Bake the Cake…?! Property & Discrimination

“It’s a violation of religious freedom!”

“How dare you discriminate against gay people; that’s a violation of their civil rights!”

So which is it? Is forcing the cake baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding a violation of their religious rights? Or is refusing to serve a gay couple a violation of their civil rights? Which is the real issue?

Neither.

I’m speaking, of course, of the recent case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a class action suit challenging business discrimination of services for gay events (or gay people more generally).

Let me break this down as concisely as I can in a series of points that will, I hope, give a clear picture of what the real issue is here, and the implications.

  1. First, is this a religious liberties issue? Yes and no. The first amendment of the Constitution contains five major protections: speech, religion, press, assembly and petition. Regarding religion, there are two clauses. The first states that government may not infringe on the “free exercise of religion,” and the second bars the government from “establishing” a religion. So it is my contention that the first amendment alone is not enough to argue this case. The real argument carries far more leverage. The 9th amendment alone does a better job.

 

  1. Is this a civil rights issue? Well, again, I will refrain from answering this directly; stick with me to the end as I make my case. Still, what would be the constitutional argument for this position? The argument for this would be premised on the 14th Amendment, an often misinterpreted amendment that protects peoples’ rights to the “equal protection of the laws.” This has been the Amendment used to argue for an end to discrimination based on race, gender, et cetera. The ACLU will certainly disagree, but I find it hard to make the connection between ensuring that all people are treated equally under the law (ie, the law cannot make different provisions for different classes of people) and give the government the power to force an individual to serve another individual against their wishes.

 

  1. So if the real issue isn’t either of these, what is the real issue? This is an issue of property rights. Who owns you and your labor? A Facebook critic and debater claimed that, while I own my own labor, the government can force me to use that labor equally for those they believe I should serve, effectively preventing me from discriminating. But if I can be forced to use my labor to serve someone I choose not to—for whatever reason—is that not, in so far as it goes—government owning my labor?

 

  1. Or you can look at it another way. To force a person to sell their labor to another is to say that the customer owns the labor of the other. Do you really own your own labor? To the extent that someone must use their time, resources and labor to serve you, is that not a violation of their property—themselves and their labor? In most places, we’d call that servitude.

 

  1. If someone says they refuse to serve balding red-heads, I may be upset and offended. But I am not entitled to their labor. On what moral basis can my demand that they serve me overrule their right to their own time, labor and resources? They may be foolish, petty and even morally stunted, but that does not give me title to force them to serve me or quit work altogether.

 

  1. But what about the argument: “You’re not forced to offer that labor; you can go out of business instead.” Yes, this is a frequently-used argument, though it’s put in more humanitarian terms: “We only ask [demand] that if you choose to sell your labor, you sell it equally to everyone [who we chose].” Okay, okay, so I put in my interpretation. Well, isn’t it re-assuring that our labor is only owned by the government (or the person being served) if we choose to … work? Catch the sarcasm.

 

  1. And the other argument. “It’s only servitude if it’s uncompensated. The cake-baker would still have been compensated, so it’s not actually servitude if we tell him how to use his labor and resources.” So we can choose to work or not. If we choose to work, we are forced to use our resources and labor to serve whoever the government says we should. But not to worry; we’ll get paid for it. Argument settled, they say. Really?

 

  1. “But discrimination is terrible! We must use the power of the state to end it!” Well, discrimination can be terrible. It can be morally reprehensible. It can be immature. It can be rather benign and inconsequential. And many times, it can be quite prudent. Not serve someone because of the pigment in their skin? Not serve someone because you’re supporting a lifestyle you believe is immoral? Not serve someone because you think they’re dangerous? Not serve someone because you don’t like them? The rationale for discrimination can run from idiotic to prudent, to a mere question of moral belief.

 

  1. We all discriminate all the time. Discrimination has become a deeply negative word due to its historical association with racial discrimination. But discrimination is simply freedom of association: there are people we would rather associate with and there are those we don’t. As I said, unfortunately, some people have foolish and morally decrepit rational for their choices of association. Sometimes its quite prudent (I won’t employ a child molester to babysit). Sometimes, it’s a question of moral belief, such as the case with the cake baker refusing to use their time, money and labor to make a cake for a gay wedding.

 

  1. Exchanging your goods and services with others (ie, starting a business) does not suddenly remove your property rights and give control over your labor to the government or society at large. This point addressed again a bit later.

