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One of the subtexts running through the current meta-debate between the Left and the Right is a constant volleying back and forth of accusations and refutations of racism. The Left accuses the Right of racism for a variety of reasons that I partially capture below. The Right indignantly denies it, retaliating with accusations back, insisting that “playing the race card” is the real expression of racism.

Personally, I think this discussion is generally overdone and often distracting, but the thread of validity in the criticism by the Left of the Right, and the reinforcement of irrationality and counterfactuality in the Right’s response, motivates me to give it a comprehensive treatment.

First, it is important to explore the concept of “racism” itself. If, by “racism,” we mean only explicit, overt, self-conscious antipathy toward members of another race, then I’d say that only a small minority of politically active people of either major partisan camp are “racist.” The vast majority denounce such crude racism, and the extant but dwindling population of such unreconstituted racists in the population at large are not a significant political force anymore.

Before I turn to the more implicit forms of racism that I think do continue to play a significant, if not central, role in political affairs, I’d like to emphasize that I think that the ideological thread most prominent in right-wing thought isn’t racism proper at all, but rather what I’ll call “quasi-racism,” an intense in-group/out-group bias, informing a set of beliefs and positions that are very tribalistic, and very dismissive of “the other.” The antagonistic attitude toward numerous non-racial outgroups (though sometimes with strong racial associations), such as gays, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, foreigners in general, the poor, atheists, and, basically, anyone who isn’t perceived to be an in-group member, is one of the most prominent defining characteristics of modern right-wing thought.

Explicit racism, however, is not absent from the right-wing echo-chamber. On a Facebook thread following one posting of the statistic that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be the instrument of the death of a member of the household than to be used in self-defense, for instance, one commenter responded to another by referring to “a group of n*****s raping your boyfriend” (the point being that you’d want to have a gun handy in that apparently representative scenario). On another thread at another time, a southern Tea Partier included among the problems besetting us “ungrateful blacks.” These are not isolated examples: While such explicit expressions of racism are not the norm, they recur at a constant rate on such threads, always, of course, by right-wing commenters slipping over a line many others approach without crossing.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, there was a Facebook wall post of a news story about a trio of “scary” black violent offenders, apparently being used to make the argument that it is understandable that armed vigilantes should go out in their neighborhoods and pursue unarmed black teens walking home from the store  –even if the price of such “liberty” is the occasional shooting death of one such unarmed black teen– because, in their unself-aware but deep-rooted world view, it’s rational to be afraid, it’s rational to presume that a hoodie-wearing black teen walking through your neighborhood is up to no good, and so it is, implicitly, rational to provoke a deadly encounter with said black teen under those circumstances.

In other words, the right-wing insistence that it’s a non-issue that their ideology can lead to instances of overzealous vigilantes pursuing and killing unarmed black teens walking home from the store is an astounding illustration of an underlying –and effectively racist– defect in their ideology. (The contention that it’s a non-issue because it was allegedly self-defense on the shooter’s part neglects the fact that the alleged need for self-defense was indisputably created by the decision to go out with a gun and pursue the arbitrarily “suspicious looking” unarmed black teen in the first place.)

These same people champion Jim-Crow-like voter suppression laws (on a discredited pretext and repeatedly struck down by the courts as unconstitutional), use code words like “Chicago politics” and “ACORN” and other allusions to blacks-as-inherently-corrupt, advocate discrimination against Muslims (and denial of their first amendment freedom of religion rights), frequently vilify and denegrate Hispanics, want to deny civil rights to gays, and, in general, are committed to a tribalistic orientation to the world, in which the small in-group of overwhelmingly white, mostly male, almost exclusively Judeo-Christian bigots opposes the rights and aspirations of the myriad out-groups surrounding them, denying the reality of a legacy of historical injustices and of current inequities, fighting for a regressive, aggressive, compassionless, irrational, barbaric society, in which those who feel well-served by the status quo (or, more precisely, by the status quo of a previous era) fight to recover an archaic -if all too recent– social order more preferential to their in-group statuses.

And they do so by disregarding fact and reason; by dismissing as bastions of liberalism precisely those professions that methodically gather, verify, analyze, and contemplate information (which, as a liberal, I take as a complement and as an affirmation of how much more rational our ideology is than theirs); by selecting, revising, and ignoring historical data to serve their fabricated ideological narrative; by ignoring the weight of professional economic theory and analysis (prompting the free-market-advocacy Economist magazine to label them “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical”); by cherry-picking, reinterpreting, and selectively disregarding constitutional provisions and phrases in service to that same ideological narrative; and, in general, by defying fact and reason in service to ignorance and bigotry.

