Friday, April 04, 2008


For a variety of reasons, this blog is on indefinite hiatus. I do so reluctantly but knowing it is necessary, and will be welcome.

I am a firm believer that all things come and go, that it is far better to leave when it is time to go than to overstay one's welcome. I have achieved some, though certainly not all, that I wanted through this marvelous medium, the most important being making real contact with men and women I never would have known but for it. To ER, drlobojo, Cameron, Democracy Lover, Park Life, Angry Ballerina, (H)apa Theology, and all the rest, I say thank you for putting up with my occasional impertinence, my effrontery at actually expressing opinions that, while certainly sincere, are also self-described as most likely wrong. I have learned much from all of you. Perhaps, some day, I shall find myself dragged back, and have to start from scratch, as it were.

In the meantime, blessings on all of you, peace be unto you, and try not to take yourselves too seriously. I never did, myself least of all (especially when I was at my most "serious").

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Some Heretical Thoughts, Part . . .Well, Who's Counting?

I was thinking yesterday, apropos of nothing in particular, about intercessory prayer. Like every other church I have attended in my life, much of our communal prayer time is spent listing the names of people in the hospital with various ailments, suffering various injuries, or the families of recently deceased persons. I have always been of two minds about this. On the one hand, it is an important part of our communal life to lift up those in need for others to be aware of. On the other hand, it seems to me (perhaps incorrectly) that we view prayer as a kind of magical incantation; if we pray, God will do whatever voodoo God do and bring about some kind of healing, or comfort, or whatever.

Prayer doesn't work like that. God doesn't work like that. Being the church does not include looking for the Divine Magic Bullet to cure our ills and hurts. When we pray for those in need - whether in terms of health, or finances, or those who mourn, or who are struggling with addiction or whatever - I do not believe we should be looking for God to "do something" beyond being present, providing strength, and offering an opportunity for others in the church community to actively participate in the support of those in need.

More important, I believe that intercession should be limited in our communal prayer life. We should be coming to God in humility, seeking to confess our collective brokenness, seek collective wisdom and guidance, and offer up prayers for the communities in which we live - prayers not for physical healing so much as for the life and spiritual health of these communities.

I figure that, since I have said that God doesn't really care all that much about the trivia and minutiae of our lives, I might as well be consistent and offer the view that God doesn't really care all that much about whether or not Aunt Martha has cancer. At least, God does not see disease and struggle and death as evils to be combated but as part of our life as embodied creatures. It is part of living as God's creatures that we will face such struggles, and should do so in the full acceptance that this, too, is part of being creatures. After all, God calls us, to quote yet again Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to die, it seems to me unlikely that God will make sure we live without the pain of suffering through a disease.

The suffering with which we Christians are called to live in solidarity is not the suffering of individuals facing physical ailment or discomfort, or the (inevitable) emotional pain of loss, but the suffering caused by human sin. That is to say, our intercessions should be for those whose lives are full of pain, and who are separated from the rest of the community either through deliberate exclusion, or the complex of circumstances that we often call "social forces". We should also seek to confess our participation in those institutions and practices that seek to exclude, that break our relations with others. While not excluding lifting up those suffering physical ailment or emotional pain, we should rather see this as a small part of our collective prayer life, and seek instead to offer our hope that we, too, will be the Church for those who need it.

More On Who Is And Is Not A Regular Guy

After my initial thoughts yesterday, in which I wondered aloud about the whole "regular guy" thing offered by that idiot Christ Matthews - and, yes, I will admit a bit of personal pique because I have an advanced degree but consider myself a "regular person" - I came across this post at Hullabaloo this morning, highlighting an interview with Karl Rove (why listen to this joker?) in which he says, among other things, the following:
There are Democrats, particularly blue-collar Democrats, who defect to McCain because they see McCain as a patriotic figure and they see Obama as an elitist who's looking down his nose at 'em. Which he is. That comment where he said, you know, "After 9/11, I didn't wear a flag lapel pin because true patriotism consists of speaking out on the issues, not wearing a flag lapel pin"? Well, to a lot of ordinary people, putting that flag lapel pin on is true patriotism. It's a statement of their patriotic love of the country. And for him to sit there and dismiss it as he did—

