Wednesday, June 10, 2020

If This Is What It Is (Cultural Tribal Trolling As "Conservative" Discourse)

I don't want it. This is a non-negligible reason why I do not identify as conservative. Debate and the expression of contentious opinions, especially in anything as important as politics, can tend to get heated, even among friends. We all make mistakes; we all have an opportunity to apologize and reverse course. There is a difference, however, between a person who makes a mistake, and somebody who repeatedly misrepresents someone else's position. It is perhaps complicated by the fact that there are livelihoods and money involved, but it should be a first principle of reasoned debate to take your opponent seriously. More specifically, to take any representations of moral stands to be genuine, until proven definitively otherwise. If I see a bunch of white women marching in remembrance of George Floyd, and ostensibly advocating for changes in policing, the charitable assumption is that they mean what they are saying and doing. It's not "virtue signaling" if you actually mean what you are saying. Even if it were granted that black Americans have paid far more of a cost in the struggle for equality--which is undeniable--what should the rest of us do? Should we not take a stand on anything, because in someone's estimation we lack the personal stake to care about the outcome of some event or policy? On the contrary; the very essence of solidarity is to take a personal stake in something that may not be your burden, because it is someone else's burden. God was right, and so was Obama: we are our brother's keeper; we are our sister's keeper.

Now, the very essence of practical politics is to argue about the means to achieve certain ends. Let that debate continue. Indeed, it was the presumption of bad faith toward Republicans and conservatives that made me sympathize and become one myself. Since then, we have become contented with our own tribal signaling, and such a palpable disdain for everyone who is not like us, that we cannot even construct an argument in the proper sense. If you'll pardon the overstatement, nothing makes a liberal out of an intellectual faster than that.

You may say to me, "This is but one person. There are others who do better than this." Perhaps so; yet that is a "Who's Who" of the conservative media universe. Even those blogs, I used to read every one of them. I have no more interest in trolling anyone, or "owning the libs" as they say. I know what I believe; I would like to think at least most times that I know why I believe it. I'm not scared of Nancy Pelosi, or Chuck Schumer, or Ilhan Omar. They can't take anything away from me that I don't give them. And if I should have the singular honor of serving with them to make America a better place for the people who live here, I would have even less interest in treating them as symbols or objects of fear and derision.

I have no true enemies in the world of politics; the gravest threats to our country today are disrespect, bigotry, and the kinds of indignity that escalate to violence. Even the smallest effort that I can make to show respect for someone else--even where I might profoundly disagree--fights against this tumult, this roiling unrest, which threatens the national harmony.

Feel free to get about the business of making our country and our society better than it is. But I will not allow some of you to pretend there is no difference between "better" and "worse" and that I cannot discern between them.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

I'm Not Known Especially For Warm Fuzzies, Anyway (The Limits Of Ecumenical Dialogue)

I agree with the Roman Catholic Church that it is the Church that Christ founded. That's what she teaches about herself; more fundamentally, that's what she believes about herself.
I suppose it could happen that a person becomes Catholic rashly, and is not entirely certain that they are submitting to the Church that Christ founded, and believing that what she teaches is revealed by God. Perhaps therefore, someone could leave without fault, and then return.
There is nothing which requires me to believe that some other set of truths is equally as good as that proclaimed by the Catholic Church. In fact, it would be an error for me to do so. Our graciousness and generosity toward those outside comes precisely from the reality of who Christ is, the certainty of the truth which He is.
My purpose, quite frankly then, is to remove the obstacles toward any one person's seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. Anything that we have in common I regard as a bridge to the realization of the Catholic Church as the true home of all Christians. I do not celebrate what we have in common simply for the sake of its celebration; rather, any appreciation that I have is in some sense the means to an end. I have a definition of "ecumenical dialogue" that is as follows: ecumenical dialogue is dialogue concerning the content of revealed truth, for the purpose of reaching agreement in that truth.
I was thinking about this in regard to someone who told me that they grew up Catholic, and are now Reformed. I appreciate a lot about Reformed theology; I used to live in those communities, obviously. There is a lot that is true. There is even more truth in some communities, and in particular Churches separated from us. But I cannot simply celebrate what we have in common, and not work to overcome where we disagree. In fact, it would be dishonest for me--even a bit patronizing--for me to pretend that it is I who must change my mind, if what I believe about the Catholic Church is actually true.
I haven't wasted too much time worrying about whether this makes me "extreme," because the truth is often extreme in comparison to what is false. That being said, I do not intend to trample upon anyone's conscience, and they are free consequently to believe whatever they judge to be correct. However, it seems to me that some people have an idea about "dialogue" which means that I have to be neutral about where it goes, and where it ends. It's almost as if the dialogue is the end, rather than the means to another end.
In saying all this, I am often ironically imagined to be some sort of hippie relativist, perhaps because sometimes I am easier on outsiders than I am my own brethren inside the Catholic Church.
In the end,--in all directness--I'll probably be less warm and fuzzy toward Rod Dreher or Chris Castaldo than I would be toward someone moving in the opposite direction; that is, toward me and toward the Catholic Church.

