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(The following is a response to a letter in the December 31, 2011 Denver Post regarding the error of making comparisons to Nazism:

1) The aspect of Nazism most reviled, and the reason why it is held in boundless contempt, is the Holocaust, which was an exercise of ultra-nationalist violence against a perceived “foreigner within” (accompanied by a similar ulta-nationalist violence against perceived inferior peoples without, in the name of “Lebensraum”). It is the expression of, and political implementation of, an extreme in-group/out-group bias that is the defining characteristic of the horror that was Nazism. (This in-group/out-group bias was not just directed against Jews, but also Gypsies, Slavs, Serbs, Homosexuals, the poor, trade unionists, and Communists and Leftists, explicitly and repeatedly, which should settle the non-issue of where on the ideological spectrum Nazism fell.)

2) The aspect of Nazism that falls on a spectrum with a mixed historical record is that of “corporatism,” not in the modern sense of power concentrated in large private corporations, but in the sense of the nation as corporation. Japan had enormous post-WWII aggregate economic success with this model, and the social democracies of Northwestern Europe have had enormous human welfare success with a more moderate version of it. Conversely, the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and other failed Totalitarian experiments point to the ways in which it can be a horrible and tragic failure. The challenge is not to paint with overly-broad brush strokes when discussing these lessons of history, but rather to look at details and nuances, and to use our disciplines for studying and understanding the systems involved to inform our analyses and comparisons.

3) When making comparisons with Nazism (generally, really, with the Holocaust), it is certainly important to emphasize the scope and relevance of the comparison being made. Nothing in America, at least since the genocide of the indigenous population, compares in degree, and any comparison should emphasize that fact. But if there are legitimate specific similarities to be pointed out, making the comparisons not with a broad brushstroke but rather with a finely focused analysis, and making it not merely to wield a crude rhetorical weapon, but rather to suggest that there are legitimate areas of concern that should be setting off the alarms that the lessons of history offer, then comparison is not only appropriate, but really quite essential.

4) Mike Godwin himself, the author of “Godwin’s Law,” which predicts that the longer a political debate continues, the more certain it is that a comparison to Nazism will be made, emphasized that his point was not that no such comparisons are ever legitimate or useful, but rather that their overuse blunts their effectiveness when truly appropriate by desensitizing people to the possibility of valid comparisons.

5) Nazism is not unique in the history of the world, but is rather our archetypal example of something that happens in varying degrees and forms repeatedly (and not infrequently) around the world and throughout history. To pretend that this powerful lesson of history about one constant threat-from-within to any society, and to humanity, must be deemed forever irrelevant and off-limits, would be a victory for ignorance and a blow against the growth of human consciousness in service to human liberty and welfare.

6) There are indeed some very potent political ideological trends in America today that bear comparison to Nazism, not in degree (not even close), but in kind. Nazism did not emerge onto the world stage as an agent of genocide, but rather as a more modest expression of xenophobic and bigoted reactions to events which undermined national pride and economic security (the loss in WWI and subsequent economic collapse in pre-WWII Germany paralleled by 9/11 and the Great Recession in America today), and gradually, imperceptibly to many, grew into the horror that we now know it to have been.

We must not blind ourselves to its lessons by refusing to heed them unless and until millions are brutally killed; we must instead be mindful of the real lesson of Nazism: That humanity must come before nationalism, that “foreigners” both within and without must not be reviled for being “foreigners,” and that our best hope for the future is to become less chauvinistic, less bigoted, less xeno-homo-islamo-hispano-phobic, more inclusive and accommodating, more committed to reason and universal goodwill, more aware that the welfare of America and Americans is inextricably linked to the welfare of all people and of the planet itself, and, in short, more sane, more conscious, more compassionate, and more rational.

7) I’ve written some essays drawing these comparisons: Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding and “Sharianity”, to name a couple. It’s up to those among my neighbors and fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) lost to these bigotries and hatreds whether they want to continue down that horrible road, or whether they want to choose to be, instead, the kind of people that never have cause to be reviled around the world and in historical hindsight for any lack of enlightenment or humanity.

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I’ve decided to coin a new term, “sharianity,” which is defined as the state of mind implicated in the citing of examples of sharia law being enforced somewhere in the world (or imagined instances of it being enforced somewhere in the United States) to stoke up anti-Muslim hysteria here at home (by arguing, arbitrarily, that sharia law is taking over America, and that, therefore, we must discriminate against all Muslims living in the United States). In two threads (so far) on Facebook, I have taken on this particular hysteria, part of the larger anti-Muslim hysteria sweeping across some factions of this country.

It’s important to emphasize that opposing the exploitation of horrendous acts of violence abroad under the guise of sharia law as a pretext for advocating prejudice and discrimination here at home is in no way a defense of or tolerance of or acceptance of those acts of violence. Just as the opposition to rationalizing any other form of racism by pointing to some crime committed by some members of a given race as a pretext for that racism is not an expression of approval for the crimes committed, so too opposing rationalizing this form of racism by pointing to some crime committed by some members of the given race (or, in this case, religious community) does not in any way imply approval of the crimes committed.

While it may be true that a significant portion of world Muslims support aspects of Sharia law repugnant to Americans, it’s also true that those who exploit that fact most vigorously to condemn all Muslims en masse are precisely those Americans who are most similar to those who endorse and enforce sharia (close-minded, bigoted religious fanatics). Jihad, meet Crusades, brought into the Modern era by remarkably similar throw-backs of two different stripes….

One commenter captured the cornerstone of that fanaticism with the assertion that, since both Islam and Christianity can’t both be right at the same time, to be tolerant of Islam is not enlightened but rather confused. I’ve addressed this error of false absolutism many times (see the essays linked to in the fifth box at Catalogue of Selected Posts, plus A Dialogue on Religion, Dogma, Imagination, and Conceptualization and An Argument for Reason and Humility). To summarize:

1) The world is comprised of groups of people, each defined to a large extent by some set of shared beliefs. Many or most of these hold beliefs that are considered “exclusive absolute truths.” In other words, they hold some ideological conviction (often, though not always, in the form of a religion) that they consider the absolute and indisputable truth, such that they know that their dogmatic certainty is the one correct one, and all others are wrong.

2) Of those that share this characteristic, at most one can be correct (though not necessarily any are).

3) By adhering to these exclusive ideological certainties, all such ideologues guarantee a perpetuation of a world divided by such mutually exclusive ideological absolutisms, often violently so, and, as we see in this case, even when not violently so, at least hatefully so.

4) Exercising the wisdom of humility, knowing that none of us are in possession of the one, final, absolute truth, but rather are mere human beings striving to understand a complex and subtle world and universe, is not the error of “relativism,” as such adherents insist, but rather the recognition that, while there is a single, coherent objective reality, our ability to ascertain it in its entirety is so limited that our various attempts yield these mutually exclusive absolutists ideologies instead.

5) This habit of thought is also the basis of the most robust system of gaining deeper and broader understandings of nature ever yet invented: Scientific methodology, which is based on skepticism rather than faith.

6) Faith may be a virtue, when it is pure enough not to conflict with humility, and takes the form not of words and beliefs, but rather of a sensation of being part of a wondrous and awe-inspiring reality. In this form, our religions become wonderful windows onto something that transcends them, and become languages that cease to divide us in violent and hateful ways.

Several commenters on both threads insisted that “they” (i.e., Muslims) have brought this on “themselves” by committing acts of terrorism and violence. This is, not surprisingly, a very popular meme. It’s also a very irrational one. I don’t recall a sudden outcry that white Americans had brought such prejudice on themselves when Timothy McVeigh, acting in the context of a large organized anti-government movement (that is even larger and more vocal today, and has even more paramilitary groups running around in grease paint firing semi-automatic weapons), bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (killing hundreds, many of which were children in the daycare center in the building). We use that concept of “they” very selectively, to vilify those out-groups we are predisposed to vilify, but to individualize acts of violence committed by members of groups (generally in-groups) we are not predisposed to vilify.

One commenter asked “Where is your compassion for the young lady (who, according to the story, was executed under sharia law for participating in a beauty pageant) ??????” Again, condemning the hateful bigotry rationalized by means of exploiting that tragic event does not equate to indifference to the tragedy of the event itself. Americans commit crimes all the time, and their victims deserve nothing but compassion, but I doubt that many Americans would find that a convincing argument why generalized hatred toward Americans overseas, rationalized as a reaction to the crimes some Americans commit here (or there), can’t be criticized.

Or perhaps a better analogy is that America is one of the last developed countries to retain the death penalty, considered utterly barbaric by the citizens of most developed countries, and yet these same folks who are indignant over the lack of compassion shown by my criticism of their bigotry would be the quickest to take offense at any similar bigotry directed toward Americans in general by virtue of our continued execution of occasionally innocent convicts.

The trick of finding an atrocity committed by the group toward which you are eager to direct your bigotry is an old one. It was used frequently by people very much like the “sharianists” (those who invoke sharia as a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry) to rationalize their own racism in the past, just as it is being used now to rationalize the popular prejudice of the present. If there had been an internet fifty or sixty years ago, Southern racists would have posted news stories of African Americans committing crimes, using those stories to condemn African Americans in general, just as some are now doing to Muslims.