This way of creating non-patriots out of thin air goes back to the campaigns of George Wallace and Richard Nixon, who piggy-backed on Wallace's success. The emergence of the "southern strategy" was not just a way to use coded language to lure southern whites away from the Democratic Party by reassuring them that the Republicans would defend the peculiar institutions of white supremacy. It helped create the appearance of an emergent national majority by appealing - rhetorically if not electorally - to what became known in the literature as "urban ethnics". One of the principle researchers on the relationship between ethnicity and political identity, Andrew Greeley, did his most influential work in the early 1970's, and discovered that "urban ethnics" - self-identifying members of various national groups usually a generation or two removed from arrival in the US - were the most resistant to Civil Rights, feminism, anti-Vietnam War rhetoric, and other liberal causes.

Greeley's findings included the discovery that part of this lay in a certain sense of ethnic solidarity, as well as resentment, a resentment exploited by Wallace and later Nixon with all his blather about "the silent majority". The politics of racial and cultural division began not with the phony "race hustlers" but with racist white politicians who separated groups along a cultural, rather than socio-economic, divide. The end result of the politics of racial and ethnic division was not so much the creation of a Republican majority through the emergence, by the late-1970's and 1980 of "Reagan Democrats" but the depoliticization of an entire class of formerly engaged groups. The Republicans promised solidarity with what can best be described as the emerging petit bourgeoisie, but delivered little. By the time of the 1980 Presidential election, the lack of any coherent policy left the Republicans with a wonderful political advantage - they could continue to appeal to white ethnics, who would not vote, so they had no reason to follow through.

My problem with Greeley's research is that, by focusing on "ethnicity" as a variable - and it should be noted that he did in fact control for income and other economic variables - he further broke up any sense of solidarity among various voting blocs, creating a situation now where people like Chris Matthews can carry on about "the Irish" and "regular people" in ways that make no sense in regard to our current ethnic complexity, our socio-economic conditions, educational attainment, and other factors. In other words, this is an old way of thinking. Familiar, yes, and rooted in a passing snapshot of the American people, but hardly indicative of where we are now.

The fact that various folks, including an idiotic lip-flapper and dime-novel political manipulator, continue to talk this way shows how bereft our public discourse is; the transparency, the falseness of this entire way of discussing who we are, and what our politics is like should be obvious. The fact that Karl Rove can accuse others of being elitist - that's chutzpah, a sign of really big balls, rhetorically speaking (of course).

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What's In A Name

Shakespeare had Romeo ask that question, not quite rhetorically, because he loved a woman who was the member of a family of mortal enemies of his own family. To Romeo, besotted, names meant nothing. That, it seems, is the approach all adults should take, when name calling comes up.

In that spirit, the man Gen. Tommy Franks called "the stupidest fucking guy on the planet" is now calling those who protest the Bush Administration's torture policy "assholes". Which name would you rather wear, considering the sources?

A Good Critique Of The (False) God Of Creationism

Tristero at Hullabaloo writes frequently on the topic of creationism. His attacks on this pseudo-scientific, pseudo-religious ideology of ignorance occasionally pour over in to hyperbole, but this post nails the entire subject on its puny head. Using an "article" in a "creation science" site as a jumping off point - it looks at a bacterial endo-parasite and comes to no analytical conclusion other than, "Wow, that's really complex! God musta dood it!" - he (?) writes the following:
[L]et's play a thought experiment and simply accept the conclusion that it is "irreducibly complex" and God did indeed design a life history of trematode parasites. It isn't and it evolved, but you know, let's just say, for the sake of argument.

So what?

