2017 Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a talk to a group of campus republicans at UC Berkeley. His presence was met with a mostly peaceful protest. Approximately 1,500 students came out to peacefully demonstrate against Milo with signs and chants, letting he and his listeners know that his ideologies were widely disliked by active members of the student body. Milo has his right to speak and counter demonstrators have their right to assemble. All was well until a group of black bloc agitators destroyed property and started a fire. This debacle is a tremendous opportunity for the American left and right to have an intelligent conversation based on fact. On the right, you should not hold the peaceful demonstrators responsible for this act. They outnumbered the agitators about 10 to 1. Using the idiotic behavior of a masked group of anarchists to disparage any and all who oppose your ideology is a violation of reason and ultimately harmful to the conciliation of our culture. To the left, you should not condone this type of behavior and you should actively speak out against it. Silence in the presence of violence is effectively the same as consent. For this particular case, the victims are twofold; Milo and the Anti-Milo protesters. Milo has been victimized because police found it necessary to cancel his talk and escort him from campus. His human right to express his opinions to a willing audience was forcefully taken from him. Also, one would imagine, he must have had a few moments of real fear for his physical safety when a noisy demonstration against him burst into flames. No person peacefully expressing their opinion deserves this type of treatment. Not in this country, not in any country. The anti-Milo protesters will now be condemned as violent fire starters by thousands on the right for whom violent behavior confirms their narrative about how progressive demonstrators behave. Milo and his ilk will likely use the spectacle for political gain at the expense of the students who were peacefully exercising their own rights of expression. Black bloc anarchists seek to create lose-lose situations for everyone involved whenever possible. If the right and the left fail to identify these agitators and fail to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of those who perpetrated the act, the troublemakers win.
The likely origin of identity politics appears in the Combahee River Collective statement “This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.” Oppressed minorities have tried for the last couple of centuries to make their voices heard against the European male dominated social structure. The minority groups have been creating their own identities in large part against the identity of the ruling classes. A couple major political identity movements, e.g. The Civil Rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, and the gay rights movement, have been very successful at getting laws passed that protect social minorities against harmful discriminatory practices. Legally, the playing field has been mostly leveled for these groups. Socioeconomically, it has not. Here we have to face the fact that America has a bounty of distinct cultures and subcultures that have not mixed. This is not to say that they cannot mix. It is to say, they haven’t yet. Much can be said about identity politics that is outside the scope of this essay. Presently, I recommend that those participating in identity politics recognize that the legal playing field is largely level. Active overt oppression therefore is not the most correct enemy of the political identity movements. Let me be clear. The economic disparity between black Americans and non-black Americans is absolutely the result of historic oppression. Systematic racism institutionalized through slavery, black codes, Jim Crow, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration is real and requires our attention. Racism and bigotry are still alive in the hearts of many, but aggressive behaviors and outward expressions of that hatred are usually seen for what they are and denounced by whites and blacks alike. A more appropriate enemy of political identity movements is the implicit bias that is wreaking havoc on the careers, opportunities, and reputations of black Americans, women, transgender people, and most non-white non-male Americans everyday. For instance, black people who unknowingly activate a dangerous stereotype in the subconscious mind of another person, possibly a police officer, possibly a concerned citizen, rarely get the benefit of the doubt in factually ambiguous scenarios even when that black person’s intentions are completely innocent and would be discovered as such if that other person exerted a modicum of patience. Lives lost to this cruel dynamic include Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, and the list goes on. It is this implicit bias, this deep seated subconscious emotional distrust of minorities that the movements should be addressing. To the participants in political identity movements, I say make your voice heard, peacefully and loud. That is your right as Americans. Follow the facts and listen to those who intelligently disagree with you. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to improve our meritocracy and much of that effort come from within minority cultures, cousin to cousin, brother to sister, mother to son.
