What is your hierarchy of identity?

What does that phrase mean? Here’s a personal example, from my deepest and most important identification to the lesser identifications: I am a son of Jesus Christ, I am husband to my wife, I am father to my children, I am a citizen of the United States of America, and I am a resident of Spokane, Washington. That’s it, I need no other group identifications. If we were to measure the importance of a level in this hierarchy by our willingness to die for it or them, then I would say I am most willing to die for the honor of Jesus Christ. Next I am willing to die for the sake of my wife or my children and if necessary, for my country. I am not willing to die for Spokane, Washington but I do have real financial bonds connecting me to the community in which I reside.

My thesis is, grouping individuals into “black people” or “white people” is invalid, because those groups are not held together by a real bond. The amount of melanin in the skin does not create a bond. Yet there are plenty of people who identify with their skin color, so we need to discuss why that is. There are generally three main reasons why people group others and themselves by the amount of melanin in their skins. In my opinion, the reasons are, in likely order of importance: 1. There is a commercial or emotional advantage conferred by the grouping; 2. It represents a simple way of grouping people, requiring no thought or discernment; 3. It provides fodder for news people, politicians, and demagogues.

What I mean by #1, the commercial advantages conferred by grouping people into white or black is this, there is money to be made in some way: creating jobs that have to do with agitating their own group against another group; burnishing the reputation of the people doing the accusing (self-appointed spokesmen), so that they can seek political office, fame and/or fortune; getting victim compensation–from free Starbucks to settlements of millions of dollars–from labeling the sinful or misinformed actions of individuals as “racist”. Emotional advantage comes from either identifying with being oppressed so as to generate self-pity or outrage, or feeling you are superior merely by being a member of that group.

What could be easier than #2, grouping people according to race or skin color? It’s visible, and requires no thought or research about whether you have anything else in common with members of the group; you get to belong to something without entrance requirements! But if you insist, at least be accurate: “African-American” is an ignorant construct. What if they are from Jamaica, or have been born here–they aren’t African! So what if many generations ago their lineage was brought to these shores from Africa? How many of those being called African-America even know which countries their forebears came from? And, if they are not now citizens of the USA, they aren’t Americans. Black isn’t accurate either: they can be various shades of brown, from the darkest Nubian to the lightest Somali. What is accurate, at least racially and scientifically, is Negro. I am not white, I try to be tan, but it is accurate to say that am Caucasian. It seems like the more politically-correct or overly sensitive we get, the less accurate we become.

Fodder for news, politicians and demagogues, #3, could just as easily be considered a commercial advantage, especially because people in those groups get paid–directly or indirectly–by “keeping the pot boiling” and making sure the boiling pot doesn’t become a melting pot. How? The ingredients that keep the boiling pot from becoming the melting pot are outrage, arrogance, ignorance and hatred. Are those attitudes and emotions group characteristics or individual characteristics? Shame on you if you said group. Only individuals can manifest those. Aren’t there plenty of people of both “black” and “white” races who do not harbor animus towards those of other races? There are blacks who have died defending whites–think Tuskegee Airmen–and whites who have died defending blacks–think Freedom Riders. What would those (valid) groups think of the “identity politics” of today, wherein everyone is assigned to a group based on race, religion or history of oppression, and individuals are judged on the supposed history of the group to which the accusers have assigned them?

The validity of group identification

There are valid groupings. When I say “valid” I mean that all or most of the members of the group have relationships and emotional bonds with each other, due to shared beliefs or ideals, and the voluntary nature of the inclusion. The strongest of these bonds is love,  the willingness to sacrifice self-interest for each other, putting someone else first. I am not taking bout feelings, but actions. The group with the strongest bonds of love is the nuclear family, after which is the extended family, the tribe and, extending that further, the clan. Citizenship in a nation, especially one like the U.S.A., and membership in organizations that have clear entrance requirements, are also valid groups because there are relationships and shared beliefs or ideals, and inclusion is chosen and voluntary.