The problem, of course, is that bigots are always perfectly insulated against any information that might expose to themselves the ignorance and hatefulness of their own bigotry. That’s the beauty of ignorance: Those who suffer it are able by virtue of it to ignore all information and reason that might inconveniently challenge their bigotry. And so the disease of racism, of bigotry, of hatred, “wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross” (as the very prescient and insightful author Sinclair Lewis said of how Fascism would come to America), marches on, unstoppable. And these new bigots are its foot soldiers.

The concept of “tolerance” popped up, of course, both rejecting and co-opting it at the same time (“those animals don’t deserve to be tolerated, but, if you’re so committed to tolerance, what about tolerating us bigots?”) But tolerance does not mean tolerating specific crimes by specific people; it means tolerating diversity that is not violent or predatory in nature. Being Muslim is not violent or predatory in nature; hating Muslims is.

But there is a degree of tolerance required, even of those  who express such bigotries. I believe in the degree of tolerance that recognizes their speech to be protected, and to be opposed not with physical force, or any suggestion of any call to physical force, or any suggestion of any call to the passage of laws prohibiting such positions, but rather just with reason and knowledge and the power of competing speech. But it should not be tolerated in the sense of being disregarded and left unopposed by better reasoned, better informed, and more life affirming ideas and arguments.

Several commenters typically, tried to “rubber-and-glue” me in various ways, suggesting, for instance, that by criticizing them I was committing the same error they were supposedly committing by criticizing Muslims (unsurprisingly unable to distinguish between criticizing specific people for their own specific behaviors and criticizing whole categories of people for behaviors committed by some members of those categories). Two on two different threads bizarrely invoked the “glass house” proverb, suggesting that it was wrong of me to “throw stones” at them for the sin of throwing stones at Muslims in general.

One commenter implied that I must be an anti-Christian “bigot” since I was criticizing these good Christians for hating Muslims, to which I replied that no, I didn’t hold Christians in general responsibility for the viciousness of some. I also referred them to my arguments in A Dialogue on Religion, Dogma, Imagination, and Conceptualization, in which I argued vehemently against such anti-Christian or anti-religion presumptions.

I pointed out to another the questionability of insisting that “Christianity” stands in opposition to “liberalism.” Many great liberals have been Christians. Many liberal civil rights leaders have been men of the cloth, and a whole movement called “liberation theology” was prominent for decades, particularly in Latin America. I pointed out that one of the great ironies cited by many on the left is that the words attributed to Jesus sound much more like words that could be spoken by American liberals today than by American conservatives, with a focus on social justice and compassion and “tolerance” and a commitment to humanity. I pointed out that the commenter did not represent Christianity in its entirety, any more than those murderers in the article represent Islam in its entirety.

Several commenters tried to justify their reporting of the incident as unassailable in and of itself, though it was clear that the purpose was to advocate for discrimination against Muslims here in America. I pointed out that of all the destructive ideologies that exist in the world, when a group of people repeatedly seek out and publish examples of one in particular, plucked from the far side of the planet, to make a specific point about a specific culture that, coincidentally, they have been striving to vilify in general, here at home, for the past decade, that is no longer simply the condemnation of a particular set of violent acts motivated by a particular belligerent ideology. It becomes clearly identifiable as a pretext for an antagonism focused on a particular race or ethnicity.

Present in all of this was another example of one of the great ironies of modern American right-wing ideology: While its adherents claim, on the one hand, to believe in individual responsibility, they also think in very collectivist terms. The incident they cite is not about individuals committing an act of violence, but rather a cause to indict an entire culture, not all of the members of which subscribe to sharia law (and of those that do, not necessarily this more repugnant variety of sharia law).

There are some other great ironies embedded in this ideology. The habitual dismissive disregard for the Constitution espoused by the ideological camp that claims most loudly to be the great champion of the Constitution, for instance, is discussed below.

But a less well-known right-wing hypocricy is the convenient blend of relativism and absolutism. A subjective relativism is invoked to insulate arbitrary opinions, such that no opinion can ever be deemed better informed or reasoned than any other. This is combined with a conveniently invoked absolutism that declares that the set of arbitrary opinions, each of which can’t be challenged because all opinions are equal, comprise together the One Exclusive Truth by virtue of the fact that anything else would imply the error of relativistic thinking!

So, it is possible to condemn Muslims for being Muslims and insist that they must be excluded from American society as violators of absolute truth, and condemn those who say that this is bigoted for failing to accept just one more equally valid opinion! Reminiscent of John Calhoun insisting that the liberty of slave owners was threatened by emancipation of slaves (and that the rights of minorities had to be protected by ensuring that the rights of African Americans weren’t), these specimens insist that their right to be different by advocating for the discrimination of others is the one difference that should be respected!

This deftly convenient blend of relativism and absolutism came up repeatedly in the assertion that the commenter’s personal experience and personal perceptions were inviolate, and that therefore any suggestion that any of it might be empirically false or irrational or offensive was just someone else’s opinion, and therefore inadmissible as a response to the commenter’s condemnation of others for their (the others’) beliefs or identity.

There is clearly a convenient inconsistency, as well, in the way in which the selection of what to be indignant about and what not to be indignant about occurs, serving a blind ideology rather than a rational and humane philosophy. There’s no indignation over one of the richest nations on Earth being obstructed (by them) in its efforts to address poverty, homelessness, hunger, and other forms of needless and curable destitution within its own borders, a travesty that is actually within their political power to confront, but there is boundless indignation over the sins of a distant culture operating in a distant land, because that travesty is committed by a foreign enemy that they are eager to vilify.

We are talking about a political and cultural movement in America which blends the worst of all ideological worlds, mixing a form of individualism only invoked as a justification for belligerence and indifference to the neediest in our own society with a form of collectivism only invoked as a justification for belligerence toward all those outside our own society. It is a particular blend of individualism and collectivism selected not to serve humanity, but rather to attack humanity, to hate rather than to help. (See The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism for a more in-depth discussion of this issue.)

Here is one telling comment, that was applauded by others on the thread:

Americans were traumatized by 9/11. And, because of that they will be develop a certain dislike or mistrust of the culture that perpetrated it. That’s understandable. The fact that moderate muslims do not denounce the radical muslims looks like tacit approval of 9/11. The fact that when muslims emigrate to the US and other countries, they remain insular also doesn’t help. Western culture is so different to theirs makes it difficult for them to do so. Having American citizens of muslim descent become terrorists doesn’t help. So I suspect those are probably reasons why we are seeing the intolerance.

While my experience is anecdotal, female friends of mine have had problems with muslim men at work. The men feel strongly that they should not have to work with women and that women should not work at all. Well, this is America and women work outside the home. Furthermore, A muslim man just about knocked me to the curb when I was in London in May. I was in his way. I guess as an infidel and a woman, he felt he could do that. I made it clear that it would be assault if he even touched me. There were muslim-only cafes in London and women were not permitted in some. Wonder if this is what we will see in America if we’re not vigilant? Will we tolerate that sort of discrimination? I never thought I’d see it in London. Should we tolerate that here?

I’m also concerned at the apparent acceptance of sharia law and the apparent small inroads it’s making in the US. IMHO, islam needs a reformation–it’s like it’s operating in a bygone era. Educating the people would help. Once they’re educated, they’re not as dependant on one person’s interpretation of the koran as we see now in some muslim countries.

I’m glad I’m of a certain age. Our children and grandchildren will have quite the challenge on their hands.

Another commenter responded to this by asserting that she is not a bigot for agreeing with it, but rather “a realist” who “see(s) Islam for what it is.” Ironically, both emphasized that Islam is stuck is Middle Ages, apparently not having a mirror handy to notice the Inquisition and Crusades standing at each of their shoulders.

I responded to the latter’s assertion that these were “very good examples” by pointing out that they are very good examples of how to rationalize xenophobia, by combining false (and empirically refutable) assumptions with an assumption of being completely justified in an anti-Muslim agenda. I pointed out that a huge number of moderate Muslims have denounced the 9/11 attacks; that their denouncements have been all over the media for the past decade (and I provided some links to inventories of such denouncements by Muslims), and that her twice repeated insistence that no such denouncements occurred was an example of “confirmation bias,” by which one perceives what is most ideologically convenient for them to perceive.

This all, of course, boils down to defining the world in terms of in-groups and out-groups, and then conveniently looking for all of the reasons to condemn all of those who belong to the out-groups, while blithely disregarding all of the often very similar (and sometimes more egregious) transgressions being committed by those who belong to the in-group. (See Inclusivity & Exclusivity.)

The main argument is that, since there are threats confronting America, any degree of xenophobia is justified. There are real threats and challenges in the world that impact the United States, both within and without its borders. But, while we have laws governing people’s actions within our borders, their freedom of belief, speech, association, and religion are all constitutionally protected. (There are fairly well-defined exceptions to freedom of speech of course: You can’t incite violence, commit slander, etc. Also, freedom of religion stops when a practice claimed to be a religious one violates a law whose purpose is other than to infringe on the religious belief itself.) If someone violates our laws, we prosecute them for doing so. If they don’t violate our laws, then there is no issue.