What a far cry that concept of God is from the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible, smiting enemies hither and yon, making the sun stand still! Gone is the God of the Gospels with a redemptive message of forgiveness uttered from the mouth of a crucified man betrayed and abandoned by his closest followers. This God, the God of creationism, is a dorky obsessive compulsive preoccupied with minutiae - I expect this God to wash His hands every five minutes and to check the locks.

In short, creationists provide a trivializing notion of what is meant by God, an illustration that "God of the Gaps" is not only non-science but crummy theology. Sure, the life history of trematode parasites will be explainable by natural causes should anyone care enough to study it closely (or, strictly speaking if you insist, it's far too early to throw up one's hands and say, "I dunno, whatever"). More importantly, no non-scientist searching for the meaning of God cares one way or the other whether the development of trematode parasites are "irreducibly complex." No one will ever start a prayer, "O God, without whom trematode parasites would not now live their parasitic lives in fish guts..."

What a bleak, sad universe these people live in. Bad enough their view of reality is thoroughly out of focus. They have a stunted imagination to boot.

They cloak their ignorance in awe at the false god of their own creation and call it the Lord of the Universe.


Some Things I Just Don't Understand

While I know it irks ER no end to call Chris Matthews a journalist, for better or worse he is one, and he lets his neuroses and just plain oddness hang out there for all to see and hear. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the guy who had to wipe drool off his chin at the sight of Pres. Bush in his flight suit back on "Mission Accomplished" day would wax all stereotypically gender about Obama's bowling score. What I don't get is the whole "regular guy" shtick, especially the whole business about being educated.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about how he -- how's he connect with regular people? Does he? Or does he only appeal to people who come from the African-American community and from the people who have college or advanced degrees?

I have an advanced degree, yet I work at a job that pays less than $12.00/hr. I work third shift, with lousy benefits - do I qualify as part regular guy, part effete latte-sipping elitist? What, exactly, makes someone "regular people"? My wife and I struggle from paycheck to paycheck, like most folks, and we always seem to be just a step, or even half-step, ahead of serious financial trouble. Both of us have Master's Degrees, my wife is an accomplished professional, influential in both our local community and within her chosen profession. We both enjoy Starbucks, Borders, jazz, and are raising our children without cable or satellite television. I write occasionally on abstruse topics in philosophy and theology, always with one eye on the fact that I have to be as clear as possible because, while it might make perfect sense to me, it doesn't to others.

This entire way of framing political discussions just doesn't really make any sense to me. I read enough stuff to know that some people carry a huge chip on their shoulders because they might not be as educated or "worldly" or whatever as others. In discussions with some such on the 'net, I have always found it interesting - and occasionally infuriating - that such people automatically assume that I view them, and their opinions, as less worthy of consideration not because they are logically flawed, or based upon factually inaccurate premises, or are poorly organized, but out of some built-in bias against those whose educational or other achievements are not the same as my own. I do not have any corner on any special knowledge or wisdom or information, and seek to learn from anyone and everyone. At the same time, I refuse to put up with nonsense cloaked in self-righteous indignation that he or she is entitled to some pass because, while not educated, his or her opinion comes from "regular people".

While probably standing accused by my own words as a hypocrite, I feel I have the virtue of at least admitting my own limitations, the probability of being wrong, and not believing there is any such thing as a privileged opinion from which to argue.

Matthews is such a chowder head (yes, that is an ad hominem attack; sue me).

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Matt Yglesias Expresses Bafflement

In this little post on the determination of the Bush Administration to get Ukraine in to NATO, Matt Yglesias writes the following:
The failure of U.S. policymakers to set priorities is a bit baffling. Why not ease up on Ukraine and try to work with Russia on stuff that matters more?

The answer is simple, really. The Bush Administration is fundamentally and deeply incompetent, doing and acting in ways that undermine, from top to bottom, our national security and our standing in the world. I would have thought that was understood by now, with no need to express befuddlement at the latest example of such behavior.

Death, Lies, Corruption - And Not A Word About Politics

One of those days where there just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of interesting stuff out there. So, I turn film critic. Look how clever and profound I am!

