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Bin Laden and the Celebration of Death and Violence: I’m a realistic idealist. In an ideal world, we would never gloat and cheer over any act of violence, no matter how “just,” and would never consider any act of violence more laudable than a regretable necessity. I accept the fact that we don’t live in that world, and that there was no way that this country wasn’t going to celebrate our summary execution of Bin Laden. I don’t know if it has any real effect on the real challenge of reducing terrorism: Maybe, maybe not. If it has any deterence effect, it is probably an effect too marginal to matter, since there are thousands lining up for martyrdom. If it offers any consolation to those who lost loved ones on 9/11, that is certainly a valuable benefit. If it’s folly, it’s folly that no one could possibly do anything to counteract. So I say: Okay, we killed Bin Laden. Okay, justice was served. But let it be served with some tiny shred of decorum. When we celebrate violence and death, any violence and death, we are churning the waters that produce it. Let’s show the world, and our children, that we are a civilized nation, that may mete out justice when necessary, but will not crow about having done so.

Birthers and Buffoons: The Dangerous Absurdity of America’s Far Right: First, let me be clear: Not all Republicans are irrational or malicious people. Not all people who argue for lower taxes and less spending are enemies of humanity. Not all people who identify with the Tea Party are full of hatred and ignorance. But we have reached a point in our history when we can no longer be polite about the growing problem we are facing, a problem that is not unique in human history, and one which, thanks to the lessons of the past and of the world, we know is far too serious simply to laugh off.

President Obama went on TV yesterday morning to announce the release of his long-form birth certificate, something he had to do because, due to the political exploitation of insanity, a significant number of Republicans and independents had doubts about whether he was born in the United States, despite the fact that there was never a shred of evidence that he wasn’t. Never a shred. It was a movement based on malicious fabrication, a reality created and thriving in the imaginations of its adherents, and motivated by a desire to destroy the credibility of our democratically elected president by means of a falsehood.

It’s important to recognize this tactic, to see it clearly and understand its historical significance without equivocation. It’s important not to dismiss it as “politics as usual,” as what we do in our political discourse, because it took a bad habit one step further, one level deeper, one leap closer to historical archetypes we rightly revile and fear. And the degree of commitment to delegitimizing Obama is one step beyond those that came before, not solely because of his policies, but because of the combination of his “otherness” and his apparent lack of real vulnerabilities to exploit.

The Loss of Colorado ASSET and More Irrational Rage Against “The Other”: I’ve been arguing on The Denver Post comment boards that facts, logic, and human decency actually should matter when we talk about the issue of illegal immigration and immigration reform. In two weeks of doing so, citing studies (by The Colorado Institute on Law and Policy, and The Bell) demonstrating that illegal immigration is a net benefit to both the Colorado state economy and Colorado net tax revenue (tax revenues collected from undocumented residents exceeding tax expenditures to or due to them); The Economist magazine’s frequent argument that it redresses our critical and rapidly growing demographic imbalance (with a collapsing population of workers supporting an exploding population of retirees); documented evidence of callous abuses of basic human rights in our detention centers (even toward small children); and a historical analogy between our current prevalent attitude toward this “foreign” population living among us that so many declare should be rounded up and removed, on the one hand, and, on the other, the most infamous modern historical episode in which another nation lost iself to a similar frenzy of dehumanizing a “foreign” population living within the larger nation, and calling for them to be rounded up and removed.

In response to these arguments, I received about 500 “thumbs down,” and a massive circling of the wagons against such heresy. Whereas the quantity of outrage and vitriol over the postion I expressed was quite extensive and passion, there was only one passing rebuke by one poster to one of their own who, in all seriousness, suggested that we should exterminate these “invaders” (all twelve million of them). As I said on that thread, apparently arguing in favor of reason and human decency is more worthy of angry outrage than calling for a Holocaust twice the size of the original.

In reality, Colorado ASSET, which would have provided unsubsidized in-state tuition to undocumented residents who graduated from a Colorado high school after three years in attendence, would have cost tax payers nothing, brought net revenue into our state universities, avoided our current policy of denying a large subpopulation any pathway to success and thus ensuring that we bear the enormous future financial and social costs that will inevitably flow from that, and, instead, helped to produce a higher proportion of productive members of society contributing to our collective welfare. The one and only argument against this obviously beneficial policy was that if we do not deprive these innocent children, de facto members of our society, any and all pathways to success, we will foster the impression that we are still a land of opportunity to which hardworking people from other countries should strive to join and contribute to.

Denver Mayor’s Race: As of this writing, it appears that the run-off will be between Chris Romer and Michael Hancock. As a resident of South Jeffco, myself a bit burned out on electoral politics, I didn’t start to pay attention until a couple of weeks ago, when I attend a FRESC forum in west Denver. James Mejia immediately impressed as a systemic thinker, a social entrepreneur who understands how various aspects of our social institutional landscape articulate with one another, and how making the right kinds of investments can ripple through those systems in beneficial ways. I loved his vision and his breadth of knowledge and his experience and his clear understanding of the systemic structure and dynamics through which  we must negotiate the challenges and opportunities we face. I hope we find a way to put James’ formidable talents, experience, and knowledge to good use.

While helping to launch (and co-hosting the first two episodes of) a Spanish language political radio show, I had the pleasure of interviewing both James Mejia and Doug Linkhart. Doug also impressed me as a very likable guy, with clear stands on the issues, and a background and knowledge-base that would have served Denver well.  I wish both James and Doug the best.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

“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.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards