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Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

 

With so many political posts lately I had thought to make this one about religion.  After all, a blog titled Bad Atheist should be discussing religion every now and again.  However, instead, I wrote another political post.   Why?  Because, as the saying goes, shit happens.   And that shit is Trump.

This week Trump started confirming my worst fears about him.  While it is hard to pick and choose which of his executive actions was the worse, since he has provided us with a full, rich smorgasbord  of terrible decisions and actions to choose from, I am going to talk about his latest one.  The one where he stopped and banned all migrants and refugees from seven countries from entering the United States, even those who hold permanent resident status.   These countries were supposedly picked due to their failed nature, terrorist activity, and violence.

This sudden and drastic action reeks of so many things – fear, hatred, ignorance.   This action, and Trump’s and his supporters justification for it make it seem as if there is no vetting of these travelers, as if we just say “yep, come on in” without doing any sort of check.   Trump and crew seem to believe that we have avoided a terrorist attack from the citizens of these countries due solely to the grace of God.

The reality is that we do check them, each and every one.   Some more than others.  But none are given a free pass to just come and go without any scrutiny.  And you know what?  It seems to work.

Consider this fact – a true fact and not an alternate one that Trump and his followers are so fond of – none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by a citizen of these seven countries.  Not one.

Consider this fact too, none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by Syrian refugees.

Finally, consider this fact, and it is one that Trump’s defenders are making a big to do about; all of these seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as posing special risks for visa status.  In other words, the situation within those countries are dire and rife with terrorism and violence.

And yet, with just the procedures we have now, none of its citizens who have traveled here, go to school here, work here, and live here have committed any attacks against the hnan_and_lian_fadi_kassar_5758bdbd2e3fc99559b93f42d7bf4d69-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000United States here.    Despite being from high risk countries.

Seems like pretty good evidence that we are doing something right.  And that sudden, drastic measures such as those Trump engaged in, are not necessary or needed.  Examining those procedures and tweaking them, possibly so.  Full out stop – no.

An analogy from my own background might be useful here.  If I have a productive piece of equipment that, although not giving me zero defects, does do well and whose defects are well below our goals, I am not going to shut it down to examine it in order to find ways to improve it.  Instead I will let it run while I look at improvements, or even replacement.

Now, if the same machine were to malfunction and we had more defects than good product, or, even worse, someone were injured or killed, then yes, shut it down and fix it.

Our immigration system from these seven countries was working well, as evidenced by the fact that we had no terrorist attacks from anyone from these countries on our soil.  Agreed, some from those countries have engaged in terrorist acts in Europe, but Europe is not the United States and the dynamics and situations are different.  The situation in Europe is a cause to examine our system by using what is happening in Europe to see how it could be improved.  However, it is not cause to shut it all down to do so.  As I said, our immigration system for these seven countries so far has had zero defects.

Moving on, let me point out one other fact of interest.  Refugees are going to come from high risk countries with high levels of violence and terrorists.  If it were all nice and peaceful they would not have uprooted themselves from home and family and fled their country.  What this means it that in using the criteria of not allowing people in from high risk countries Trump effectively blocks entry to this country to those who need its safety the most.

So, what does this tell us about Trump and his administration?

That they are, tactfully speaking, not deep thinkers.   In fact, they are not thinkers at all – they do not analyze and try to understand the situation and system before making changes.  Instead, they are reactors.  They react and then try to justify, often with alternative facts and denial of actual facts.  Think of them as being the proverbial bull in a china shop, only with the ability to speak.

Next, they don’t care.  They do not care about the hardship that this imposes on people and families – on their livelihood, on their jobs, on their goals and plans.  They  don’t care that many of these people are in productive jobs in the United Sates and that their absence impacts American businesses. They don’t care that some of these people are engaging in important research that could have a potential impact on our medicines and healthcare.  They don’t care that their actions may even cost people their lives.  They don’t care.  They x_lon_syriaboy_170129-nbcnews-ux-1080-600reacted and damn , that felt good.  The rest – they don’t care.

Moving down the list of things we learned from Trump and his administration.  They don’t like to communicate. Nor do they like to coordinate.  A small group wrote this up without input from anyone.  The normal vetting of this executive order to ensure it does not violate laws and the Constitution, that it does what they want it to without unwanted complications and consequences, was not done.  But of course, Trump knows it all anyway and so doesn’t need to worry about that.  Which, come to think of it, is why he so often seems to live in a fantasy world.

This last trait, not vetting it (and isn’t that rather ironic), along with not communicating it in advance and planning on how to best implement it with those who are charged with actually implementing it contributed greatly to the chaos and uncertainty that followed.  That with, of course, the fact that this was a bad, very bad, hugely and bigly bad executive order.