I am currently watching The Departed in stages, due to the fact that I can't watch it while the kids are awake. The latest Martin Scorcese gangster film, based upon a Japanese film, The Departed examines the parallel lives of a corrupt Massachusetts State Police officer in hack to southie gangster Frank Costello and an undercover cop who is so far inside Costello's organization that, in the end, he's the only one Costello trusts. One thing to note about this film is the prevalence of death - from family and friends of the main characters to anonymous bloody corpses to, in the end, just about everyone (the ending is like Hamlet or Macbeth with everyone dying off). There isn't a single weak performance in the film; even Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I thought was channeling Ray Liotta's performance in Goodfellas the first time I saw The Departed, gives an outstanding performance as a fundamentally good man caught through his dedication to his job in a situation that leaves his judgment and sense of himself impaired. Matt Damon, playing the corrupt cop, is so sleazy I always wonder how his girlfriend, played by Vera Farmiga, can't see through him.

Of course, she does in a way. In an intersection of lives that seems far-fetched but only because we don't realize how close both men are to one another, DiCaprio sleeps with Farmiga - a state-employed psychiatrist who counsels both police officers and convicts on probation - in a scene using as background music Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb". I told Lisa last night how clever Scorcese was in doing that because it is the one moment in the lives of both these characters filled with unabashed honesty. Each does so, I think, for his and her own reasons, but they are each as far from numb, for those brief moments, as can be. They are making love because they are each feeling too much, and face lives in which they cannot let their feelings show - DiCaprio cannot let his real identity or feelings show if he wants to live; Farmiga cannot let Damon know she is disappointed in Damon's sexual inadequacy, or the fleeting thought (confirmed later in the movie) that he isn't the superstar cop he pretends. Each wounded - DiCaprio forces Farmiga to admit she not only does lie, but would continue to do so (not the characteristics one would want in a psychotherapist) - and trapped, they find a few minutes of honest emotional and physical solace in each other.

Subsequent to this particular scene, Dicaprio learns that the levels of deception and subterfuge run even deeper than was previously imagined. The web of lies, and the inexorable flow of events toward what can only be understood as the inevitable result of all the lies and betrayal, creates a situation in which the choices open to the characters become limited. DiCaprio faces the possibility of redemption through the ultimate heroic act; Damon faces not just death, which he would welcome, but humiliation, which he does not wish to face. In a turn of events, Damon becomes the hero, while Dicaprio dies, his identity (but not his suffering) acknowledged only post mortem, only to face his own death not with courage (which he does not have) but resignation.

One question the film does not answer is this - at what point do we untangle the webs of deceit that ensnare our lives? Is it even possible? While using the extreme circumstances of mob life and the necessary deception of undercover police work as a context, like Goodfellas and Bringing Out The Dead, Scorcese uses unusual circumstances to force us to look at the ways all the qualities and virtues we hold in high esteem, and the vices we abhor, are far more complex than we think, and exist within contexts in which they can look exactly like their opposite. Do any of us truly live lives of virtue and integrity, so unsullied by the necessary restrictions and limits of all the larger forces and contexts of our lives that we can look ourselves and our loved ones in the eye without fear or a sense of our own viciousness? Both Damon and DiCaprio display loyalty, betrayal, a tendency towards violence and a desire to not be sullied by violence, love for a woman while not being able to fully consummate that love (Damon physically, DiCaprio by not being present), and a desire to have the webs of deceit and all the tangled threads of lies and betrayal torn off, so each can be who they see themselves as - DiCaprio as just another state police officer, Damon as the hero wunderkind who saves the day for everyone. Of course, that great equalizer, the star of this movie - death - is the only real truth, the only thing that unwinds all those knots and cords and leave all the characters the same - a bloody corpse whose final identity is nothing more than the sum total of other people's stories about them.

