Civil Rights is Dead

The original Civil Rights dream of integration and racial harmony, which was slowly and fitfully gaining traction in the 1960s and 70s, has now been derailed. Derailed as much by us-versus-them identity politics on the left as by the persistence of race and gender stereotypes on the right. There’s only one way out now, only one way to resuscitate the beautiful dream. Timothy Leary had it right: Drop out, turn on, tune in. When it comes to race and gender, we need to “drop out” of politics, left and right, “turn on” the lights of heart and imagination, and “tune in” to each other as brothers and sisters, starting with the simple, childlike guidance of those two lights.

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13 thoughts on “Civil Rights is Dead

  1. If you drop out of politics Gary you get what the lowest common denominator wants. The rest of your lights require a philosophical bend in the person. Where do you see that groundswell these Trumpian days?

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    • Good counterpoint, Mike T. At the other extreme is Russell Brand, who eschews voting and advocates building something outside the current system. I’m actually in the middle. The government still has much to administer, and I vote for candidates I think will do it well. Politics is not dead in that sense. But when it comes to race and gender, politics has failed; whether “left” or “right,” it leads us to treat the people we meet based on political preconceptions. So politics is completely dead as a vehicle for re-envisioning social harmony on these levels. Your position, my position, and Russell’s all need to be on the table if we’re going to make any headway toward a more perfect union. I will be voting and not for Trump. I think his supporters are mistaken — although I don’t believe they are all evil racists as portrayed in the media (and listening to Trump’s clips for their entertainment value is one of my guilty pleasures).

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  2. Your dream is just that, a dream. It is impossible. Unfortunately, when people don’t get the job, don’t get into the fraternity, or when they are denied a potential relationship with a partner, it’s very easy to assume racism. If one accepts racism as the reasoning for their misfortune, then they can avoid the terrifying truth — they were less qualified, less of a match, or their potential partner was not attracted to them, this avoid the pain of rejection based on their merit or their worth.

    Of course, racism does exist, but I don’t believe it can every truly be extinguished in humanity. Evolutionary psychology shows that bias against other groups was naturally selected over the course of human development — groups of early humans (and our ancient ancestors) that lacked this trait and welcomed other groups and shared their resources would almost certainly perish. They were open to attack or their resources simply were not enough for all.

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    • I agree with much of what you say, Mike M. When you’re not selected for something, anyone of any demographic would instinctively rather blame some systemic bias than admit they were not the most qualified. Been through that myself in the academic job market. And we agree that racism exists and probably always will in some measure. But I am far, far less deterministic about it than you. I look at my own collections of diverse friends in various cities over the years and think people have a tremendous capacity to live in integrated harmony, celebrating each other across racial and ethnic lines (despite those bumps you mention that accompany any relationship). It’s not at all clear to me that cooperation is an anti-evolutionary trait. I think Martin Luther King’s dream is within the scope of our human capacities, with leaders like him and with people willing to think just a little outside the box. In any event, I think it is a catastrophic mistake to offer evolution as a justification for passively accepting racism in its current form.

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  3. While racism can be the bogeyman for some things, where people refuse to look inward at themselves, there are other equally negative reasons for why people do what they do that cause me to side with Mike M. on the utopian nature of your dream (which by the way I hope is achieved). I think Baldwin was essentially right that racism, and hatred of most types, is simply projection. And if that is so, you are suggesting a massive change in humanity’s psychology. It won’t happen in our life time. Indeed such an attitude (the one you posit) is probably not the best one for survival from an evolutionary standpoint. Probably better to be suspicious, paranoid, etc. It is unfortunate but history is a study of one group defining the negative other (another group). It is part, unfortunately, of how some folks achieve transcendence above their puny meaningless lives—red in tooth and claw (belonging to the right group that opposes the negative other). What you are asking is that people turn inward; create their own meaning and not take meaning from being part of a collective. That would require that people recognize the illusions which make up their lives; understand the part of them that lives in denial over death; and recognize the humanity in others. I’m all in but a word of caution. Don’t stand to close to that windmill as you will get hit in the head tilting against it.