A bad executive order done badly .    Trump and friends managed to get nothing right about this.

All for what?  National security?  To make out country safer?

This does not do that.  Not even a little bit.  In fact, it does the opposite.  It provides evidence for the radicals claim that the US is waging war on Islam and Muslims.  That our words about freedom of religion are nothing more than hollow hypocrisy.  Trump and company’s actions have the potential to increase the effectiveness of the terrorist’s recruitments efforts.

I know, I know.  Many of those supporters of Trump would pooh pooh my claims that Trump’s actions here actually help the terrorists and radicals rather than hurt them.  This despite the fact that the reasoning is sound and is supported by actual events.

There are currently several  Jihadist groups who are hailing Trump’s piece of ant-terrorist action.  One even said that Trump was “the best caller to Islam”. Why?  Because it shows that what the terrorists and radicals have been saying about the United States, that it is at war with Islam and has no true freedom of religion, are true.  It turns what had been their lies into truth.

Or consider the citizens in Iraq.  We, the United States, are working with them to defeat ISIS.  But we won’t let them in?  What message does that send – hello, we think you make fine cannon fodder but don’t really want to have anything else to do with you. Other than help you become good cannon fodder.

Even worse, the message this executive order sends to the American Muslim community is that the United States does not care about the ideals of religious freedom.  That Muslims are second class at best.  Especially when they consider that now Christians will get preferential treatment over all other refugees.

Which brings us to another question being asked – is this a ban on Muslims?  Trump did call for such a ban during his campaign.  Add to that former New York City mayor Giuliani stating during a Fox interview on Saturday that Trump had tasked him with finding some legal way to make a ban on Muslims happen.  Then add to the pot Trump’s order giving Christians priority.

While this is not conclusive, there is enough here to cause extremely justified suspicion that it is indeed a ban based on religious belief.  A ban on Muslims disguised… rather like how laws to discourage black voting back in the good old days were disguised as literacy tests.  And if somehow it is not, then it gives every appearance of being such with all the accompanying issues and problems that such a ban would create.  Including providing aid and comfort to the terrorists.

Not good

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Moving to another one of the interesting questions being asked – why these seven countries?  Yes, President Obama had them on a list.  But, it was not for the sort of actions Trump is engaging in.   Since Trump is busily doing everything he can to undo what President Obama has done, then why not add countries who have actually had some of their citizens attack us on our own soil?   Why not add Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the list?  Or Turkey?

Hmmm, let’s see.  Trump has significant business interests in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.  He has none in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

While not conclusive, it is suspicious.  Add to that the fact that he continues to refuse to release his tax returns and divest himself of his business holdings, or even put them in a blind trust, and I think we have a grand cause to investigate.  Is Trump trying to benefit, or at the very least, trying to protect, his business interests through the office of the Presidency without consideration on whether that is good for the United States or not.

Finally, despite all of this, the facts and the reasons, the protests and the pain it is causing to good people, I see many of his supporters still trying to justify this order and support these actions.  In reading some of the articles and in my discussions with them, some do it out of hatred of Muslims and Islam.  To those people I can only say go to hell cause we are not going to let you create one here in the United States.

Others though are doing so out of fear and ignorance.  To them I say, heal yourselves.  While your intentions may be good, ignorance and fear turn even the best of intentions into terrible actions.  They are the bricks used to line that road to hell.

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Sometimes some points can best be made with stories. They can provide both some distance while also providing an emotional connection. Here is my attempt at doing so through a parable.

 

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a planet, Vegaria, which was the envy of the galaxy. Vegaria was a rich planet with plenty of resources and a high standard of living.

Twenty years ago, Vegaria was viciously attacked by one of the planets in a nearby solar system, OOminia. Fifty million Vegarians perished on the day of the attack, which leveled an entire continent. Vegaria had launched a counter attack and exacted revenge upon the OOminians. Vegaria then focused itself on rebuilding, and now there is little trace of the attack left, except in the memories of the Vegarians.

There are 6 planets in the OOminian solar system, all of them inhabited by OOminians. While the inhabitants of some of the planets in the solar system are very aggressive and violent, most OOminians are peaceful.

Now, thanks to the successful counter-attack from Vegaria, the OOminians are pretty much confined to their own little solar system. The aggressive OOminians have overtaken all the planets in their solar system. The peaceful OOminians, who allied themselves with Vegaria after the attacks, now live in a continuous war zone, afraid to even step outside of their homes for fear of being conscripted or, worse, of being imprisoned and killed.

