Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Below is an excerpt of the first part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky, the most rigorous-minded leftist of whom I have ever heard.  In the interest of promoting a genuinely free market place of ideas, I have decided provide Dr. Marlensky—or Leon, as he insists upon being called—with an opportunity to express himself to audiences—my readers—who he would otherwise never reach. 

JK: Dr. Leon Marlensky, I thank you for being with me here today.  

LM: The pleasure is mine, Jack.  However, I implore you: please, please call me Leon.  And I hope that you will not take offense at my insistence upon referring to you by your first name. 

Titles like “doctor,” signifying as they do distinctions of power and authority, belong to hierarchical modes of thought.  They serve to further the class oppression in which the Western world has been saturated since its inception.  This is why I don’t even call my parents “mom” and “dad.” Nor do I call my grandparents “grandmother” and “grandfather.”  I am equally determined to make sure that my children and grandchildren don’t call me “dad.”  There are only first names in my universe.         

JK: Please forgive me, sir, I only meant….

LM: Please, sir is even worse than doctor. Sir, like “mister,” not only allies itself with “doctor” and the like by furthering classism.  Titles like “sir” and “mister” perpetuate sexism as well.  And I know that you meant no ill will in addressing me as “doctor;” most people mean no ill will when they speak.  But this is the problem: it is not our individual intentions, but the social structures to which they collectively give rise, that matter.

JK: But “sir” is just a manner of speaking.

LM: I don’t mean to single you out here, Jack. You are no different from most people in thinking that speech is one thing, action another.  But speaking and acting are one and the same. Every phrase, every sentence, is a “speech-act” that takes its place in some discourse or another.  These discourses, in turn, structure the asymmetries of power that characterize the West.

JK: So our civilization is….

LM: With all due respect, there you go again. 

JK: What did I say now?

LM: You said not one, but two things that have done incalculable damage to humanity.  First, you said “our civilization.”  Second, you said “our civilization.” 

“Our” implies “not them.”  Next to “mine,” there is probably no other term that is more exclusive than “our.” Yet in the case of the West, things are even worse, because “our” has always referred to white Europeans.  That is, “our” has been an indispensable instrument in the promotion of White Supremacy.

“Civilization,” in turn, serves this same function.  If there are civilized people, then there are also uncivilized or primitive peoples.  The concept of civilization not only introduces a sharp divide between “the civilized” and everyone else, but it justifies the oppression of the latter by the former.

JK: So, the use of the term “civilization,” at least when it is used by white men and women, justifies racial oppression?

LM: Exactly right. 

JK:But Dr.Marlensky—

LM:Leon, please.

JK: Sorry.Leon, while no one would deny that blacks and other nonwhites, like American Indians—-

LM:  Excuse me, there is no such thing as an American Indian—-

JK: Once more, I apologize. Allow me to rephrase. While no one would deny that blacks and other nonwhites, like Native Americans

LM: Sorry Jack, but neither is there such a thing as a “Native American.”  The concept of a “Native American presupposes the concept of AmericaYet the latter is a Eurocentric invention, the creation of Europeans.  Come on Jack! America is named for Amerigo Vespucci, you know that!  And Vespucci, as you are equally well aware, is of European stock, a white man. 

JK: Ok. Fine. Let me begin my question again, but this time minus the allusion to any specific nonwhite group other than blacks.  While no one would deny that—-

LM: Wait! With all due respect, Jack, listen to what you’re saying. “Nonwhites?”  Have you ever met anyone who identified her or himself as a “nonwhite?”  The concept of a “nonwhite” is a negative concept, the negation or privation of the positive concept, the good, of whiteness.  “Nonwhite” stands in relation to “white” as disease stands in relation to health, or darkness relates to light.

“Nonwhite” is a racist category without which the system of White Supremacy couldn’t long survive.

JK: Just a minute,Leon.  Just a minute.  We also—

LM: What do you mean by “we,” Jack?  To whom does “we refer?  Though less explicitly exclusive than “our,” “we” too is a pronoun that has served to divide and conquer.

JK: By “we” I refer to us, to—-

LM: Us? Don’t you realize that “us” always implies a “them?”

JK: Leon! Please. In this culture, this country, we—the citizens of America—also use the term “nonblack.”  Is this an illegitimate concept too?

LM: For the purpose of facilitating this exchange, Jack, I’ll refrain, for the moment, of noting that the notion of “citizenship” is an intrinsically racist one.  For now, suffice it to say that, yes, “nonblack” is just as supportive of White Supremacy as is “nonwhite.”  Think about it: the concept of black is a social construction, a Eurocentric social construction.  It is a category that whites devised and then imposed upon a diverse array of peoples from the continent of Africa.  Prior to the invasion of Europeans, Africans didn’t regard themselves as “black.” They defined themselves in terms of their tribes—not the monolithic “black” that whites came up with to identify them.

JK: Oh, I get it.  You believe that a more suitable label is “African-American”—-

LM: Jack, Jack, Jack. As I said before with respect to the racism of “Native American”—

JK: Right, right.  I forgot: “African-American” is racist also, for it presupposes “America,” which in turn is the invention of whites.

