When incorporating was a privilege, only the privileged got to incorporate and do business. Do we really want to go back to that?
By WALTER OLSON at cato.org, citing
By WALTER OLSON at cato.org, citing
By John Crouch in the Brown Daily Herald , Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1991
"Because I do not learn their words, I am called a heretic."
I once tried to compile a history of "PC." As a Southerner, I knew that the highest form of history is genealogy, so my inquiries first led me to some ancestors who were Presbyterian Covenanters. They were having some differences with the Puritan Commonwealthmen, led by Oliver Cromwell. Each of these sects had an exclusive contract with God, stating that the other was headed for a bad place and should be expedited there. (Think about it: these covenants were not contradictory, but complementary. God knew what he was doing.) After a pitched battle, Cromwell suggested that everyone should come together and cooperate with him in an exciting new broad-based ecumenical venture known as Persecuting Catholics. He offered my forebears exciting public service jobs as military policemen in exile. They agreed, and in return he deferred his natural inclination to confiscate their heads.
Soon they were in Ulster, doing the Lord's work. Then it was off to Barbados to practice their techniques on rebellious slaves, and then to Maryland, to do it to the Indians and Catholics. In time they settled down and became highly useful members of the community, raising tobacco and sailing to Africa to buy slaves. In occasional fits of public-spiritedness they would lynch a papist or two, but they mostly minded their own business for six generations until some outside agitators built Washington, D.C. in their neighborhood.
A more recent forefather of PC and related irritations was Horace Mann '19, who dominated the debating societies of Manning Chapel. These groups combined the functions of class discussion sections, dorm unit "workshops", the student government, and the Herald letters page. Kathleen Kendall, a rhetoric professor, wrote that Mann proved his points with "overstatements," "name-calling," "sophistry," "chest-thumping chauvinism," and "an abundance of star-spangled prose ... No one challenged his sweeping generalizations or lack of pertinent evidence." Doubtless the alumni pined for the grand old days of discipline, morality, and western culture.
Then again, Brown's administration didn't set a very mature example for Mann. They once fined him for violating their ban on Independence Day observations. This holiday was considered disruptively democratic, divisive, and deeply offensive to the Federalist community, which always felt left out.
Brown has a venerable tradition of expelling the politically incorrect, including President Bennie Andrews '70. Wildly popular, he was especially admired for his success in exhorting students to fulfill their human potential by volunteering for the Spanish-American War (once fabulously PC). So the trustees were especially shocked when he began advocating silver coinage. A man who believed in that could be neither sane nor moral, so they had to banish him before he poisoned the whole community.
PC flourished in Athens at the same time the Spartans were perfecting communism, so I hardly think either idea can have permanently "died" in the past year. It is true that, like Stalinism and McCarthyism, it had lost its real power before mainstream liberals began anathematizing it, or even giving it a name. (Four years ago, "PC Person" was a classist, fattist, WASPist, smartist term for a typical scholar at Providence College.) But while political circumstances change quickly and unpredictably, human nature changes too slowly to measure. Like some observers of political savagery in past decades, I would blame PC's inhumanity not on the counter-culture, communism, anti-communism or fundamentalism, but on certain strains of the human personality: control freaks, conformists, trendies, groupies, and opportunists. At least in my experience here, the intolerance that provoked so much resentment and ridicule was practiced not by political activists, but by encounter-workshop facilitators and a few administrators. Likewise, it should be obvious that Dartmouth's persecution of conservative journalists, and the Brown administration's rudeness toward liberal protestors and union organizers, relate not to the politics of left and right but to simple institutional self-interest.
But some cultures and ideologies may prove more PC-resistant than others. By "culture," I mean something we each help shape, not a genetic heritage that pre-determines us. Many people presume there is a certain inviolable space around individuals, and that all are equally human. In cultures that take such ideas seriously, certain rules develop: People are to be persuaded only by reason, and not manipulated, lied to, or forced around at gunpoint. People are given the benefit of the doubt, and not charged with unworthy motives or mental infirmity without proof. But at the same time, they are seen as ultimately responsible for their beliefs, having reason and free will. At times, concepts of "gentlemanliness" and "sportsmanship" have been current (and it is worrisome that our new less-sexist language has no words for them yet). They advise that an unfair advantage should not be pressed, that abandoning the moral high ground only hurts you in the long run, and that no disagreement may break the bonds of civility and charity. Where most people are willing to defend such standards, the PC might abandon their own tactics as counter-productive. In such a culture, Horace Mann went on to show that one can outgrow PC in the course of a mentally active life.
Our present culture, though, admires a no-holds-barred 100% dedication to one's chosen cause, fad or crisis, overriding all rules and distinctions, by any means necessary. So we should be grateful for our PC education -- it's probably excellent preparation for success in American politics, media, and business.