 

  1. Consider my response to a Facebook debater who spouted many of these arguments I’ve discussed: “Are you okay with the logical extension of that argument? On that line of reasoning, anyone who exchanges goods or services with anyone else may no longer choose who to exchange those goods or services with… I presume here that you wouldn’t make exceptions [in order to remain consistent]. For example, you must also offer your services to pedophiles, Nazis, child porn marketers, et cetera, according to your argument, if the government saw fit. Either that or quit offering goods or services to anyone. … My point is that it doesn’t really matter what the reasoning is for discrimination. If you force someone to offer their (even compensated) labor to someone they disagree with, you have to equalize it everywhere and to EVERYONE. Unless, of course, using the power of the state to force people to offer their services to people they would rather not is really just subjective and based on whoever the state (and their constituents) want to.” I later reiterated my question: “So, you’re okay with the government forcing you to sell your labor to Nazis, pedophiles, people who sell child porn (so long as you’re not assisting them in something illegal, as you said), et cetera, fill-in-the-blank? You never and would never discriminate for any reason, and if you did, you’d be okay with the government using force to stop you?” He never answered.

 

  1. I was finally able to get my debater to cede something: After claiming multiple times that we do own our labor, but not offering for a justification on why we could be forced to use that labor against our wishes, he finally admitted that we really don’t own our labor 100% because we are in “contract” with society, and thereby have already agreed to give up full power over our labor because of this. In his words, “entering that contract [offering services for sale] does give the government some say in how you distribute and sell your labor. “ What I couldn’t get from him was how, in fact, we agree to any such “contract” simply by exchanging goods or services with others.

 

  1. Besides, do we really want to equip the government with the subjective power of determining who has a right to your time, labor and resources?

 

  1. If you haven’t, yet, there are two other key posts you have to read related to this: “Negative v. Positive Rights” and “The Tale of the Slave.”

 

  1. A couple of closing points. First, it is the trademark of progressivism to use the power of the state to force whatever change on society that its adherents see fit. This was true during the French Revolution, during which Robespierre and others thought anyone who did not actively (even beyond passively) support “the civil state” were guilty of treason and ought to face capital punishment. It is still seen today when Progressives destroy property in their attempt to silence speech that they do not like. Or try to create “safe spaces” on college campuses where “offensive” things cannot be said.

 

  1. On that last point and as my final point, that is why arguing a case like Masterpiece on religion alone is insufficient. If your religious views do not align with the vision of progressivism, there is no moral or religious argument that can satisfy. But when it is understood correctly that the real issue is the violation of property rights (which is the basis of religious liberty, anyway), then the argument in favor of refusing the gay couple the services of the cake-maker are property bolstered and understood.

Thumbnail photo credit goes to bustle.com. 

 

Catalonia & Secession

As the Catalan pursuit of independence crisis heats up and edges ever closer toward significant violence in that pursuit, it seems a prime time to share some thoughts on secession.

To premise, I have a strong patriotic streak for both my countries–the United States and Peru. And so that may premise (and hopefully alleviate opposition to) what many people might find radical. Not that I care primarily about alleviating strong opposition; I expect to come across plenty of it in this and other posts.

But nevertheless, here are five key points I want to point out in the discussion of Catalan secession/independence. As usual, I am not here on a soap box, but rather hope to provoke thought.

First, the notion that we are one nation, rather than a collection of nations, wasn’t the original vision of the United States held by the Founders (with perhaps a few exceptions), and yet I don’t think anyone would accuse them of lack of patriotism. It’s just that their patriotism lie first with their country (state) (or perhaps even moreso with their local communities) and then with the federal union of their states, and last of all with Great Britain, even though nearly 1/3rd of all Americans were still quite patriotic to Great Britain and opposed secession. (That means fewer Americans were for secession from GB, and yet even more–apparently–prepared to fight, die and kill to gain it, than those in Catalonia.)

Second, true and historical conservatism emphasizes the natural, organic and (traditionally, as it were) Biblical concepts of loyalty and relationship. Whereas political boundaries are fundamentally arbitrary (from a human standpoint), as the case in Spain points out (the Catalans don’t even speak Spanish as their primary language), the true and valuable relationship and groups and bonds have nothing to do with political boundaries. The Father of Conservatism and English politician, Edmund Burke (who I discuss here), supported the American Revolution because he believed they were fighting to preserve their political, legal and economic traditions of localism and self-government. If California seceded, my relationship with people in California (where most of my extended family lives) remains unchanged (it may take a few more steps to visit them, but then, should we have a one-world government so I can more easily visit my family members who live all over the world?) For myself, per Philippians 4, I am a citizen of heaven, loyal first to the Lord (at least, that is my striving), then my family, my local church, my associations (ie, the school where I teach), and the global church. Only after those come my town, state, and country. That’s a large part of what it meant originally to be conservative. True, meaningful and genuine relationship does not change based on where we draw a political boundary.

