Monday, June 29, 2020
If you want a simple illustration of modernism vs. postmodernism, look no further than this old Monty Python skit known forever as The Dead Parrot.
And so we find our world today. We are not just divided on the issues. We are divided on the fundamentals of the issues. If the two characters in the Monty Python skit could just agree on whether or not the parrot is dead, they might be able to move on toward some resolution or at least a more reasonable argument. The shopkeeper might simply tell the customer that he bought the parrot as is, where is and he’s yours, dead or alive. No refunds. But these two combatants can’t even get to a rational argument. And in the end, when the shopkeeper realizes that the customer is not inclined to accept his repeated and obviously false claim that the parrot is not really dead, he shifts gears and goes into a song about a being a cross-dressing lumberjack. Classic Monty Python. (You can find the rest of the skit on YouTube as well.)
For most of recorded human history, we have believed that Truth is knowable and it is reasonable to consider Truth as objective and binding upon us, at least until we have new information and conclude that it is no longer reasonable to consider some previously accepted idea as Truth. Thus we no longer believe that the earth is flat nor that it is the center of the universe. Viruses and bacteria cause illness not demons. There is no man in the moon.
When the Age of Englightenment came along, even those who believed in a Higher Power and things not seen, made room for Science and Reason. Both sides believed in the idea of objective Truth. They might disagree on the ultimate authority of Truth with regard to certain ideas, i.e. sin, the immortal soul, life after death, etc. But they could have honest debate and discussion about such matters. Science and Reason have even become part of modern day Christian apologetics. If you really want to think deeply and learn about such things check out John Lennox or William Craig Lane.
But now, we find ourselves so divided that we can no longer have a rational conversation about our differences. The postmodernists start from the premise that Objective Truth is unknowable and there is no ultimate authority. Neither a Higher Power nor Science and Human Reason have the authority to determine what is true for the individual. So we send our young people out into the world with no map, no compass…just hashtags…#UBU…#FindURtruth.
As a Boomer, I look back and cringe at the phrase: “If it feels good do it”. Like a lot of us back then, I did it and discovered that it was just one more version of the original lie: “Did God Really Say…?”. And now the lie has become “If it feels right, it’s true.” Same old lie, same old result.
This is how “the new old lie” works these days. First it has the loudest voice. It controls the narrative. The media, the academy, arts & culture…they embrace it and they proclaim it. They also enforce it and punish those who may see things differently. This gives them the power to describe and define THE PROBLEM. Systemic racism is a good example. They go on to diagnose the problem, the symptoms and the causes (inequality, the criminal justice system, white privilege...etc). They claim the right to determine how best to solve the problem (defund police departments, pay reparations, mandate equitable outcomes socially, politically and economically). And lastly, they demand immediate implementation of their solutions to the problem (protests, violent riots, take over neighborhoods, boycott or just burn down businesses, rewrite history, tear down monuments and deconstruct the meta-narratives which are foundational to the free and open society that allows them to do just that.)
Now to be clear, there is some truth in what is being said, quite a bit in some cases. Systemic racism is a problem. In fact, it may well be THE PROBLEM. The symptoms and causes certainly include issues such as inequality, our criminal justice system and white privilege. But it’s not only those things. Many of those who have studied this, including leading black scholars, point to our welfare system and predatory politicians whose efforts keep black communities down and out… and dependent. When we move on to solutions, the divergence of opinion widens. Reform law enforcement. Absolutely. Some say we need better training and better pay for law enforcement, not more after school programs and basketball courts in the inner-city. Perhaps we need both. Pay reparations? Maybe it would make more sense to establish “micro-lending” programs (not the SBA). Provide incentives (subsidies) for private investors to lend money to black entrepreneurs. Maybe offer more educational support for blacks seeking higher education in the STEM fields. And our criminal justice system does need change. Poor people, not just blacks, tend to fair badly in court. And maybe it is time to change our drug laws, mandatory sentencing guidelines and how we handle non-violent lawbreakers. But when it comes to demanding change, making the case by rioting, destroying communities and attempting to wipe out any and all symbols of “white” American excellence and achievement is definitely a misguided strategy that will only alienate those who might be inclined to support your cause. And it is definitely a strategy that will inflame those most opposed to any changes.
But in 2020 there is no debate, no discussion of alternatives, no point/counter-point. The only “facts” that matter are the ones that fit "the narrative", even if those facts are anecdotal at best. Anything else is quickly dismissed as racist or worse. If one is not among “the oppressed” or an ally of the oppressed they have no voice and no way of knowing what is really true. THE TRUTH can only be understood and expressed by those who are WOKE. Truth has become a one-way street with only one lane.