What we don’t do, what we have learned is the wrong thing to do, is to identify people according to their religion, ethnicity, race, or political ideology, and in some way or another, target them for those things in and of themselves. Being Muslim in America isn’t a crime, must not be perceived to be a crime, and those who treat it as a crime are the ones in error. Gross, horrible, shameful error.

The commenters were adamant that we are not doing enough to nip this threat in the bud, to confront and obstruct the intrusion of Muslim culture into our society. But we have a little thing called the US Constitution, which guarantees all Americans, and all legal residents, freedom of belief, of religion, of assembly, as long as they do not break any Constitutionally permissible laws in the process.

Ironically, once again, the same ideological camp that crows about being the true defenders of the Constitution turns out to be the principal threat to the Constitution, trying to whip up a predisposition to target a particular religious community living within the United States that, to the extent that it is translated into the kinds of policies consistent with that predisposition, would be a frontal assault on both our Constitution and our decency as human beings.

Among the comments were comments about how all of this bigotry is justified by the clash of cultures, somehow exhibiting a complete historical amnesia concerning how discredited that justification is. One of those commenters then insisted that all of these fine people posting on that thread would undoubtedly treat Muslims they encounter with love and respect, to which I pointed out that some of the posts included: “Those Jackasses Muslims (sic)…,” “AND THE GOVERNMENT LEADERS IN AMERICA STILL SAY WE CAN CO-EXIST WITH THESE ANIMALS ?? WAKE UP, PEOPLE !!” I mentioned that maybe that was a form of “love and respect” I just wasn’t familiar with.

There was then an endless going round in circles over the insistence that calling people “jackasses” isn’t bigotry, conveniently disregarding that feeling the need to impugn their entire religious community while doing so is. And no amount of pointing this out had any effect whatsoever.

There was the suggestion that I should be criticizing those Muslims who enforce sharia law overseas rather rather than those criticizing them here, to which I responded that 1) they are not mutually exclusive, and when I enter into conversations with Muslims in which they take positions that I find offensive, I have no hesitation to take them to task for it; and 2) having said that, there is a difference between criticizing remote others with whom I am not engaged in any process of shared self-governance and over whom I have little or no influence, and criticizing fellow citizens advocating an attitude and a policy for our nation that I find offensive and reprehensible.

There were comments about “birds of a feather,” and invoking the name of Danny Pearl as justification for the bigotry. I responded to these with:


2) The existence of categorical identities is certainly a staple of human history. Whether we will always have them or not is not something my crystal ball can tell me, but they have always existed and do exist today. But what we do with them has certainly been variable, ranging from genocide to amicable co-existence. The question isn’t whether those identities exist, but rather when the focus upon them serves no purpose other than as a vehicle for inter-racial or inter-sectarian hatreds. The former may be inevitable; the latter is not.


4) To use individual acts of violence as an excuse for sectarian hatred may seem rational and defensible to you, but it is the same thing you are condemning; it is what killed Danny Pearl, not what will save the Danny Pearls of the future; it is the problem, not the solution. It is bigotry.

To assertions that the anti-Muslim hysteria is justified by terrorism, I responded:


5) Since a significant portion of Muslims do not support sharia law, and do not condone the 9/11 attacks, Muslims in general cannot be held responsible for either; only those Muslims who support sharia law or condone the 9/11 attacks can be held responsible, among Muslims, for supporting sharia law or condoning the 9/11 attacks.

6) This is especially true since there is no centralized decision-making authority embracing all of Islam, and certainly no pan-Islamic democratic mechanisms by which Muslims in general can be held responsible for particular factional “policies” of Islam.

7) The criticism isn’t directed at any one who object to sharia, or object to terrorism, or discuss either in the context of Islam, but rather precisely and specifically at those who exploit the existence of sharia, and of the terrorist attacks, to foment hostility toward members of a particular religious community IN GENERAL.

8) Cultivating antagonism toward such an ethnic community, en masse, rationalized by factually less-than-accurate assertions that Muslims have a monopoly or near-monopoly on terrorism, by means of the absurd assertion that America is under threat of being overtaken by sharia law as evidenced by its patchwork existence in distant lands, is, indeed, an expression of xenophobia, not of a well reasoned and defensible reaction to real circumstances.

9) Terrorism comes in many forms. We normally use it to refer to the weapons of the weak, fighting against stronger powers by the only means they have, which is to attack the most vulnerable. And I am 100% in agreement that such attacks are reprehensible, but I am not in agreement that they are significantly less reprehensible than killing or being responsible for the killing of tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of “collateral damage” inflicted by larger military powers just as eager to exert their influence forcefully in the world, but able to do so without targeting civilians specifically. The point is that many things escalate reactionary cycles of violence, and it is very common for those culpable in one way to only perceive the culpability of those who have inflicted violence on them, rather than include awareness of the violence they’ve inflicted on others.

10) Even terrorism more narrowly defined is hardly limited to Islam. It has been exhibited in the Balkans, in the former Soviet Union, in sub-Saharan Africa, and even by right-wing anti-government fanatics in the United States (remember Oklahoma City?).

11) There are always ready rationalizations for stoking the fires of tribalistic and religious hatred, such as those you’ve cited. Those you condemn for their violence committed their acts of violence in the heat of a very similar mania, and the repetition of it here and now is likely to feed, directly and indirectly, into acts of violence committed in its name. The anti-government extremists who stoked up that rhetoric in the years leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing I’m sure feel no responsibility for that act of violence either, but without them, it would never have occurred.

12) The fact that violence exists, that some of it is perpetrated by Muslim extremists, and that people have suffered horribly at its hands, does not justify or legitimate stoking a frenzy of anti-Muslim sentiment directed toward peaceful and law-abiding Muslim citizens and residents of our own country.


14) If the concern is over terrorist attacks, then stoking those fires of reactionary tribalistic hatreds is not a very wise strategy for reducing the frequency or risk. In fact, the bigotry I am addressing increases rather than decreases our vulnerability in a multitude of ways, by cultivating more hatred directed toward us in reaction to it, by reducing cooperation of those best positioned to provide information that would help avert such attacks, by, in general, pushing people deeper into antagonistic camps, including people who never would have been antagonistic to us otherwise. You don’t address the threat of terrorism by starting with rationalizations for racial or religious hatred, but rather by asking yourself first and foremost “what set of policies would best and most effectively reduce this risk?” The answer to that latter question is complex and multifaceted, but included within its matrix is “the reduction of anti-Muslim hysteria in the United States today.”

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Mi película favorita en mi niñez era Espartaco, con Kirk Douglas. Cuando el ejército de esclavos estaba conquistado y en cadenas, el general Romano dijo, “Denme a Espartaco, y esclavos eran, y esclavos serán. Si no, todos ustedes van a morirse en la cruz.” Espartaco no podía dejar eso pasar,  y estaba al punto de anunciarse, cuando su mejor amigo se paró mas rápido y gritó, “¡Yo soy Espartaco!” Entonces otro, y otro mas, y todos empezaron a gritar, “¡Yo soy Espartaco!”

Cado uno que tiene valor, que tiene alma, que tiene un fuego en su corazón, aun si un esclavo en cadenas, es noble, tiene dignidad y esperanza. Es un esclavo hecho héroe, un carpintero hecho dios. Y cada uno que se fija en el sufrimiento del mas oprimido, y se siente un poco de lo que ese humano siente, cada uno que toma responsibilidad por el trato ajeno, comparte el corazón de humanidad.

Yo no voy a pretender que soy hispano. Soy judío con antepasados del noreste de Europa, como Kirk Douglas (que no era esclavo y no se murió en la cruz). Pero somos un pueblo, una raza, gente unida por la mente, el corazón y la historia mundial que compartimos. El destino ajeno es el destino propio. Su destino es el mío. Sus esperanzas son mis esperanzas. Su lucha es mi lucha. Porque  justicia no existe si no existe para todos. Es un desafío compartido.

Tampoco debemos creer que la lucha por justicia para los hispanos es algo que existe aparte de la lucha por justicia para todos los demas. Somos un pueblo, con una lucha, con una meta: Que la humanidad se haga mas consciente, que toda la gente de buena voluntad se junta en contra de injusticia y en servicio de la razón y humanidad. Así somos un pueblo. Así somos invencibles.

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I believe in the human endeavor. I believe in our ability to become ever wiser and more compassionate as a society. I believe that the technological and social institutional innovations we’ve come to take for granted, many of which were unimaginable just a few short generations ago, are ripples on the surface of an unfathomable sea of possibilities, and that what we accomplish in generations to come, like what has come before, will appear in retrospect not just to be more of the same, but rather profoundly revolutionary and transformative, and acceleratingly so.

But there is nothing automatic about the direction this punctuated evolution takes, and no guarantee that it will be benign rather than malignant. In what ways and to what extent, in service to which emotions and inclinations always vying for dominance within and without, we free the genius of the many, this captive giant fuming within her prison of oppression and repression, of intolerance and intransigence, will determine what wonders and what horrors we unleash.