LM: Now you are catching on.

The second part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky will be published soon.   

 

     

 

 

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On the front page of the January 18th-20th weekend edition of USA Today, one of the headlines reads: “Can You Forgive?” The article uses Lance Armstrong’s recent “confession” of “doping” to Oprah Winfrey as the point from which to segue into a discussion of the broader topic of Americans’ readiness to extend mercy to those celebrities who have veered from the straight and narrow path.

Rick Hampson writes: “From Bill Clinton (again toast of the Democratic Party) to Charlie Sheen (again a sitcom star) to Michael Vick (again an NFL quarterback), the bar for public redemption seems to have gotten lower and lower.”

This one article provides much food for thought. 

Unfortunately, it is all junk food.

USA Today expresses our culture’s conventional wisdom on this matter of forgiving those public figures who have fallen from grace. And this is exactly what we should expect would pass for wisdom within a culture that elevates celebrity status above that of every other station.

“Forgiveness” and “redemption” are concepts that originally emerged within a religious context—specifically, the context(s) of Judaism and Christianity.  Within this framework, they are preeminently meaningful.  Once they have been dislodged from this setting, though, they open themselves up to the worst sort of abuse.  Hampson’s USA Today piece is a classic case in point.

I cannot forgive Armstrong.  Neither can you.  Nor can either of us forgive Clinton, Vick, Sheen, Don Imus, Richard Nixon, or any other celebrity who throws himself at the mercy of the court of public opinion.

It isn’t that either of us is necessarily merciless.  Rather, we can no more forgive any of these famous penitents for their offenses for the same reason that neither of us would ever think to offer forgiveness to the other’s spouse for undermining his or her marriage.

In other words, neither you nor I can forgive the rich and famous for their transgressions because they didn’t transgress against us.

Real forgiveness is among the most painful things in the world for both the persons who ask and offer it.  The person who seeks it is pained by the acute realization that he has wronged another.  Yet he is also pained by the fear that his request will be rejected and he will be humiliated.  The person who is asked to forgive is pained by the transgression. But he too is afraid, for in forgiving, he will render himself vulnerable to being harmed once more.  Maybe he will even be thought weak, a sucker.

In the Christian tradition, forgiveness or mercy is a virtue, an excellence of character.  Like any other virtue—whether moral, intellectual, or physical—it comes about only as the result of the blood, sweat, and tears of those who make the point of practicing it.

To suggest that we can collectively “forgive” a person who hasn’t lent us any personal offense and about whom we could care less isn’t just to cheapen the concept of forgiveness; it is to cheapen it to the point of extinguishing it.  

In remarking that “the bar for public redemption seems to have gotten lower and lower,” it isn’t upon Americans’ ever growing capacity for forgiveness that USA Today comments.  It is, rather, their ever growing capacity to tolerate shameful conduct to which it speaks. 

A country that is indifferent to the most shameful, most dishonorable, sorts of conduct is itself shameless.  In conflating this most odious of vices with forgiveness, the noblest, the most divine of virtues, we convict ourselves of more than just an intellectual error.

We hurl ourselves into the depths of moral confusion.

The problem is that as long as we insist upon treating our vice as virtue, the less likely it is that we will recognize our shamelessness for what it is.

And the less likely it is that we will be able to practice forgiveness in our personal relationships—where it belongs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The conflict over “gun control” is just the latest episode to reveal the unadulterated hypocrisy of President Obama and his ilk on the left.

Obama and his fellow travelers style themselves champions of “the downtrodden,” “the poor,” “the middle class,” and everyone else for whom “the rich” allegedly has it out.  But if they really are who they would like for us to think they are, if their rhetoric was consistent with their policy prescriptions, then we should not expect for them to favor restrictions on the Second Amendment—i.e. “gun control.”

If those on the left were consistent, then we should expect to hear Obama condemn as “un-American” and “unpatriotic” the gross “inequality” or “disparity” between “the wealthiest one-percent of Americans,” like himself, and the other “99%” on the issue of security or self-defense.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama blast “millionaires and billionaires,” “the children of privilege,” “the powerful,”—like himself—for the “greed” that they have shown in availing themselves of means of self-defense that they deny to “the disadvantaged” generally and “minorities” in particular.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama decry the “unfairness” of “the advantaged,” like himself, lecturing working class, middle class, and lower class Americans about the need for “gun free” zones while sending their own children off to well-secured private schools.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama demand a more just “distribution” of benefits and burdens vis-à-vis the issue of security or self-defense.

Just as the fabulously rich and powerful—like Obama—have the resources and connections to evade oppressive tax laws, so too do the fabulously rich and powerful—like Obama—have the resources to evade oppressive gun laws.  Those who are not so rich or powerful, however, are made to feel the brunt of both.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama renounce the “racism” of “gun control.” 

Those areas with the highest incidence of gun violence are overwhelmingly poor and black.  Those responsible for the gun violence almost always possess their guns illegally.  Only if they are armed can the law-abiding residents of these neighborhoods hope to defend themselves against the criminal predators in their midst.  But “gun control” makes it difficult, and, in some instances, all but impossible for this to happen. 