Third, large centralized states are the antithesis to liberty. Take the one-world government example. The more distant the seat of power and the larger the jurisdiction, the less important an impact the local regions and the people in them hold. Hitler hated states rights, and writes openly so in Mein Kampf, because he understood that he could not achieve his agenda if he did not have absolute and total control. Germany had been a federation of sovereign nations until unification in 1870-1, but even then the German states still had numerous elements of sovereignty that Hitler sought to dissolve entirely. Consider the contrast between the words of British Politician Lord Acton and German Nazi Leader Adolph Hitler.

“I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will…. ” – Lord Acton

Nearly 60 years later, Hitler would write:

“[The Nazis] would totally eliminate states’ rights altogether: Since for us the state as such is only a form, but the essential is its content, the nation, the people, it is clear that everything else must be subordinated to its sovereign interests.” – Adolph Hitler

In addition to the last point, smaller political jurisdictions are more prone to facilitate liberty for the same reason Hitler hated them. Don’t like the system here? Move over there. That’s obviously easier said than done (though the smaller the units, the easier it is), but it’s certainly easier than escaping the oppression of a distant government, such as the Tibetans in China.

Fourth, there is no need for a change in political boundaries to have a long-term negative effect on economics, so long as people can trade freely across political lines. You see this clearly in the European Union, the Pacific Free Trade Zone, et cetera. If Catalonia secedes, for example, there would be no natural reason (though there could be artificial ones) that they couldn’t continue to trade with Spain and the rest of Europe, in or out of the EU. The same goes, in theory, for Great Britain with regard to Brexit, though the EU may impose various tariffs as a way to “punish” them. There will be temporary economic decisions to be made that might unsettle the waters for a bit, but is that enough justification to force a people–against their will–to remain within a certain political boundary? The same argument could be made of the American Revolutionaries, who openly declared they would go to war for what the Catalan people have so far tried to achieve through peaceful referendum (the violence there a tragic result, but not intent, yet). If California seceded and no artificial barriers were imposed, resources would flow across the border just as before and we would still get much of our produce from California, just like we do from Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, et cetera.

Fifth, where do we place the burden of proof? One social media comment raised an interesting point: our perspective tends to change when we consider our own country.  This person made the point that it’s easy to sympathize with the Catalan people, but reject any such notions shared by our neighbors. “I favor Catalan independence, but heaven forbid Texan independence.” But how do we justify he discrepancy? If the U.N. suddenly becomes more powerful and declares all countries involved to be the U.N. Nation, for example, does the burden of proof suddenly fall on the U.S. to demonstrate overwhelmingly why it has a right to secede? Do you assume that the central government always has a right to maintain the peoples within its borders unless they can either fight for or 100% prove “why” they should be independent? Is there any objective measure that can be used to say, “this group has the right to secede and this group doesn’t”? Where do you draw the line? On economic grounds? On grounds of patriotism? At what point does the larger political unit no longer get to subordinate the smaller to its control? Can we both favor Kurdish secession because of the oppression they have experienced under the Iraqi Arabs and at the same time oppose Catalan secession, or Californian secession, because we don’t think they have a good enough reason? Or is any form of disallowing political secession a form of oppression?


Thumbnail photo credit: bbc.com

Alcohol, Drugs, Guns, Violence and… the Real Issue?

Alcoholism is blamed for violence.

Ban alcohol. They tried that.

Drugs are blamed for violence.

Ban drugs. They tried that.

Guns are blamed for violence.

Ban guns. They’re trying that.

As for that last point, yes, I am a firm supporter of the 2nd Amendment in its originalist intent: that weapons are one of the best defense against tyranny. Over 100 million people were murdered by their own governments in the 20th century. How many of those governments might have been far more hesitant to take such action had their populations been armed?

But no, this is not a post to go over why an armed population is so important. This is also not a post to discuss the well-argued case that banning guns is an ineffective way to reduce violence. Cars and knives have been perfectly effective weapons in Europe.

This post calls attention to what is often forgotten, ignored or otherwise not generally considered. And like all those calls for action I started with, I, too, have a call for action. A much different one. One that gets to the heart of the issue.

Journalist Johann Hari spent years studying the global war on drugs in countries all over the world. In an interview he did with Tom Woods, he noted a significant conclusion of his research. It was one of those conclusions that is both so obvious and so apparent that you wonder why it strikes you with such profundity.

The real issue with violence or malicious behavior of the sort that causes events like the tragic Las Vegas shooting is not alcohol, drugs or guns.

Studies have revealed that about 10% of alcohol users use to abuse and the violence that tends to come with that. (According to a study done by Professor David Nutt and published in British The Lancet, alcohol was rated as the most harmful drug.) Interestingly, the statistic for drug abuse is about the same: 10%. So what makes about 90% of users to use these drugs in a way that we don’t typically consider “abuse” and the other 10% to do so?