Will we find new, more sterile and yet more virulent ways to enslave minds and souls, to shackle the human spirit by overlords of fear and bigotry, using our genius against itself in acts of brilliant inhumanity? Or will we harmonize more deeply and fully, through soaring but disciplined imaginations, with the malleable but coherent dream of which we are but a part?

Our minds form an ecology of their own, with flora and fauna of our fancy reproducing, evolving, giving way to new forms. We thrive best when we harvest most of that cognitive diversity, articulating the novel into the complex, sublime whole, accommodating more, suppressing less. So it’s no surprise that a sociologist such as myself, who perceives us less as a collection of individuals and more as slightly individuated moments of a shared consciousness, would become an advocate for mental diversity and mental freedom, for that mind we share does not best thrive by imposing as much conformity as fear and convenience counsel, but rather by tolerating as much non-conformity as wisdom and compassion allow.

If this movement, and this organization, were just about helping those in mental or emotional distress to find greater harmony within and avoid the ravages of a brutally destructive psychopharmacological paradigm imposed from without, that would be more than enough to inspire me to join in the effort. But it’s also about all of us together finding a richer and subtler harmony among ourselves and beyond ourselves, about that mind we share spiralling toward enlightenment, and about the increased wealth of joy and wellness we can produce together, from which we all can draw.

It’s to that latter ideal that all of us who believe in the human endeavor ultimately aspire.

(For essays and vignettes related to this one in various ways, see, e.g., Kick-Starting A ClearMind, Symptoms v. Root Causes, An Eddy In The Stream, The Politics of Consciousness, The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, The Hollow Mountain, and A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill.)

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

There are many possible ideologies regarding the relationship of the individual to society (see for instance, Individual & Society: Conformity v. Accommodation, and the essays linked to therein, for discussions of this relationship). Among them are the notions that the individual exists independently of the society, and the society is a mere vehicle in service to the individual (what we’ll call “individualism”), and the notion that individuals have no identity other than their identity as members of a discrete and exclusive society, with members and non-members sharply distinguished (what we’ll call “nationalism”). At a glance, one might imagine these two ideologies to be mutually incompatible, and that would be good, since both are brutally deficient, each in its own way, particularly in their more extreme forms (i.e., when individualism is so extreme that equity and fairness cease to be valued within the society, and when nationalism is so extreme that compassion and humanity cease to be valued without). But, remarkably enough, it is possible for them to coexist within a single ideological package, a package which manages to combine the worst of both worlds. First, let’s examine the worst of each world.

Though revisionists abound, the characteristic that marks the Nazi movement of 1930s Germany as a movement to be reviled for all time was its ultra-nationalism, which blossomed into racism and genocide. “Ultra-nationalism” is not the same as “collectivism” or “socialism,” but is rather a sharp distinction being drawn between those identified as members of the nation, and those identified as foreigners. Ultra-nationalism is ugly enough when “foreigners” are identified as those residents of other nations, regarded as of less importance or value than the residents of one’s own nation, leading to aggressions such as “lebensraum,” Hitler’s policy of expanding into Eastern Europe in service to German “superiority.” But it is particularly ugly when directed against those identified as “the foreigner within,” authoring domestic policies of rounding people up, throwing them into detention centers, and removing them in one way or another, that should revolt all decent human beings. (I will return to this in more detail in an up-coming post, and to the speeches and testimonies at the Familias Unidas event yesterday, on June 25, at Bruce Randolph School in Northeast Denver).

America has long flirted with its own version of Ultra-Nationalism. “Patriotism,” which is almost universally lauded in America as a virtuous affection and respect for one’s nation, is a relatively benign form of nationalism, but the line between it and nationalism’s more malignant incarnations is fuzzy and frequently crossed. Not surprisingly, many of those most ostentatious in their demonstrations of patriotism are also most inclined to indulge a demeaning and even belligerent attitude toward foreigners, more often implicit than explicit, but erupting into the latter at the slightest provocation.

Ironically, those Americans who are most strident about the evils of a government used as an active agent of public will tend to be blithely indifferent -or, more, subscribers- to the ultranationalism laced through the American psyche. They are not opposed to our government kidnapping foreign citizens off of foreign streets, holding them indefinitely, sometimes in secret installations, and either torturing them or rendering them to other governments to be tortured, all on wisps of frequently manufactured evidence that wouldn’t even rise to the level of “probable cause” in America (a policy in place throughout the Bush administration, as part of our “war on terror”).

Nor are they in any way outraged by the fact that their own government rounds up people from their homes and jobs in America and places them in detention centers, marking them for removal from the country, people who go to church and commit no crimes and contribute to the economy, mothers and fathers and respected and beloved members of our communities. They support this policy, indeed, demand that it be ramped up manifold, because they define some as members of the nation, and some as foreigners living among us, and by virtue of this definition feel no debt of decency, no recognition of de facto membership in our society, no compassion for the children left fatherless or motherless or the communities left with holes in them, no unease at the brutality or inhumanity of it….

I already wrote of the limited but still horrifying similarities between our current attitudes and policies toward undocumented residents of our nation and that infamous previous chapter of human history in which a population within the nation defined as “foreign” was rounded up and marked for removal (see Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding). And I have discussed the observation that one of the most fundamental distinguishing frames between the right and left in America today is the frame of “in-groups and out-groups” versus the frame of inclusiveness (see Inclusivity & Exclusivity), part of a larger defining distinction regarding the perceived relationship of the individual and society (see. e.g., Individual & Society: Conformity v. Accommodation, Liberty & Society, Liberty & Interdependence).

But American conservatism is built on another pillar as well, one which should be antithetical to ultranationalism, but is somehow amalgamated with it into the worst of all worlds. That second pillar is “extreme individualism,” the belief that the state (i.e., federal government) can never be used as an agent of the polity, serving the interests of the citizens of the nation and of humanity in general. By means of this combination, our government is prohibited from performing any positive or life-affirming function, either for its own members of for others (declaring the former to be an infringement on individual liberty, and the latter to be irrelevant), but is charged with acting aggressively against certain categories of outgroup members (e.g., non-citizens, suspected criminals, etc.), or refusing to protect other categories of outgroup members (e.g., gays, the poor, etc.), in service to a narrowly conceived and largely erroneous national interest divorced from any sense of humanity either to its own citizenry or to “foreigners.”

This marriage of extreme individualism and ultra-nationalism is perhaps the most inhumane and predatory ideological concoction imaginable. It informs an attitude which, on the one hand, preserves unlimited social injustice by simply defining it out of existence and, on the other, promotes unlimited belligerence toward all those defined as non-members of the nation (whether they reside within the national boundaries, or beyond them). It preserves the implicit racism of disregarding the legacies of a racist history, using a perverse definition of “liberty” to prohibit addressing those legacies of racism. It sets America up as a fortress from which we can exercise our military and political power in whatever ways we choose, tempered only by our own interests (and not by any concern for humanity). And, perhaps most unsettling of all, it rationalizes (and clamors for an increase in) domestic policies that bear an uncanny resemblance to Gestapo agents rounding up Jews and Gypsies during the Holocaust.

As Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It is particularly telling that, despite the current right-wing revisionism that defines fascism as a left-wing movement, this famous quote, if only you replace “Jews” with “Hispanics,” perfectly describes right-wing America’s current and traditional out-group targets.

The extreme individualism rationalizes the preservation of existing inequalities and injustices, identifying them as something that we cannot address as a nation, because to use our agent of collective action (i.e., our government) to do so would supposedly infringe on the individual liberties of those who are at least tolerably untouched by those current inequalities and injustices. But the ultra-nationalism adds to passive indifference to injustice and suffering an active aggression in service to in-group members and antagonistic to out-group members, permitting limitless crimes against humanity, as long as the humanity against whom the crimes are being committed are not members of their in-group.

The history of Americans using the concept of “liberty” to justify exploitation and oppression is an old and well established one. The famous antebellum southern statesman John C. Calhoun, in his tome Liberty and Union, perversely argued that the “liberty” of southern slave owners to own slaves could only be preserved by protecting the “minority” (i.e., southern states) against the majority (i.e., northern states). The “states’ rights” doctrine was born and thrived as a preservation of slavery doctrine, and I have seen comments by some modern Tea Partiers that continue in precisely that same vein (one insisting that the Union prosecution of The Civil War was a crime against the southern states) .

This tradition continued after The Civil War and emancipation, in the form of Jim Crow. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, many racist southerners saw the attempt to impose civil rights protections on southern states as an infringement on their liberties. Rand Paul, a Tea Party icon, voiced his own reservations about The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he admitted he would not have been able to support at the time. After all, his brand of “freedom” means the freedom to deprive others of theirs, or the right to deprive others of their rights. This is the true meaning of Tea Party individual liberty, an old and discredited concept that has a long and sordid history in this country.

It is a movement which dismisses and continues to trample upon those already trampled upon by our history, and which justifies dismissing and trampling upon those that are not defined as a part of our history. And it is a movement that we as a people must confront and challenge and extricate from our national politics and our national psyche with all of the force of reason and human decency we are capable of mustering, because we are sliding deeper and deeper into a national identity that will condemn us to being reviled and disdained by future generations around the world, as one of the examples of a nation that came to embody belligerence and irrationality and inhumanity.