-- So Jello Biafra sang on his Spoken Word Album, which he gave me several copies of when my ACLU chapter had him come speak to an unexpectedly huge and raucous crowd at my college. But I never thought we would actually have entirely secret police in Virginia, where the Bill of Rights was invented.
By John Crouch
On his 275th birthday, Thomas Jefferson is in danger of getting run out of town on a rail, his statues teetering on a slippery slope which we had been told would become dry and level as soon as Robert E. Lee was cast down it. We already knew he was a slaveowner and probably a race-mixing unwed father, but lately we’ve been confronted with the inhumane cruelties that slavery involved even at Monticello, and some are calling him a rapist and a child molester because Sally Hemings was a slave and was 16 when she first became pregnant.
But without Jefferson, we would not have today’s movements for racial equality and other human equality, we wouldn’t have had the Civil Rights movement and its imitators, and even Abolitionism would have been very different and less popular. Now, it’s well known that he is where Americans think we get most of our ideas about liberty. But what we forget, in these days when we’re focused on a mostly false opposition between liberty and equality, is that he is much more uniquely, and crucially, the source of our beliefs in equality, democracy, and universal human rights. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, as the founder of the Democratic Party, and as a powerful, lifelong agitator for expanding political liberty and equality.
Without him the American Revolution, and the American idea, would likely have been about defending the hereditary rights of free-holding Englishmen. Perhaps inspiring enough to achieve independence, perhaps not. But not much of an inspiration to the rest of the world, and far less appealing to Christians and philosophers than declaring our independence by announcing:
"That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
This ideology and theology of radical human equality was not Jefferson’s invention: it had colorful, eccentric champions during the English Civil War and Commonwealth era (1640s-50s), Quakerism seems consistent with it if not based on it, and Hobbes and Locke used it in different ways as a starting point for their philosophies. The idea had recently been expressed in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and in George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. But Jefferson put it at the top of America’s founding document, its public statement of what its war was about, where everyone read it or had it read to them.
And Americans would not have their wide and deep belief in equality and democracy if it were not for the ongoing work of Jefferson and the political party he founded, which was always the democratic party even when it was still named “Republican” or “Antifederalist.” Even when it fostered and exploited racism, it did so using democratic rhetoric that ultimately arcs towards equality for all. Even now and in the days of Woodrow Wilson when it seems like the more elitist and “Progressive” party, it pays truly valuable lip service to democracy and believes it can reconcile all such contradictions; it contains multitudes with more consistently, democratic impulses, which they carry with them to other parties if they leave the party in disgust, fear and sorrow. Even the Whigs and the modern Republican party inherited more from it than from the old, aristocratic Federalists.
Lately both the elitist Progressives, and a few loud, immature, shallow Libertarians, like to pit liberty and equality against each other. They envision a wealthy and antisocial Individual exercising individual liberty for his own amusement and benefit, at the expense and indulgence of a democratic government that seeks to constrain him for the common good of the many and the poor. But that wasn’t the situation in Jefferson’s time, nor for most of our history, nor today. Jefferson and generations of his contemporaries feared governments that suppressed individual rights in order to suppress the majority and subvert or prevent democracy. They saw absolutist governments create privileged elites, not equality. They knew that democracy can’t function as democracy if individuals aren’t free to express their actual beliefs, spread news, and try to persuade each other and their representatives. Nor without the other freedoms in our Constitution. And they fought for individual liberty not because it let them do selfish things or express their unique selves, but to be free to do what they thought was their duty to God and to society.
On Jefferson’s birthday, we remember that he was far from perfect on issues of liberty and of equality. But he worked to expand both of them, and so should we.
"At the behest of the Roosevelt administration in 1935, the U.S. Senate established a special committee to investigate lobbying activities by opponents of the ... Public Utility Holding Company Bill. Chaired by Hugo L. Black (D-Ala.), the “Black Committee” expanded its mission into a more general probe of anti–New Deal organizations and individuals. The committee used highly intrusive methods, notably catch-all dragnet subpoenas, to secure evidence. It worked closely with the IRS for access to tax returns and with the FCC to obtain copies of millions of telegrams. When the telegram search became public information, there was a major backlash from the press, Congress, and the courts. Court rulings in 1936, resulting from suits by William Randolph Hearst and others, not only limited the committee’s powers but provided important checks [on] future investigators, including Senator Joseph McCarthy."