Whether we emphasize the racist overtones, the more explicit in-group/out-group tribalism in general, or just the prevailing ignorance and brutality of their ideology, the final evaluation is the same: It’s a perfect storm of organized irrationality in service to implicit and explicit inhumanity. And it’s not who and what we should choose to be as a people and a nation.

So, how much racism is there on the far right? It’s a moot point; the racism is enveloped by so much more that is the very cloth from which racism is cut that the accusation of racism is too narrow a focus and too much of a distraction. Emphasizing the broader irrational inhumanity that defines this ideological camp both captures and goes beyond the identification of the racist overtones within it.

(For more on these themes, see The New Face Of American Racism, The Tea Party’s Neo-”Jim Crow”, The History of American Libertarianism, The Presence of the Past, Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding, Basal Ganglia v. Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia Keeping Score, and “Sharianity”)

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

My current argument is not one about what the substance of our immigration policy should be (I’ve made such arguments in, e.g.,  A comprehensive overview of the immigration issue, Legality, Morality, and Reality Regarding U.S. Immigration Policy, Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding, Basal Ganglia v. Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia Keeping Score, The Nature of the SB 126 Colorado ASSET DebateGodwin’s Law, Revisited, and A Humane & Rational People), but rather about what the process for determining our immigration policy should be. As always, this argument is just one instance of the larger argument that we should commit ourselves to striving to apply reason to evidence in service to humanity, rather than engaging in careless habits that result in the application of irrationality to ignorance in service to inhumanity.

The focus of this essay is one clearly fallacious argument, that is, in fact, the principal argument used by those who take a stand unyieldingly hostile to millions of people, of a certain status, who currently reside in this country (and, by implication, millions more who would like to, but have no legal pathway toward doing so). Debunking this one argument does not, by itself, debunk their entire position, but rather merely forces the debate into a more appropriate framework, where any and all substantive arguments they may have can compete with any and all substantive counterarguments, in a process which best serves our better angels by giving our baser demons fewer shadows in which to hide.

The fallacious argument to which I refer is that the current widespread hostility toward undocumented immigrants and residents, in which these particular ideologues actively participate, is not only legally warranted but legally mandated. Their error is their failure to understand that the law, in the final analysis, is our servant, not our master. (Yes, in an intermediate sense the utility of the law is that it is binding and not optional, but it is designed to be a malleable and adaptable tool rather than, in its particulars, a fixed and permanent shackle.)

As an aside, the irony of this error is one thread of a larger hypocrisy: The people who make it are overwhelmingly the same people who insist that they are the most committed to “Liberty,” while in reality being the most committed to authoritarianism. But that is a topic for other essays (see, e.g., The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism).

The argument frequently invoked by this particular faction, that their hostility is not directed toward immigrants but rather only toward illegal immigrants, and that the word “illegal” conclusively supports their public policy positions on the issues of immigration and residency, reflects a fundamental misconception of the nature of law and the responsibilities of citizenship in a popular sovereignty. They mistakenly believe that a current legal status quo is the definitive refutation of both any public policy arguments that critique it, and any public policy arguments that defend other aspects of the current or proposed legal status quo that they erroneously consider somehow legally prohibited by some presumed inconsistency with the aspects they prefer. In other words, they presume that public policy arguments can’t challenge existing laws that they do like, and, at the same time, can’t defend existing or proposed laws that they don’t like, the latter based on some presumption of a legal prohibition against the existence of any laws which presuppose the violation of other laws. Both of these beliefs are easily debunked, and their mobilization in service to a blindly ideological position easily demonstrated.

Laws are something we make, implement, interpret, modify, and rescind according to processes that are themselves established by law (see The Fractal Geometry of Law (and Government)). They do not define what the conclusion of public policy debates and legal processes should be, but rather what they thus far have been. They obligate, with varying degrees of flexibility, individual behavioral compliance, not collective ideological conformity, rigid administrative enforcement, or perpetual universal legal consistency. The fact that laws do not mandate the latter three is in large measure how they evolve and adapt to changing circumstances, values, and understandings.

The response to an argument that we should, within the constraints and according to the guidelines of our current legal framework, alter or reinterpret or modify our implementation of our legal framework, with the counterargument that we can’t because the current substantive legal status quo is different from what the modified legal status quo would be, is like arguing a century and a half ago that we can’t abolish slavery because the right to own slaves is protected by law (an argument which was, in fact, frequently and persistently made). And to argue that we can’t pass laws short of a comprehensive change of paradigm because it would be an affront to that dominant paradigm is analogous to having maintained that we couldn’t have made the morally laudible step of allowing escaped slaves to attain their freedom in non-slave states because to have done so would have simply encouraged more slaves to escape.