As long as upper-crust whites and blacks—like Obama—have the means to self-protection while poorer blacks are denied such means, racial justice remains elusive, we should expect to hear the President say.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama reject “the classism” of “gun control.”  The latter imposes burdens upon “the 99%” of which “the one-percent”—like Obama—are free.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama wax indignant over “the sexism” of “gun control.” 

Purveyors of gun violence are overwhelmingly men.  Men are also, on average, larger, stronger, and more aggressive than women.  There is no greater equalizer, nothing can more swiftly “level the playing field,” than a gun. A gun is the greatest means by which women can defend themselves against men.

For disempowering women, “gun-control” furthers “the misogyny” to which women have been subjected for far too long.  It functions as another sign that ours is a society that remains mired in “patriarchy.” 

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama lambast “the ageism” of “gun control.” 

The perpetrators of gun violence are almost always found among the young. And since the young are, on average, stronger and more aggressive than the aged, the latter are particularly vulnerable to being attacked.  Again, nothing can help the cause of egalitarianism along more than that of a gun.  The elderly more so than anyone else need to be able to arm themselves. 

“Gun control” promises to leave this need unrequited.

If those on the left were consistent, “gun control” would be recognized as the Second Amendment killer that it really is.

If those on the left were consistent, they would no longer be on the left. 

 

 

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President Obama’s decision to have himself surrounded with school children as he announced his “proposals” to deal with “gun violence” on Wednesday caused a lot of hand wringing among his opponents. 

“Demagogic,” “offensive,” “disgusting,” and “shameless” were just some of the adjectives used to describe it.

I have no interest in defending Obama.  Anyone with an IQ above four and just a modicum of decency has no difficulty seeing the President’s rush to exploit children—both those who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook School shooting as well as those with whom he surrounded himself—as the intellectually and morally impoverished enterprise that it is.

But what does rationality and moral virtue have to do with political strategy? 

Obama and his fellow travelers on the left are often accused by their rivals on the right of “emoting.” That the left is not infrequently guilty of this charge is true enough.  Yet what those on the right refuse to grasp is that what they perceive to be a weakness is, politically speaking, the left’s greatest strength.

While this doesn’t accord with the myth—and, yes, it is indeed a myth—of the Wisdom of the American People, the brute, immovable fact of the matter is that when it comes to politics, the vast majority of American voters do not live by reason.  Emotion is the air they breathe.  Emoting is what they do.

That is, the left stands a far greater chance of making inroads with the average American voter because the left speaks his language.

Notice, I am not suggesting for a moment that the average American acts unduly irrational or emotional. It is the average American voter who acts thus.  It is within the realm of politics, particularly national politics, that he is most susceptible to abandoning reason, for the average voter is just not all that attentive to the events that unfold on this stage—or how those events are framed so as to serve predetermined political ends.

As the conservative theorist Joseph Schumpeter noted, the average voter “drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field.” Schumpeter explains that he “argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests.  He becomes a primitive again.  His thinking becomes associative and affective.”

Translation: the average voter emotes. 

Not only does the average voter “tend to yield to extra-rational or irrational prejudice and impulse,” but “because he is not ‘all there,’ he will relax his usual moral standards as well and occasionally give in to dark urges which the conditions of private life help him to repress.” 

The average voter then becomes easy prey for “groups with an ax to grind,” groups that “are able to fashion and, within very wide limits, even to create the will of the people” (emphasis added).      

Whether Obama and his ilk have ever read Schumpeter is irrelevant.  They are more than slightly aware of the truth of which he speaks.

And there is nothing or no one that they won’t manipulate to advance their political agenda.

No class of persons, no event, and no emotion is exempt from being conscripted into the service of perfecting the left’s mission to “fundamentally transform” the country.

Republicans can bellyache all day long about Obama’s and the Democrats’ tactics.  Or the former can realize that only by playing the latter’s game, only by combating image with image, can Republicans defeat Democrats.

Republicans are not very adept at this sport.  Sadly, there is more than enough proof of this, but the most recent exhibition comes to us from last year’s presidential race when the candidates insisted upon centering the bulk of their focus on debts, deficits, and numbers that aren’t remotely fathomable to the average voter.  

If Republicans understood what Schumpeter and Obama know, then on Wednesday they could’ve choreographed a rebuttal to Obama’s push for greater “gun control.” Rather than surround themselves with children, they could’ve surrounded themselves with images—statues and/or paintings—of the men who ratified the United States Constitution. They could’ve delivered their rebuttal in front of a huge screen with the words of the Second Amendment on it, or grand illustrations of American colonists voluntarily taking to the hills and the streets with their guns in order to do battle with the English King and his Redcoats who threatened their liberties.

Besides reminding Americans of their Fathers and their Fathers’ legacy, this tactic could have also sent the powerful, if subtle, message that while Obama and company prefer to turn to little children for advice on issues of national import, the President’s enemies consult the wisdom of the country’s Founders.

 

 

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