This is not who and what we are. This is not who and what we should choose to be.

(See A Frustrated Rant On A Right-Wing Facebook Thread for a reaction to the aspects of this ideology which facilitate the accelerating concentration of wealth and opportunity in America.)

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(The following post is one of my most recent in an ongoing dialogue with some rabid anti-immigrant commenters on The Denver Post comment board to a Tina Greigo column from a week and a half ago. This is the link to the current last page of comments: I am engaging in this “debate” because I think it is important to publish as broadly as possible the contrast between the two opposing positions. The post I’ve reproduced here responded not only to the comment it quotes, but also to comments calling my position ethically and morally bankrupt. Please read it and repost it: I think it hits the nail right on the head.)
haloguy628 wrote: Here you are defending a criminal who sneaked into this country illegally, then obtained falsified passport, which he then used to become the enforcer of the law. Foreign criminal the lawman in the US. Unbelievable, but I am sure that cases like this one will become more prevalent as we seriously start dealing with this illegal invasion.

Actually, I’m not defending him at all (other than to sympathize with the desire to live in a country of greater opportunity, and to recognize that crimes committed for no other purpose than to do so are not the most heinous of crimes imaginable). Nowhere did I make any comment about how the law should treat him. My comments have been, and still are, directed at the prevalent attitude here toward those who have crossed our borders illegally, an attitude emphasizing the alleged horrors of this crime, and the alleged horrors of illegal immigration. That’s not a defense of the law-breaker, but rather an indictment of those who are exploiting it as an occasion for and justification of hatred.

That attitude isn’t rooted in some generic commitment to the law, any law, no matter what it is, because the same posters argue vociferously against those laws that they disagree with (e.g., healthcare reform). When it’s a law you approve of, no further discussion is required (or tolerated). When it’s a law you disapprove of, it’s the product of a socialist conspiracy that must not be tolerated. The end result is that nothing but your own blind ideology can ever be tolerated.

The attitude being expressed here by so many, this particular facet of your overarching right-wing ideology, is rooted in an in-group/out-group dogma, a fundamental belief in the rightness and moral purity of exclusion, a belief that has had many incarnations throughout our history (all of which we recognize as repugnant in retrospect), this being just the most recent one (identical, in fact, to the same nativist outcries during previous waves of immigration, voiced against the Chinese, Irish, Germans, Italians, and Eastern Europeans, in the same way and with the same attitude that it is being voiced here and now).

It may be (or may not be) that some degree of exclusion is a practical necessity. But exclusion never has to be exercised with such a complete lack of compassion and humanity. It is the pleasure you (plural) take in excluding, your zeal to morally condemn and denegrate those whom you are excluding, that is most appalling. If it is the case that we are forced by the practical realities of the world to exclude some from entry into this country, then we should do so reluctantly and with regret, not crowing with disdain for those we exclude, or for those who managed not to be excluded despite our attempts to do so.

As we confront this practical question, of who (if any) must be excluded, and who or how many we can afford not to exclude, we should confront it in the best-informed, most rational way possible, and, if with any bias at all, with a bias against exclusion and in favor of inclusion. We should desire to give opportunity to as many rather than as few as possible. And we should weigh our own interests against our values, recognizing that our relative good fortune in this world is not merely to be hoarded, but, to the extent possible, shared and extended to others.

If the two professional economic analyses I’ve linked to (the only professional economic analyses anyone here has yet linked to), which show that illegal immigration actually yields net economic and fiscal benefits to the state of Colorado, are not perfectly accurate (though I have no reason to believe that they aren’t), then at least we know that the truth is that the costs are exaggerated by some for polemical reasons: In reality, the costs, if, despite the analyses to the contrary are not negative, are at least not so enormous as ideologues arbitrarily insist, while the benefits to humanity are. This is the attitude and the predisposition with which we should confront the practical problem of immigration reform.

To me, there is nothing unethical or morally bankrupt about caring about humanity, even that segment of humanity that cannot legally immigrate to the United States but crosses our border anyway, seeking opportunity for themselves and their children. There is nothing ethically or morally bankrupt about decrying the visciousness of someone who posts “waaahhhh, waaaahhhh, we don’t care” in reference to a family torn apart by our indifferrence to the welfare of these humble, hardworking people. There is nothing ethically or morally bankrupt about expressing disgust at the poster who sincerely opined that we should execute them all (all 12 million of them), a post that received from those outraged by these opinions of mine one passing, parenthetical rebuke by one poster only (apparenty, calling for a massacre twice the size of the Holocaust isn’t nearly as morally repugnant as calling for a sense of humanity toward our undocumented population).

Yes, we have a different sense of morality. And as often as you want to highlight that fact, that’s how often I’ll state my pride in it, and my fervent hope that more of my fellow Americans will discover their lost or misplaced humanity, and share with me the just pride in being, or striving to be, a humane and rational people.

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(This is my most recent post on a thread on a Denver Post comment board, my participation beginning here: See Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding for the essay to which I am referring)
windbourne wrote:Do you feel that he should apologize for locking up rapists as well? Perhaps murderers, or bank robbers as well?
I already made a distinction between crimes of predation, and “crimes” that are an artifact of trying to legislate human migration. Border control is one thing; creating a permanent underclass within our borders by ignoring the reality of how our society forms itself is another.
windbourne wrote:Or he should apologize to those that have had their lives destroyed by the drugs that gangs from Latin America bring in?

And there we have it: Guilt by membership in a race or ethnicity. Since some Latin Americans join gangs and smuggle drugs, all Latin Americans share in the guilt, and are to be treated accordingly. I’m sure that you apply the same logic to whatever group you belong to, and consider yourself guilty of every crime any member of your own ethnicity or race ever committed, and thus believe that you should be treated accordingly as well. You have chosen to illustrate for us the dimension of the similarity that I did not emphasize, between the two historical contexts I compared in my essay.

If you respond by falling back on the illegality of their presence, then please explain what the relevance of the mention of the criminal activities of other Latin Americans has.

windbourne wrote:NONE of these illegals are suppose to be here. Many of them are DESTROYING American lives and livelihood. PURPOSELY.

Add in a hefty dose of hyperbole and paranoia, and the similarities become even more striking, almost down to the language used. You have a dehumanizing label that you apply (“these illegals”) which reduces human beings merely migrating toward opportunity to some subhuman status that you can then dismiss and revile. You can’t see it; you won’t see it. But others can and will, and America will wake up from the nightmare it is drifting toward. One of the tensions of human existence is the degree that we, as individuals and as socieities, yield to the basal ganglia of the human brain (“the reptilian brain”), rather than striving to be rational and compassionate human beings. That tension, and which of those two poles is dominant in what is being expressed on this thread, is clearly in evidence.

windbourne wrote:At what point will you show compassion for your fellow citizens that these illegals are harming??

What harm is produced is an artifact of pushing people into the shadows, and forcing them to find ways of surviving there. My compassion is for all, as the real rather than imaginary or manufactured need arises.

While I am writing for those lurkers who are not so completely lost to their hatreds and their bigotries, who recognize that we can be more or less cruel as individuals and as societies, and more or less reasonable, I also suspect that many of you who are most outraged by my posts are so outraged in part because you know, just beneath the surface of your awareness, that there is at least a grain of truth in what I am saying; that there is a disconcerting similarity between the attitudes expressed here toward our own undocumented population living among us and the infamous attitudes of Nazi Germans toward German Jews in the prelude to the Holocaust; that there is something unpleasantly familiar about the suggestion that these Latin American immigrants are somehow contaminating our otherwise pure society with the evils imputed to them as a race (as happend to the waves of Chinese, Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants before them, many of whom also came here without documentation); that there is something cruel and ugly about mocking the suffering of others you’ve managed to dehumanize (“waaahhhh, waaahhhh”).

I have no ill-will toward anyone here, though I do have a feeling of disgust at what is being expressed and demonstrated. But I am a hopeful person; I remember an interview of a woman several decades ago, who had been a teenager at the time the Little Rock Nine had been escorted into their new school, a cluster of Black students accompanied by National Guard troops surrounded by whites whose faces were contorted in hatred and rage. She was in the photo as a teenager, a white girl whose face was more contorted than all the others. And she said in this interview, in all sincerity, that she now knew that she had been wrong, just plain wrong. I have more respect for her, and for people like her, than for those who never had to grapple with those particular inner-demons, for she demonstrated the wisdom and courage of someone who could triumph over her own hatred.

We can and should discuss our immigration policies, and consider the balance of interests involved. We can and should weigh our real interests (not those that are based on arbitrary beliefs mobilized in service to blind bigotries, but rather those based on considering all analyses applied to all reliable data) against our commitment to humanity, and decide how to balance the two. But we do not have to contaminate that with hatred and indifference to the longings and strivings of other human beings; we don’t have to dehumanize those we decide to exclude or even remove.