Our identity, it seems, no matter how hard we try, is in the hands of those who recall us after we become the departed.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Music Monday

Before I figured out how easy it was to post videos from YouTube, I did a little promo on Seal. To atone for my former ignorance, here he is. By the way, for those who may not know, his facial scarring is characteristic of lupus. Yet, he still managed to marry Heidi Klum.

Time, History, And Necessity - Some Reflections From Watching An Old Star Trek Episode

I know it will make Alan happy to read that I admit watching Star Trek.

My family was watching the episode "The City On The Edge Of Forever" from the original series, and I got to thinking about the whole issue of history, contingency, and whether, in a case such as the one presented, there were or could be any choices to which the label "correct" could be applied. For those born or living under a rock, the episode concerns the accidental alteration of Earth's historical timeline by a drugged Dr. McCoy, and the ultimately successful attempt by Captain Kirk and Lt. Cmdr. Spock to set things aright. McCoy escaped through a time portal to 1930's New York and saved the life of a woman who, not having died, went on to delay American entry in to WWII. Through this delay, the Nazi's managed to win, and the ensuing struggle to toss off the Nazi yoke devastated the world. A minor quibble of mine with this particular episode has been this - if it is true that the moment McCoy went through the portal history was irrevocably changed, why is the landing party still there, rather than winking out of existence?

Anyway, Kirk and Spock manage to get themselves to NY a few days ahead of McCoy and Kirk falls under the spell of a soup-kitchen angel played by Joan Collins. In a rare instance in which Kirk actually shows real emotion, rather than simple tail-chasing, he is confronted with the horrific realization, provided dispassionately by Spock, that Edith Keeler (Joan Collins' character) is the pivot point around which all of human history swings. She must die.

This is the point at which I asked the following question: If Kirk's love for Edith Keeler is real (and we should not doubt it, because we cannot have future episodes of his tomcatting at this point), even knowing that her death saved millions, even billions of lives not yet born, is it a moral choice to allow her to die? Would I make that choice? Could I make that choice?

At this point, I should say that this episode shows the way little things, individual acts, can have drastic, world-historic implications without our ever realizing it. We all stand on the cusp of history, and even the most moral act can possibly have the most tragic consequences. How do we ever know whether the right thing isn't the wrong thing viewed from the future, or vice-versa? There is no way to make these judgments, so it seems to me this episode, in the end, creates a moral equation that is fundamentally flawed. While Kirk and Spock are forewarned, I nonetheless contend that allowing Edith Keeler to die was an immoral act. At this point, the lives that hang in the balance are only potential lives. Furthermore, had they allowed Ms. Keeler to live, they could have stayed, and influenced the course of history in such a way that the US entered the war on time. Or they could have made some other choice. Furthermore, perhaps the manner of Ms. Keeler's death in the episode was not the way it happened in Kirk and Spock's timeline, and their alteration was enough to make other changes.

I would also offer the suggestion that The Matrix trilogy offers the same conundrum - a balance of lives is offered, and Neo takes the one very real life of the woman he loves, in the hope that alternatives exist that had not been envisioned before, rather than sacrifice the one, very real woman he loves on the alter of a false choice offered by those in power as the only "moral" choice available.

What say you?

Jane You Ignorant Virgin

Tbogg has a great little piece (no pun intended, but this entire post will be filled with them, so be my guest) on a "club" at Harvard called True Love Revolution. A small group of non-Christians dedicated to celibacy, led by one Janie Fredell, this little band of persevering abstainers seem not so much destined to catch on so much as to catch a lot of flak.

For the record, I think there is nothing wrong with people who choose abstinence. Furthermore, I think there is nothing wrong with people who so choose to band together and even proselytize. I even think there is a certain legitimacy to Ms. Fredell's view that, in our current climate, the choice of abstinence has a certain counter-cultural cachet. Whether one bolsters one's view through the Bible or John Stuart Mill, there is no doubt that in a society in which Girl's Gone Wild seems destined to ever more editions, the fact that some young women and men are willing to save themselves for marriage should be applauded (as well as ridiculed; I do not believe in sacred cows).