Now, before I go on, I am also not using this post to push my opinion on drug laws. These are but a few of many destructive things in this world, and what we choose to try and legislate against or not is not my purpose here.

So what is the most common factor causing about 10% of users to use into abuse and violence?

As study after study has shown (and logic should lead us to even without statistical analysis), the answer is: a lack of meaningful relationships. Isolation. A lack of love and care by and for those around them. Or trauma without loving support to help them through.

The issue isn’t the thing that is abused. The issue is broken relationships.*

Logic follows that line of reasoning to anything else with which people can cause harm, such as guns or other weapons.

So this is a call to action. Want to really concentrate your efforts in a meaningful way? Love, care for and cherish those who are vulnerable. Those who are isolated. Those who are hurting and broken. Those without friends. Those who face prejudice. Be a friend to those nobody else will. A mentor to those who are shunned. Those who have no meaningful relationships in their lives.

Don’t tell me you really care while you spend your time calling your representative, lobbying them to sign anti-gun regulation, or to pour more money into drug-bust squads, until you start addressing the real issue that causes the violence. No larger police force, more prison cells, more stringent gun regulations or prohibition campaigns will solve the issue. As a friend recently posted, “People, not programs, change people.”

To the Church and fellow Christians: there is no excuse for acting in any fashion other than Christ did to the individual who fits the descriptions above. Be the Samaritan who was willing to credit all expenses of the dying man on the side of the road to his own account. Only Christ can change people’s hearts, but His love through you can often change their minds and through that access their hearts.

Remember when I said this wouldn’t be a soap-box blog? Well, I did say “usually.”

Recognize the real issue. Legislation and police action may be able to change the source and tool of abuse and violence, but it cannot bring meaningful change to the real issue. That is up to individuals — you and I — loving and caring for and treating with dignity … other individuals.


*And because there is always that person who makes entirely illogical conclusions and delights in flimsy assumptions, no, I don’t think this absolves anyone of the responsibility of their actions. Each individual is entirely responsible for their actions and should be held accountable as necessary. But as “love covers a multitude of sins,” so love can act against the inclinations of abuse and violence far better than any law prohibiting it.

Also, I’m not delusional with expectations that if we just “love” enough, all our problems will go away. Attacks that claim I am that naive will likely come. I’m just saying that we understand the real problem, then we can better concentrate on what really matters. 

For those who raise the argument that much violence is committed by those who more committed to ideology than suffering isolation (for example, those inclined to violence in the KKK, Neo-Nazi groups, Antifa, Neo-Communists, the radical ideologies of Islam, et cetera), I will cede that it is probably true for some. Still, even for many driven by ideology, many often arrive at those conclusions because of the comradery and sense of “belonging” they find–even if superficially–within those groups that they felt lacking prior. This is often true for gang members, as well.

I’ve discussed individual responsibility here

I’ve discussed the fallacy and foolishness of collectivist thinking here.

Thumbnail photo credit goes to mashable.com.

Do You Aspire for Political Power?

I was recently having a conversation with someone who explained to me her interest in politics. Her ultimate goal she said: to become president. She was quite convinced of it, too.  A self-described “control freak,” she had a plan for moving up the political ladder and ultimately emerging in that prized executive position.

Now, I pledge to never disparage anyone with the terribly powerful weapon and tool of my metaphorical pen, and that is not my purpose here. But the interaction struck me and I had to hold my tongue politely in the setting that did not allow for further discussion of the matter. Still, I managed one bit of cordially-delivered advice.

The advice? That politicians are the only people with the legal authority to use force, violence and the threat of each, and the reality of that ought to be sobering.

And as I said, I spoke with lighthearted understatement that somewhat masked the formidable reminder. I will not mince my words here.

Do you aspire for political power?

Please remember the same.

This is not a treatise on political power and its proper role or extent. It is merely a warning.

Saint Augustine theorized that those in power are by and large those who are already inclined to such an abuse of that power, as those not so inclined are most often found in the more docile of vocations. This, of course, is quite counter to the general perspective we are taught of government officials from our youngest days: that those bearing our team label are sacrificial benefactors out for our own good. (You already know how I feel about “team politics” from my post, “I Am Not Partisan”.)

Sure, in response to some of your protests, there are politicians who are not naturally those already inclined to seek the position for its own sake. But am I really that far out on a limb to suggest that these are by far the exception rather than the norm? Saint Augustine and many others would not think so. When the Hebrews demanded a king, the Lord told Samuel to warn them of the ways the kings would turn the people into his very slaves.1 If the vocation of painting draws those who naturally tend to be artistic, then why are we so ready to proclaim that the vocation of power must be a great a sacrifice born by those in its pursuit for the greater good of those they have power over? Does it not likewise tend to draw those who are naturally “control freaks”?

