Can We Talk?

Recently the Tennessee Legislature expelled two Representatives for, as one member put it, “effectively conducting a mutiny” by encouraging gun control protestors who briefly occupied the State House floor.

The merits and outcomes of the expulsion of these two legislators will be determined in the weeks and months ahead, but this case points to a larger problem that has bedeviled American society for many years: How do we assert or enforce standards of behavior and speech when those standards have been discarded in the endless quest to banish racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, and the many other bigotries that can apparently be defeated only by abandoning those nasty and antiquated standards? The idea that we can improve our society by enabling the inner angry child in each of us has produced a great deal of anger all on its own by dividing us into warring camps in every way possible—all of us howling our own frustrations.

Because the two legislators recently expelled in Tennessee are Black, their punishment was immediately deemed to be an example of racism, and no further discussion regarding the specifics of this case was permissible because to question the idea that their expulsions were racist is—wait for it!—proof positive of racism. Whether or not their punishment was warranted by their actions is considered immaterial; the fact they were punished at all is presumed to signal racist intent, and any effort to have a thoughtful discussion concerning the specifics brands one as a racist. Got that?

Worse still, the finger pointing surrounding the efforts to impose standards of behavior and speech is often high selective—and willfully blind to its own selectivity. For example, the gun control protest that precipitated the expulsions in Tennessee was caused by the slaughter of six Christians at a school in Nashville, but few on the political left condemned the obvious religious persecution because religion is believed by those who profess their enlightened tolerance to be a tool of oppression, so people of faith (including innocent children, apparently) are to be considered fair game in the battle to end bigotry. It’s sick, but that’s the depressingly dysfunctional level of much of our national dialogue today.

In addition, attempts to grope towards reasonable standards of behavior and speech are often stymied by the nonsensical belief that those identified as the oppressed are themselves incapable of oppressing others (or simply acting stupidly). Therefore, many instances of horrid behavior are studiously ignored or the facts obscured in order the preserve the preferred narrative. 

In the case of the Nashville school massacre, many in the left wing media were determined to ignore the plain truth that the shooter identified as transgender because to admit that would be to oppress a group that was itself already considered oppressed. To even mention that the shooter had adopted an alternative sexual identity for reasons that are as yet not understood was roundly criticized as an example of hate—never mind trying to understand the twisted hatred or untreated mental illness that prompted the cold-blooded murders in the first place.

The inane belief that the world can be neatly divided into oppressors and the oppressed drives a great deal of our political and cultural dialogue today, but it does not reflect the messy reality of the world we actually inhabit. 

While it is true, for example, that Black Americans are the victims of the majority of violent crimes in our cities, those attacking them are overwhelmingly Black themselves. While it is true that teenaged girls often deal with difficult issues that might suggest sexism, the data show that teenaged boys are the ones truly in crisis in terms of psychological problems and academic outcomes. While it is true that police officers are sometimes unreasonably rough on racial and ethnic minorities, the data from cities that sought to end discrimination through the defunding of their police demonstrate that minority communities were typically devastated by the consequent lack of police protection. 

Simplistic viewpoints regarding bigotry often produce simply awful solutions. Leaders who take advantage of our all-too-human tendency to grasp at ideas that seem intuitively obvious—but are often wrong—do neither us nor our nation any favors. Those who divide us for political or monetary gain are selling misleading ideas and false hopes. 

The victims are sometimes the victimizers, and the victimizers are sometimes the victims. Our foolish attempts to label humans as either wholly good or wholly evil are a dead end for America.