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    • I guess it’s a glass half full/glass half empty thing. I believe you and Mike M see a few isolated people trying to move toward my dream (it’s really MLK’s dream but I share it), but imply that our survival unchangeably rests upon our pre-programming to racism, paranoia, and suspicion. I see persistent threads of racism, paranoia, and suspicion, but I see lots of people working together to get beyond that. Indeed, I believe that in light of the current global economy and global threats, our survival may well push our adaptation away from those old (and now counter-adaptive) paradigms of racism, suspicion, etc. It will take longer than a minute, for sure, but a gradual shift in that direction is quite possible with leaders like MLK and people who are willing to play. In a way, you two are using the Trump crowd as the standard of human nature and I’m using those who are more or less inclined to follow along with Gandhi and MLK and the Dalai Lama.

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      • The body-politic is much too large and diverse to reasonably generalize about, even in the imaginary realm of hope. But we can and should look at trends over long periods. And the civil rights trend over more than the last half-century clearly reflects broadening rights and citizen minds in the USA (this, despite the loud shrieks of our bigoted, Luddite brethren).

        It’s been less than nine months since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, recognizing the marriage rights of same-sex couples across the nation. This 2015 watershed event seems an insurmountable obstacle to any contention that civil rights are dead in America.

        Politics and our Bill of Rights combine to keep the processes of a free society healthy and fairly impervious to backsliding into dictatorship.

        Civil rights issues continue to play out every day, and the long trend looks (to me at least) to be slowly breeding bigotry and hatred out of each successive generation.

        Long live that trend!!

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  4. OK. I like the sentiments but here’s my litmus test. I am opposed to all forms of discrimination but in favor of allowing anyone to discriminate i.e. I am not in favor of laws against discrimination. Can I ask where you stand on this Gary?

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    • That was my general visionary push to re-think the cultural politics of race and gender, rejecting what have become the formal positions of both left and right on these topics. When it comes to specific laws, it gets tricky and case-by-case is in order. I’m generally “live and let live” but think the government can step in where there is a “compelling state interest,” as the Supreme Court says. E.g., I think it’s clear in the blog entry that I’m a big supporter of 1960s Civil Rights laws. (Rand Paul is not my go-to guy on this.) Gay rights may give us our tricky test cases today. It’s an easy call that gay marriage should be legal in every jurisdiction (“live and let live”), but it becomes trickier on how this applies to private entities (where two sides of “live and let live” need to be weighed). In most but not all cases I seem to favor gay rights advocates, but I can’t come up with a litmus test there. Back to the general arena, though, the trick is to find the sweet spot that is not divisive but is unifying while celebrating our diversity. Too often, whether Trump on the right or “identity politics” on the left, you see “us vs them” divisiveness or a faux unification that tolerates no dissent (that says “we can be unified if everyone would just agree with me”). MLK found the sweet spot. Today, the people who come closest are the people I meet on the street who have no training in political belligerence of the left or right; hence, “Become like little children” may be a better “theory” than anything coming out of the academic or political superstructure.

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  5. The beauty of classical liberalism is that it does not require a change in human nature or that most people “tune in” to each other as brothers and sisters. All it requires is a live and let live attitude. Generally speaking most people are willing to spend more time and resources to defend their own lifestyle than they would to eliminate the lifestyle of others. This suggests that people have an incentive to find a modus vivendi to accommodate diverse forms of life without requiring them to “become like little children”.

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    • Sounds good. There is some consonance and some dissonance in our world views on this, but I think we could come together quite nicely in our body politic, if we had a body politic. (I’ll cling to my naive idealism of brothers and sisters and the power of the childlike heart and imagination to cut through things like racism, but really, the distance between us is of the sort that results in benign banter rather than in irreconcilable differences.)

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  6. Pingback: The End of Civil Rights | shakemyheadhollow

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