Social Justice

Dear Conservative Christians

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About gay marriage, or as it’s henceforth known — marriage, we know your very unhappy. You feel betrayed by the Supreme Court. Your pal Scalia wrote that there had been a “putsch”, or coup, and the Court Justices were acting like “nine rulers” over all America.   You believe that contrary to all reason the Court has dramatically and undemocratically redefined marriage in Obergefell v Hodges. After all, it’s happened before. In 1967, the Court ruled 9-0 that marriage now included mixed race couples. In strictest honesty, that was an even greater and more undemocratic than Obergefell. In 1967, the approval rate of interracial was less than 20%. Far less than the approximately 50-60% approval that gay marriage enjoys today. This was from a time, still in living memory, when people of color were considered less than human.  In a day, marriage became about the growth and prosperity two people instead of entire tribes. So yes, it was a big deal. 

However, I have good news. The Supreme Court did not redefine marriage; it undefined it. You consider the question of gay marriage, and homosexuality in general, to carry great moral weight. This is fantastic. It truly, genuinely is. The reason you should embrace the Obergefell ruling is that the Courts have said clearly and unambiguously that the government will not and cannot define morals for you. Perhaps I’m mistaken. Maybe you do want the government telling you what is and isn’t moral. Again, I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet that you want to decide questions of morality for yourself. That is exactly and explicitly what this ruling does.

Now, you’re not totally wrong. You have indeed lost some freedom here. Inasmuch as the government can’t tell you what is moral, neither can you tell others. I know this is a favorite hobby of evangelicals (the clue is, after all, in the name) but your moral values can no longer impede the lives of others. If you think homosexuality is immoral, so be it. Don’t be a homosexual. That’s the end of it. You can’t lock up a person for being gay anymore, and you haven’t been able to since 2003.

If you really truly believe in the righteousness of your cause, you must convince the rest of us by you living it daily. Having the government force your dictates on to others is aggressively antiChristian, quintessentially antiAmerican, completely counter-productive.

Obergefell is a victory for you. Celebrate it with enthusiasm. Failing that, have a heart

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Baltimore Riots #blacklivesmatter

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Mr. Centrist will not be writing a blog on the recent unrest.  It’s not that I have no opinion or no feeling on the matter.  It is not that I am not outraged over the things others, often white, have said to castigate and dehumanize because I am.  It is simply that I feel that as a white person of means and privilege this is not my story to tell.  If you care at all, if you have a thirst for knowledge and insight about this situation, there have been literally thousands of thoughtful people providing insight that I could never hope to measure up to.  It’s not my story, It’s not my stage.  I will silently stand by my brothers and sisters as they tell their story and I urge you to listen.

A Liberal Guide to Free Speech pt 2

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It’s not my intention to infuriate Liberals, particularly since it’s a group I sympathize with most strongly.  Yet it is an imperfect group, and there are issues that need to be addressed.  In a way the Liberal movement has been a victim of its own success, particularly in its approach to dialogue.  The issue is complex because there’s a lot to be legitimately offended about. Disappointingly, without easy obvious targets the Liberal movement has fractured and largely turned on itself. Yet there are still so many battles to fight.

I think one of the reasons for this is the issue of Privilege.  Privilege is a very real, very serious issue.  Please believe me when I say I’m not questioning its existence, presence or its power over people’s lives.  Privilege absolutely needs to be confronted.  However, more times than not, confrontations over Privilege often do little more than scuttle any hope of meaningful dialogue.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if meaningful dialogue is an actual goal from the Liberal wing of modern politics. Liberals, from this centrist’s perspective, are quite happy to chat about the evil’s of the oppressor, and ecstatic to protest conservative demagoguery, but caught between the right-wing menace and the liberal echo chamber is everyone else that is being actively excluded.  I would consider this one of the primary causes for why the Liberal movement has stalled in the last few years.

Nor am I being hyperbolic.  Many many times I have heard from my liberal friends that other voices are not welcome.  They aren’t interested in “educating” people who have questions.  Men, white people, straight people Christians, etc are frequently told quite literally to shut up.  The consequence of this behavior is that if you are a member of a Privileged class, there is absolutely no way for you to have a dialogue except with other Privileged people.  This is extremely unhealthy.  I understand why minority groups feel the need to do this.  How they want a space where they feel their voices won’t be marginalized by “outsiders” and so forth, but by excluding those who wish to be a part of your struggle you have drastically and unnecessarily weakened your movement.  The outright hostility minorities hold for their friends is incredible and unfortunate.

It also goes hand in hand with considerable outrage.  The anger from the left has created a very punitive atmosphere that trickles down to personal interactions.  Innocuous comments flare up and escalate.  Internecine squabbles over terminology and nomenclature shatter productive relationships. Overzealous protective impulses alienate support networks.  And a shocking lack of humor.

The truly annoying fact is that liberal and minority groups aren’t completely wrong.  Jokes and humor have been used to degrade and shame for far too long.  How many office perverts have tried to get out of a sexual harassment suit by saying “I was only joking”?   Derogatory terms such as “retard” or “midget” obviously deserve considered condemnation.  However, if you’re spending all your time making sure everyone has the latest list of what you can and cannot say to people you will only exasperate anyone who isn’t you and you will fight with anyone who has a slightly different list.  Any dialogue is going to be shut down and liberals will run a campaign that comes frighteningly close to censorship.

Micro-aggressions are another frustrating path where no one wants to microaggress, and I fully acknowledge the cumulative damage that microaggressions can have.  But there’s no mechanism to constructively deal with them either, and that isn’t fair.  I have an example. As a white male, people ask about my ancestors all the time.  My geographic lineages, my history going back generations.  This is not an unusual conversation for me, but having this exact same conversation with someone that is part of a minority is frustratingly delicate.  I have no idea how to have this conversation with someone without callously tripping over a sensitive issue.  So… I avoid the conversation.  But, pretty soon if you avoid enough conversations your isolating yourself from minorities and you get yelled at for that too.  You can’t talk to people, and you can’t not talk to people.  There has to be away to repair and address the cumulative impact of micro-aggressions without having to magically know what is and isn’t offensive.

Finally, mansplaining.  I’m sorry feminists, but this word has to go.  If, for no other reason, that it’s just a terrible portmanteau.  More importantly, it’s one of the most needlessly effective methods for shutting down a conversation.  Let me illustrate.  A man makes a comment.  The feminist, quick to anger, tells man how his comment was offensive.  The man, genuinely confused, says, I don’t think I’m being understood, allow me to clarify my statement.  Feminist says: now your mansplaining.  There is no other comment the man can make that won’t contribute to this perceived mansplaining, so understood or not, conversation is over.  In fact, I’m well aware of the fact that this entire paragraph or the entire blog could be tried, convicted, and executed as just one more ignorant man mansplaining things.  Since the Privileged are not given that benefit of the doubt for different possible interpretations for any given statement and they are actively excluded from minority spaces, all too often conversations turn into frustrating exercises in bridge burning.

There are meaningful battles that need fighting, but the unending, hypercritical, perpetually angry, constant exclusion and intentional lack of dialogue in liberal ranks needs to end.  Liberals must be willing to incorporate new ideas, perspective, and language if they want to craft a successful agenda and their allies are crucial to that endeavor.  The constant internal bickering needs to be set aside.  It’s time to embrace imperfect allies.  Remember, embracing imperfection is something your allies must do as well.

Hope and Change

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The Obama slogan in 2008, and to a lesser extent in 2012 was “hope and change”. I can’t imagine what that the last few years turned out anything like the President thought they’d turn out.  I wonder what people thought “hope and change” would look like.  Real, substantive change has never been easy and it’s often been violent.  It’s not always successful.