Let me be clear: I am not comparing current anti-undocumented immigrant ideology to slavery. Rather, I am comparing the defense of one set of laws that we recognize in retrospect to have been morally repugnant and well worthy of being changed with the defense of a current set of laws that some (including myself) argue is also morally repugnant and well worthy of being changed, in order to illustrate that the public policy debate should focus on the value of the law rather than on the fact of its existence. A debate can and should be had about whether the current set of immigration and immigration-related laws are ideal or morally repugnant or somewhere in between. The mere fact that that set is the current law is irrelevant to that debate.

(It’s worth noting, however, that there are some similarities: Slaves were considered not to be citizens, a perception codified in law by the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision. Abolishing slavery would have admitted this formerly excluded class into national membership. Allowing escaped slaves to attain freedom but not necessarily citizenship in non-slave states would have been analogous to allowing undocumented immigrants to enjoy some of the opportunities afforded citizens and legal residents without being automatically granted that status itself. The 14th Amendment’s establishment of jus soli, the doctrine that anyone born on American soil is an American citizen, was part of the long-unsuccessful attempt to demolish the legacy of slavery, root and branch, and still has implications relevant to immigration policy. Though the differences are greater than the similarities, the fact remains that exclusionary policies that tend to dehumanize those excluded inevitably resemble one another to some degree. See, e.g., Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding.)

It is our responsibility to determine what our laws should be, while also considering how best to implement and enforce the laws that currently are. Those with a zero-tolerance attitude toward undocumented residents, insisting that we are legally required both to in no way accommodate their presence here and to remove them all regardless of the costs (fiscal, economic, social, demographic, and moral), should also, for consistency, insist that every motorist who ever drifts even just one mph over the posted speed limit should be caught and fined regardless of the costs, and that laws which presuppose violations of the speed limit (e.g., prohibiting driving in the passing lane, even at or above the speed limit, on the basis that it obstructs other motorists who might want to pass) are somehow unacceptable (or themselves “illegal”).

Or, to pick a more illuminating example, even though it is illegal to jaywalk, a motorist is still legally obligated to yield to that law-breaker, who is thus protected from some of the negative consequences of his or her infraction by another law accommodating it. (After all, aren’t we just encouraging more people to jaywalk by requiring motorists not to run them over?)

Again, let me be clear: I am not comparing illegal immigration to speeding or jaywalking.  I am, rather, debunking the fallacy that no law can or should exist which presupposes, or even at times accommodates and implicitly “encourages,” the violation of another law. Our laws neither require nor benefit from that kind of rigid consistency: We can, and should, have laws which both prohibit certain activities, and that protect or accommodate those who violate them. Such laws are particularly well advised when the infraction is non-violent and non-predatory, the protection vital to that person’s safety or sustenance, or the accommodation ultimately in the public as well as private interest (such as by giving all residents of the country maximal opportunities to become productive members of society, rather than denying such opportunities and thus increasing the rate of socially, fiscally, and economically costly dependency and predation).

When people oppose, for instance, a law which would allow in-state undocumented high school graduates to attend state universities at in-state tuition rates, with the argument that the current law somehow prohibits the passage of such a law (“what part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?!”), they are inventing a legal doctrine that doesn’t exist (a requirement for perfect consistency among all laws), in order to insist on a particularly vindictive and counterproductive policy position.

Our national debate regarding immigration (as with all issues) needs to focus on what set of policies realized through what legal paradigm best serves our national interests and values. Citing the current legal status quo as an argument in that debate is, in reality, an attempt to insulate preferred elements of that status quo against criticism without having to mobilize any rational or informed argument, or address any rational and informed counterarguments, to do so. At the same time, citing one aspect of the current legal status quo (e.g., the laws against entering and being in the country without legal authorization) as an argument against another aspect of the current legal status quo (e.g., administrative policies not to target for removal those who have not committed other crimes) is an attempt to argue in favor of a change in the legal status quo without having to mobilize any rational or informed argument in support of such a change.

These are not just irrational and, to put it politely, “information-disregarding” arguments in our national debate on immigration policy, but are also instances of a larger contest in American political discourse: The contest between, on the one hand, a commitment to reason applied to evidence in service to humanity, and, on the other, a commitment to irrationality applied to a disregard of the evidence in sevice to inhumanity. It is a contest which those of us who champion the former must win both issue-by-issue, and in more profound ways as well, transcending the individual issues, reaching into the heart of our collective consciousness, transforming with the spirits of reason and goodwill the memes and emes of our own persistent inhumanity.

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As some of you may have noticed, I went on one of my informal (self-)promotional campaigns recently on Facebook, posting links to my Colorado Confluence Facebook page on a variety of group sites (and some friends’ pages) that seemed like well-chosen places to do a little advertising. On one FB page I chose, “You know you’re a political staffer when…,” I was received with the reflexive vitriol that seems to have become an integral part of what passes for political discourse these days. Apparently, the sole purpose of the page was to complete the title phrase (though I saw plenty of posts that did not serve that purpose, without complaint), and my post was an act of “hijacking the thread” (the whole page being conceived of as a single thread).