In one of the first posts of this project (“What is the State?”), I made the assertion that the state is a monopoly on force.

Do you aspire for political power? Do you aspire to be a member of this prestigious monopoly with the power to hold the metaphorical gun of legal force?

There is an old adage that we all knew from a young age: “power corrupts.” And when we learned about the kings of France, we added, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And there may be some truth here in a colloquial sense, as some who seek political office often find their benevolent aspirations twisted cruelly into an activity of self-advancement. But perhaps it is a far more accurate reality that power draws out the natural corruption of human nature and gives it far more dangerous an impact than the more benign professions.

Again, this is not a treatise on the role or legitimacy of power. It is, to sound like a broken record, a caution. A warning.

Indeed, I am not altogether opposed to a pragmatic pursuit of political position (and on this, there will be divided opinion among my readers), so long as all such pursuits are used for the advancement of liberty, anchored in the most unshakable of moral caliber. Such pursuit and integrity is a rare find among the political class.

We have come so far from God’s warning to the Hebrews that a king would “draft your sons,” force some to “plow in his fields and harvest his crops,” “take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials,” and “take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest.”2 Indeed, we have come to revere the very power that God told Samuel was a rejection of His sovereignty.3

This is the power to tax. The power to wage war. The power to wield the only legal metaphorical gun and the power to use it.

And for those who want to add, “the power to build up or to destroy,” do not be misled. The power of government cannot build up. It cannot create. It can only feed on the productivity and creativity of others. All true conservatives have understood that truth and beauty can never be the product of force. As the great conservative Edmund Burke (who I discuss here) wrote,

“In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing, the Thing itself is the Abuse!”4

And the great 20th Century writer, conservative and libertarian-leaning J.R.R. Tolkien, expressing his views in The Lord of the Rings, expresses his views in Gandalf’s reply to Frodo’s suggestion that he take the Ring (which in a later letter, Tolkien says symbolizes power itself):

“No! With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly! Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused.”5

Do you aspire for this power?

Then be sobered by the reality of this danger and proceed with humility, integrity and a deep and abiding fear of what the weapon and tool in your hands really means.


1 1 Samuel 8

2 Ibid, verses 11-15

3 Ibid, verse 7.

4 This comes from one of his early essays, though it was repeated as a motto throughout much of Burke’s political life. Numerous commentaries can be found on it with a simple Google search.

5 The Lord of the Rings, page 60. A very interesting and thorough look at Tolkien’s views on power as expressed through The Lord of the Rings can be found here.

Don’t Trust Me; Study What I Say

This post is going to be a bit different than many of my posts, but something that I very much want to emphasize:

Don’t trust me.

That seems like an odd thing to say, especially given my vocation and passion as a teacher. But it just because of that vocation and passion that I say it.

I’m not implying that I’m untrustworthy, obviously! So let me explain completely what I mean.

If you haven’t read it, yet, I began this project with a post (“Why On Earth Do We Need Another Blog?”) that reveals my reasoning and intent on a broad, and yet very personal level. There is an abundance of information out there; the Information Age is aptly named, or so it seems. Likewise, the more abundant a product, the more abundant is its counterfeit, in this case: disinformation. Or skewed information.

To have one more source of information and thought-provoking content in the current environment is almost like a drop in the lake saying, “hey, drink me, not that other drop over there!”

And that’s why I say don’t trust me. The reality is, I really do want you to trust me, but I understand something crucial: my credibility to the reader is only as good as their verification of what I say. So that’s ultimately what I want you do to: study what I say. Do your own research. See if I’m truly telling the truth, or if I am sound in my arguments.

For those who have studied the art of argumentation, you know that there are three major ways to argue, approaching the debate on logos, ethos or pathos.¹ Logos is the idea that an argument is logically and factually sound. Ethos refers to the credibility of the debater; do we trust them? As a constant student and teacher of the material I write about, I hope that I have some “ethos” in my articles. Pathos is an appeal to emotion. The most effective arguments have all three.

My goal with this project truly comes from a desire to dispense truth and genuine understanding. I want a strong logos and ethos to bolster what I say, but I am not a soap-box blogger (most of the time). Frankly, that might make me less popular than the Tomi Lahren’s of the information world, as human nature is generally more drawn to the pathos approach. (And that is not to say I ignore pathos, but that will come third of the three appeals.)