Other planets in the galaxy have tried to help the peaceful OOminians, helping them to escape and providing a place of refuge for them. Some of the refugees have even made their way to Vegaria and been granted admission as refugees. At the same time, however, the aggressive OOminians have been sneaking out of their solar system and launching guerrilla attacks on other planets. Citizens of Vegaria fear that OOminia will launch another attack upon them.

Two OOminian refugee families have settled in a large city on Vegaria. They both have found jobs and are trying to make a home for themselves and their families on what is to THEM an alien world.

It is very easy to identify OOminians. While Vegarians are quadrupeds with heads at the end of an expandable neck, OOminians are amorphous blobs that ooze from one place to another by means of extending pseudopods from their bodies. OOminians are also very slimy, and carry slime applicators with them wherever they go to keep their skin from drying out in the atmosphere of Vegaria.

One of the OOminians, Poth, finds a job with a company that has a diverse group of employees, including many other aliens. The other OOminian, Jav, finds a job with a different company that doesn’t hire many aliens. All of Jav’s co-workers are Vegarian.

Poth feels very welcome at his company. Poth’s manager tells him that she isn’t familiar with the OOminian culture and that she will depend on him to help her learn about it. At staff meetings, she makes a point of asking Poth how certain situations would be addressed on OOminian planets. Poth is frequently invited to dine with his co-workers, and he sometimes joins them after work for drinks. He even joins the company basketball team, where his ability to extend his pseudopod to great heights makes him a very popular player.

Four times a day, OOminians have to do a ritual called spreading out, where they extrude several limbs from their bodies as far as they can and then slowly re-absorb them. The ritual takes about 20 minutes. After trying to complete this ritual quietly in the limited space in the men’s restroom, Poth talks to his manager who secures permission for Poth to perform his spreading out in privacy in a large storage area.

Jav’s workplace is different from Poth’s. Her coworkers make a point of wiping their hands after shaking hands with her pseudopod. Sometimes they hide her slime applicator—when Jav mentions this to her manager, the manager tells her that the co-workers are just kidding. A couple of times at staff meetings, Jav tries to make suggestions based on her experiences on OOminia, but her manager quickly shuts that down. “We are not on OOminia,” her manager says firmly. “You need to learn how we do things here.”

Jav also has a difficult time finding a place to perform her spreading out ritual. Co-workers complained after they walked into the women’s restroom when she was performing the ritual, so she asks her manager for ideas on where she could go. The manager shrugged. “I have no idea,” she replied. “I’m not even sure we should be letting you do this on our property or on company time. I’ve heard complaints from the others that you are getting special treatment. Maybe you should clock out and go home to do your little thing.”

Not wanting to cause trouble, Jav starts leaving at lunch and goes home to complete her ritual. She doesn’t really mind because no one ever eats with her anyway. Everyone moves away from her when she enters the lunchroom, and if she tries to sit next to someone, they quickly get up and leave. Her manager tells her it’s because of her body odor.

Because she can only clock out of her job once during the day, Jav performs her spreading out ritual 3 times a day instead of 4. It makes her uncomfortable, especially since her co-workers still hide her slime applicator on a regular basis, so her skin frequently develops large dry spots.

Meanwhile the aggressive OOminians continue to attack other planets, including some in the Vegarian solar system. People on Vegaria become very concerned about the possibility of another attack from Vegaria on their own planet. Some people demand that OOminians living on Vegaria be registered and put into special camps, or even exiled from the planet. Random groups of armed Vegarians begin standing guard outside of houses where OOminians live, keeping armed weapons pointed at the doors. “We’re keeping an eye on the oozers,” they announce loudly. “They can’t bomb us if they can’t leave their houses.”

Poth’s manager talks to him about it. “How are you and your family doing?” she asks with concern. “I know things are pretty unpleasant right now.” Poth confides that he had to walk through a group of armed Vegarians that was stationed outside his house when he came to work that morning. He had actually kept his kids home from school because he was concerned for their safety. The next morning Poth answers a knock at his door to find a group of his co-workers standing outside. “We’re taking you to work,” they say. “And some of us will make sure your kids get to school okay. Those wingnuts will have to go through us to get to you.”

Jav, however, steps out of her house on the same morning and is also met by a group of armed Vegarians. To her horror, she recognizes some of her co-workers among the group. She steps back inside and calls her manager to let her know she can’t make it in to work. The manager tells her that she won’t be paid for the day.

Jav hesitantly tells her manager that some of her co-workers are part of the armed group surrounding her house. “They are on their own time,” the manager says curtly. “They took some vacation time. They have a right to do whatever they want on their own time.”