One poster there complained that I should be dismissed for writing “impractical abstract bullshit” rather than manning the phones in order to move the political needle a little. That got me thinking (and pontificating): What is the relative value of my “impractical abstract bullshit,” and what is the relative value of manning the phones to move the polical needle a little (in competition, of course, with those of the opposite ideology, doing the same in the opposite direction). (I also threw in a long list of the other things I’ve been doing to affect the world positively, that might compare favorably to manning the phones….)

So, here are some of the things that economically, sociologically, and legally informed “impractical abstract bullshit” helps with, if you are involved in “politics” (which used to –and still should– mean the art of devising and implementing “policies”):

1) A popular mental health “consumer movement” idea called “money follows the individual” is burdened with the same flaw that the popular “school voucher” idea bears: It allocates money equally to individuals, thus leaving those with the greatest needs in a ghetto of underfunded and underserved extreme problems. (See School Vouchers, Pros & Cons)

2) School reform requires the opposite of current popular incarnations of it, with more attention to community involvement, more attention to holistic and integrated child development, and more attention to creating a culture of positive reinforcement through, for instance, designing school programs and policies which give students a stake in one another’s success. (See Real Education Reform and Mistaken Locus of Education Reform)

3) While we do have to create a trajectory in which our national debt is stabilized as a proportion of GDP, it is not the urgent problem that some pretend it is. In fact, new debt is being financed at a rate about equal to the rate of inflation, meaning that in real terms it is costless to finance. And our current entire national debt is equal to about one year’s GDP, which compares very favorably to the average homeowner, whose household debt in the early years of home ownership is equal to several years’ income. Also, the private sector, to which many conservatives bow as the model to which the public sector should aspire, relies on credit as the life-blood of its operations. (See The Economic Debate We’re Not Having , The Real Deficit , The Restructuring of the American and Global Economy , The More Subtle & Salient Economic Danger We Currently Face, and Why Extreme Income and Wealth Inequality Matters)

4) Popular attitudes toward “illegal immigration” in the United States sometimes parallels deeply discredited historical chapters of identifying reviled “foreigners” living within a nation, and seeking to remove them. While there are important differences between our current political situation vis-a-vis our undocumented residents, and the most infamous of historical chapters of mass xenophobic scapegoating (e.g., our directly targeted foreign population does not include descendents of immigrants, but only those who actually crossed the border after their own birth; and our treatment is not yet at “concentration camp” levels, let alone approaching genocide, though detailed knowledge reduces this gap to an extent that would surprise many, including a family detention center that made small children stand at attention for hours and urinate in their pants). (See A comprehensive overview of the immigration issue, Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding, and Basal Ganglia v. Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia Keeping Score)

The list, of course, goes on (and on, and on, and on…; see Catalogue of Selected Posts), but the point here is that it pays to think about the world we live in; and think about the exact nature of the policies we are currently pursuing or advocating, versus the exact nature of the policies that a better informed and more reflective stance might support instead.

Apropos this discussion, I responded to Ed Quillen’s column in today’s Denver post (The Hazards of Nitpicking: http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_19360471?source=bb) with a discussion of the importance of getting the facts and analysis right, rather than merely engaging in the blind partisan warfare and ritualism that the critical poster on that FB page was so committed to. My DP comment (which for some reason does not seem to appear after the column on the DP website) is reproduced below:

Excellent point, Ed!

As a Progressive Blogger (at http://coloradoconfluence.com/) and person engaged, in many different ways, in our shared human enterprise, the only ideology I want to see anyone embrace is the one that acknowledges the limitations of our knowledge and understanding, and commits us to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill working together to confront the challenges of a complex and subtle world.

I cringe just as much when I see a Progressive leap to some insufficiently supported conclusion, or cling to some insufficiently justified assumption, as when I see a conservative do it, because it is just as counterproductive to our collective welfare (more so, in some ways, since it squanders the opportunity to define ourselves as something other than blind ideologues opposing other blind ideologues).

The real political divide isn’t between the Right and the Left (or Libertarians and “Statists,” or whatever substantive dichotomy you might want to define yourself by), but rather between those who, on the one hand, are committed to applying reason to reliable evidence in service to human welfare, all things considered, and those who, on the other, want to engage in blind ideological warfare, relying on cheap and irrelevant shots, shoddy or false information, poorly reasoned arguments, and cynical and base methodologies of all sorts, ranging from mindless marketing of candidates and policies to disingenuous smear campaigns to simply inventing facts to suit one’s ideological convenience, in service to the displaced goals of advancing an insufficiently examined ideology rather than advancing the interests of humanity.

