Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine from Alabama shared on his Facebook wall an article from Alabama Political Reporter by a Mr. Josh Moon.

The title is, “An Apology for White People.”

Moon, a white man, writes that “white people in Alabama (and other states too, I presume)…like to pretend a lot that the wink-and-nod-racism that’s a daily part of life in this State is surprising to us.”

Besides accusing both “ignorant” and “smart” white Alabamans of being “racist” for telling “racist” jokes and daring to notice the color of those of some of their neighbors who cause trouble, Moon submits as proof of the rampant “racism” of white Alabama the case of Kenneth Nail.

Nail is the mayor of a town called Hanceville who requested of New Orleans that it send to Alabama the Confederate monuments that it razed.  Moon thinks he knows why Nail made this request, and it has nothing to do with “(*wink*) historical purposes,” he assures us.

“Maybe,” Moon says, Nail’s “decision was made because one of those monuments used to bear an inscription honoring white supremacy.”

Moon asks: How can blacks not find “offensive” statues to Confederates, “traitors,” as Moon describes them?  How could anyone not find offensive and hurtful monuments to a man who “kidnapped your mother, took her to a faraway place, routinely raped her, forced her to work without pay or benefits of any sort, denied her an education, beat her often and then discarded her when she became too sick to do the work he wanted [?]”

Only those who are “stupid” or “brainwashed” could fail to “understand the hurt” caused to blacks by monuments to the Confederacy.

Moon’s is a non-argument that wouldn’t be worth a response if it didn’t represent the Politically/Racially Correct orthodoxy of the day.  Due to spatial constraints, let’s just assume that we’re not living in the real world and that Moon’s claims are correct.  His own logic (or illogic) turns in on itself.

(1)If we’re going to eradicate from the public Confederate monuments because they commemorate “traitorous white supremacists,” then we must eradicate monuments to America’s Founders, “traitorous white supremacists” all of them.

The men and women of 1776, after all, were as much “traitors” to Mother England as the Confederates were “traitors” to America (Actually, neither group consisted of “traitors;” they were secessionists who wanted to secede peacefully from the geographical entity to which they belonged, and in the case of the Confederates, that entity was not America, but the Union.).

George Washington, the Father of America; Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence; James Madison, the Father of the United States Constitution; and Patrick Henry, the man who famously declared, “Give me liberty or give me death!” were all white Southerners who owned massive numbers of black slaves.

If Moon thinks only the brainwashed, the “stupid,” and the “racist” could fail to see how monuments to Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis cause “hurt” to contemporary blacks, then it follows that only the brainwashed, the stupid, and the racist can fail to see that monuments to our Founders do the same.

Racial enlightenment demands, then, that all cities and states; all currency; all schools; and all statues and portraits to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and many others must go the way of the dinosaur.

For that matter, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should be scrapped.  Can Moon and his ilk be so dense and callous so as not to recognize that in organizing our society around these documents and in treating them (at least rhetorically) with the reverence that we do that we affirm and reaffirm a legacy of “white supremacy?!”

If, say, Lee, who had only a handful of slaves that he inherited and that he freed, deserves no credit for any of his many accomplishments because he was a “white supremacist,” then surely Jefferson and Madison, both of whom traded in slaves and owned exponentially more slaves than Lee ever did, don’t deserve credit for any of their accomplishments.

Quite the contrary: they deserve to be held in contempt and their signature achievements, the Declaration and Constitution, respectively, the products of “white supremacists,” deserve to be junked.

(2)America itself, by Moon’s reckoning, needs to be renamed, for it was America that “kidnapped” Africans, “raped” their women, enslaved them and so forth.

Besides this, “America” was named after the European explorer, Amerigo Vespucci.  Every moment in the daily lives of blacks and “Native Americans” can only be spent in excruciating pain, for they are constantly reminded as long as they reside in America of the cruel treatment to which Europeans subjected them.

The very country of America is a standing monument to “white supremacy.”

Thus, the name “America,” like Confederate statues, must be relegated to the dustbin of history.

(3) The English language must be abolished. The indigenous peoples of this place that we call “America” never spoke English before they were forced to do so by their conquerors.  Neither did the Africans who were taken, against their will, to the New World.

Does Moon not see the “hurt” caused to blacks and reds insofar as they are reduced to speaking the language of their abductors, rapists, and enslavers?

