Sunday, February 2, 2020

Week 38: Identity Politics

In today’s America, members of both major political parties spend like drunken sailors, not to disparage drunken sailors; members of both parties seem to find little sense of apprehension in legislating moral codes, despite being among the more amoral creatures of the earth; and members of both parties seem to have an unquenchable thirst for power, sacrificing the sovereignty of each individual at the altar of political tenure. While there are, of course, members of both parties who prove to be the exceptions, it seems that Republicans and Democrats have come to be essentially the same.

A few differences do exist. Under Democrat administrations and Congresses, the regulatory burden on individuals and businesses, as well as the attendant financial burdens, increases. Under Republic administrations and Congresses, both decrease. I will entreat you, kind reader, to consider the effect that greater or lesser regulation has on individual liberty.

There is a more fundamental difference, though, between the two parties – a difference that, in my estimation, renders all other differences and similarities relatively insignificant. This fundamental difference is how members of each party see you and me, the good people of the United States of America, the citizens.

What do I mean by this?

One party tends to see citizens truly as individuals, who have unique perspectives, desires, beliefs and goals. One party tends to see citizens as monolithic groups, based on some outward characteristic, that function in ways that are based on collective perspectives, desires, beliefs and goals. The former, of course, is the Republican party, the latter is Democrat party. For the moment, let us ascribe to the individual members of each party good intentions in terms of the perspectives they espouse.

With good intentions assumed, let us explore the effects of their perspectives in terms of policies and outcomes for We the People. In doing so, I believe we will discover that, despite good intentions, one philosophy creates a path to happiness and liberty and the other to misery and servitude.

The Roman poet Lucretius (c. 99 – c. 55 B.C.) wrote about the nature of things in his aptly entitled, De Rerum Natura or The Nature of Things. An Epicurean, Lucretius was an atomic materialist, which means that he believed that all things in the world around us and in us are composed of atoms, even our consciousness. Two millennia later, we know this to be true. The atomic elements that form the oceans, a tree or that air we breathe are some of the same atomic elements that form you and me. The atomic interactions that power the stars or power our homes are similar to the interactions that power our minds. Lucretius and his fellow atomic materialists were the ultimate purveyors of the idea of connectedness. This idea has played out in innumerable ways throughout the ages. Kant’s Enlightenment notion of absolute moral worth – a favorite of mine as anyone who knows me would tell you, is an incredibly important perspective on connectedness. In short, each person is the same in terms of their individual worth and the respect they deserve.

It is critical to emphasize that absolute moral worth is inherent in the individual and recognition of that worth as a natural right guaranteed because of his or her personhood, not because of his or her inclusion in some group or groups of people. Absolute moral worth has absolutely nothing to do with gender, color, race, creed, orientation, age, socio-economics or any other arbitrary characteristic one may choose to apply.

It is a deep and abiding belief in and devotion to this most fundamental precept that should render the politics of identity repugnant to any enlightened individual.

If you will permit me, kind reader, a momentary digression. I would like to address what I believe to be an important distinction between the condition of enlightened and the condition of “woke,” to use the parlance of our times. To be enlightened, according to Merriam-Webster, is to be “freed from ignorance and misinformation – based on full comprehension of the problems involved.” To be “woke” is, according to Merriam-Webster, a slang term in the United States that means to be “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Note how enlightenment is, by definition, a broad and holistic approach to understanding. Note how “woke” is, by definition narrowed by the descriptor “important” and further narrowed by “racial” and “social.” In the former, one is free and unfettered to explore, learn and create understanding. In the latter, there is some third party endeavoring to control one’s exploration, learning and understanding. In today’s world, one cannot be “woke” without conforming to someone else’s notion of what being “woke” means. Enlightenment is a threat to those who would desire to control others, such as those who would dictate to you or me what our biases are or must be. I reject the concept of being “woke,” as it is something that fosters tyranny. It reduces us to intellectual slaves to someone else’s belief system, based on information someone else deems important. I embrace the concept of enlightenment, as it is something that promotes liberty. It frees each person to form her or his own conclusions, based on the totality of information available.