So study what I say. See if I am right. Do your own research. I want you to trust me, of course, but I want mostly to be a conduit for your own investigation. As a teacher, I know that my students will only really learn when they care about the learning and study it for themselves. That’s true for anyone (how many of us would have enjoyed the books we were assigned to read in school if they had not been an assignment?). What I care about is truth and learning, not about building my “brand” or making a name for myself. (Incidentally, the main reason this project took my name is because I struggled to find an effective alternative.)

If you find something to be awry or not correct, I want to correct it or re-think what I say, or engage you in courteous discussion about the disagreement. You can contact me at the “Contact Me” tab or, even better, private message me at the LCKeagy Facebook page.

Want to engage in discussion on matters related to these or similar topics? Join the LCKeagy Forum, a discussion group meant for just such courteous and productive debate.

Want to followup with your own study and research? Check out my Recommended Books and/or check out Liberty Classroom.com (subscribe for special discounts), and go to sources I don’t have listed and let me know if you find what I say to be off or untrue.

In the end, I hope this project is a helpful conduit of learning that both challenges you to think about things in perhaps a way you have not, or learn about things that are not otherwise the common repetition of the nightly news or the items crossing your Facebook news or Twitter feed. Learning and understanding what is true in a world of information, disinformation and confused information is the ultimate goal.

¹There is an abundance of material on these argumentative appeals; here is just one such source.

Race vs. Culture

Culture is different than race, and yet, the two are often confused.

Warning. I am about to enter politically incorrect territory. Ironically, it may even earn me the accusation, “racist” (which I’m not). But I have a very simple point to make, albeit it one that won’t win me any brownie points in today’s PC society, and one that I have not observed made virtually anywhere, let alone among the regular information sources or media.

Allow me to begin with a practical and personal qualifier.

First, let’s define racism and clarify what we mean by race. A google search turns up this definition of racism: “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Race is often (although not always), especially in the United States, considered correlative to a person’s skin color, but the basics of race don’t preclude various differences among peoples of similar pigmentation, such as the historical Franks, Germans or Slavs of Europe, among whom differences in physical appearance were minimal.

At best, the idea of “race” is a loose description of a person’s biological heritage . At worst, race is a pathetically invented and gross distortion of biological heritage, whereby people with various amounts of pigment in their skin are “grouped” in a category of “race.” (I have written on the dangers of collectivism here.)

Race is a meaningless concept to me insofar as it has no impact on any conceptions I have about people. To have pre- or post-conceived ideas about someone, let alone condemn them as inferior, because of their skin color or their biological heritage is—forgive the unprofessional language here—stupid. Period. Still, that genuine racism seems entirely irrational and illogical (not to mention immoral) does not make it any less real, and I don’t intend to pretend otherwise. To do so would require ignoring historical and present (if overstated) realities. Many Nazis truly believed in the superiority of the “Aryan race.” Many Americans in U.S. history really did believe in the inferiority of the “African race.”

But I didn’t come to write a sermon on the topic. And while that is a rather long qualifier that some readers will think I simply put in there for the purpose of remaining politically correct (despite my initial warning), I really don’t mind ensuring that I am not misunderstood. My main point is not compromised.

And we’ll get to that now.

Culture is different than race. Culture is the vast array of traditions, norms and features of a society. And while cultures are vastly nuanced and complex, there are distinct differences between them. Given my own aversions about collectivist thinking, I do not believe that any individual should be viewed first and foremost for any cultural tendencies; this is as irrational and wrong as racism. They are an individual first and foremost.

And so long as we understand that norms and tendencies are laden with exceptions and must be held very loosely, we can still evaluate the aggregate. Cultures differ. It is common in “U.S. culture” (good luck trying to tie that down!) for people to ensure that aging parents are entrusted to an elderly care facility, whereas in “Central and South American cultures”, you will often find extended family, parents and grandparents all living under one roof. Whether this is the product of wealth disparity or other factors are entirely beside the point. I’m not playing anthropologist here, simply making an external observation that helps demonstrate cultural differences.

This is my key point: The problem is that many people confuse culture and race. Many people fail to recognize that a cultural critique is not racist simply because there is a correlation between people of that “race” and people who share that culture. The only way you make that connection is on the assumption that a person’s cultural norms are the result of their biological heritage or race. This has no scientific or logical defense.

How do you jump to the conclusion that a person is racist simply because they take issue with an aspect of a culture different from theirs?

Here’s an example that will get me slandered in politically correct groups. It is a cultural norm in Islam that men have complete political and personal authority. Women are not given legal representation, and in moral matters pertaining to Islam, many men are given the responsibility to stone their wives if there has been any real or alleged infidelity. Many men in Islamic culture are prone to this position of dominance over women (and this is not unique to this culture), a cultural difference that is currently causing cultural clashes in Europe. None of this has anything to do with race. And yet somebody out there is ready with the label “racist”.