Jav hangs up and goes to her computer to look through her messages, including several from friends and relatives left behind in the OOminian solar system. She reads through them, answers and deletes them in turn, except for one from a distant cousin. He has been estranged from Jav’s family for years as he is a member of the OOminian military and has been a key figure in several of the recent attacks on other planets. However, she finds herself reading his message over and over again. “Hi cuz! I hope you are okay. I hear things are kind of uncomfortable for OOminians on Vegaria right now. If you are having any problems, let me know. I might know some people who can help.”

Jav nervously extrudes a pseudopod and reabsorbs it several times. Then, slowly, she begins to type. “Dear Cousin, thank you for your note. Things are very scary here right now. I would really appreciate your help.

Six months later, Jav’s manager stares bleakly at what is left of the building where she used to work and shakes her head at the reporter. “I can’t believe it was Jav,” she says. “She was always so quiet. She had a couple of problems when she first got here, but once she settled in, I never heard anything from her.”

“What about her co-workers” the reporter asks. “Did she get along with them?”

“As far as I could tell. They were always joking around with her.” The manager bows her head. “I just can’t believe they are all… gone.”

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I am both saddened and enraged at the cowardice and lack of humanity being shown by too many Americans today, many of them Republican politicians.

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So much for being the home of the brave when we are too cowardly to provide shelter and protection to those coming to us for help from horror and abuse.

So much for being the land that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” when we turn away those in need.

And why are we so willing to give up our shared humanity, our ideals, our empathy and what had been considered deep seated beliefs? Two reasons.

First, Paris was attacked by Muslims, and the refugees are Muslim. Never mind that the vast, vast majority of Muslims condemn these terrorists. Never mind that these refugees are also victims of the same people who attacked Paris.

You would think that the victim of our enemies would be considered sympathetically and efforts made to help them. But too many Americans are refusing them, vilifying them and even comparing them to rabid dogs. They want to kick out any Syrian refugees already here and refuse any more. Men, women, and children. No matter that they have nowhere to go and that returning to Syria would result in their deaths.

Second: a Syrian passport found near what remained of a dead terrorist. From that many have made a leap to concluding the terrorists are coming in with the refugees. Never mind that all the other terrorists were French and Belgium, many of them being born and raised in those countries. Never mind that the mastermind was not a refugee and was instead a Belgium, being both born and raised there.

And never mind that the passport was likely faked, and the possible terrorist was not a Syrian refugee, as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

And why, one might ask, would a terrorist organization wish to plant a passport to stir up fear and animosity against the refugees. The reason is simple, it is because the vast majority of Muslims are against them and their terrorist tactics. It is because they know that most Muslims do not believe as they do. And so they set it up where we, in our fear and ignorance, will act in such a way so as to push the moderate Muslims into their arms. They want us to do the work of radicalizing the majority of Muslims, and in so doing grow their ranks for them.

And we, cowardly, ignorant, fools that we are, gladly do so. Governors are refusing to house the refugees. Republican Presidential candidates, supposedly bright and moral people of courageous convictions talk of not only not taking more refugees in but sending those we do have away. Others wish to use this as a pretext to take away the rights of some Americans, those who are Muslim. Warrantless searches, making them wear a special ID, refusing to build new mosques or tearing down ones already built. When it comes to Muslims and refugees our fears are turning us into Nazi’s

And in our fear of the terrorist, we wind up helping them recruit new followers. We make their lies about us true.

Religious liberty! Hah! Only for the Jew and Christians. They can live by their laws as they wish. But not the Muslim. The U.S. wants to ban them from doing so.

Religious liberty! Hah! Only for the Jews and Christians. They can build churches and synagogues where they wish. But Muslims trying to build a mosque face protests and refusals. Even the attempt to create a Muslim cemetery resulted in protests and a massive effort to deny them.

A land of hope and opportunity, a haven for those in need. Hah, they turn away hurt and crippled children. Unless they are Christian.

Some talk of the risk that a terrorist may sneak in among the refugees. They say that we need to ensure that the US has a proper vetting process to keep the terrorists out. This includes all manner of politicians and presidential candidates.

Ignorant fools.

Our vetting process already takes 18 to 24 months. As this Atlantic Monthly article discusses, this includes background checks by the UN Commission for Refugees as well as background checks by every intelligence and security agency the U.S. has – Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Defense Department and others. In addition to these background checks these refugees face multiple interviews as well as a physical exam. This is the most secure and thorough vetting process we have.

The result of this vetting? Of the 784,000 refugees that the U.S. has accepted since September 11, 2001 only three people have been arrested for terrorist activities. “None of them were close to executing an attack inside the U.S., and two of the men were caught trying to leave the country to join terrorist groups overseas.”