Revisiting "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" (1967)

I suppose I am in the mode of revisiting expressions of popular culture as they relate to race, given our present situation. We have a lot to think about, to pray about, and a lot positive that we can hopefully do, in the near future to make things better.

I rewatch this film a lot, as someone who had a brief interracial relationship in the past. In this film of course, the sexes are switched. A white man loving a black woman has other aspects of complexity, most of which I was not frankly aware of at the time.

I love this film, although let me start with the weaknesses. Firstly, John Prentice is the archetype of the perfect black man. Perhaps it was done this way intentionally, but in reality, it's the way you would have to do things--especially in 1967--to get some segment of your audience used to and comfortable with the idea in itself.

If you don't know the story, Joanna "Joey" Drayton comes home from a college break (or something) telling her family that she's gonna get married. Shockingly enough she says she only met him 10 days prior. Oh, and as an added bonus, she's white, and her fiancé is black. The great Sidney Poitier plays John Prentice, Joey's fiancé. Prentice is a well-regarded doctor with the World Health Organization, to say the least. Most relationships don't involve people like John Prentice. Most interracial relationships aren't this ideal. Perhaps that was the point.

The other huge weakness of this movie is that it keeps having all the characters talk about love as a feeling. Most of the characters go on and on about the two main characters, and their feelings for one another, as if that would be enough for anything, much less to survive the racism and discrimination that they would face. Actually, in defense of Mr. Drayton's hesitation, this discrimination and racism is a good reason--if there is one at all--for not dating interracially. And I guess I expect too much from a Hollywood movie, but I would want the Catholic priest in the film to talk about consent, and openness to life, and all the other things required to contract the marriage validly. On the other hand, no one is Catholic in this story except the Monsignor.

As to its strengths, it is delightfully subversive in the fact that the Draytons are committed liberals, who nevertheless have to face their own prejudice and hesitations at the prospect of their daughter marrying a black man. The maid Tillie is a bit stereotypical in some ways, but I appreciated her opposition as a reflection of her generation's fears about stepping outside the strict racial hierarchy under which many of them must have labored. In that way, the two fathers in the story share Tillie's fears. I still love Hillary getting fired. Katharine Hepburn's speech in firing Hillary is one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever.

I found another weakness. I don't like John's speech in challenging his father. It was heartfelt, but it was harsh. I could never say that to my own father; I would feel as though I had broken the commandment. I also didn't like that it seemed to reflect this naïve notion of "progress". Breaking away from the old ways sometimes is necessary, but by no means is it always good.

