Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reacting to Race

Evan Coyne Maloney at Big offers us a heuristic for understanding everything from why criticism of President Obama is seen as racist to the failure of the traditional media to investigate ACORN to the reporting on the Kanye West boorishness at the Country Music Awards. Maloney tells us that there are several rules we need to keep in mind, and once we have mastered them we will understand all else. It's sort of like finding the DaVinci Code. Anyway, here are the rules:

  1. If a person is a member of a group guilty of past racial oppression, that person has no moral standing in relation to anyone in any group that's ever been a victim of that oppression.
  2. A member of an oppressor group is always assumed to be guilty in relation to a member of a victim group.
  3. An oppressor can only avoid presumed guilt by making a display of his or her sympathy for the oppressed.
  4. Members of victim groups can lose their moral standing by expressing a preference for individual rights as opposed to group rights.
  5. Advocating on behalf of a victim makes one almost as unassailable as being that victim.
  6. Coming to the defense of an oppressor is even more repugnant than being that oppressor.

Maloney applies the rules in order to interpret the three stories mentioned above, but he could have cited others. The reaction to the beating given to a white student to the cheers of the black students on a school bus would have almost certainly have been much different had the races been reversed. As it was, the media, leery of violating rule #2, focused their commentary almost entirely on the kindness of the boy who stepped in to stop the assault, and the possibility of racist motivation was scarcely mentioned even though the victim was one of only a few kids on the bus who was white. If the races had been reversed there's little doubt that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have been on the scene demanding justice for the victim and the media would have been amplifying their voices. Instead, because it was a white kid that got beaten by black kids, the story, like others of its kind, quietly slipped off the media radar screen.

If we really wanted to move beyond race into the post-racial promised land that we heard so much about during the presidential campaign wouldn't we start applying the same standards of judgment to everyone regardless of their skin color? Let's judge people by what they do. Let's judge them by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Here's my rule, call it rule #7: Regarding any interracial incident, ask whether the reaction to the episode would be different were the races reversed. If the answer is yes, then something is wrong with one of the two reactions.


Refusing to Face the Emptiness

In a book review at First Things Edward Oakes makes the following observation about atheism:

In Untimely Meditations, Fried�rich Nietzsche spins a tale that goes like this: Once upon a time, on a minuscule planet orbiting a mediocre star, clever little animals emerged from the slime - and not long after began using puffed-up words like truth and goodness. Even worse, they thought they could attain genuine knowledge in this ultimately dead world. But their little C-grade star eventually cooled, and these pathetic little creatures died out, and with them died their proud words and hard-gained knowledge. The universe shed not one tear but merely looked on from its cold, infinite, uncaring skies.

One must at least credit Nietzsche for drawing out the consistent implications of atheism. Recent atheists, in contrast, seem to preach their atheism with an odd fervor, and one looks in vain for these overheated unbelievers to acknowledge that atheism entails a pointless universe. Perhaps, though, we should sympathize with our current crop of evangelizing atheists. Nietzsche's pointless-universe thesis is so difficult to maintain that not even he could manage it. In a later book, The Gay Science, he came to the conclusion: "It is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests - that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato: that God is the truth, that truth is divine."

Rare is the contemporary atheist who takes his atheism as radically as did Nietzsche.

Indeed. Rare is the atheist who can bear to live consistently with his atheism. As someone once noted, atheists refute their belief everyday by how they live their lives. They live as if their lives are full of point and purpose when, in fact, in a Godless world, point and purpose are empty concepts.

The irony of this is that the atheist is often at pains to accuse the believer of living by an irrational faith when, in fact, the very essence of irrationality is refusing to accept the logical conclusions of one's presuppositions. The paradigm case of irrationality is the modern atheist who tries to inject meaning into his life by undermining belief in the only thing that could possibly make life meaningful.

Like Nietzsche, the atheist Jean Paul Sartre sees the consequences of his atheism much more clearly than do many modern skeptics:

"I was thinking...that here we are eating and drinking to preserve our precious existence and that there's nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing." Jean Paul Sartre (Nausea)