Yet, Tbogg notes that Ms. Fredell is less than enlightened concerning the power of the sexual drive.
Perhaps I'm just being naive here (even more so than Ms. Fredell) but I have a hard time imagining a twenty-something woman who appears to be fairly bright, bright enough to be accepted into Harvard at least, who is shocked, shocked by the plainly stated fact that men (or women) look at other men (or women) on the street or wherever and think, "I'll have an order of that with nothing on it".

This is in response to the following from this piece in The New York Times:
The one great difference between them seemed to be in their experience of abstinence. Fredell was unaware of that gap. Whenever sexual urges struck, she told me, she was able to manage them by going on a long run and assumed that everyone should be able to do the same. “The biological drive can be overcome,” she said. “It’s not like it reaches a peak, and you have to go out and have sex.”

“And you don’t go down the street thinking you’d like to have sex with him, him, him and him?” I asked.

“No!” she said, abruptly. “Is that what men do?”

It seemed a good time to talk with her about what else Keliher had told me. He described the act he has never experienced as something “breathtakingly powerful” that “lights all of your body on fire.” He spoke of his lust as “this untamed beast.”

Fredell was incredulous: “Leo said that?”

He told me that he struggles constantly against “physical lustful temptation” — that he can be aroused just by a woman’s touch, by even a look at a woman or at a photo or sometimes by “thoughts that just come out of the blue — basically pornography in my head.” They come to him when he’s merely walking around campus, or even when he’s alone in the library — “like a fly buzzing around.”

To the matter of masturbation, he said, “This was really tough for me . . . because when you have a habit that’s so deeply ingrained, it’s hard to stop.”

Fredell, when asked about masturbation, just said, “Oh, God, no!”

So . . . she has no idea that some people actually think about sex a lot. She is horrified at the notion of self-gratification (or self-abuse, depending upon your perspective, I suppose). Her boyfriend's honesty in that regard is refreshing, especially the whole "habit that's so deeply ingrained" part.

A student at Harvard who has no idea that the sex drive is so powerful it actually makes some people distracted as random thoughts enter one's head as they sit in Houghton Library reading John Stuart Mill or Martin Heidegger. Is it any wonder we have folks who have never been to Harvard who believe that sex is ultimately a selfish act (I tried to find the link to Marshall Art's actual line in which he stated his firm belief that sex is inherently selfish, but couldn't)?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some Reflections On Reflections - The Many-Mirrored Christian Way Of Reading And Living The Bible

Last Sunday's Easter meditation by Pastor Dan concerns Colossians 3:1-4, which is appropriate for a number of reasons. First, the verses, from the Revised English Bible:
Were you not raised with Christ? Then aspire to the realms above, where Christ is, seated at God's right hand, and fix your thoughts on that higher realm, not on this earthly life. You died; and now your life lies hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you too will be revealed with him in glory.

This is a description of what it means to be baptized - the early church baptized at sunrise on Easter. We are no longer our own, but "hidden in Christ" we are to live with the light of Christ shining forth through us. As St. Paul says, it isn't he who does what he does, but Christ in him.

Yet, this Christian triumphalism and realized eschatology is tempered, as always, by the reality that "when Christ is revealed, then you too will be revealed with him". In other words, this is not the final reality, nor is it a complete reality. It is that toward which we move, the reality, the context in which we are to understand our lives. We are no longer our own, but servants of God, hidden in Christ to be revealed to all at the end of all things. We live, in a phrase often used but never quite grasped fully, "between the times" (there was a famous German theological journal entitled Zwischen den Zeiten).