Other valid groups are teams, military units and employees of a given company, because they all participate in, benefit from, defend and promote the welfare of the groupThe crux of the matter as to whether I consider a group valid is that very last clause. Grouping by race or melanin or past history fails my test. You might ask, “Who are you to question the motives or validity of  group politics and labeling?” Well, who are you to have herded individuals into arbitrary groups and then set them against each other?

My fellow Americans have become abusers of the First Amendment.

The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution is invoked by every special interest group, every school, every newspaper, every form of electronic communications, and every self-described victim in the United States. It is invoked to defend that person or group’s right to free speech. It is invoked against employers, media, parents or anyone in a position of authority. Claiming my “first amendment rights” evokes a reaction in the “oppressor ” like the dawning light does to Dracula or the Cross does to the demon-possessed. There is a small problem with this: The first amendment is addressed only to Congress. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Therefore, almost every “free speech issue” has nothing to do with the first amendment, unless Congress is working on a law to curtail it. The first amendment assumes that “freedom of speech” is a given, and the danger of restriction is that of government shutting it down. But when it comes to adjudicating the endless competing claims of advocates for their own interpretation of what is “free” and what is unacceptable, that should NOT be a matter for courts to determine “under the first amendment.”  THE FIRST AMENDMENT NOWHERE STATES WHAT KIND OF SPEECH IS ACCEPTABLE. What can be done to deal with speech that incites violence or slanders individuals unjustly? Notice, I did not say “slander groups.” It is individuals who are hurt by slander.

There’s nowhere the free speech issue and abuses of the concept are more ubiquitous than (anti)social media and the internet. What our founding fathers probably intended when drafting the first amendment was preventing, in order, State support of a particular religious denomination (Church of England) and government suppression of speeches like that of Patrick Henry (“Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death”), which sounded the clarion call to overthrow tyranny. Noble ideas in keeping with the reasons for founding a nation……..”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…..”, as the Declaration of Independence states have become spurious justifications for pornography and the vitriol of the internet. (Anti)social media honchos love to invoke the idea of free speech while being complicit in subverting it. Some excerpts from The New Yorker piece entitled Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet March 19, 2018:detox internet

Yishan Wong, Reddit’s C.E.O. : “We stand for free speech,” he wrote in an internal post, in 2012. Reddit’s goal, he continued, was to “become a universal platform for human discourse.” At the time, Wong’s free-speech absolutism was ubiquitous in Silicon Valley. Twitter’s executives referred to their company as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” Facebook’s original self-description, “an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges,” had evolved into a grandiose mission statement: “Facebook gives people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Social-media executives claim to transcend subjectivity, and they have designed their platforms to be feedback machines, giving us not what we claim to want, nor what might be good for us, but what we actually pay attention to. There are no good solutions to this problem, and so tech executives tend to discuss it as seldom as possible, and only in the airiest of platitudes.

In 2012, without notice or permission, Facebook tweaked the feeds of nearly seven hundred thousand of its users, showing one group more posts containing “positive emotional content” and the other more “negative emotional content.” Two years later, Facebook declassified the experiment and published the results. Users were livid, and, after that, Facebook either stopped conducting secret experiments or stopped admitting to them. But the results of the experiment were clear: the people with happier feeds acted happier, and vice versa. The study’s authors called it “massive-scale emotional contagion.” 

Melissa Tidwell, Reddit’s general counsel, told me, “I am so tired of people who repeat the mantra ‘Free speech!’ but then have nothing else to say. Look, free speech is obviously a great ideal to strive toward. Who doesn’t love freedom? Who doesn’t love speech? But then, in practice, every day, gray areas come up.” Earlier that day, I’d watched Tidwell and a colleague spend several minutes debating whether a soft-core porn subreddit, r/GentlemenBoners, should be included in standard search results. “Does free speech mean literally anyone can say anything at any time?” Tidwell continued. “Or is it actually more conducive to the free exchang/e of ideas if we create a platform where women and people of color can say what they want without thousands of people screaming, ‘Fuck you, light yourself on fire, I know where you live’? If your entire answer to that very difficult question is ‘Free speech,’ then, I’m sorry, that tells me that you’re not really paying attention.”