Ed, there is no message that needs to be repeated as frequently and as forcefully as the one you’ve reiterated in this column. Thanks!

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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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Of the many ideological debates we have, what we do least often and least well is to dig beneath the surface of conflicting ideologies and clearly identify the underlying values and attitudes informing them. Even those who adhere to a particular ideology are often unaware of what is at its core when you peal back enough layers of the onion. And that is how the rise of vicious and inhumane ideologies is possible, how it circumvents the cognitive dissonance imposed by countervailing moralities. Those who participate in that rise are either convinced that they are participating in something just and right, or have simply managed not to measure their beliefs by any moral standard.

There is nothing historically exceptional about viciousness and inhumanity. It is not the occasional violation of a norm of rational goodwill dominating our lives, but rather at least as potent a force, erupting into orgies of mass violence at frequent intervals around the world, but also ever-present in every society, percolating below the surface, sometimes bubbling upward and gaining force. America today is in such a moment of its history, allowing a vicious and inhumane attitude to gain prominence, to dominate public discourse and public policy formation.

Nor is it only those “others” who are to blame. It is not the fault of just one ideology. There are few who have not contributed to it. Regrettably, I cannot name myself among those few, for my own defects as a human being have too often and too greatly led me to serve my own emotional gratification at the expense of this ideal of a more rational and humane society to which we all should strive.

I don’t admit that gratuitously, but rather to make two sets of  points: 1) One does not have to be perfect to strive to be better, nor does one have to be perfect to encourage us all to strive to be better, nor does one have to be perfect to identify the most robust ways in which we as a society are failing to strive to be better; and 2) we do not most successfully strive, as a society, to be better, to do better, by laying all blame on others and exonerating ourselves, but rather by recognizing that we ourselves are all implicated in our failings as a society, and that the ideology across the aisle we respectively blame for all public sins may have its own virtues and we our own vices.

Most importantly, like Batman and the Joker, we create each other, and if we perceive in “them” something hostile to humanity, then we also must perceive in ourselves what we do to produce and maintain that hostile force.

Having said that, and recognizing that the hostility and anger and blind ideological rage on the Left is a contributing force to our growing inhumanity (rather than, as those who engage in these follies desperately wish to believe, a bulwark against it), the inhumanity itself is funnelled through and given voice by their counterparts on the Right. While we all need to strive harder to exemplify and exude a sincere commitment to reason and compassion and universal goodwill (which is not synonymous with complete pacifism or non-confrontationalism, but which does temper the degree to which our emotional inclinations too readily embrace hostile expressions of our ideological convictions and various interests), we also all need to recognize the growing inhumanity of our nation’s most prominent and vocal contemporary ideological phenomenon.

It is not wise to reduce this to individual substantive policy positions because, to be honest, it is not automatically the case that such positions, that on the surface appear inhumane, actually are: There is sufficient nonlinearity in our social institutional ecology, and a sufficient number of counterintuitive truths, that such assumptions aren’t warranted. But beneath those policy positions, informing those policy positions, is an attitude in which this inhumanity can clearly be discerned, an attitude of extreme individualism, of indifference to the realities of social injustice and unnecessary human suffering, an attitude stripped of real compassion or concern for those less fortunate than the holder of that value, an attitude which blindly blames all those who have not fared well on the basis of an arbitrary and more-frequently-than-not erroneous assumption that people get what they deserve, that we live in a meritocracy and those who do not succeed do not succeed as a result of their own failings. It is within that attitude, rather than within any particular substantive policy positions, that our growing inhumanity as  a nation, as a people, resides.

I have written extensively on the irrationality of many of the substantive positions and ideological certainties that have grown in the soil of this essentially inhumane attitude (see, e.g., “Political Fundamentalism”, “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, Small Government Idolatry, The Tea Party’s Mistaken Historical Analogy, The True Complexity of Property Rights, Liberty & Interdependence, Real Fiscal Conservativism, Social Institutional Luddites, The Inherent Contradiction of Extreme Individualism, Liberty & Society, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” American Political Edition (Parts I-V)). And I have alluded to the parallel between the sense of personal well-being and joy associated with striving to be compassionate, socially responsible, generous human beings on the individual level, and the similar benefits to our health as a society when we strive to institutionalize those attitudes through our pre-eminent agent of collective will and action (see, e.g., A Political Christmas Carol). Certainly, I have not been bashful about identifying our current right-wing ideological movement as one which is analogous in too many ways to that which we revile most as one of history’s worst eruptions of inhumanity (see, e.g., The Tea Party’s Mistaken Historical Analogy and Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding). But we need to be explicit and urgent about what it is we are talking about: The rise of an ideology of inhumanity.