The level of animosity towards the President is unreal.  Bush was hated by liberals to be sure, but even they, for the most part, never sank to the depths that we’ve seen people sink to with Obama.  I truly hope this is the nadir of American politics.  But in an odd way I think this is healthy.  Or at least, it can be healthy.  Before you can treat the problem, I think you have to understand it.  To see it exposed in all of its horror.  I think if the issues hadn’t been so damaging, and so ingrained I think Obama could have done something more direct, but I’m afraid that healing these festering wounds will require the efforts of his successor.

And we’ve been distracted.  Obama started his presidency in the middle of two wars and an economic crises unseen since the great depression.  The final days of the Bush Presidency and the first days of the Obama presidency were instrumental in stabilizing the economy.  While the economy has yet to produce gains for the poor and middle class, it’s literally and genuinely the best in the world right now.  The poor and middle class should start to see gains as the slack in the labor market gets absorbed, but the job losses in 2007-2009 were so horrendous that it’ll take more time yet.  I mention this only because its ludicrous to talk about race in America without discussing broader economic principles.  I think if this was something more people realized, it would be easier to tackle some of these outstanding problems.

The point is that we fixed the economy, even sabotaged as it was by austerity, government shutdowns, the sequester, and a threatened government debt default.   We passed healthcare reform.  It was a compromise plan that made no one happy but still offers real and tangible gains for the poor and middle class.  It’s very small change but within that change there is hope.

Lately, the country has been largely focused on criminal justice issues.  Superficially, it looks like dark days.  But it’s not dark days.  Police brutality is not new. We haven’t lived all this time in this country under the righteous and benevolent police force who cares about minorities and engages in continuous honest self-reflection and community dialogue.  That’s the story we tell ourselves.  We used to think that Bad Cops were just a few rotten individuals in a sea of heroes.  Outliers.  We know that’s not true.  With every story of brutality at the hands of police, the country realizes that there is yet another injustice that minorities are suffering through that must be addressed.  With every bald-faced racist newscast and commentary seeking to victimize an entire group of people for the actions of one, we get a better idea of who we really are.  White privileged America had no idea.  This is not a problem we do not face.  Perhaps we are damned for our inability to see the obvious, but we did not know.  But it’s getting harder to do nothing; to say  nothing.  There is hope.  Things are changing.

The police confronted with their clear abuse of power are offended.  They’ve literally turned their back on the mayor.  This is understandable.  This is usually the first response of someone who’s been told they’re racist and abusive.  That they’ve fallen from grace.  That they’re not the heroes they thought they were.  That will take some getting used to.  They’re taking it hard, they’ll get better.  Things are changing and there is hope.

Reverse Racism

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One of the most difficult things about discussing race in America is, like most things, a certain ambiguity of language. Race, for example, has no biological basis. To divide people based on genetic lineage is absurd and legal strictures based on this division become hopelessly convoluted before they breakdown altogether. Rather, race is a group with a certain social, cultural, historical, and economic commonality. It’s as much a choice for the individual as it is an imposition by larger societal forces. It no surprise then any discussion is going to complicated. Which is fine, so long as the discussion remains complicated and nuanced. It’s tempting to simplify, but reductive reasoning is one of the most significant problems in this discussion. In fact, it’s this tendency to narrow the collective experience of people that is, in many ways, so devastating and dehumanizing.

Racism at the moment has two working definitions. One definition of racism is a narrow form of bigotry. Which is to say, it is racist to discriminate against an individual or groups because of their race. This might manifest as hateful words and actions, criminal activity targeting a group, denying people products, services, access to goods, neighborhoods, etc.

There is a second and perhaps more important definition of racism. It an economic, social, and political system designed to benefit one group above that of another. The starkest example of this kind of racism was apartheid in South Africa but it is endemic at every level in every country, even this one, perhaps especially this one.

One of the great frustrations of minorities trying to tackle racism and discrimination in America, is the charge of Reverse Racism. You hear this often, especially in regard to programs or institutions designed to rectify centuries of abuse, neglect, and discrimination. For example, some schools and scholarship programs exist to help black people obtain a high quality education. Since these programs do not help white people get an education, one might say this is “Reverse Racism”, which is, of course, ridiculous. These kinds of programs exist to merely ameliorate the inequality endemic in the educational system as it exists today. So no. There’s no such thing as a “Black racist” because they can not benefit from a system that marginalizes them regardless of how successful that person might be. Oprah and President Obama are outliers and do not demonstrate the absence of discrimination or inequality.