On the other end of the political spectrum, the alt-right is gaining visibility as a thinly veiled, and not so thinly veiled, haven for overt racism in American culture. Let us be clear, not every member of the alt-right is racist. Blanket criticism from the left that would cast every subscriber to the far right ideology as racist is one reason much of the movement’s anti-political correctness language resonates with some intelligent conservatives. I call it a haven for overt racism because it’s one of the only places in American culture where scorn, ridicule, jeer, and hatred for blacks, Mexicans, Asians, and other racial minorities is met with cheer rather than opposition. In order to be a card carrying member of the alt-right, you don’t have to be racist but you have to be ok with your political teammates being racist, publicly or privately. Its platform is explicitly nationalist, pro-white, anti-immigrant, anti-political correctness, and anti-elitist. The components of the alt-right that despise political correctness and elitism are not unreasonable. Political correctness has created a generation of adults that think it’s okay to tell other adults what can and cannot be said in public space based on hurt feelings. I don’t think that’s reasonable at all. What ever happened to “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? It should never be against the law to hurt someone’s feelings. It should always be against the law to hurt someone’s body. The distinction there is critical and must be maintained in popular conversation. There are intelligent people leaving the left and going to the alt-right because it seems like the only place where they can speak freely about the moral detriments of the nanny state, violent anti-fascism, and the apparent left bias of the mainstream media. There are thoughtful conservatives that are sick and tired of being called racist for criticizing the objectively bad behavior of some members of minority groups during instances in which the facts clearly bear that out. In the America that I want to live in, people should be able to voice reasonable opinions and objections to opinions, based on fact, and be given a fair hearing in public space as long as their message isn’t a call to violence. I would encourage those people to consider not going further to the political right and instead come towards the political center.
Conciliatory discussion will often depend on a firm foundation of shared experience. It is helpful, if you and I disagree on a particular topic, to identify points upon which we do agree and proceed from there. Fake news, encompassing both propaganda and bad journalism, is a threat not only to amicable discussion presently but also to the establishment of amicable discussion in the future when ideological opponents decide to pursue it. One thing that propaganda and bad journalism have in common is that they both manifest the dissemination of falsehoods. The information contained in them should not be trusted. Propaganda is differentiated from bad journalism in that the publishers of propaganda know the information they’re spreading exists on a spectrum from slightly misleading to flat out lie. Where as perpetrators of bad journalism have only failed to vet their sources and check their bias. They are not knowingly spreading false information. Authors usually spread propaganda to further a political cause, increase profitability of their website, or a combination of both. Noticeably absent in both scenarios is the motivation to spread truth for truth’s sake. This moral principle needs to be amplified within our culture today if we are to create a healthier, more vibrant society in the future. One example of American propaganda was released during the 2012 general election when Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate. The Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN) aired a segment in 2012 covering the Vandalia, Ohio Romney-Ryan bus tour stop. The Microsoft National Broadcasting Company spun a retelling of a moment at the event in which the crowd seems to spontaneously begin chanting “Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!”. Upon realization of what was happening, according to the MSNBC coverage, Mitt grabbed the mic and led the crowd with “Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!”, reminding those in attendance that he was in fact the head of the ticket. MSNBC slanted this event to illustrate the self-centered nature of the conservative candidate. Of course, that isn’t how it happened at all. In reality, the crowd started up a cacophonous oddly paced chant of both Romney’s and Ryan’s name. Mr. Romney subsequently grabbed the mic and chanted “Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!” in an attempt to lead the chant in a more harmonic rhythm. Describing the event in these terms would not have made for an exciting headline. This is a case in which a major news channel knowingly spread partisan misinformation in an effort to manipulate their viewing public into more enthusiastically supporting that channel’s ideology. When I learned about this manipulation, I told some of my family members about it. They always took the information with deep skepticism and usually retorted with criticism of the Fox News channel as being a more egregious offender in this particular style of lie. Mass dissemination of lies as a matter of business as usual is darkening humanity’s future.
We have to come together. Wealth inequality is still on the rise. Recent efforts by the U.S. executive branch to block Muslim immigrants is fuel to the fire that’s motivating anti-American rhetoric around the world. We can’t afford to filter each other unreasonably. We shouldn’t physically attack each other because we have a difference of ideals. We have to allow individual persons to be individuals in thought and in word. We can’t give in to hate and nationalism. We have to bear the burden of truth on our own shoulders as citizens more than we do currently. It’s our job to improve America’s culture. We are America’s culture and, to me, it’s worth fighting for.