(4)American civilization—its science, technology, commerce, entertainment, in short, all of those of its achievements created by its European settlers and their descendants that have made it the envy of and magnet for the rest of the world—should be reduced to dust and ashes.

Does Moon not see the hurt caused to blacks (and others) who are forced to live with so many constant daily reminders of their abductors, rapists, and enslavers?

(5) The terms “African” and “African-American” are standing monuments to “white supremacy.” We must purge them from our lexicon. The continent now known as “Africa” was never regarded as such by its indigenous inhabitants until the Romans, i.e. white folks, named it such.

And as we’ve already seen, the name “America” derives from the name of the European Christian man Amerigo Vespucci.

Anyone who uses these terms to identify others or self-identify perpetuates “white supremacy.”

(6)As the sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has shown, the very notion of the “individual” is, ultimately, a “discovery” for which the Christian West, i.e. Europe, deserves the credit. Other peoples, like African peoples, have always thought in more tribal or otherwise collective terms.

This in turn accounts for why it was only within the context of European or white Christian peoples that “racism” came to be regarded as a moral offense: Since it is the individual, made in the image of God and offered eternal salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, that is of paramount moral significance, it is immoral to mistreat people on the basis of such morally and religiously irrelevant considerations as race.

Does Moon not see the hurt inflicted upon blacks (and others) whenever someone, like himself, who is of the same color of their oppressors, claims that they are victims of “racism?”  In speaking of “racism,” and treating it as an evil, Moon implicitly privileges the Eurocentric, Christocentric ontology of “the individual” over the non-Eurocentric, non-Christocentric metaphysical-moral scheme of the tribe or collective.

Charges of “racism” are like statues of General Lee and the like in being monuments to “white supremacy:” They serve as constant reminders to contemporary blacks of their abductors, rapists, and enslavers.  The notion of “racism” reminds blacks that their minds have been “colonized” by the metaphysic of “individualism,” the legacy of a philosophical-theological tradition that was foreign to their ancestors and that they would have never imbibed had it not been for the injustices suffered by their people.

And here we have it.  Moon’s position, the racial dogma of our times, is self-cannibalizing. The (il)logic underpinning it proves too much.

Most importantly, it proves just how absurd is the Racial Correctness that Moon mindlessly parrots.

 

 

 

Since New York Public Theater’s Central Park rendition of Julius Caesar became the focal point of national controversy, a metaphor of the new era of political violence that Donald Trump’s election to the presidency has provoked the left to inaugurate, the play’s defenders have argued that it is all much ado about nothing.

After all, they claim, Barack Obama was depicted as the Caesar character some five years ago, but there wasn’t a bit of outrage over his assassination.  Similarly, neither should there be any outrage over the fact that the 2017 version features the assassination of a Trump-Caesar.

This argument is what’s known as an argument from analogy.  On its face, it seems both strong and cogent.  The truth, though, as I showed, is that this specific argument is lacking in cogency.  When Aristotle, the Father of Western logic, supplied his list of over 100 or so logical fallacies, the fallacy of false or weak analogy was among them.

The supporters of Trump-Caesar are guilty of committing this fallacy. They are, in other words, guilty of making a broken argument.

There are several, morally relevant differences between the two productions of Shakespeare’s classics.  Briefly, I recapitulate them here:

(1)As Rob Melrose, the director of the 2012 production, confirms, his “Obama-Caesar” was intended to be cosmetically, physically dissimilar to the real Obama. Both were tall, slender, black, and male, it is true.  But Melrose made sure that the differences were significant enough so that it was still possible for theater-goers to miss the Obama connection.

Oskar Eustis’ Caesar, in glaring contrast, was a dead ringer for Trump.

(2) Melrose’s assassination of Obama-Caesar had none of the blood, horror, and shock of Eustis’s assassination of Trump-Caesar.

(3)Melrose’s producer established that no one was to talk about their production of Julius Caesar.  So, outside of those relatively few who saw it, most people, whether Democrat or Republican, didn’t know about it.

Matters are, obviously, entirely different in the case of Eustis’ production.

(4) Five years ago, Democrat politicians were not being hunted down for mass murder by zealous right-wingers; Republican media personalities and artists were not overtly fantasizing about and encouraging violence against Obama; and Mitt Romney supporters were not being organized and financed by GOP billionaires and millionaires to intimidate and beat up Obama supporters.

In short, the climate of political violence in which we now find ourselves didn’t exist, or at least not nearly to the extent that it currently does.