We still have so far to go, in that it still seems unique and challenging, common as interracial relationships may be today. The so-called "social" model of disability says that we are more hampered by people's perception of disability then we are by our disabilities themselves. I wonder if there is a similar idea in regard to race? That is not to say that I totally subscribe to the social model of disability, but I have found that it explains some aspects of my interactions with others, and the specific steps that I take to manage a certain danger or discomfort in those interactions. In any case, in regard to race, I wonder if it would help us to have more interracial relationships. It's not impossible, but I have found it is more difficult for people to hate their own families. Suppose George Floyd was my brother-in-law; I'd be more outraged about his death than others may be. I may feel strongly about race issues, because I would see them in my own family. I would see how that discrimination plays out in close proximity. I don't suppose I am required to agree with David French about anything, but he has a certain credibility on these issues, as the parent of a black child, and as one who has personally endured the injury of bigotry, against himself, and against his family.

I still believe that we will be able to change these conversations for the better, when we see everyone as a person, and as someone with whom I could be close. The victims of violence are just names--maybe faces--until they are something more.

Monday, June 08, 2020

You Shouldn't Have To Be A Saint Just To Live

That's what Candace Owens is missing. Eric Garner died for selling loose cigarettes. George Floyd apparently used a counterfeit $20 bill. Michael Brown apparently stole something. How "savory" do you have to be, to keep breathing?

Frankly, it's the defensive reaction of white people at the mention of the protests against these excesses that clues me in to a racial dimension to the discussion. I either have principles, by which I say, "these actions in these situations permit uses of force x, y, and z," or I justify my own comfort after the fact. Some of us would frankly just rather not deal with the fact that someone entrusted with the public safety probably murdered a man in cold blood.

As I saw a video of a Black Lives Matter protester invited to speak at a Trump rally,--this is as weird as it sounds--I nevertheless thought about how easy it is for someone to justify the death of Michael Brown, or Trayvon Martin, and others, by pointing out that they were not heroes. Very few are; should they die when the police--or others who arrogate that authority to themselves--decide arbitrarily to kill them? I suppose I'm glad that dialogue even at certain extremes is taking place, but it probably has the effect once again of normalizing Donald Trump, and making his movement seem acceptable. If you're asking if I think we have more to fear from Donald Trump than (most of) Black Lives Matter, the answer is yes. Take that or leave it; I don't care if it makes you angry.

This is how fascism advances: the steady normalization of state-sanctioned violence. This entire discussion is constructed--at least on social media--as a false binary. We either back the blue, so to speak, or we back lawbreakers and killers. How about a free people stands up and says, "neither!" At least not unconditionally.

I think it generally fair to say that white people who wanted their politicians to be tough on crime were not thinking about what it meant for the black community. The legacy and inertia of our racist past meant a racist result, even if it was not intended. Some of the woke brigades aren't even cutting black Democrats any slack, perhaps rightly so.

And at worst, we knowingly intended to keep black people away from us, away from our quiet, comfortable lives in the suburbs. They can entertain us, or serve us, but they dare not begin to think that they have equality and dignity. I put it in stark terms, so that we can look at it, and really think about it. Is this vicious racism lurking in our hearts? Maybe it does more than lurk.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Fruitvale Station

I just saw this film from Ryan Coogler. It tells the story of the final day in the life of Oscar Grant III, a man who died on New Year's Day of 2009. I'm not going to tell you anything about the story, but some friends and I wanted to be more aware in some small way of the black experience here in America. We had heard that this film was well-regarded, and it has launched the careers of Coogler, and Michael B. Jordan. You may recall that this director also gave us Black Panther, and the "Creed" series of "Rocky" spin-off films (also starring Michael B. Jordan).

I wept at the injustice of these tragic events. Oscar is somebody that you root for, even though you know he's made bad choices in the past--which the director doesn't hide from us, with flashback cut scenes--so the end is hard to take.

I understand why people are marching in the streets all over our country. I understand a little better why the group of friends went in the other direction when they saw the police. The events of that morning certainly vindicate their fear and hesitation.

My experiences have been different, which is why I wanted to see this story, and why I'm glad--despite the great sorrow it caused me--to have seen this film. If you have friends that are recommending films that will give you a sympathetic, yet realistic picture of black life in America, this is a good one to have on your list.