So I call bullshit on all of those governors and Republican presidential candidates who say we need to examine and modify our vetting process, that we don’t have one. They are in the position to know better and should. They are using the politics of fear to gain power.

As for those who are buying into that fear and hatred – get informed. Don’t stay so ignorant – it is a disease that can be cured. Do not let your fears and bias keep you blind.

People such as the Syrian refugees are why we have a refugee program, so that we can live up to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Words that we have a dismal history of failing to live up to, but one that I hope we will someday.

So despite our ideals, despite our extensive and successful vetting, despite the desperate need we say, “No, never mind all of that. We reject you, we deny our shared common humanity, we deny our own stated ideals and values. We are instead afraid of you, of refugees such as the family whose five year old daughter lost a leg in the violence in Syria and whose 11 year old son lost two fingers. No, we quiver in fear and turn a blind eye to you and with a cold and hardened heart turn you away, reject you. Just as we have done other refugees in the past.”

And in so doing, in so saying, we provide immeasurable help to the enemy, the violent Islamic extremists.

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Unlike France which has announced that even after the attacks they are not only still committed to taking in 20,000 refugees but will now take in 30,000 Americans seemingly have no moral courage and empathy for those in need.

Fools. Cowardly fools.

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Today there is a news story about a man who cold bloodedly shot and killed three Muslims students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A possible motive of the killer is that he is an atheist and hates religion. Regardless of the accuracy of this I find it interesting how many atheist blogs are saying that atheism has nothing to do with promoting violence and that this violence cannot be pinned on atheist beliefs as they can with theistic beliefs.

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A typical example of this line of reasoning is from a blog by Joshua Kelly titled Atheism Did Not Kill Three Young Muslims in Chapel Hill:

“I’m not entirely convinced that any motive that might be stated could criminalize the idea of atheism or the atheist community’s aims and goals, even if he were to outright comment something as blatant as: “I killed them for atheism.”
This sounds immediately like a hypocritical statement. But, while it is true that faiths like Islam have inked within their primary tenets of morality mandates to slaughter those who leave the religion or those who outright oppose it, as do Christianity and Judaism with equally horrific language, we must absolutely remember that atheism does not have a series of standard social doctrines. We do not have a Bible. We do not have a Koran. The atheist mentality is stemmed from the simple truth that there are no gods, and thus the individual acts on philosophical bases on his own choosing. This contemptible man, whether over a parking spot or because of an innate psychopathy or any other reason, cannot be said to have killed anyone because his non-god told him to do it. “

I have several problems with this sort of reasoning.

First, it seems to me he is arguing that beliefs do not effect behavior, or have consequences in our behavior. Or at least atheistic ones do not.

Yes, not believing in God does not in and of itself create or hinder a disposition to violence. However, neither does a belief in God. What does determine that is what else is attached to this belief or non-belief. And just as with theism, what is attached can be conducive to violence, it can be against violence, or it can be neutral.

And that is the other thing that bothers me about this reasoning. It treats religion and all religious belief as if they were all the same. But they are not. They are varied in their exact beliefs, in how they practice and manifest their beliefs and how they interact with society. And yes, there are violent passages and exhortations within most sacred works that atheism does not have. But then, there is also much inked into their sacred works promoting social justice, equality, love, and charity. Something atheism also lacks. How these contradictory strains within religion become reconciled and acted upon depends on a great many factors beyond just believing in a God.

Although atheism does not have a sacred work, the same process is at work.

To take just one example, as an atheist do you value rationality above all else and feel that irrationality is at the root of all evil? Combine that belief with the belief that religion is the height of irrationality and has done nothing but evil, and then combine that with a belief that all Muslims are terrorists and responsible for acts such as 9/11, and viola …you have the makings of a killer. A killer looking for a trigger. Or possibly a killer just looking for an excuse. But then many of the deaths attributed to religion are really nothing more than killers looking for an excuse.

And least you think this is all theoretical, I would say that something very like this has already played out in the real world, and not just once. The Soviet Union with its promotion of atheism and its discouragement of religion as an evil. Or Albania under the Soviet Union. Or Communist China. All of these regimes have jailed, tortured, and killed believers just because they were believers. For that matter, you can look at the French Revolution as another example of this.

Neither the belief in God or the non-belief in God by themselves promote or hinder anything. It is what is attached to these beliefs as it interacts with the personal situation of the individual that determines that. And to me, to dismiss Christians or Muslims or other theist’s explanations for why violence committed by their practitioners is not really their fault but then to do the same as they when the killer is an atheist is indeed hypocritical.