Reddit, Facebook, YouTube and on. I guarantee you, the masses of people who have something to say, no matter how asinine, will always be steps ahead of the censors, no matter how well intentioned. The “free speech genie” has escaped the lamp, and those who make the most noise are the ones getting their wishes granted. Individuals can sue for slander, but hurt feelings? Too late.

Shit, i’m a white male!

Okay, what now? Melanin injections and perming my hair? Gender “reassignment hormones and surgery? Oh wait, I’m almost 72 and fully unemployable and retired. Whew, that’s a relief. i can just be what I am.

Imprimis, a wonderful publication of Hillsdale College, presents guest lectures in written form. The following is from the April 2018 edition, by Heather MacDonald, entitled The Negative Impact of the #MeToo Movement: Pressures for so-called diversity, defined reductively by gonads and melanin, are of course nothing new. Since the 1990s, every mainstream institution has lived in terror of three lethal words: “all white male,” an epithet capable of producing paroxysms of self-abasement. When both categories of alleged privilege—white and male—overlap, an activist is in the diversity sweet spot, his power over an institution at its zenith. But however pervasive the diversity imperative was before, the #MeToo movement is going to make the previous three decades look like a golden age of meritocracy. No mainstream institution will hire, promote, or compensate without an exquisite calculation of gender and race ratios. 

Gender, diversity, and inclusion were the dominant themes at this January’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The conference was chaired exclusively by women. Windows were emblazoned with slogans like “Diversity is good for business” and “Gender equality is a social and economic issue.” CEOs shared their techniques for achieving gender equity. It’s actually quite simple: pay managers based on their record of hiring and promoting females and minorities, as Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta explained. Never mind the fact that by introducing irrelevant criteria such as race and gender into an evaluation process, you will inevitably end up with less qualified employees.

The public radio show, Performance Today, ran a series of shows in March about gender and racial inequities in classical music. At a time of diminishing classical music audiences, it is profoundly irresponsible to direct the poison of identity politics at our most precious musical institutions. Doing so only encourages potential young listeners and culturally ignorant philanthropists (I’m thinking of you, Bill Gates) to stay away. Orchestra boards will pay penance for their own inadequate diversity by a mad rush on female conductors, whose numbers are minuscule. It was already difficult two years ago to land a U.S. conducting position for a universally esteemed white male conductor, reports his agent. Now it would be nearly impossible, the agent believes, adding: “If I had a trans conductor, I would be rich.”

There is much more, but you get the gist. National Review, in the May 2018 issue, features an article called And the Victims Will Lead Us. This is all about “victimology.” But what is that really? Perhaps the real issue is entitlement. Being a victim is being deprived of something you deserve, something you are entitled to, something that is your right, be it life, liberty or the ability to pursue happiness. But what is anyone REALLY entitled too? And by what authority?


Entitlement and gratitude.

Family conflicts are probably the most painful of all conflicts in life. Having been a financial planner the better part of 25 years and a psychotherapist for most of my career years before that, and of course a father and a husband, I’ve come to learn a lot about conflicts. Because my natural inclination is to look for patterns in things, I’ve looked long and hard for the patterns that underlie family conflicts. And I believe that it’s mainly the misunderstanding of gratitude and entitlement. Resentment festers when someone believes that someone else should be grateful for what they’ve done for them. The person who feels entitled generally doesn’t even notice it. For that person, it’s hard to be grateful, because if you’re entitled to something why should you be grateful for it? Some people are defined by their gratitude, others by their entitlement. Which is which?