But some will recognize my logic and go for “ready-to-use” insult #2: bigot. A bigot is defined as someone who “is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices” (Merriam-Webster). Still, how did you reach that conclusion? I made an observation regarding cultural tendencies in one specific area.

So, if cultural observations are often confused as racist remarks (a logical fallacy), and those who make such observations are often considered racists and/or bigots, then what can we draw from this?

First, prejudice, regardless of the reason, is a tragic and natural tendency of human nature. I’m not digging into the reasons for this here. Nevertheless, I believe adamantly that it is wrong for me (or anyone) to hold prejudice of any kind, whether I exalt myself and degrade others for my gender, my “race”, my intellect, my level of education, my culture, my skin color (or lack of it), et cetera. If I think less of Muslim men generally because of the cultural tendencies from which they come, that is the real issue, not the observation made. I believe equally adamantly that charity and compassion should always describe our view and action toward any individual.

Second, and as I have said before, recognize the individual first. Collectivist thinking is a logical fallacy, and the individual should be recognized for who he or she is, not for his or her biological heritage or their cultural tendencies.

Third, don’t get confused by the tendency to confuse cultural observations as racist remarks. Recognize the skewed reality that is perpetuated around us, sometimes by habit and sometimes deliberately. To call someone racist for a particular commentary on something that is cultural is, in and of itself, an empty argument that merely perpetuates the collectivist thinking that is so problematic in the first place.  It’s a non-argument.

Sadly, there is truth in the words of economist Thomas Sowell: “Some things are believed because they are demonstrably true, but other things are believed simply because they have been asserted repeatedly.”*

*Video link here.

 

 

 

 

I Am Not Partisan

I am not partisan. I am not a team player in politics.

To be partisan is to be loyal to a political team—usually a political party—regardless of whatever policies that team pursues or puts forth. Sure, most people who are very passionate followers of their party have their limits and will abandon their party in time if it strays too far. This is why you saw massive numbers of Democrats switching to the Republican Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s, preferring Richard Nixon to an heir of Lyndon Johnson. (Yes, this touches on where we’re going in my recently started series, “The History of Conservatism, Liberalism and Libertarianism.” Sign up for email notifications to find out when the next one in that series is published.)

Still, there are many people who clearly side with their party through much that might be otherwise considered contradictory positions. A clear sign of partisanship is when a person accuses the opposing party of doing something and then later praises or supports, or as is more often the case, makes excuses for their own party when it does the same.

We all see it. Especially in our political opponents and in the media. It’s something that is so blatantly obvious, yet so common. The message sent is, “Don’t accuse that guy of wrong; you’re on the same team!” Where we don’t see it so much is in ourselves.

After his notorious Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, Psychology Professor Phillip Zimbardo said, “Most of the evil in the world comes about, not out of evil motives, but someone saying, ‘get with the program; be a team player.’” (More on that experiment here. Some caution advised for younger viewers due to the nature and results of the experiment.)

Human nature is prone to just such a mode of categorization. That is why it is so easy to assume a collectivist view of the world, a topic I addressed a couple posts ago (“The Reality of Collectivism”). That is why so many young Germans in Nazi Germany could end up committing the atrocities of the racial and biological hygiene programs and the full horror of the holocaust. Most of them, as young men, if given a chance to choose those actions from the comfort of their childhood homes, would be appalled at it.

And of course, that level of brutality, the psychology of which was specifically being studied in the Stanford Prison Experiment, is beyond the more “mild” accusations I am making. Still, it serves a good and sobering tool to demonstrate the dangers of this sort of thinking.

Fundamentally, there is no principle behind a partisanship that stays true to team rather than a constant standard. For those who say that there is, we often call that situational ethics, which, by definition, hardly fits any definition of principle. It is either okay to steal, or it is not. I cannot say the other team is wrong to steal, but there must be some good reason for it if mine does it.

I am not partisan. I do not adhere to a political team. My standards and beliefs are far and above any situational ethics, a concept I personally find repulsive, if I can be about as blunt as I have on this site. To the extend a political party aligns with my principles, those areas have my support. To the extent they violate my principles, those areas do not.

Many Democrats scoffed at George W. Bush when his military authorizations caused greater unrest in the Middle East, but were silent when the Obama administration pursued similar policies. Many Obama opponents among Republicans readily screamed about and scolded his healthcare legislation, but now support measures that keep most of it intact.

I would go so far as to call this cognitive, if not moral, dissonance. A harsher, yet fully applicable term: hypocrisy.