Which brings me to my final objection to this line of reasoning. It divorces atheism from being human. Humans are capable of both great and good deeds and also terrible and evil ones. This means that human beliefs are brought in to serve in both human capacities. To say that this cannot happen with atheism seems to me to push atheism out of the realm of human belief and into….I know not where. However, wherever it winds up it winds up then not having any relevance to our existence.

Science can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by science. Philosophy can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Medicine can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Religion can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by religion. All of human thought and experience can be used for good and evil and that good and evil thereby justified by those thoughts and experiences. Except for atheism apparently.

Sorry, not buying it. Not believing in God is a human thought, a human belief, and like all of humanity’s creations it can be linked up with other ideas to do both good and evil. To pretend otherwise is to delude and blind ourselves to reality.

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“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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The Pew Research Foundation released a poll about the troubles happening in Ferguson Missouri the other day that, while it doesn’t surprise me, still greatly concerns me. The findings of that poll were:

Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown’s death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.
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By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
Fully 65% of African Americans say the police have gone too far in responding to the shooting’s aftermath. Whites are divided: 33% say the police have gone too far, 32% say the police response has been about right, while 35% offer no response.
Whites also are nearly three times as likely as blacks to express at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting. About half of whites (52%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the investigations, compared with just 18% of blacks. Roughly three-quarters of blacks (76%) have little or no confidence in the investigations, with 45% saying they have no confidence at all.

This same distrust of the police in Ferguson by blacks is also seen more generally in other polls, such as a recent Gallup poll.

All of these reactions are symptomatic of the underlying gap in the ways whites and blacks view the police in the U.S. today. Blacks have significantly lower levels of confidence in the police as an institution, and lower assessments of the honesty and ethics of police officers specifically.

Why this difference between how most blacks view Ferguson and the justice system and how whites view the same?

Is it because blacks are lazy and wanting handouts; to be coddled and want to moan and groan about how hard they have it rather than actually working to improve their own black culture?

Is it because whites want to protect their privileges; hate or dislike minorities of any sort, but especially the blacks?

While there may be a small minority of whites and blacks to whom this applies, for the most part both answers are wrong. I think what is needed is for all of those involved to walk a mile, or better, many miles in the other’s shoes. Let me say here that while I think it necessary for both whites and blacks to walk those miles, it is more important that whites do so. Whether they believe Elaine Riddick,Tony Riddickthere is a real problem or not the fact is that whites have the greater power. The system gives them that power both economically, politically, and in terms of justice. Those with the power almost always have the greater responsibility to correct and fix the problem. Besides, too many whites are in denial and have to play catch up. Until they do, until most whites recognize that there is a real problem in regards to race, nothing will happen. Blacks already know there is one, which puts them one step ahead.
For those whites who do not see this as a racial issue and believe that race it too often blamed and talked about, that we live in a post-racial age – I would ask, have you ever considered polls such as the Pew poll I quoted from? Or the Gallup poll I mentioned? You do not get that amount of suspicion, that amount of mistrust of the justice system on the part of blacks unless something is causing it.

In addition to the polls, consider the following facts:

  • A 2013 report by the Public Advocate Office of New York City found that when stopped by police and frisked it took “93 stops of African Americans to find a weapon” while a weapon was found on a white person “in one out of every 49 stops” . It took “61 stops of African Americans to find contraband” , but only 43 stops of whites to find contraband. Despite this, and despite whites being a larger share of New York’s population than blacks, blacks still constituted “84 percent of all stops” by the police.
  • According to the Death Penalty Information Center, even though only 50% of the murder victims were white, over 75% of the cases that resulted in the death penalty had white victims. A 2011 study by Pierce and Radelet found that in some parts of Louisiana “the odds of a death sentence are still 97% higher for those who kill whites than for those who kill blacks. These results are remarkably consistent with general findings from previous research across a multitude of jurisdictions in the United States over the last 30 years
  •  A 2013 analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found prison sentences for blacks were 20% longer than for whites convicted of similar crimes

These few facts are only a small sampling of similar facts that are backed up by a large number of studies showing that the belief of blacks that our justice system is not blind and favors the white person is accurate. Even more, it not only favors the white person, but harangues, harasses, and can be an active danger to blacks.

blackgirlsconfinementBut, go beyond those numerous studies showing racial bias within our justice system and spend some time talking and, more importantly, really listening to blacks. For example, one of the companies I worked for had a production plant in an almost all white community. My black workers all had stories to tell of police who would pull them over and question them as to why they were there and what they were doing. They would often leave early every day to ensure that on those days there were pulled over they would not be late to work. This happened despite the fact that these workers had no outstanding tickets or warrants, had no defect with their car, and were not given any tickets.