Or, perhaps, that’s precisely the point: If we don’t dehumanize them, then we have to own our choices, and take moral responsibility for how we treat those seen in the light of what they truly are rather than what we need them to be to avoid any qualms about our own brutalities.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what you think of me, or even what your opinion is about the policies under discussion. What matters is that each and every one of us strives to avoid the orgies of hatred and irrationality that have played such a prominent role in human history, and that are clearly implicated in the attitudes being expressed by some on this thread. That, at least, would be a step in the right direction.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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“Godwin’s Law” is, of course, a reference to the ironic observation by Mike Godwin in the 1990s that the longer an internet conversation goes on, the more inevitable it is that someone will draw a comparison to Nazi Germany. The overuse of this iconic moment in world history as a reference point does not mean that all comparisons are invalid or inappropriate, but does make the utilization of legitimate comparisons problematic. (Godwin himself emphasized that this is precisely the problem, legitimate comparisons getting lost in the flood of meaningless ones. Thus, the invocation of his “law” to reject out-of-hand any comparison made to Nazi Germany accomplishes exactly what he thought needed to be prevented.)

We are at a moment in our own national history when one such legitimate comparison is of particular salience. In order to invoke its legitimacy, I’ll preface my remarks with an important qualification: The American mass hysteria to which I’m referring does not appear to be on the brink of  a genocide, and is not characterized by widespread physical violence. That is a major distinction, which renders it highly unfair to paint the adherents of the American mass hysteria I am about to discuss as the equivalent of Nazis. They’re not. My point only is that there is a certain salient core similarity between the underlying logic of German Nazism and a highly popular modern American political ideological belief.

I am referring to the hostile attitude among many highly vocal and passionate Americans toward undocumented immigrants. For the purposes of this discussion, I will focus only on the attitude toward undocumented immigrants living in our country, not toward their employers, or toward any concerns about lack of enforcement of immigration policies at our borders. Those individuals who criticize the latter aspects of our immigration policy, but accept the presence of those who have already immigrated illegally and integrated themselves into our economy, our communities, and our society as de facto members of our society are excluded from this comparison, without my implying either agreement or disagreement with their positions by doing so. But this conversation is only about our national attitudes toward a population living among us.

First, it’s important to distinguish between law, morality, and reality. We pass laws to order our lives and arrange the framework for our mutually secure and beneficial coexistence as members of a society. Our laws may be moral or immoral in any particular instance, and they may be more or less well-attuned to reality. For instance, our laws prohibiting slaves from escaping from their masters, or others from assisting them in doing so, were clearly, from our current perspective, highly immoral. Similarly, if a law were to be passed making it illegal to be unkind, it might not be immoral, but it is simply unrealistic: We are not capable of legislating kindness. Taken as a whole, our laws are neither perfectly moral, nor perfectly attuned to reality.

One reality to which they are not perfectly atuned is the reality of patterns of human migration. We all implicitly know that our immigration laws and the reality of immigration into our country are at odds. Some believe that this can be rectified simply by enforcing our immigration laws. Very aggressive and expensive attempts to rectify the gap between our laws and our reality have proven that this is far easier to demand than to accomplish. Fences are tunneled beneath. Comprehensive human and technological vigilance of a 2000 mile long border is a practical impossibility. Gaps are found and exploited. People continue to flow across.

Some believe that since the exploitation of the impossibility of perfectly sealing our border is labelled “a crime” according to American law (though this is technically erroneous), those who do exploit it are simply “criminals,” and, as such, are fugitives to be rounded up and either locked up or deported. But this, too, is not perfectly attuned to reality: Humans throughout world history, and around the globe, have migrated away from destitution and toward opportunity, whenever and wherever such migration is possible. In the Biblical story of the Exodus, for instance, the Hebrews with whom we empathize, who escaped Pharaoh in Egypt, had come to Egypt uninvited in the first place, fleeing drought and famine in their homelands. I have never heard anyone condemn these authors of monotheism as uninvited intruders on Egyptian civilization.

We pass our laws to order our lives, which is all well and good. And we are a world carved into nation-states as a by-product of world history, convincing ourselves that the lines we have drawn in the sand (and in our minds) have some fundamental reality, have become a part of Nature itself. Therefore, a violation of the laws which violate those lines is an offense which merits disdain and antagonism.

Let me now turn for a moment to Nazi Germany. The lines drawn in the minds of Nazis was a racial and ethnic one, separating out those of pure German-Aryan blood from those of “impure” or “inferior” blood. Laws were passed making that border inviolable. People were punished for crossing it, and, eventually, for living within the geographic borders of the nation. They were marked as criminals, as a threat to the welfare of the German people, as unwanted foreigners within the German homeland, and thus to be rounded up and removed.

Some will argue that in America today, those who are hostile to undocumented immigrants are not drawing any racial or ethnic lines. We will return to this question shortly, but let’s, for the sake of argument, accept for the moment that it is a purely legal distinction between those who had permission to enter and those who did not. I contend that that is a distinction without a difference: In both cases, a sub-population comprised of ordinary human beings pursuing ordinary lives in an ordinary manner is seen by a major ideological faction as being defined by a nation’s law as “criminal,” as a threat to the welfare of the nation, as a foreigner within, and, therefore, should be rounded up and removed. The similarity in attitude and ideology, even devoid of any racial component, is certainly striking. I would say, in fact, that it is jarring.

We all know, of course, that there is at least some racial component to the modern American anti-undocumented immigrant hysteria, since Arizona passed a law which explicitly targeted one particular ethnicity for exceptional scrutiny. Those who read comment boards and blogs know all too well how many comments decry the degree to which “they” speak Spanish rather than English, or fail to assimilate to an acceptable degree, or, in some other way, keep themselves apart, and are thus the foreigner within.

These people probably do not know that that was a large component of the Nazi complaint against the Jews, clearly exaggerated, just as it is in America today. Jews kept apart, maintained their own religion, used their own language (“Yiddish”), and, in general, were the foreigner within. In both cases, factually false claims of parasitism were (are) repeated endlessly, claims divorced from the economic and political reality of the coexistence of the culturally distinct peoples involved.

Some might argue that a major distinction is that the German Jews persecuted in the Holocaust had been established in Germany for many generations, whereas American anti-undocumented-immigrant ideology targets only those who themselves physically crossed the border without permission. The two things that would make this distinction at least somewhat salient are: 1) Differing extents to which the members of the “foreign” population are integrated into the host society, and 2) the responsibility that comes with volition, having chosen to cross a border without permission.

However, in many cases, both of these distinguishing factors are absent: 1) Many undocumented residents of the United States are fully integrated into their communities and our society (some, in fact, speaking only English, having been brought across in infancy), and, in many ways, German Jews kept themselves more “removed” as a separate people within Germany than undocumented Hispanic residents of the United States do today (rendering the comparison just that much more poignant, since that separateness was a major rationalization for the Holocaust, and is in America today a major rationalization for current bigotries here and now); and 2) people brought across the border in their infancy or childhood exercised no volition, and thus can’t be held responsible for the choice they made. (I want to emphasize that I am not legitimating the belief that these considerations justify the harsh attitudes toward any undocumented immigrants, but merely pointing out the limited reach of this particular distinction from Nazi German attitudes toward Jews.)

As Sinclair Lewis once sagely noted, “when fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” It comes as no surprise, therefore, to note that the core of the mass hysteria of which I speak is to be found among those wrapped in the flag and/or carrying a cross. The anger, belligerence, and irrationality consuming America today in the form of The Tea Party and its fellow travelers is not a mere voice of civic discontent, or respectable ideology engaging in healthy public discourse. It is the antithesis of what reasonable people of goodwill desire for our country, and for humanity.

Discussions about the balance between growth of government and containment of public spending, of optimal taxation and spending, of how best to define and articulate the responsibilities of the public and private spheres, are all legitimate topics of civil discourse. But the disdain of the foreigner within and of the impoverished and destitute, of those less fortunate, that infuses this discourse is not. Our growing denial of our interdependence, of our co-existence as members of a society, of our social responsibilities to one another, is not part of legitimate civil discourse, because it denies the existence of a civic dimension to our lives about which to discourse. It is literally “incivility,” often in form but always in substance, because it is dedicated to absolute individualism, and the destruction of the bonds of being members of a society, of a polity, that gives that individualism its vehicle of expression and realization.

America is at a cross-roads perhaps more consequential than any it has been at in well over a century, since perhaps the Civil War. As many have noted, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, we are on the brink of another civil war. Few, however, have correctly identified the sides in this new civil war: It is not liberty v. socialism, or even conservative v. progressive, but rather is reason and goodwill v. irrational belligerence. It is the civil war that Germans fought and lost prior to World War II, because it is a civil war that is lost, to the detriment of all, when irrational belligerence prevails, and reasonable goodwill is defeated. This is not a trivial incarnation of that perennial civil war which recurs so frequently in World History, in so many times and places. Lives are at stake. Our decency as a people is at stake. Humanity is at stake.

