Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court and the war on equal rights

There certainly is a lot of "celebration" going on in liberal ranks, and deep consternation (if not outright howling in agony) from many conservatives regarding the recent Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions.

From where I sit, I'm certainly happy about the same-sex marriage decision.  Despite the narrowness of the margin, it was the right decision.  Although the Affordable Healthcare Act is not what I prefer to see (i.e., the single-payer option), it confirms what the program was intended to do: make affordable healthcare possible for millions of Americans who otherwise had no healthcare support.

But what this blog is about is not the rulings, per se, but rather concerns my puzzlement over why it was necessary for the SCOTUS to rule on same-sex marriage.  In my view, this is already covered by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution:

Four principles were asserted in the text of the 14th amendment. They were:
  1. State and federal citizenship for all persons regardless of race both born or naturalized in the United States was reaffirmed.
  2. No state would be allowed to abridge the "privileges and immunities" of citizens.
  3. No person was allowed to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without "due process of law."
  4. No person could be denied "equal protection of the laws."
Source:  here

It seems to me that it would take some pretty severe distortion of these principles to suggest that it would be legal in the US for anyone to deny anyone else equal treatment under the law, regardless of who they are (i.e., race, gender, religion, sexual identity, or anything else).  In fact, a lot of things are going on right now where some Constitutional rights have been wrongly taken away in the name of a bunch of conservative talking points.  The Constitution is being invalidated routinely these days by the same SCOTUS that has enjoyed the approval of the very people currently upset with the SCOTUS' recent rulings.  Constitutional rights are being abridged with impunity, everywhere.  Evidence of that abounds on social media.  Absurd cyrpto-fascist notions are being bandied about by some of the religious reich, such as abolishing the Supreme Court or intentionally violating the SCOTUS rulings.  These are clearly unconstitutional ideas and border on being sedition.  Interesting that such notions emanate from that very segment of our population which claims to represent law and order, and family values.  They're hypocritical frauds.

The divisions are deep and ugly these days in American society, and the rather odd, mixed collection of rulings by the SCOTUS over the past few years has not healed those divisions but, rather, has deepened them.  It seems we must make up a complete list of every possible human trait and state specifically that we shouldn't discriminate against that group, and then ram that through the SCOTUS before they can be afforded equal protection of the law.  Does a reasonable interpretation of the words above not automatically include everyone?  What part of "no person" do you not understand?  Evidently, I have to be realistic enough to know that many people have unreasonable interpretations of the Constitution, and they won't give those up, regardless of battle defeats.

Regardless of the battles won (on both sides) by particular SCOTUS rulings, when they go against the religious reich, the victories are always local.  The war will never be won against the religious reich, until they die out completely.  The problem is clearly that logic and evidence mean nothing to an irrational belief system.  They'll never give up so long as they assume their version of religious belief trumps our secular government's mandate (see the 1st Amendment) to run the nation with church and state clearly and totally separated.  When religion is allowed to push its beliefs and principles into everyone's public life, democracy is transformed to theocracy - a fascist form of dictatorship - for examples, review the Middle Eastern muslim theocracies.  Like the muslim zealots, the christian fanatics are under the belief they're doing their deity's will, and that's impossible for logic and evidence to overcome.

Nice to win battles from time to time, but the war goes on unabated.  Social progressives must be prepared for the war to go on for a long time.


Monday, June 22, 2015

A national discussion of racism?

Recent events include the racism-motivated murder of nine people in a South Carolina church, as well as the spate of racial injustice events by law enforcement.  The never-ending string of such incidents suggests to me that racism is alive and well here in the USA, and no one's hands are entirely clean.  We've been trying to address this topic for our entire national history and, so far, have been unsuccessful in truly coming to grips with it in striving to see it expunged from our national psyche.  It lives on like an insidious disease that has become immune to many attempts at finding a cure.

Racism has no roots in science.  Our genetic heritage demonstrates we all came from the same place:  The Rift Valley in Africa.  Interbreeding is so widespread, virtually all of us contain genes from one or more races different from what we wear on the surface.  Isolation of different groups led to the inevitable divergences in certain traits, such as skin color or physical characteristics, but these divergences are trivial.  We're all just humans, and "racial" differences amount to virtually nothing of any real scientific significance.

So why did we invent racism when it has no scientific basis in objective reality?  Racism is the child of tribalism.  Tribal unity and support for one another was an evolutionary advantage for humans at our beginnings.  Our ability to subordinate our personal needs for the needs of the tribe has been a powerful influence on the "success" of our species.  But that evolutionary success comes at a price:  hatred and distrust of other tribes, different from our own.  Given that some groups of humans look notably different from other groups of humans,  it's virtually automatic to let that hatred and distrust run free.  Differences in religious beliefs clearly stoke the fires of tribalism, as well.  And that hatred is handed down from one generation to the next - children tend not to see racial differences as very important, so adults have to inculcate such "values" in their youth.

Can we have a discussion that could lead to the eventual repudiation of racism?  I like to think it's possible and I certainly want to see that happen.  But there are powerful forces that make this difficult to envision any time soon.  For instance, many people use racism (and, more generally, tribalism) to prop up their personal sense of identity, seeking to lift themselves above others by the simple expediency of de-humanizing those who are different, proclaiming them to be inferior.  This is a familiar refrain in human history, and it's not likely to go away just because some of us want it to.

The current discussions about the Confederate flag indicate that many in the South are unable to let go of the failed Confederacy, the aims of which were to promote and enhance the spread of bigotry and treason.  The tribalism of the South causes them to cling to what was thoroughly defeated and shown eventually to be immoral, no matter how noble their troops were in their vainglorious failure.  They couldn't imagine being loyal to the "American" tribe because they aimed to perpetuate a hideous Southern institution:  slavery, so they formed their own tribe:  the Confederacy.  The rest is history, of course.  Surely the time has come to face the reality that the Confederate cause was based on a racist falsehood.  Not much to be proud of in that cause.

Racism is hardly unique to the South, of course.  Urban ghettos all over this nation are the visible result of widespread racism, even if it's not "institutionalized" in law (as it has been in the South for so much of their history).  In the final analysis, when it comes to human interaction, many Americans (inside and outside the South) are uncomfortable with those whose racial characteristics are different - on both sides of any specific racial divide.  At least Southern racism has been overt and clearly made manifest in obvious ways (e.g., the ostentatious display of the "stars and bars" symbol).  Racism, like the HIV virus, can wear many disguises that make it difficult to detect, much less to eradicate.  Many people harbor racism despite imagining themselves to be completely free of it.  I know people who vigorously repudiate racism, and perhaps they genuinely like and care for some individual of a different race.  While they may like individuals, however, they still harbor a tribalistic contempt and distrust of groups of people they don't even know.  This is an insidious form of racism because it involves a self-deception.  "I have friends who are XX!"

People who harbor irrational beliefs are incapable of being persuaded by logic and evidence.  They stubbornly cling to those beliefs without regard for their basis in reality.  Perhaps, with time, such beliefs will die out - but it may take a very long time!  Tribalism is deeply embedded in our genes.  Having that conversation is likely to prove futile, in the face of so much willful irrationality.  But I think we have to continue to try.  Hence, this blog post.