National Review, May 2018, led with a cover touting their lead article, And The Victims Will Lead Us.  Here’s a part of it: In the 20th century, Americans often claimed their rights and privileges as members of the middle class, demanding what was owed to “people who work hard and play by the rules.” Many Americans who were a bit poorer or a bit richer than the middle class still politically identified with that great mass of citizens. It was a rhetoric built around the idea that the middle class works to create wealth and deserves its share of it. Now, Americans group themselves into ever smaller and more-besieged minorities. Our political vocabulary is now about what is owed to each individual or group, regardless of the value of the work performed by that person or group. And claims for rights are made in a corporate persona. Instead of each person’s speaking for himself, people now issue political demands “as a member of” this or that community. It’s almost as if each individual finds meaning only insofar as he conforms to an abstracted or imagined political model. “Speaking as a woman” simply cannot be done by a female who is not a feminist. This cultural hegemony has many names, and we encounter them constantly, in a less sophisticated form, when feminists denounce the patriarchy, when sexual minorities critique heteronormativity, and when racial minorities define their mission as the upending of white supremacy.

The American ruling class broadcasts its soulless utilitarianism when it comes to politics. It tries to make every political problem into a mere technical policy challenge. But there is a loophole for those who are not initiated into this highly abstract form of political discourse. Utilitarianism admits just one criterion for allocating sympathy, resources, and attention: suffering. So if you want to participate in political debate, but you don’t want to master all the academic studies on your particular problem or interest, take account of all the methodological biases of these studies, and then find a platform where you can make your case — if, in short, you don’t want to become a nerd — your only chance of having a public voice is to become, or represent, a victim. This is the only chance to put passion — or spiritedness — back into a political conversation that is usually lifeless and technical.

Someone who walks into these environments looking for the intellectual parry and thrust of debate is instead told, “Your job is to listen.” The expectation that no one would dare to interject or question the personal testimony of the victim of oppression is not so different from the expectation of silence during the reading of the Gospel in a church service, or during a homily. Your job is to listen. And it is here, I would suggest, that the politics of the victim touch something deep in the soul of modern man. They are in some ways the residue of Christian thought and ritual in a Western world that offers little traditional religious education or formation. The premise of victim politics is like a mirror image of devotion to the Suffering Servant. Just as in Christianity, so in social-justice politics: The wounds of the primordial victim testify to the broken state of human nature and society at large. For Christians, the cross is a kind of throne, and the crown of thorns becomes a sign of authority. The paradox of Christianity is that the Lord reigns as King precisely because he offered himself as Victim.

The religious aspect should be evident to anyone who offers a rational critique of some identity-politics shibboleth only to be told “You’re denying my identity” or “You’re erasing my existence.” It’s a mysterious response at first. You offer an argument and are told that you disbelieve in someone’s existence. It sounds like an accusation of atheism, for a good reason: You’re being charged with heresy, and if you do not desist, you reveal yourself as morally reprobate, as one who would, with full knowledge, repeat the Crucifixion. Or if you prefer the current academese, you are one who “reifies the structures of oppression.” You love yourself more than you love the victim-god standing before you, the one exposing his wounds and offering you forgiveness on condition that you recognize his pain, confess your unearned privilege, and promise obedience.

Once the explicitly political claims are filtered out, what is left over in victim politics is a churchly way of being in a world that has escaped the bonds of religion. We are contending with a longing for recognition and esteem and for a mission that has a transcendent horizon; no form of human governance can ever satisfy such desires.
There it is. The need for transcendence, the so called God-shaped hole, cannot be filled with anything on earth. The beauty of following Christ is that we who have been declared guiltless by our transcendent savior can now be grateful that we didn’t get what we deserved for our enmity against God. We were entitled to wrath, we got mercy, we are grateful for that greatest gift. But those who seek their salvation in their entitlements can never be grateful for anything, because their true longing can’t be satisfied by what they are seeking. And they will never give up their futile quest until they meet the true Savior.