What the author of Colossians is writing about here (as the Pauline authorship of the epistle is under dispute, and I do not feel qualified to judge, I leave the question of authorship open) is what became known, in Wesleyan terminology, as sanctification, or as John Wesley called it, "Christian perfection". As we live out our baptism, "working out our salvation in fear and trembling" as Paul said, we continue to shed our propensity towards selfish, self-centered living, the exploitation of others, and the rebellion against God's love that is a part of our make-up. The perfection here is not a perfection of action, but rather the final removal of sinful intent and selfish desire from our conduct with others. It is, to use the phrase most accurately, "perfection in love". Wesley no more believed himself having achieved this final state than he believed the Second Coming had occurred; he did, however, insist that it was a living possibility, and one towards which we should strive. "Entire sanctification" is the phrase most often used to denote this particular state of spiritual enlightenment.

What began on that very first Easter is an on-going project in which more and more people are caught up in the freely offered life hidden in God through Christ. We no longer have to live in fear, or arrogance, or rebellion, but can live moving forward to the day when we are revealed with Christ. It's a journey with many interesting twists and turns, but as we surrender our rebellious ways, we may actually find more and more peace along the way.

Guilt, Responsibility, And Hope In Regards To Race

If there is anything that frustrates me more when it comes to discussing race in America, it is the term "white guilt". I sometimes wonder how anyone can just leave that term sit there, without addressing it directly. Invented as a straw argument to deflect attention from the issue at hand, it creates an aura of responsibility-free social relations in which contemporary white America can move free from any of the historical and present burdens of white supremacy and privilege. As someone who is so white I am almost transparent, I do believe I am qualified to address this issue; as someone lucky enough to have African-American friends patient enough and loving enough to help me see the world through their eyes, I feel even more qualified to address this issue, because I have had the opportunity of people telling me, and showing me, how the world looks, and is lived, through eyes other than my own.

For those who might be interested in context, this particular post is a response to this comment by ELAshley over at a thread at ER's blog. Rather than take up space there, I thought I would respond here. Here is the comment in full:
"we are just a bit late to get into the game of moral rectitude. And once we enter it, our efforts at righteousness tend to fail the test of sincerity."

I might agree with this had I personally been alive during the aforementioned slave trade and genocide, but I wasn't. Tim Wise therefore should look to his own tie when he decides again to suggest I'm a bit late into the game; or you for that matter, ER. We're not late! We're right on time!

I might agree if any Blacks today lived as slaves, or any indigenous people living today had suffered genocide in this country. Again, Mr. Wise should look to his own presumptuous tie before suggesting I have no business being outraged by the level of outrage and misplaced venom Jeremiah Wright spills from his lips.

Mr. Wise gets it very wrong if he thinks Wright is merely "reminding" us of America's past. Wright's rhetoric condemns the Present because of the past. You, ER, are not your father. Nor your grandfather. You are not responsible for their sins.

As to responsibility, I have NONE whatsoever except to ensure it never happens again. That's not to say I don't acknowledge the past; how can I not!? But I cannot change the past, neither can you or anyone else. Drlobojo is right; it's time to rethink race, class, and ethnicity in America, NOT dredge up a past that has little relevance to where we are today.

There's a lot we can do to make things better for Blacks specifically. But if you really want to feel guilty for their plight in America, then blame yourself for what this government did, in OUR lifetime, to separate fathers from their families just so their families could have food and shelter.... in the projects. Feel guilty about this governments policy of rewarding illegitimate births. Feel guilty about the quality of entertainment these young children receive through music, television, and bling; steeped in degradation, misogyny, hedonism, drugs and booty.

Fix the culture. Demand it of D.C. Demand they stop all the social experimentation and go back to what worked. Stop castigating men like Bill Cosby for speaking the truth, and for God's sake stop rewarding race pimps like Jackson, Sharpton, Farrakhan, and Wright for perpetuating the scam of Black Victimhood.

Tim Wise's essay may have been well written, but it's filled with crap.

One minor quibble with this comment can be dispensed with easily enough. I the second to last paragraph, he writes that we should demand that our politicians "fix the culture". That isn't the way it works, nor should it. In a land with freedom of expression, we should allow and open up all sorts of cultural experiments, rather than restrict them. Politics will always be behind the curve when it comes to cultural expression. Rather than surrender to those who whine the most, we should accept even those expressions we find abhorrent - especially because they represent part of what America is. This goes equally for the left and right.