But there is nothing that can tie me to a team. I belief first and foremost in a Truth built upon the Word of God and His revelation. All else flows from there. I also support, as should be most obvious to my readers, liberty. (I lay out my case here: “On What Basis Liberty? Part 1“.) Not because I support all the activities protected by liberty, but because I believe that the power of the state is too great a danger to equip with the power to punish on its own ebbing and flowing standards of morality. (More on that in my post, “Church & State”.) Christians, of all people, should see the clear tide of acceptable opinion marginalizing and looking to correct or punish our “narrow-minded” views, and yet in many cases we are often as guilty of being team players as the next guy—just as ready with the excuses. (Want to know my recent thoughts on the Libertarian Party? Sign up for my email.)

To what extent will you violate principle and truth to stay true to your team—to your political party? To what extent will you make excuses for your favored candidate when he or she acts in opposition to what you know is true and right?

 

Thanksgiving in Perspective

hith-pilgrims-eMany of us were raised with a romanticized rendition of the story of the Pilgrims, a story that still brings back my childhood memories of Indians and Pilgrims placing fish in the ground with corn seeds, smiling and gathering around a large table with the cornucopia and all the trimmings that adorn Thanksgiving tables today. (There are many misconceptions about the “first thanksgiving” that I am not going to be addressing. A fellow blogger has done an excellent job of that here: “The First Thanksgiving?“)

And while it wasn’t the first thanksgiving celebration ever to be celebrated, and romanticized exaggerations aside, most of us haven’t the faintest idea what it would have been like. Finding themselves increasingly at odds with the Anglican clergy and legal system in England, the small group of Separatists had moved from Scrooby, England to Holland, where they found themselves remarkably accepted. Nevertheless, opportunities for making a living were somewhat limited, the lure of Dutch culture for very conservative English was a presumed threat from parents, and the outbreak of the 30 Years’ War threatened Holland with another invasion from Catholic Spain.

So they left again.

This time, to settle just south of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam at the mouth of the Hudson River (modern-day New York). Still, the land they hoped to settle on was still within what was claimed as British Virginia.

When a plane takes us across the Atlantic in four to five hours, we can’t fathom weeks of sea travel amidst the tempestuous whims of the weather.

When our legal systems protect our expressions of faith, by and large, we can’t imagine what it was like to have to meet in secret for not sharing the common denominational association as the church prescribed by king and parliament.

When we drive five minutes to pick up as much food as we can eat—and then some—for any meal, let alone Thanksgiving, we have no hope of empathy with those who only ate what they themselves planted, nurtured and harvested.

When we can “bump up the heat” because we’re uncomfortably cold at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, there is not a chance that we can put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived exposed to the cold and knew that it may well take their lives.

When we can run to the clinic for a quick diagnosis and cure, lost to our memory is a time when a simple flu could just as likely kill as not.

In 1620, 102 Pilgrims landed in what would later become Massachusetts, five-hundred miles off-course, in land not particularly claimed by anyone. Given poor conditions, they couldn’t sail right up the coast a little ways to New Amsterdam for supplies.

That first winter, 45 people died.

At your family gathering this Thanksgiving, imagine half dead in 6 months. I apologize for the morbidity, but I am guessing you can’t. I can’t. Or, at least, I won’t.

So maybe instead of that disheartening image, understand that we are far more blessed than we can ever imagine. We have a standard of living that far exceeds any other known to any other group—poor, middle class or rich—in the history of the world.

The Pilgrims understood thankfulness. Do we?the_first_thanksgiving_cph-3g04961

A series of studies published in what has been known as the Happiness Literature conducted in recent years shows something that might otherwise be considered common sense: that people become accustomed to their standard of living, and that becomes a baseline for expectation. In essence: we become accustomed to what we have, and take it profoundly for granted.

So how can we be thankful? It has to do with expectations.

Thankfulness can only be truly derived from accurate expectations and accurate perspective. If I expect to be fed well on Thanksgiving Day, my thankfulness for that meal will be nominal. All the more if I expect it will be provided to me because I deserve it.

True thankfulness understands our blessings in perspective.

Much-needed perspective.

In December of 1621, Edward Winslow was able to write, “by the goodness of God, we are so far from want….” Ninety natives joined the Pilgrims for three days of feasting. Almost every single person there had lost someone–more probably several–they loved in the previous year. And yet, they were thankful. Let me rephrase: therefore, they were thankful. They understood the true blessing of what they had.

cornucopiaDo we?

Addendum: Let me make one more observation, if I may. Thankfulness reveals more about a person’s character than many other expressions or attitudes. Gratefulness is an attitude of maturity.

May you and yours have a blessed and thoughtful Thanksgiving.

(Don’t have time to read it? Enjoy the audio below. And please forgive small hiccups; this is my first time to record a post.)