This is a war that is fought within the heart of each of us, across the dinner table in our homes, in taverns and meeting places and on internet sites. It is a war for our minds and hearts, not just that our minds and hearts are convinced of one thing or another, but for our minds and hearts themselves, whether we are people whose minds and hearts prevail, or people whose basal ganglia (or “reptilian brains”) prevail. And this is the crux of the comparison I am drawing: In Nazi Germany, it was clearly the basal ganglia that prevailed. In modern America, it is clearly the basal ganglia that is in control when we define ourselves by our hostility toward perceived “others.”

This is not a war we can afford to lose.

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Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

(This was a response to a conservative poster on a Denver Post comment board, who contended that I seem to think I know some “universal truth” that lesser mortals don’t get, in reference to my strong statement of a moral and intellectual position on Colorado ASSET, which would allow undocumented Colorado teens who had graduated from a Colorado high school after at least three years in attendance to pay an unsubsidized in-state tuition rate to attend Colorado universities.) 

We all take stands and adhere to ideologies that somehow blend bits of “absolutism” with bits of relativism; the challenge is to do so consciously and in a disciplined way, such that we create the most useful frameworks through which to understand a complex and subtle reality.

Those who simply follow blind passions instead tend to get it wrong both ways. You are relativistic about reason and knowledge, arguing as if any assertion of facts or attempt at reasoned argumentation is equal to any other, regardless of the accuracy of the facts or soundness of the reasoning. But knowledge and skill do matter (going to the trouble of acquiring reliably derived information, of getting training in analytical skills, and utilizing them in an attempt to best understand complex social issues is more useful than not doing so).

In matters of public policy, you belong to an ideology which takes offense at such assertions, though you take no such offense at the similar assertion that, for instance, a trained surgeon (or lawyer, or carpenter, or accountant…) is more competent to perform surgery (or practice law, carpentry, or accounting…) than a lay person. This is because your ideology depends on doing the opposite of what your screen name claims you do: it is based on a dogged lack of thought, and it falls apart under careful scrutiny.

On the other hand, you are moral absolutists about those beliefs that are most hostile to the rights and welfare of others. Your ideological camp (i don’t know your position personally) opposed civil unions, for instance, arguing incredbily bigoted nonsense about why discriminating against human beings who want to marry partners of the same sex cannot be afforded the same rights as those who want to marry partners of the opposite sex, even though the only issue involved is an extension of our concept of equality under the law to something we now understand is just a natural area of human variation (sexual orientation).

But, then again, you are moral relativists when it comes to the bedrock morality of caring about other human beings, about striving to be as reasonable and humane a society as we can be, not just acting with universal goodwill in our hearts, but also doing so with as much attention to our social systemic realities as possible, so that we do so wisely and effectively.

In other words, you’ve cobbled together an ideology that gets the “relativism” and “absolutism” blend diametrically wrong on every single dimension, thus fighting to produce an ever dumber and crueler society, rather than an ever wiser and kinder one.

The only “universal truth” I claim to know, that you are missing, is that we must first start with the knowledge that we don’t know, and, on that basis, dilligently build the best understandings we are capable of, in service to the most humane and effective public policies we are capable of implementing, forever evolving in a positive direction as a result. As a general rule, I stick to letting my arguments speak for themselves on these message boards, and don’t cite my “credentials,” but if you go to my autobiographical page on Colorado Confluence, you’ll see that I’ve very much lived according to that “universal truth” I just cited. And I encourage everyone to strive to do so to as great an extent as possible.

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(The following is a series of post on the Denver Post comment board for a recent tangentially related column by Tina Griego. The column, and the entire exchange of comments, can be found at This column brings to mind SB 126, Colorado ASSET. The students that Tina profiles here are similar to many that I encountered as an ELA (English Language Acquisition) social studies teacher in Denver Public Schools several years ago, most of whom were undocumented immigrants.

SB 126 has no fiscal note (it costs taxpayers nothing; in fact, it brings in revenue for our state universities). We offer kids a path to productivity rather than to desperation and criminality, the latter choice having a much different fiscal and social note for us to pay.

To highlight the inhumanity of our current attitudes toward undocumented immigrants (people whose only crime, like humans throughout history, was to migrate from destitution toward opportunity), I could go into the horror stories I encountered while doing a legal internship with Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network and, briefly, with a private immigration lawyer, stories like that of a detainee in Park County who lost limbs due to a staff infection and inadequate conditions and treatment, or of a young diabetic deprived of his insulin by clueless guards while his mother was frantic and helpless over the fact that they were in effect killing her child just for having been taken across the border as a baby. There are others, as bad or worse, and it’s tempting to tell them, but my experience as an ELA teacher is more directly relevant.

Teaching ELA is an unbelievable experience. These are great kids. Most good teachers love their students, but there’s an extra innocence and sweetness about so many ELA students, that connection is really amplified, in both directions. I felt ready to do anything I could to help my ELA kids over the hurdles they’re facing. A few of them were among the very best students anywhere, in every way, the kinds of kids that excel both in terms of commitment and in terms of just plain good nature. Several of my ELA students, whose faces I can still see as I type this, were kids who I felt then, and feel now, simply deserved a chance to succeed in life. And, given that chance, they would pay back the society that provided it a thousand fold.

Tina Griego is right: These children, many of whom are the product of people who found there way here to give their children greater opportunities in life, offer us hope for the future. We, in turn, need to refrain from depriving them, and us, of that hope.

dlprobert wrote: It costs the taxpayers the money that is discounted giving illegals in-state tuition. It costs the schools those funds!! Don’t say it costs us nothing, how dare you!!
No, it brings revenue into the schools. In-state tuition, minus the public subsidy that other state residents receive (which is how the bill is drafted), brings in more revenue to the schools than is spent on the students who are paying it. Since in almost all cases they wouldn’t have been able to pay out-of-state tuition, there is no “opportunity cost” of not having charged them the higher amount. This is simply an economic fact.
dlprobert wrote: All of those horror stories you mention could be avoided, had they stayed in their home country an applied to come here legally, waited their turn, like real LEGAL immigrants do. We, the TAX-PAYING AMERICAN CITIZENS, are tired of the coddling of illegals. We want current immigration laws enforced!! We don’t need any new rules!
1) The waiting list for current citizens of Latin American countries is upward of 20 years, even with a close relative. There is no “turn” to be waited. The real alternaitve is between migrating toward opportunity, or not migrating toward opportunity. Humans, all through history, have migrated toward opportunity, the lines drawn in the sand by past conquests and wars notwithstanding.

2) Illegal immigrants pay more in taxes for fewer pay-backs than citizens and legal residents, on average. This is another economic fact.

dlprobert wrote:That is what this TAX-PAYING AMERICAN CITIZEN would like to see, not the same old blather your keep throwing at us about how unjust America treats illegals (it’s obviously not bad enough, they keep coming).
My “blather” about a commitment to humanity rather than a mere self-serving antagonism to it is “blather” more of us should be “throwing” at each other, far more often and consistently.
dlprobert wrote: Then let them wait 20 years…their other countrymen did!
Really? Do you know the history of North American migration and demographics, not to mention American immigration law? First of all, Texas and most of the American West and Southwest belonged to Mexico before it belonged to the United States, until the latter prosecuted a series of opportunistic wars and anexations in order to acquire it. A large portion of the Hispanic population of this part of the country is descended from those who resided here before it became a part of the United States; in other words, the border crossed them. The words “colorado, arizona, california, nevada, los angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, las vegas…” are all Spanish for a reason. (And the iconic American Cowboy is actually of Latin American derivation.)

More recently, we have utilized various immigration policies to bring in cheap labor when it served our purposes, and try to remove it when it didn’t, frequently dividing and disrupting families in the process. We created the flow of people from south of the border, cultivated it, trying to turn it on and off like a spigot at our convenience, another source of chattel for our exploitation.

Most of that population is predominantly indigenous in its ancestry, descendents of the Indians belonging to that larger population we conquered and displaced, and to a large extent simply massacred, to acquire the wealth we now enjoy (a fact that Hitler cited with admiration, as a justification for his own policy of “lebensraum”). That wealth, produced on stolen land, was produced for centuries with the assistance of imported and abused human chattel from Africa.

You’ll notice, also, that I had said that even those with close relatives have waiting times of over 20 years; those without close relatives can’t immigrate, period. And for those who are lucky enough to have a 20-some year waiting period, their main purpose, that of providing their children with better opportunities, is undermined by the wait, since those children will be adults, and will have to get in line themselves at that point!

