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malthaussen

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Member since: Sat Sep 24, 2011, 09:36 AM
Number of posts: 11,018

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Bigotry, Guilt, and the Works of Days

As one possessed of a rather pessimistic view of humanity, I consider most activity in support of human rights to be of the nature of damage control: interposing obstacles between the people and those who would oppress them. Recently, however, the outpouring of outrage over the US President-elect and his minions (who certainly deserve all the outrage we can hand them) has drifted towards the position that those who elected him must acknowledge and face up to their obvious bigotry and intolerance. Any suggestion that this is unlikely to occur (especially as many of these individuals consider themselves neither bigots nor intolerant) is condemned as special pleading or even support of the bigoted or intolerant positions.

The difficulty with the "damage control" position is that legislation is mutable: it may be overturned at pleasure if the zeitgeist calls for it (as witness the extreme examples of the 18th and 21st amendments to the US Constitution). Thus damage control offers no permanent cure to the ills it addresses, except insofar as the habits of man might be changed, gradually, by enforcing certain practices and prohibitions which, if one has grown up with them, may not seem so oppressive or intrusive as they might to generations who were raised under a different set of rules. One might argue, then, that true "change" can only be effected by admitting that there is a problem, and hence the failure to acknowledge that racism and oppression are present in certain actions can only perpetuate, not ameliorate, the condition. Thus attacking the evil-doer is not only desireable (to say nothing of gratifying), but necessary if real change is to happen.

This presupposes that "real change" is possible, which is why a pessimist might be skeptical of the efficacy of such an approach.

Whether these positions are irreducible is problematic: one might argue, echoing the "force of habit" thought above, that as the rising generation is accustomed to different expectations of conduct, they will gradually lose the tendency towards bigotry and oppression, and that anyway in the interim the amount of damage done to the oppressed is limited, if it cannot be eliminated. This is an argument particularly appealing to those who are not among the oppressed groups, and one might note that it ain't happened yet, as the rising generation has plenty of bigots, blockheads, and fools in its ranks, many of whom are damned noisy about it. Very true, and yet might the results of the past election, and the sentiments expressed by those of the rising generation who are not bigots, blockheads, nor fools, give one hope that perhaps the habit of two or three generations might be tending towards justice? I daresay it is a matter of how one looks at things, and it is in any event of little consolation to one who is oppressed to be told that oppression is on the way out, in the sweet by-and-by.

But the question of what can be achieved by a more vigorous approach does appear on the contrary side. Personal satisfaction, certainly (and as one who is a cynic as well as a pessimist, I believe such personal satisfaction to be no small motivator of those who rail loudly against injustice). Shaming the bigots into better conduct? History suggests that this is even less efficacious than damage control in securing the rights of oppressed groups. Or shall we argue some kind of 12-step program, the first step of which requires one to "admit you have a problem?" This last attains a position of greater relevance in times when the zeitgeist seems to threaten moving away from damage control. Having already admitted that damage control is a stopgap, those who consider it important are left vulnerable when the bandaid looks like it's falling off.

Ultimately, we do live in a world where custom and statute regulate behavior, and because this is the case, one might consider that the damage control position is the one most pertinent to the actual conditions of life, whereas the more forceful position runs the risk of seeming idealistic and impractical, absent any violent revolution, in which eventuality, questions of oppression and bigotry will take a back seat to survival anyway. Thus, the rather shopworn dictum, "We do what we can, not what we will." This is, of course, a rather unsatisfactory stance, especially to those for whom the sanctity of human rights holds a dear place in their hearts. It is, however, an approach susceptible of practical and immediate application within the strictures that govern what we might be pleased to call "normal behavior."

The "12-step" argument suffers a further deficiency: let us stipulate that the first step is achieved, and the sinful acknowledge their sin. What form do the next steps take? Why, the alteration of custom and statute to eliminate or ameliorate bigotry and oppression within institutions and society, which is exactly the objective which those who argue for damage control have taken from the start. The only difference seems to be that, on the one hand, the reformers demand an acknowledgement of guilt, whereas on the other, the reformers care not about guilt (or responsibility, if you please), and want only for change to be effected. Thus the latter are concerned with a practical matter, whereas the former are concerned with a moral one; and the latter, as has been said, suffer the impediment that any practical solution, when not undergirt with moral reformation, is liable to be eroded or overturned altogether, which is the situation in which many fear we may be finding ourselves in the very immediate future.

I don't presume to be able to reconcile these positions, which as has already been stipulated, may indeed be irreducible. But I would like to convey one idea, and that is that refusal to demand that the guilty own their guilt is not, necessarily, an endorsement of the actions or an excuse for them. It may simply reflect the attitude that assigning guilt is an exercise best left to some power with greater wisdom and authority than one's poor self, and a lowering of one's sights to works of the hands which may hold out some realistic hope of accomplishment.

-- Mal

Veteran's Crisis Line:

1-800-273-8255


Not all of us will have a Merry Christmas, so it is good to have this phone number handy.

-- Mal

Remember all those silly chicken littles who used to tell us the sky was falling?

You know the ones, those guys who used to rant about how it was a bad idea to expand Presidential power because we couldn't be sure the President would use it wisely. Lolz, what losers. I hope they feel sufficiently chastened and humiliated by the elevation of Donald Trump to President-elect, a man whose sagacity and wisdom are matched only by his compassion, decency, and level-headedness.

-- Mal

Another legend gone: Phil Chess

What a record label he made.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/20/arts/music/phil-chess-dead.html?_r=2

-- Mal

James Hong has the most TV/Film credits in history.

Even the most die-hard aficionados would be startled that a Chinese-American character actor has the most TV and movie appearances of all time. Good actor, mind you.

-- Mal
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