It seems to me that there was a time, not long ago, when virtually no American would argue against the proposition that we have a shared social responsibility to reduce poverty to the best of our ability. Yet today we are in the throes of an ideological passion that says that poverty is not our shared responsibility, but rather a matter of individual choice (which, as those who have any knowledge of history or economics realize, means not addressing the issue to any significant degree at all, since it involves a collective action problem which is surrendered to by eliminating the notion that we have to address it through public institutions).

Despite the abundant statistical evidence that the legacies of historical injustice are reproduced in current distributions of wealth and opportunity, this ideology simply disregards any commitment to fairness, to trying to maximize equality of opportunity by facing the simple reality that it is not currently maximized, by insisting that any use of government is an act of violence against their individual liberties. It is an ideology informed by the obscenity that those who benefit most from our current political economy have no enforceable responsibility to those who benefit least, despite the fact that the disparity between the two is many times larger than it is in any other developed nation. It is a socially disintegrative, callous, and inhumane ideology. And it is has a significant and possibly still growing hold on us as a nation.

Those of us who recognize this, and recognize how imperative it is to confront it effectively, need to divert a little of our time and energy and resources away from arguing on an issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate basis, and toward arguing on a fundamental, underlying moral basis. We need to make clear in every word and gesture and deed and effort that what we perceive as wrong is not, for instance, the suggestion that we may have to reduce our long-term accumulation of public debt through some combination of spending cuts and tax increases, but rather the underlying attitude that while we are doing so our commitment to those who are most vulnerable and who are benefiting least from our social institutional arrangements still merit our collective attention and our collective commitment. We need to argue not only that this or that specific immigration reform is right or wrong, but far more emphatically that vilifying other human beings who are merely migrating toward opportunity in the only way they can is wrong, period. We need to argue not only that this law or that regrading marriage is just and right, but that burdening people with any inferior status on the basis of their sexual orientation is just one more form of bigotry, just one more way in which some human beings justify hating other human beings, and that that’s not who and what we are or who and what we want to be.

We need to define our political battles as a fight for our humanity as a nation and as a people, because it is our humanity that is very much in jeopardy. Let us be committed to respecting the dignity and rights of all human beings. Let us form our identities more inclusively rather than more exclusively. Let us always strive to do better as individuals, recognizing that that is part of what it takes to do better as a nation and a people. And let us be humble about substantive policies on complex issues (e.g., economics, energy/environmental, foreign relations), admitting that it’s a complex and subtle world, many aspects of which require in-depth analyses to arrive at well-informed conclusions. But let us never let up in our insistence that those analyses, that that  humility, be directed toward the end of benefitting humanity, because to stand for anything less is an act of violence and a cause for eternal shame.

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A major social, moral, and political issue dividing us is the issue of how inclusive and how exclusive we should be as a national society. But beyond and beneath the question of membership in our national society is the question of whose rights (and which rights) we aknowledge and respect under what circumstances.

There is clearly a balance to be struck: Few would recommend such inclusivity that we extend the same respect to the bacterial infection threatening a person’s health as we extend to the person. Most (not all) are comfortable with the notion of extending our inclusivity no further than the bounds of our own species (respecting human life above other forms of life), even if modified to prohibit outright cruelty to those of other species that we recognize as cognitively capable of suffering from such cruelty (i.e., other large mammals). Though I’ll come back to the broader issue of universal empathy and systemic sensitivity at the end of this little essay, the main thrust will be on humanity’s divisions and their historical and contemporary role in justifying self-serving exclusivities.

Another word describing “exclusivity” is “discrimination,” referring to members of some in-group discriminating against members of some out-group regarding the privileges of membership. I use the word “discriminate” more or less interchangeably with the word “exclude” in this essay.

The most obvious dimension to this issue is the moral and social one: Those who are excluded are defined to be of lesser value or lesser concern. Sometimes they are defined as such (i.e., are excluded) in reference to intrinsic characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation; sometimes due to choices or cultural inheritences, such as religion of political ideology; sometimes due to some social status such as geographic location, socioeconomic class, or subcultural identification; and sometimes due to talents or abilities.

The last is perhaps the most morally justifiable form of exclusion: If a hospital is hiring surgeons, those with no training or skill in surgery can be legitimately excluded. Issues sometimes arise over whether the criteria for discriminating between those with the necessary skills and those without are not proxies for other less justifiable grounds for discrimination, but, as a general rule, this is not a difficult problem to solve.

Another justifiable form of exclusion involves freedom of association and the logistics of allowing people to gather to accomplish a specific task or for a specific purpose. Obviously, people holding a dinner party in their home can invite who they like and refuse entry to all others. This freedom extends outward, but ends when the private property is open to the public (generally, a business) and the discrimination is of a now forbidden nature (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender). Similarly, if an organization meets to discuss or address a specific topic, they certainly are justified in excluding those who want to come to discuss or address a completely different topic. If not for this form of exclusion, no one would ever be able to get anything done.