America has many admirable qualities, and has, at times, strived to be a gift to humanity. But we are also burdened with our fair share of horrible acts of violence against others, and those you disparage now are both descended from our earlier victims, and are in many ways just the latest incarnation of the disposable labor we have so long cultivated and exploited.

dlprobert wrote: We have no more room in our budget for any more! I’m sorry, but the US can only handle so many immigrants. That is why we have immigration in the first place!
Actual economic analyses, rather than arbitrary claims in service to blind inhumanity, tells a different story. Most analyses hover around the conclusion that illegal immigration is an economic wash nationally, though the geographical distribution of costs and benefits is uneven. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and are denied some of the services they pay for. They solve a fundamental demographic problem in America (the worker-to-retiree ratio), perform some jobs that there really are not American workers willing or able to do (primarily in the agricultural sector), keep consumer prices low and perform a vital function in our overall economy. This debate, which we have had throughout our history, has never been about our capacity to absorb newcomers; it has always been about the bigotry and xenophobia of those who are already here.
dlprobert wrote:Illegals cost the state of Colorado over $1.5B annually….that’s a fact.
No, it’s not a fact. Those who have ever done any honest work in the field acknowledge first that we have no firm numbers, for a variety of reasons. Second, the range of conclusions tends toward zero. Third, you’ve obviously cherry picked a number that some propagandist generated for your convenience. It has absolutely no basis in reality.
dlprobert wrote: The money they earn is sent to their real home countries! In fact, the reason El Presidente came here cryin to Obama was, if we started enforcing our immigration laws, the loss of billions to the Mexican economy!
They send a significant portion of their earnings to their home countries, where their wives and children and parents are struggling to survive, while they live spartan lives working long hours here generating wealth in our economy. Improving those foreign economies is also good for our own, in a variety of ways, but, more importantly, it is good for humanity, which is the responsibility of all human beings, even the exceedingly fortunate ones who live in the world’s wealthiest nations.

In your orgy of belligerence, you’re anxious to impose a lose-lose scenario on all of us, hurting ourselves in order to punish others for daring to do what humans have done throughout human history. Let’s focus on what my original post was all about: Providing undocumented teenagers with a chance to succeed in our society. The alternative is not, as you imagine, deporting them: The costs of doing so, even ignoring the astonishing inhumanity of it, are far, far greater than any estimation of the costs of not doing so.

The real question is how to manage the costs of a 12 million strong undocumented population in America. You have a choice between pushing them into destitution, even those who are most capable and dedicated to success, breeding predators rather than contributing members of society, or, more intelligently, offering roads for success, by which we all benefit.

There are those in America, as in many other times and places, that are lost in a fog of ignorance and belligerence, viewing the world through a lens of neatly separate nations and races, of “us” and “them” defined along a variety of dimensions. Such people are the authors of genocides, of enslavements, of brutal conquests and exploitations and oppressions. Then there are others, also in many times and places, who recognize that humanity is undivided except by the lines in our own imaginations, that we share a fate, an on-going endeavor, and fare better when we face it with reason and mutual goodwill rather than with irrational belligerence and hatred.

It’s time for people to start choosing which of those groups they wish to belong to with more wisdom and compassion than many here are doing now.

dlprobert wrote: You said…it was war…and to the victor go the spoils!
Thank you for being so transparent about your orientation. You are steeped in the notion of violently despoiling others in service to yourself and your tribe; I am steeped in the notion of thriving, cooperatively, in service to humanity.

dlprobert wrote: I choose to be anti-illegal immigrant, like a majority of TAXPAYING AMERICAN CITIZENS are!

And I choose to be a reasonable person of goodwill, as all of us can and should choose to be.

dlprobert wrote: Look Steve, I am really not trying to be an a__

Fair enough. Then let’s have an informative discussion about all relevant considerations and factors.

First, it’s important to note that this conversation didn’t begin as a blanket defense of “illegal immigration.” My personal view, for a variety of reasons, is that the more open the borders (here and elsewhere), the better. This is beneficial to humanity on several levels: It leads to greater global wealth (by removing barriers to the free flow of the factors of production); it increases global distributional justice (by openning up opportunities to earn a larger piece of the pie for those currently with smaller pieces); it creates more cross-cutting ties among nations and peoples, thus preparing us to better deal with our proliferating global rather than national problems and challenges; it reduces the increasing disparity between the wealthy enclaves in the world and the impoverished mass of humanity, almost entirely by raising up those who are somewhat poorer rather than by bringing down those who are somewhat richer, which is not only more humane, but also helps avert a future that is otherwise guaranteed to be full of horrible violence aimed against those rich enclaves, which will be increasingly unable to stem the tide of humanity demanding global structural changes.

But one doesn’t have to agree with this view to agree that we have a practical problem concerning how to assimilate (or remove) the 12 million or so undocumented residents of this country. Removal, as I’ve already pointed out, is simply too expensive (even ignoring the inhumanity of it). By any calculation, the costs far, far, far exceed the benefits. Fiscally and economically, it is simply completely impractical. Added to that is the fact that you would witness something akin to the Nazi round-up of Jews in 1930s and 40s Germany if that were the path we choose to go down. We would, indeed, become a global villain, and would be historically remembered as such.

That’s what happens when people think primarily in terms of “nations” rather than in terms of “humanity.” The Germans of that epoch, you might recall, justified their actions by recourse to nationalism; they were concerned with the welfare of the German people, and with ridding Germany of a foreign element that they considered a burden on their national welfare. It was irrational of them; they couldn’t have been more wrong. And it is irrational of us; we couldn’t be more wrong today.

The reality is that we have a deep historical link to the people you misidentify as mere invaders. About a third of our contiguous territory was a part of Mexico before it was a part of the United States. Many Hispanic residents of that third are descendents of people whom the border crossed rather than of people who crossed the border. We have purposefully exploited the porous border to the south to our benefit, and have created a population that we consider inferior and disposable. “Legally” or “illegally,” they are a part of our nation and our society, and we have a moral oligation to them.

More importantly, for the purposes of this conversation, our own self-interest depends on assimilating those undocumented people. If we want to improve our control of the flow, so be it. But the notion that we should control it by punishing those who are here in order to make our country less attractive to those who aren’t is sheer folly, both because it turns us into something we should not be striving to be, and because it breeds an angry, rebellious, opportunity deprived shadow population that will only, as a result, impose a real cost and burden on our nation, rather than the imaginary one of today.

dlprobert wrote: America cannot continue with it’s handouts to people that are not in this country legally

The notion that those who come here illegally are greater recipients of “hand-outs” than other members of this society is not only mistaken, it is backwards. Yes, some social services (e.g., public education and emergency room treatment) are not withheld from undocumented residents of this country, but most are. They cannot collect on social welfare and economic security programs (e.g., medicaid, unemployment, welfare, social security, etc.). As a result, unlike American citizens and legal permanent residents, if they’re not working, they simply leave. There’s no point in being here, paying for a higher cost of living while receiving no income. So they are virtually all employed, always paying sales taxes and usually paying income taxes (since they generally need to use fake social security numbers to work) for programs that they can’t collect on. They make a vital contribution to the economy, which is why the labor market places such a strong demand on them.

dlprobert wrote: but it’s still ILLEGAL

There is legality, and there is morality, and there is reality. It was once illegal for a slave to escape from his or her master in this country, or for anyone, in any part of the country, to harbor such an escaped slave. In the name of that law, slave owners could send out slave hunters into non-slave states to recapture escaped slaves, and, abusing that law, those slave hunters often captured free African Americans living in free states and sold them into slavery in the south. Legality clearly is not the final word on “right” and “wrong.” So, those of us who recognize moral defects in current laws have a moral obligation to struggle to change those laws in order to cure those defects.

Beyond legality and morality, there is reality. The reality is that humans have always migrated away from destitution and toward opportunity, regardless of the nature or legal status of the invitation they may or may not have received. Jews ended up in Germany as a result of a diaspora, not a German invitation; does that justify the Holocaust?

We create our nations, give them geographic definition, and create laws by which to govern them, but we do not dictate the underlying dynamics of human existence. We live in a world of far greater global interdependence than nationalists would like to admit, in which the plight of others is and will be our own, and violently so tomorrow if we do not recognize it as morally so today.

dlprobert wrote: Those that won’t even try to assimilate…I have a real issue with that. I’m a veteran and when I went to a foreign country, I made it a point to learn the basics of the native language, not only to get along, but to also fit in.

Good for you. You are the exception among Americans, but not among those of other countries. I’ve lived and traveled abroad for over eight years of my adult life (including two stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, and over two living in Mexico). I’ve known ex-pat Americans, and travelers and tourists, as well as those of other nations, and we are by far the most disrespectful, imperialistic sods out there. Many Americans abroad not only don’t know the language of the country they are in, but are downright offended when citizens of other countries, in their own countries, don’t know English. “The Ugly American” is a term that evolved in light of this dynamic.

As a veteran, I’m sure you recall the phrases “back in the world” and “going back to the world.” That’s how American service members refer to the United States, denegrating other countries (including European allies) by implying that they aren’t even a part of “the world.” America is the whole world in this formulation; other places are unreal, inferior, less worthy of recognition or acknowledgement. So, let’s not decry the imagined cultural insensitivity of those who come to this country and continue to speak their native language (or continue to speak the language established here before we forcefully anexed this region).

And, lets’ be honest: While some first-generation Hispanics who reside here don’t know much English, the impression that that is the  norm is reinforced by selective perception. Most learn more than “the basics” of English. I detect a bit of an attribution and confirmation bias in your above characterization: You didn’t claim fluency; might it be that your “basics” of those other languages, of which you’re so proud, represents a comparable level of language proficiency to the failure to learn English you detect in others?

There are basically two ways to see the world: In terms of “us” v. “them,” or in terms of humanity. We will all benefit in the long run, enormously, the more we gravitate toward the latter orientation and leave the former one on the dust heap of history, where it belongs.

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