Throughout history when people divide over fundamental existential issues the ultimate result is bloodshed, most often on a massive scale. Millions died during the Protestant vs Catholic wars in Europe that went on for over 200 years. There is the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War. Then the Fascism and Communism of the last century which took more lives than all previous wars and conflicts combined. We are at a historic crossroad. We have two choices. Listen to one another and work together to solve our problems or tear each other apart. When you hit your knees tonight, pray that we listen to one another and work this thing out.
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Ok, which is it? Can white people talk about racism or should they just STFU? If they are allowed to talk about racism but don’t follow “the script”, should they just STFU? If they are inclined to perhaps comment negatively about some things like rioting, looting or attacking police officers should they just STFU? If they acknowledge their own racism and admit to white privilege without begging or offering to buy forgiveness may they speak or should they just STFU?
You see I believe that rational human beings have the capacity to hold more than one idea in their minds at the same time. Even ideas that conflict with each other. Freedom/Law and Order. Free Will/ Determinism. Judgment/ Mercy. Taste Great/Less Filling. And so it is with most issues, especially the big ones. Issues where we find it difficult to distinguish between cause and effect, disease and symptom, cure and treatment.
So with that, I shall talk about racism. Talk about it not from ‘A’ white man’s perspective, but from “THIS” white man’s perspective. This white man who grew up in Texas and is old enough to remember white and black water fountains. This white man who was told by his parents not to use “the N-word”. That “they” preferred to be called “colored” or “Negro”. “They” were good people and God loved them, too. But they were different and it was just better for us to remain separated as much as possible. This white man who remembers the time when Martin Luther King was assassinated. A time when this white man’s father told him about running off “N-word” looters who were trying to break into the back of his truck. This white man who worked side by side and sometimes under the supervision of black men in his late teens and early 20’s. This white man who even in the 80’s while living in South Carolina saw old black men step off the sidewalk and look away when a white woman walked by. This white man who spent his management career in an industry where “management” was predominately male and very white.
This white man admits to his racism. I wish it was not there. I know it’s wrong. I do see color before I see the person. And I expect most people do, regardless of their own color. We are all shaped by our experiences, our thoughts and our hearts. My racism doesn’t cause me to dislike, much less hate black people. But it does lead me to think of them differently, sometimes even to the point of feeling sorry for them. And often pity does more damage than hate. But I am trying to do better, to be better.
This white man has always understood that in our culture whites have more privilege than blacks. That’s undeniable. It is foundational in Western civilization. We brought it with us from Europe and institutionalized it with slavery and the class system that was imposed afterward. It is what it is in every sense of the word.
So what do we do about it? We can reform law enforcement and the criminal justice system. We should do so. But that’s only changing the way we treat the disease. It only makes the pain more bearable and perhaps opens a few more doors for those who no longer get locked up and can find their way to a better life. The same can be said for “after school programs” and more “recreational facilities”. We can take down statues of confederate generals and notable historical figures who said something wrong or failed to say something right. We can all take a knee and stop singing “The Eyes of Texas”. (Yes, that is now on the “to be banned” list). But, if it does not translate into better Education and better Employment for more people of color, real change, lasting change won’t come.
Education and Employment lead to Empowerment. It takes longer to clean up a mess than it does to make one. Racism has been going on for centuries around the world and our version of it has been here since the nation began. We’ve taken some steps over the past 50+ years to level the playing field and some have benefited. We see black people in careers and living in neighborhoods that would have been unthinkable not that long ago. But we’ve also allowed, if not enabled, things to get worse for many of those left behind in poverty with little hope of a good education or a good job. Whatever steps we take moving forward, if they are not directed toward providing better education, and that includes education and training that prepares people to earn a decent living (and I’m not talking about minimum wage), then we will fail. We are just rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.
When Blacks do get “in the game” we have to lift the glass ceiling. And not just symbolically. It’s nice to have Blacks on the Board of Directors, but how many are in the C-suite leading the enterprise? I’m not talking about tokenism or promoting unqualified people. (There are already too many unqualified white guys at the C-level). I’m saying there has to be a real pathway for talented black managers to move beyond middle management or even division leadership roles. There is room at the top.
Beyond Education and Employment, hearts and minds have to change. As a Christian I have my beliefs about how that happens. Others will seek a different path. We don’t have to agree with each other to respect each other. So whatever works for you, just get right in your head and in your heart.
(And I pray that God forgives me for the ‘STFU’…but sometimes you just need to get the point across).