Do I really need to say that my white workers very, very rarely got pulled over. And this is only a mild version of what blacks experience.

The miles walked in the other’s shoes is for the white to understand that there is a racial problem in the United States so that they will take action. Because I hear it so often, I know that many whites will point to police shootings of unarmed white men and of police mistreating white people too. And it does happen, and I discuss one such story shortly. However, when you take a look at how often it happens, it happens much more often with blacks. In fact, while it is not difficult to find a white person who has had no problem with the police, it is very difficult to find a black person who has not had difficulties with the police. Often multiple times. And that difference is significant and troubling, and needs to be corrected if we are ever to have a truly just society.

I also know that many will point to all the laws that have been changed and enacted and then say “Surely justice is blind now!” However, it is not. The reason for this is that laws and the workings of the justice system consists of much more than just words on paper. Words on pages cannot do anything. It takes people to carry out the meanings of those words – police, judges, lawyers, jurors, etc. And if people are still biased and make judgments based on a person’s race, then even though the laws may be color blind, their enactment is not.

For the blacks the walk is needed in order to understand that this problem is usually not the result of overt racism, but the more subtle unconscious bias and bigotry that influence reactions and views. Fortunately, today people who are overtly and almost rabidly racist are a minority. Most Americans would say that they are not prejudiced and do not discriminate. Yet the facts show that most do. The reason for this discrepancy is due to unconscious attitudes and biases that even the most liberal of people can have in regards to race; biases and attitudes that have prevented our justice system from living up to her blindfolded standards, despite the advances made in our legal codes.

For example, which would you find most threatening when walking down a dark street at night, a black man or a white one? If you say black, then when serving on a jury for someone who shot in “self-defense” an unarmed black man because she felt threatened and at risk, you are probably more likely to sympathize with her and to either let her off or give her a lighter sentence. After all, you know from your own experience that a black person is threatening.

In Benaji’s and Greenwald’s book Blind Spot The Hidden Biases of Good People, they compare our social knowledge to that of the eye in that both have blind spots. In regards to social knowledge, this consists of what we think we know about different social groups.

These bits of knowledge are stored in our brains because we encounter them so frequently in our cultural environments. Once lodged in our minds, hidden biases can influence our behavior toward members of particular social groups, but we remain oblivious to their influence.

With this sort of hidden bias in place even in good people, it becomes evident why our justice system still has racial equity problems. Police will become more suspicious more quickly with the actions of a black person than a white. When a white person charged with shooting a black person claims that they felt threatened, juries are more likely to believe that since they too feel more threatened by a black person than a white.

Injustice

To put this in the context of the shooting of Michael Brown, the officer could well not be racist in imagesregards to his beliefs. However, due to his unconscious biases he saw a threat and reacted to it even though it did not exist in reality, or he resorted to deadly force sooner than he might have if faced with a white person who he did not see as threatening. In other words, it was not malicious intent on the officer’s part, but unconscious bias. That is not to say that if the evidence shows he shot and killed Brown when he had his hands over his head that he should not suffer the consequences, only that the source of the problem needs to be adequately defined before we can ever hope to deal and correct this on-going social blight.

What makes this even worse is the fact that some of these actions on the part of police and others is not due to racism or unconscious bias. For example, Libby Anne in her Love Joy Feminism blog recounts her extremely frightening experience with a police officer. Libby is a white, college educated woman with no police record and who as pregnant and with her young son when this happened, and it really gave her a sense of what blacks must experience all too often. It is well worth reading.

Now, if you are white take a walk in a black person’s shoes now. You know that you have been stopped by the police for just being black. You have friends and family who may have experienced worse just for being black. If what happened to Libby had happened to you, wouldn’t you too put it down to racism instead of a bastard cop? It becomes hard to distinguish the reason for things such as what happened to Libby, but since racism still exists and makes its presence known in our society and our justice system, then it becomes too easy to ascribe all such actions to racism. Such actions are always wrong, yes, but not necessarily racist. But how does a black person tell the difference?

And so those whites who sit on their comfortable chairs and refuse to put on a black person’s shoes and take a stroll will point to those cases where the cause was not racism even though some blacks may have claimed it to be and then ignore all those other times when it was. And Ignore the fact that this sort of action is so common that it clouds many individual incidents and thereby makes it all worse.