There are, though, still other considerations that justify, not censorship of art productions depicting the assassination of politicians, but the different responses that the two versions of Julius Caesar engendered.

Noah Millman writes for The Week.  Millman is no Trump supporter—he calls Trump “the conspiracy-monger-in-chief” and says that “there is ample reason to be terrified of Trump in the Oval Office”—and The Week is not a conservative publication.   As Millman implies, Obama-Caesar is in keeping with Shakespeare’s portrayal of Caesar inasmuch as he possesses “a firm sense of his own transcendent importance,” an “awesome majesty,” and there is considerable “distance that separates him from even a noble Roman like Brutus.”

Trump-Caesar, though, is a different sort altogether. “This Caesar,” which is “played with broad humor,” “isn’t even much of a tyrant—he’s a shallow, vain, petulant man-child, strutting about, and embarrassing the senators even as the prospect of his kingship terrifies them.”

Upon placing Caesar’s words in Trump’s mouth “no one—at least no one in a liberal New York audience—can hear Caesar the same way.”  Millman elaborates:

“What once was grand is now petty; what once was awesome is merely domineering.”

This depiction of Caesar, Millman continues, “works shockingly well” by and large. The only inconsistency is “Brutus’s soliloquy in which he convinces himself to kill the tyrant.” It is here that Brutus tries to justify his decision to murder Caesar on the grounds that the latter may change for the worst if he “assumes dictatorial powers….”  This is inconsistent with the depiction of Trump-Caesar because, as is obvious to all who see him, the justification for murdering him is not some suspicion as to what his character could become in the future.  The justification, “the problem,” as Millman puts it, “is the character he already manifests” (emphasis added).

To put it simply, Eustis portrays Caesar in exactly the same light as he and his fellow leftists see Trump. His Julius Caesar is a petty, cocky, narcissistic, disgrace who shouldn’t be within miles of the levers of power.

Even if, as the remainder of the story of Julius Caesar makes clear, the assassination of this duly authorized ruler leads to the exchange of one social state of affairs for a far less tolerable one, this doesn’t change the fact that this Caesar, Trump-Caesar, deserves what he has coming to him.

Millman said that a key difference between Melrose’s Obama-based production and Eustis’s Trump-centric one is that Melrose “took the ideas” of Caesar’s enemies “seriously.”  Eustis, however, “is not so interested in the ideas behind the play as he is in the passions of the moment.”

To repeat, I draw out the contrasts between Obama-Caesar and Trump-Caesar not in order to argue for censoring the latter, or for the purpose of suggesting that it is not permissible to depict, in a work of art, Trump’s assassination while it is unobjectionable to depict the murder of other presidents. In fact, considered in the abstract, I wouldn’t even want to contend that there is anything necessarily objectionable about depicting the assassination of any living politician.

Rather, my point here is to support two theses.

First, the argument from analogy that the play’s supporters make is logically defective, for one is not even beneath the surface before their argument disintegrates under the weight of the critical moral differences between Obama-Caesar and Trump-Caesar.

Second, given the truth of this first thesis, those who are now expressing outrage over Oskar Eustis’ production are not, as their critics would have us think, acting either hysterically or selectively outraged.

Over Father’s Day weekend, on Friday and Sunday nights, Trump-supporting protesters crashed the New York Public Theater’s Trump-centric adaptation of Julius Caesar, demanding an end to “the normalization of political violence.” 

By now, it is well known that the Central Park production features a persona that is the spitting image of Donald Trump in the role of Caesar being set upon and brutally murdered—stabbed to death—by his enemies.

But, the play’s defenders insist, a 2012 production of Julius Caesar featured a Barack Obama persona as Caesar—and yet there wasn’t a whimper of protest.

A prominent Fake News and virulent anti-Trump publication, the Washington Post, leads with the headline, “Delta pulled funding from a Trump-esque ‘Julius Caesar’—but not from an Obama-like version in 2012.”    The Wrap, while referring to a recent exchange between Obama supporter Bill Maher and Alex Marlow, editor-in-chief for Breitbart, was incredulous over the fact that neither man knew about the Obama-esque Caesar.

The Wire rhetorically asks: “So how angry did liberals get over that production? Not even a little bit.”

I have been suspicious.  After all, virtually every criticism of Obama, however race-neutral, was transformed by his administration and the President’s fellow partisans into a “racist” attack. Obama had most of the so-called “mainstream media” covering for him at every move.  How, I wondered, could a character in a contemporized version of Julius Caesar, a dead-ringer for Obama, be mocked, bloodied, and assassinated without provoking howls of “racism” and the like?