At the other end of the spectrum, exclusion due to irrelevant inherent characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, is not yet a folly completely relegated to a shameful past, but the moral argument is clearly over, and the result is a general awareness that such discrimination is unjustifiable and indefensible. Clearly, those who still suffer from this form of discrimination justifiably feel no patience regarding any delay in ending it completely, and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their efforts to end it now and forever. But, in the developed world at least, the writing is on the wall.

Another related but slightly different area of discrimination involves those with physical and mental disabilities. Unlike issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, inclusion of those with disabilities often requires an affirmative effort and investment by us as a society to create accessibility and accommodate special needs. Most people recognize that that is the decent and just thing to do, and many realize that it allows us to best utilize our pool of human capital rather than to create greater swathes of nonproductivity and dependence.

In between these extremes of the obviously justifiable and the obviously unjustifiable lies a broad swathe of contested terrain. I argue that we should only discriminate in the public sphere on the bases of merit or competence (or organizational relevance), and on no other basis whatsoever. Beyond that, we should be all-inclusive. Though that may seem at a glance to be a mainstream position, it is actually a radical fringe position, though recognizing it as such is the first step toward increasing its acceptance.

As the various debates revolving around immigration policy demonstrate, many Americans believe in excluding people on the basis of their legal residency status. That has nothing to do with merit: It is a status determined only by the way in which people migrated to their current location, what legal formalities they did or did not observe.

It also has nothing to do with orgnizational relevance, since studies generally demonstrate economic and fiscal gains to the organization (i.e., the nation), and, in any case, we do not only consider “organizational relevance” in national membership to depend on productivity (though illegal immigrants would generally benefit from such a criterion). In fact, those who are more inclined to exclude on the basis of “productivity” (i.e., who blame the poor for their poverty, and consider society as a whole to have no responsibility to them) are most similar to the historical archetypes we hold in least esteem (e.g., the Nazis).

The tautology that because it is illegal, exclusion is indisputably appropriate, ignores the historical frequency in which legal exclusion has been both morally and pragmatically wrong, and the reality of human migration and de facto (if not always de jure) membership in our society as a result of it.

Lest anyone exaggerate the “criminality” of not observing the formalities of legal immigration, I would recommend a review of both world and U.S. history, in both of which those formalities have rarely been observed or enforced to any great extent, anywhere, at any time. People migrate away from oppression or destitution and toward freedom or opportunity; they always have, they always will, and they don’t always do so by observing the bureaucratic niceties that would prevent them from doing so. That is the reality of the world we live in.

In America today, many right-wing ideologues who prefer more rather than less exlusion (excluding gays and lesbians from marriage, excluding Muslims from freedom of religion and property, excluding undocumented immigrants from most any rights whatsoever, and often, explicitly or explicitly, excluding those historically disadvantaged by race or ethnicity from redressment of those historically imposed inequities in order to create true equality of opportunity today), use rhetoric eerily similar to that employed by others who engaged in now discredited and reviled forms of exclusion in the past, including the rhetoric of German Nazis in the prelude to the Holocaust. We live in a country which continually flirts with the ugly inhumanities that history has reproduced so frequently in so many times and places, and does so with complete disregard for what it is doing.

(I use the somewhat “forbidden” historical reference point of Nazi Germany because it is important to heed the lesson it yields, embodied in the cry “Never again!” The error we must avoid is not limited to the sin of genocide, but also the sin of dehumanization that precedes and justifies all such crimes against humanity, on scales and in degrees large and small.)

If we, as a country, feel a pragmatic necessity to exclude some from entry to our country, let us do so reluctantly rather than overzealously, and let us recognize the de facto as well as de jure members of our society who have become integrated into it, into our economy and our communities and our families. Two recent studies, by The Colorado Center on Law and Policy, and The Bell, have demonstrated that illegal immigrants in Colorado yield a net benefit to both our state economy and our state coffers. The Economist magazine has frequently noted that our massive immigration of working age people serves to redress our increasingly critical demographic imbalance between a collapsing number of workers supporting an exploding number of retirees.

Research shows that several economic sectors suffer enormously from crack-downs on illegal immigration, that competition tends to be at the bottom of the economic ladder (mostly isolated to those who have just immigrated, and those who have recently done so) and that the new waves of immigration provide the foundations upon which established citizens and residents can climb the economic ladder. By most accounts, not only is it more humane to allow people to come here seeking opportunity, but it also benefits those of us who were already born into it.