To bring this back to Ferguson, did the officer fear Michael Brown because he was big or because he was big and black? This would not be a case of overt racism but one of hidden biases if so. Until we know for sure what happened it will be hard to say with certainty. The protestors in Ferguson do though have a right and cause to be upset. Too often such incidents become ignored and forgotten by the system. And given the disparity between the racial composition of Ferguson and of its police force, and the many documented incidents between police and citizens there, if I were there I would be protesting too.

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Until most whites acknowledge the flaws in our justice system in regards to race there will be no true solution. And the events of Ferguson will continue to tragically happen.

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Most of us like and seek to simplify a complex world. We look for a THE CAUSE and focus on that, interpreting all of what we see about this and that through the lens of THE CAUSE. And that is where most of us get it wrong most of the time.

The great majority of world, societal, and cultural problems – the Islamic State, Israel/Palestine, Russia/Ukraine, Ferguson, police shootings, illegal immigrants, etc. etc .etc .- are not the result of a THE CAUSE, but instead, are more like a falling leaf.

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To determine how a leaf will fall and where it will land it is not enough to know that gravity will pull it to the ground. Using that alone to determine where a leaf will land will result in far more mistakes than correct answers. The reason for this is tha5 many other factors play a role equally as important as gravity in determine a leaf’s final resting place.

Things such as wind strength, direction, and variability; the shape of the leaf; whether it is a fresh leaf or a dried one; altitude (air pressure). In fact, as the leaf tumbles through the air how it presents itself to the air and wind changes and in doing so change how fast it is falling and its direction in complex ways that cannot be simply modeled. Indeed, for a time, the leaf may even rise instead of fall due to these factors. It can even, eventually, wind up on higher ground than where it started.

To-the-Promised-LandHuman affairs are most often like a leaf.image

Too often I see a one word or sentence cause for an issue: US created ISIS, Israeli aggression, Palestinian aggression and terrorism, racism, lawlessness, personal responsibility, economic inequities, etc. Most of the time such answers are, at best, misleading and simplistic or, at worst, wrong. And even in those cases where they may indeed correctly identify a primary cause, it is not sufficient in and of itself to really understand what has/is happening and most definitely not enough to come up with good answers.

While researching and seeking to understand these individual parts and their role in causing whatever the current issue is – racism and Ferguson, Israeli policy and actions, etc. – taken by themselves they only create misleading illusions that, when taken for reality, leads to wrong and usually harmful actions.

Just as a scientist may study how the wind effects a falling leaf, how its shape matters, and all the other factors involved in its falling, when it comes time to actually predict the leaf’s fall all of these have to be combined with our understanding of gravity in order to at least have a chance at making an accurate prediction.
Bottom line – beware of the limits of simple answers. Resist their lure. Keep in mind that due to the fact that as the leaf falls it changes how gravity, air resistance, and wind affect it so that it can become almost impossible to accurately predict where it will land, so too do human affairs change and morph and change making accurate predictions difficult even when all factors are considered. The challenge quickly escalates beyond difficult to impossible when those factors are not considered.

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Recently my newspaper had an editorial about a local issue. The subject doesn’t really matter, what does is the fact that they criticized the Fort Worth School Board for missing the opportunity to teach the students a valuable lesson- that life is not fair.

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I am not going to get into the specific issue itself. Instead, let me discuss a more general truth and what it means, namely that life is not fair. The editorial is correct in this much – life is not fair. That is something every person experiences over and over again throughout their lives, from birth to death.

Further, let me add the related fact that the universe is a cold and uncaring place. Whether you do well and prosper, whether you suffer unspeakable pain and losses, or whether, like most, you fall somewhere in between – the universe neither cares nor notices.

Of course, that is not the universe’s job. It provided us life and a place to live that life. Nothing less and never anything more. To imagesexpect more from the universe and life than what it has already given you is an exercise in futility and frustration. However, there is more to be considered here, because within this universe we, humanity, exist.

It is our job, yours and mine, to create fairness; to create justice and mercy. We are a social animal, an animal with empathy, with a sense of justice, with a sense of fairness. Such has been demonstrated among our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, as well as seen in our own very young, our babies. We have a need for justice, for fairness, for mercy. It is one of the reasons that religion came about. It is the reason why we have made such gains throughout the ages – established justice systems, developed democracy, established and expanded human rights, developed more inclusive and expansive moral codes.

equality-vs-justiceAnd this is where my local paper, the Star Telegram, got it so very, very wrong. Their mistake is, live-so-that-when-your-children-think-of-fairness-and-integrity-they-think-of-youunfortunately, a too common one.

Yes, life is unfair and the universe does not care. But, that is not their job. It is our job, our responsibility to supply, as much as we can, what life and the universe lacks: fairness, justice, mercy. The Fort Worth school board got it exactly right in their decision to pay these young people.

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