For that matter, how is it that most people, including and especially his biggest admirers, like Bill Maher, are evidently unaware, five years out, that this play even occurred?

I had two questions:

(1) That “Obama-Caesar” was depicted by a tall black man does not mean that he was a genuine likeness of Obama (unless you believe that all tall black men look alike).  Was the character really a spitting image of the 44th POTUS?

(2) Was “Obama-Caesar” mocked, ridiculed, humiliated, and then stabbed bloody as was his Trump counterpart?

Unless both of these questions are answered in the affirmative, the analogy that leftists are trying to draw between these two Caesar productions is a false analogy and their argument fallacious.

Surely enough, Rob Melrose, the director of the 2012 “Obama-esque” Julius Caesar play, confirmed my suspicions—even though, given his praise of the 2017 production and his condescension toward the play’s Trump-supporting critics, this was certainly not his intention.

To my first question, Melrose writes:

“Our Obama-inspired production…didn’t have any gestures that tipped our hand to say ‘this is definitely Obama.’” In glaring contrast, “the Trump connections are more overt” in the 2017 Public Theater’s production (emphasis added).  Trump-Caesar “wears an overly long red tie” and “Calpurnia [Caesar’s third and final wife] speaks with a Slovenian accent [.]”

Melrose notes that there is significantly more comic relief in Trump-Caesar than was present in his own version.  “There is also much more humor and satire in the Public Theater production.” He commends the director, Oskar Eustis, “for finding so many genuinely funny moments” in a play from which it is difficult to mine humor, for “Caesar usually is not a very funny play [.]”

These “funny moments” include more than a fair share that are reserved for…mocking the President.  Melrose, however, dismisses this fact with a shrug, claiming that “Eustis is hardly the first person to make fun of the president.”

To my second question, Melrose admits that, unlike in his version, when his ambiguously “Obama-Caesar” meets his untimely demise, “the moment of this latest Caesar’s [Trump-Caesar] is shocking and horrific.”

So, Melrose’s Caesar was deliberately meant not to be an exact likeness of Obama.  It was meant to leave enough distance between Obama and Caesar so that audience members could miss the connection.  Eustis’s Caesar, though, is meant to leave no doubts in anyone’s minds that the character is Trump.

Melrose’s Caesar is not mocked and ridiculed throughout the performance, as is Eustis’s Caesar.

Melrose’s Caesar is not assassinated in a “shocking and horrific” manner. Eustis’s Caesar is.

There is, however, another reason why there was no public outcry in 2012.

“In 2012, the produce of The Acting Company, was very concerned that this production was going to get us into trouble, and she really didn’t want us talking too much to the press about the concept,” Melrose says.

There was no public outcry, hardly any media attention at all paid to Melrose’s version of Julius Caesar, for the production company made a conscious decision to keep it a secret of sorts.

There is one other fundamental moral difference between the 2012 and 2017 productions.

The political landscape was such in 2012 that Melrose believed it plausible that—I’m not making this up—those affiliated with the Tea Party, “Birtherism,” Mitch McConnell’s GOP, and/or—wait for it—the Cato Institute could be “so passionate about their beliefs and find the current situation so dire that they would resort to assassinating the president [.]”

In reality, of course, no one from any of these groups ever so much as threatened Obama or any or his supporters. Tea Party rallies looked like Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades, with participants leaving public areas cleaner than they found them.

The reality in the Trump-era couldn’t be more different. For well over a year, beginning well before Trump even received his party’s nomination, leftist thugs, many of whom were financed by leftist billionaires like George Soros and coordinated by Democrat Party operatives, have been crashing Trump’s  rallies and attacking his supporters. With the rise of the leftist terrorist organization “Antifa” (“antifascist”) and its affiliates, this climate of violence against all things Trump and Republican has only intensified, culminating very recently in the attempted murder of dozens of Republican congressmen.

When the slaughter of Trump-Caesar is read against the backdrop of the larger political climate, it is understandable, even justifiable, that people should view Oskar Eustis and the New York Public Theater as indulging the left’s fantasies of President Trump’s murder.

In other words, as I suspected, the analogy between these two productions of Julius Caesar is a false analogy.

