Sunday, April 12, 2015

Acting Anew?

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Todd Robert Murphy writes that America is divided. He believes that we must act "anew" although he does not explain what that means. In this space, I recently wrote about tolerating speech with which we disagree. I do not suggest that we all need to agree, but it would help if we didn't automatically assume that the other guy is a bastard.

Murphy refers to the reaction to police shootings in which the victim is black and the officer is not. I have been astonished at the extent to which the facts don't matter in the aftermath of these events. Otherwise intelligent people claim that there is some kind of "open season" on black males when the statistics simply don't support that. In fact, they suggest the opposite. People who ought to know better hang on to narratives - "hands up, don't shoot" - long after they have been discredited.

This is an odd thing. There are reasons to be concerned about the police that have nothing to do with race. Giving people guns and exposing them to people at their worst can lead to bad things. (This is why police cameras are probably a good idea.) But it should not be hard for any of us to understand that each of these cases is different and that guilt and innocence depends on the facts and not which narrative - racist cop or young thug - feels right to us. Perhaps this is one way that we might "act anew."

We often hear calls for a dialogue about race - generally from people who want anything but that. A dialogue is not a lecture. It is not limited to confession and the prescription of penance. a conversation about race would certainly be uncomfortable, but that discomfort would be shared all round.

Roger Clegg wanted to have a dialogue about race. Roger is General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity. He is fiercely intelligent but gentle-mannered; one of the nicer people I know. CEO had done a study that demonstrated just how strongly the University of Wisconsin prefers African-American applicants over similarly situated whites, Asians and even Hispanics. (The preference still doesn't result in a large black enrollment at Madison.) When he came to Madison to discuss the report, he was accosted by screaming hordes whose idea of a dialogue is shouting over what you don't want to hear.

Maybe being willing to listen to what we don't want to hear - even when, in the end, we think it is wrong - is another way that we might "act anew."

A large part of our intelligentsia has come to believe that traditional Christian, Jewish and Islamic views on human sexuality are not only wrong, but manifestations of hate. Those who hold them are bigots or psychologically maladjusted ("phobic") and must not be permitted to act on - or even to express - their views without legal sanction (for the former) and social ostracism (for the latter). They believe, like the Medieval Church, that error has no rights.

On the merits, I am closer to the new received wisdom than I am to the religious traditionalists. But it strikes me as arrogant to dismiss the latter as bigots and inconsistent with the very idea of a free society to deny them a space to live in accordance with their consciences. (Analogies to race are, I think, inappropriate but that's a subject for another day.)

Perhaps finding more room to tolerate not what only those people we believe have been historically ostracized, but those we believe to be wrong is another way to "act anew."

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin


Dad29 said...

error has no rights.

Not "medieval." It's perennial.

But those who HOLD the error have 'rights', of course.

jp said...

Thank you for another thoughtful, balanced, and well-written piece.
Unfortunately, many people in today’s society only take time for tweets.

jp said...

Thank you for another thoughtful, balanced, and well-written piece.
Unfortunately, many people in today’s society only take time for tweets.