With that digression aside, reflect on the rhetoric you hear from the candidates of the two major political parties. One party is the purveyor of doom and gloom, stating over and over and in a multitude of ways that our nation is among the worst nations in the history of civilization. In addition to such claims, they also tell us who is to blame. If you are a woman, man is to blame. If you are a minority, Caucasians are to blame. If you are gay, straight people are to blame, and so on. Even within the various groups of people they target, they find even more ways to create and assign blame. If you are a woman who supports abortion, pro-life women may be to blame. If you are a progressive black man, the conservative black man may be to blame. If you are transgender, the gay man or woman may be to blame. This is the rhetoric and philosophy of today’s Democrat party.

In addition to doom and blame, this party also believes that such groups of people think, feel and believe alike, as homogenous collections of gonads and skin cells, and they seem to have the omniscience to know what each of these collections thinks. They have the temerity to claim to speak for all such groups.

As a result, they pass laws and regulations, supposedly designed to protect various groups from one another, ironically enshrining difference and inequality in our system of laws, a system which is supposed to guarantee equality as a fundamental and essential premise in our social contract.

Think about the Republican message. It rarely, if ever, segments the population based on superficial characteristics, let alone pits one group against another in an effort to assign blame from one group to another. The message relates to all of us as individual citizens, who have the capability and capacity to interact with one another in good and meaningful ways for each person’s benefit. Their policies tend to reflect that, policies that promote individual responsibility and choice.

Democrats will tell us that their interventionist social policies are necessary, given the long history of discrimination in the United States. They bet on the fact that many Americans will not know the history of American discrimination and the fact that it has been, in large part, the result of Democrat policies. If you revisit the post on Education, you’ll see how it is possible that many Americans do not know our own history. It’s because the educational system is striving to create “woke” followers as opposed to enlightened citizens. To reinforce their control and power, they choose what they believe is the “important” information to teach, in a de facto manner deciding “what” students think. This is in stark contrast to teaching people “how” to think: how to seek out information, creating a holistic approach to learning.

To be sure, the execution of our social contract has a flawed history. Many of the white Founders knew slavery to be evil, yet they owned black slaves. Many of the male Founders knew women’s suffrage was right and good, yet they excluded females from the political process for many years.

Pitting of one group against another was a bad thing then. What makes it a good thing now?

Find me any social contract that has ever been flawlessly implemented. I have yet to find one. Consequently, we cannot say that because a person or persons may do bad things, then all of their ideas are bad. I would venture to say that each person has, at some time or another, fallen short of the person they hope to be. Does that make them a fundamentally flawed and irredeemable person, as well as their most deeply held ideals and beliefs? I hope not.

With that, let us ground ourselves anew in a couple key concepts.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and “We the People of the United States…” are inclusive statements(with deference to the language in use at the time, such as “men” being a reference to humankind), despite what the left would have us believe today. They do not call out specific, monolithic groups as equal or unequal.

Because they knew their own flaws, and because they knew that each person to follow for all time would be flawed, they set forth the ideal of equality and a vision for a “more perfect union.” Note that they did not say a perfect union. They knew full well that such a vision would be a fool’s errand.

The vision of a “more perfect union” is one that is worthy of pursuit. It is one, however, that we cannot achieve without the equal and full participation of every citizen. That requires that we recognize and memorialize the absolute morale worth of each and every American. This cannot and will not be accomplished until identity politics is reduced to one thing – not gender, faith, race, or any other characteristic. That one thing is the identification of being American. This does not mean we abandon those qualities that make us unique. Rather, in the context of our social contract, it focuses us on the one quality we share.

The Founders gave us the Declaration of Independence, a document unique among the nations of the world, and the Constitution. Contemporaries like de Tocqueville left for us firsthand accounts of what it was to be an American and what it could be in that pursuit of a more perfect union. It’s our social contract, set forth in these two documents, that we find shared purpose and a shared national soul. This soul is and can be in any person that claims the moniker, “American,” without any regard to their appearance or personal practices.

As we listen to debates and stump speeches from political road, let us be enlightened, not “woke,” when we evaluate the policies of the candidates. Consider which party’s policies have brought about the uncivil nature of today’s America? Consider which party wants to enact policies to decide for you and me what is “important,” so that we may be “woke” or shunned and vilified. I would argue they are the policies of the left. Will we vote for more of those policies, or will we seek something better – something that sets each of us free? Will these candidates’ policies further drive us apart, or will they unite us in the effort to create a more perfect union?

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