The bulk of my own reflection concerns the opening paragraph, however, in which he quite explicitly absolves himself of any responsibility for dealing honestly with our history because he was not a slave owner, nor did he participate in lynching, nor any other example of extreme racial violence. He sees appeals to these realities as instilling something called white guilt, the perpetuation of a sense of remorse on our part for these historic cruelties.

This particular point of view, while prevalent, is a distraction, the creation of those who do not wish the issue of race to be addressed. I am not saying that ELAshley is a racist. I am saying the line of argument he is employing is a creation of racists, however. Accepting this particular set of terms with which to conduct a discussion of race, while seemingly high-minded, in fact misses the point and offers a straw argument that allows those who bear the fruits of our racist past to avoid seeing and accepting responsibility for the role we continue to play in keeping it alive.

History isn't something we can pick and choose. It is, to our collective life, like genetics. It is built in to the very fiber of our being as a people. It is not determinative - I do not believe in fate - but it certainly creates conditions and circumstances and a context which can restrict the choices available to us. Our nation is one with a horrendous history of racially-inspired violence. Enshrined in our Constitution with the one-third clause, which in turn was interpreted by Chief Justice Roger Taney as declaring that no blacks had any rights a white person need respect (in Dred Scott v. Sanford), and returning after the Civil War with the introduction of racial segregation and socio-economic peonage across much of the former Confederacy, we have not just a social history of racial violence, but an official, legal history with which to contend.

Even more insidious, we are the beneficiaries of the economic exploitation of blacks, sitting on piles of wealth gained through the enslaved sweat of other human beings. This collective economic capital is a reminder that our national wealth was stolen from its rightful owners through legal means. Consider, just for a moment, the insurance industry. While still early in its formation, and hardly the financial giant it would become, it is nonetheless true that several antecedents to currently existing insurance companies made money by insuring the personal property of slave owners, including slaves. Furthermore, these same slaves, used as human capital, were capital assets individuals used as collateral for loans with banks, enriching banks through the income from interest payments. Nascent southern industry was highly profitable precisely because it used wage-free slave labor - fees were paid to slave owners which were far below what might have been paid as wages.

These examples, and they are just a sampling of the way our collective wealth was accumulated through slavery, should be proof enough that we sit atop piles of money drenched in the blood and sweat of those denied any human rights, indeed any humanity at all. While I, or ELAhsley, or whomever, might not personally profit from such wealth, our nation as a whole is far wealthier than it might otherwise be precisely because of slave labor. This stolen wealth lies at the heart of part of the argument, not just for responsibility, but for reparations as well.

Now, to be more pointed, the issue of "guilt" sounds very high-minded, but by removing oneself from any historic chain of responsibility by this trick, we are in the presence of someone who is denying not just personal responsibility for these past crimes (which I would hardly endorse), but from current participation in a society benefiting from the past exploitation and violence directed against an entire class of individuals. No human being exists free from the weight of history; it can be liberating, to be sure, but it also is false, because we cannot escape history that way. Part of being a responsible human being includes accepting the burdens history places upon us as individuals who bear this weight. There is no "white guilt", the creation of blacks and white liberals to perpetuate a sense of victimhood among blacks and perpetual agony among whites for past grievances. Rather, there is the responsibility we, as the inheritors of wealth and myriad social and cultural benefits bear. To those to whom much is given, much is also required.

My hope, in regards to the on-going discussion of race, is that we can actually move past this phony argument, expose it for the fallacious non-argument it is, and deal with the issue honestly. My further hope is that we can be honest enough to see ways to see race not as the stumbling block or destroyer of our social fabric, but part of the warp and woof of our collective lives; for all the hatred and bitterness and violence, it is inescapable as a social and historical fact of our lives as Americans. I would much rather we face it as it is, rather than pretend it exists other than it does.

Virtual Tin Cup

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