Many Americans continue to see nationalism as an unassailably legitimate basis for exclusion, the nation as private property, and those who come into it uninvited as trespassers. First, as already noted above, since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we do not accord even private businesses such unfettered right to exclude, and the nation is more not less “open to the public.” Granted, the nation-state is a concept premised on some degree of exclusivity, of being a bounded entity defined as separated in some ways from the rest of the world. But nations have always been highly permeable entities, with people and goods flowing in and out in significant volume. There is little to indicate that stifling that flow has ever been particularly good for any nation (though much to show that encouraging it has been extremely good for those nations that have done so), and even less to indicate that it has ever been particularly good for humanity.

Even so, there certainly are some similarities between private property and national boundaries: Both are the institutionalization of historically violently acquired inequities, which, while eroded by subsequent enterprise, remain very evident in the distribution of wealth and opportunity. The main difference is that, while private property, despite its unsavory aspects in the establishment and perpetuation of inequity, is a highly functional system, facilitating the robust production of wealth through market mechanisms, nations, conversely, are for the most part mere barriers to such wealth production. Nations, in other words, enjoy the social defects of private property, while laying claim to none of the social benefits.

(That’s not to say that there are no social benefits whatsoever to the existence of nation-states. As with all forms of sub-global social organizational consolidation, there is, generally speaking, an immediate short-and-medium term benefit in terms of the utility produced within and for the bounded population, and a cost in terms of the barriers to larger scale social organizational consolidation which, in the long run, is a cost for the bounded population as well. Any level of social consolidation has variable value in terms of how well it articulates with both larger and smaller levels of organization. But focusing narrowly on wealth production, nation-states form barriers to the movement of the factors of production, and as such generally serve to impede global wealth production. There are some qualifications and exceptions to this general rule, but to go into them would be too great a digression.)

More easily grasped than the dissimilarities from private property is the historical infamy of ultranationalism, being the ideology which informed and justified the Holocaust, the attitude underlying which is uncomfortably similar to the attitude underlying our own current anti-immigrant hysteria.

Whether these analyses and this perspective prevail, the rhetoric that vilifies these humble people who migrate here to provide their children with better futures is absolutely and incontravertably indefensible. Several posters on The Denver Post message boards discussing the issue expressed the blatantly racist (and historically familiar) belief that our current wave of illegal immigrants is to be reviled for their supposed criminality (not immigration related), a belief based on the relative poverty of many in each new wave of immigration (and ironically emphasized the crime most commonly committed as a direct result of their illegal status: stealing social security numbers in order to obtain work, and argument in favor of precisely what they most vehemently argue against: “amnesty”). One sincerely opined that we should exterminate all undocumented immigrants in this country, all 12 million of them, thus doubling the record set by Nazi Germany in their own extermiantion of their own reviled “foreign” population living among them. That post received one parenthetical rebuke from one poster only, in contrast to the swarm of rebukes I received for my highly qualified comparison of their attitude to that of Nazi Germany, and for calling for a more humane and compassionate attitude.

One of the defining disctinction between the American Right and Left today revolves around our respective attitudes toward inclusivity and exclusivity. The left believes in social justice, in investing as a people in the increase of opportunity for those who currently enjoy the least opportunities, for more inclusion and less exclusion. The right remains the ideology that is the hier of racism, as well as to too great an extent its most fortified remaining haven, for not only do too many from that ideology defend the remnants of explicit and implicit racism, but, more universally and less ambiguously, they defend forms of exclusion that are logically and functionally similar.

It’s time to leave that kind of elitism on the dust heap of history, and recognize the humanity of all people, everywhere. It’s time to live up to our values and not just our greed, to be what we claim to be and not what others perceive us as. It’s time to give our children cause for pride, and the world cause for hope.

Beyond the specific moral, economic, and political dimensions of how inclusive we are, and how exclusive we are, is the systemic understanding. Human beings are woven of and into complex systems, ranging from the postulated basic building blocks of the universie (the “strings” of string theory, from which all other subatomic particles emanate), to the infinite and eternal. No systems are truly closed; all are open in various ways and to various degrees. The boundaries we perceive  between them are more for our conceptual convenience than relfections of fundamental reality. From this perspective, “exclusion” is inherently unnatural, an arrogant insensitivity to the reality of our existence.

We are not first and foremost individuals, but rather first and foremost moments of a larger consciousness. Our happiness, our welfare, our liberty, and our humanity depend on recognizing our interdependence, not just with one another but with all of nature as well, more than on denying it. It is the smallest of demands upon this awareness to recognize that two people of the same sex who want to marry should be embraced without prejudice, and that all people who endure the difficulties of relocating in a foreign land in search of hope for themselves and their children should not be condemned nor robbed of dignity for doing what humans have done throughout history.

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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.

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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: http://neighbors.denverpost.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=17865742&p=1927209&hilit=quote%3Dsteve+harvey#p1927209. 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: http://neighbors.denverpost.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=17865742&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hilit=quote%3Dsteve+harvey&start=100. 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.

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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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