Even if you go by the simpler definition that “racism” is merely a subset of bigoted behavior or attitude, what prejudice majority groups experience (individually or collectively) in their lives is trivial compared to what a person of color might experience. Which is not to suggest that we should condone prejudicial behavior from anyone, only that as a white person I can bear this “burden” of tolerance. (I use the word “burden” ironically, obviously)

However, in so much as reverse racism does not exist, minorities want it to.  Whatever shape or form their demands for equality may take, it will require shifting time, energy, attention, and resources from the groups which currently possess them.  It may be justified in the grand scheme of things.  It may be moral and ethical and idealistic, but minorities and liberals must do much better than “in the name of social justice”.  As we talk to those who have the money and the resources, what incentives are there for this shifting of emphasis?  Why is it in the interest of white male America to do more than merely placate everyone else just enough to avoid civil disruption?

Whether Reverse Racism exists or not is completely beside the point (and yes I realize how ridiculous that sounds). Liberals are going to have to find a way to address the subject seriously or the movement will stutter and stall…. basically like it’s been doing the last 30 years.  Surely this can not be that difficult?

Something interesting about #Ferguson

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To bring lasting change requires data. Protest all you want, give speeches on the National Mall, craft memorials, write memoirs. None of that will bring change. One of the consistent failures of social justice advocates is their reliance on mid-century strategies to bring about lasting change. What was effective in the 50s and 60s? The big marches, the famous speeches and protests. Rallying around a hero and a cause changed the course of this nation but we are beyond the age of heroes. Welcome to the soundbite era. The meme generation. I was impressed with the variety of ways social justice advocates tried to get attention. They protested of course, blocked roads, gave interviews, symbolically raised hands. Classic. My personal favorite were the “die-ins”.

If I sound dismissive please believe me I’m not. It’s an important cause and I was genuinely moved by the events. I just don’t think it has a prayer of having any kind of affect.

The most interesting thing about Ferguson was this. We have no idea how many people are killed each year by police and law enforcement. None. The FBI and assorted groups of journalists have some interesting and widely disparate guesstimates but that is the best they can offer. Isn’t they remarkable? I find it shocking that in an age of so much information we don’t know this one basic fact. I suppose it’s easy to not to keep track of information you don’t want to have.

The other thing we found out is that with incredibly rare exceptions, police are never indicted for killing. Never. Literally there is a 99% acquittal according to politifact for police officers.

On those two facts alone can much policy be built. Take the following snippet as an example:

There’s data out there about police departments who have been required by the courts or have otherwise implemented copcams. These programs have been successful enough that the Obama administration is making moves to have these cameras installed more generally. We’ll see what, if anything, comes from it. Simple. End of story.

This is the take home message. the data generated from a few low key pilot programs was powerful enough to have created a concrete policy objective that is being implemented now. This tiny amount of data is vastly more powerful that all the social networked flash mobs making momentary headlines. This is true power. Not massed protests.

Let’s suppose Darren Wilson was indicted. Let’s suppose he was even found guilty and sent to prison. So what? You got your sacrificial lamb and you brought him to the slaughter. Then what? Nothing. That’s end game. That is the completion of your quest. And by the end of it , you will have achieved nothing of note. Certainly nothing to prevent the next Michael Brown. The punishment of Darren Wilson, while certainly just, is a useless for affecting change. Arguably, having lost the indictment might even further the goals of social advocates by deepening the injustice of it all.

What will bring change? Fix or create the data gathering process. Mandate that all police offices must report officer involved shootings and killings to the FBI. Fund deescalation training programs and track their progress. Shine a light on all the missed opportunities for data gathering.

Your only other option is to wallow in self-pity. Publicly for as long as the cameras will allow, and privately thereafter.