In response to a recent article of mine on James Hodgkinson—the Bernie Sanders supporter and despiser of all things Republican who attempted to assassinate Republican congressmen in Alexandria, Virginia on June 14—a reader who self-identified as being “as far right as it gets” accused me of going “UNDER the gutter” for implicating the Democrats  and the left generally in Hodgkinson’s crime.

In my piece, I quoted from the shooter’s Facebook pages and those who knew him. My aim was to establish that, politically, Hodgkinson was of exactly one and the same mindset as any and every other leftist politician, celebrity, media personality, and academic who has been laboring incessantly for decades to convince the world that the Republican Party is the embodiment of evil.

As one notable 20th century conservative thinker once famously put it, ideas have consequences. Since, then, ideas are expressed in and understood through words, words have consequences.

It is precisely because of this that those who espouse them, and do so repeatedly, must assume some ownership of the actions performed by those who have taken those ideas and words to heart and acted upon them.

In most contexts, no one has any difficulty understanding this.

Among the moral philosophical traditions of the West, the oldest is what is known by moral philosophers as “virtue ethics.”  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle endorsed this vision of morality, and Aristotle specifically is universally recognized by philosophers as the premiere exponent of it, the first to give it systematic expression.

Christian thinkers in the classical and medieval periods, like Saints Augustine and Aquinas, would adapt virtue ethics to their faith.

By the lights of the virtue ethicist, morality is not, as many of our contemporaries are disposed to think, essentially a matter of following rules and/or principles.  Morality is essentially a matter of character-development.  “What kind of a person do I want to become?” This is the key moral question.

Virtues, like their contraries, vices, are habits.  Virtues are character excellences that the virtuous person acquires by habitually acting virtuously.  Conversely, vices are character flaws that the vicious person acquires by habitually acting viciously.

Human beings become virtuous and vicious, respectively, by acting virtuously and viciously.  Acting leads to being.  However, the only way for a person who is not yet virtuous to know how to act virtuously is for him or her to imitate someone who already is virtuous.

Knowledge of morality, then, is not, strictly speaking, taught but, rather, imparted. The recipients of a moral education—this would mean all of us—imbibe the knowledge that is imparted to us by moral exemplars, virtuous human beings who today many are inclined to call “role models.”

We learn morality as we learn so much else in life, through the example of others, whether these exemplars are people who we know intimately, pillars of our local or national communities, historical personages, or even fictional characters.

Of course, we also learn how to become immoral, or vicious.  And we learn this in the same ways in which we learn to become virtue—through the example of others.

Now, words are never mere words. Every utterance is a speech-act, an action of sorts.  Again, we all know this to be true, a fact borne out every time we praise and condemn people, especially those in positions of influence, for their words.

We praise and condemn people for their language, for the ideas that they express, because we all readily understand that words and ideas have consequences.

Moral agents, i.e. adult human beings, are unique in that they are not just causally, but morally, responsible for their actions. These actions, of course, include their speech-acts, what they say and how they say it.

Moral responsibility is not the same thing as causal responsibility. When a bolt of lightning, a force of nature, strikes a power grid, the former is causally responsible for the damage that it inflicts upon the latter. The lightning determines the damage caused to the power grid.

In stark contrast, moral responsibility presupposes free will, or indeterminism. No moral act is ever determined by antecedent conditions.  Moral acts are determined, if you will, only by those who immediately and directly choose to perform them.

So, James Hodgkinson is causally responsible for firing bullets into those Republicans who he preyed upon on the morning of June 14.  He also shoulders the largest share of the moral responsibility for this action, for it was Hodgkinson and no one else who chose to do what he did.

That being said, there are degrees of moral responsibility.  To suggest that those Democrats and leftists with loud and influential voices, those who served as Hodgkinson’s moral exemplars, those who imparted and reinforced the ideas that fueled him to go on a Republican hunting spree, shoulder zero culpability for the fruits of their tireless endeavor to demonize Republicans stretches credibility to the snapping point.

It’s like saying that all of the responsibility falls upon a black person who shoots police officers after being exposed to hordes of Black Lives Matter activists chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” This person is ultimately the most responsible for the act that he chose to do, certainly.  Yet it is equally certain that those who urged actions of the sort that this shooter engaged in also must assume some responsibility for their words, their speech-acts.

Their hands are not without blood on them. They are not without guilt.

And neither are those Democrats and leftists who continually spout the worst sort of lies about Republicans without the blood on their hands of the five Republicans who James Hodgkinson shot up in Alexandria.