Not the Onion. Not "Reno 911". This is why hypersensitive "snowflakes" are such a serious problem. They make completely innocent, ordinary people get treated like dangerous criminals. In the old days it led to witch burnings, then lynchings, and nowadays police shootings. I was reminded that "snowflakes" are so deadly when I saw a timely article about lynchings, including some men and boys who were lynched for "frightening" white women and girls. One was a Leesburg, Virginia teen who put a bag over his head to startle a white friend. Another is merely reported to have "acted peculiarly."
These days, as a Charlottesville, Va. area farmer recently explained, it's "Nervous white women in yoga pants" who "see something, say something" when they see a black man where they don't expect any to be. Over 12 times, "police would 'happen by' and sometimes even question me five or ten minutes after I got a strange look from a passerby ... I know to smile and give them the non-threatening black guy kind of thing, but all it really takes is for one of us to have a bad day and I could end up another tragedy in the street."
But back to the lady in this incredibly credulous news story and viral youtube craze. She saw four people in different places doing stuff like walking down the street or sitting in their cars, and just KNEW they were a gang of sex-slaver kidnappers. And she still hasn't been evaluated for paranoid schizophrenia. She's too busy being lauded as a hero on Facebook for "surviving" it and "raising awareness." Got 2900 likes, 5200 shares so far.
THAT WAS MY ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST. BUT HERE'S MY LATER CAVEAT.
I had a great post ready to go, but I thought I had better listen to her whole miserable 13-minute video about it first. There were a couple key facts the original news article, though sympathetic to her sick crusade, left out, which make her fears about the first guy subjectively reasonable.
After that, she was running on fear, and that's why she saw fellow-conspirators everywhere, including one guy who looked over her 5-year-old daughter like a man looks at a woman, as we used to say before it became dicey for a man to look at a woman that way. She saw him do that, although her perception may have been warped by her fear, and in my experience people often read way too much into what they think they see on people's faces and eyes.
And then she talked to people who specialize in working with sex traffic victims. And they, like all specialists in any particular social problem, saw that problem everywhere. Whatever she described, they said it was something sex traffickers had been known to do.
So she wasn't actually the most dangerous, paranoid-schizo snowflake in the blizzard, but to apply her logic, she MIGHT'VE been, and we need to "raise awareness" about such people.
But while we're at it, let's raise awareness of the things we do that fan the flames, I mean fan the snow machines, and figure out how to do better.
PC's main function is to keep the foot soldiers of the Left in line, and make them afraid to express any original thought or to even suggest being more tolerant or respectful of the enemy, or acknowledging any common ground. So if its own people fear it, as author Frances Lee does, that just means it's working as designed. Same reason infantry officers carry revolvers, not rifles. Perfect example from Lee's article:
"In response to the unrestrained use of callouts and unchecked self-righteousness by leftist activists, I spend enormous amounts of energy protecting my activist identity from attack. I self-police what I say when among other activists. If I’m not 100 percent sold on the reasons for a political protest, I keep those opinions to myself—though I might show up anyway. On social media, I’ve stopped commenting with thoughtful push back on popular social justice positions for fear of being called out. For example, even though some women at the 2017 women’s march reproduced the false and transmisogynistic idea that all women have vaginas ..."
Sounds like what I learned as a left-liberal would-be activist in college, except for that last bit. Great read though, and I'm glad this distress call made it through the censors -- for now. I'm including the whole text in case it somehow gets taken down in the future, if and when they get Lee to apologize, accept discipline and love Big Brother.
The article has many other uniquely well-expressed points about truly engaging and respecting adversaries based on common humanity instead of teh rhetoric of irreconcileable differences, knowing when to be soft and when to be hard, and owning one's own imperfection and responsilbilty for oppression without ceding one's right to talk about those things to others who claim absolute purity.
Callout culture. The quest for purity. Privilege theory taken to extremes. I’ve observed some of these questionable patterns in my activist communities over the past several years.
As an activist, I stand with others against white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. I am queer, trans, Chinese American, middle class, and able-bodied.
Holding these identities scattered across the spectrum of privilege, I have done my best to find my place in the movement, while educating myself on social justice issues to the best of my ability. But after witnessing countless people be ruthlessly torn apart in community for their mistakes and missteps, I started to fear my own comrades.
As a cultural studies scholar, I am interested in how that culture—as expressed through discourse and popular narratives—does the work of power. Many disciplinary practices of the activist culture succeed in curbing oppressive behaviors. Callouts, for example, are necessary for identifying and addressing problematic behavior. But have they become the default response to fending off harm? Shutting down racist, sexist, and similar conversations protects vulnerable participants. But has it devolved into simply shutting down all dissenting ideas? When these tactics are liberally applied, without limit, inside marginalized groups, I believe they hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members.
In response to the unrestrained use of callouts and unchecked self-righteousness by leftist activists, I spend enormous amounts of energy protecting my activist identity from attack. I self-police what I say when among other activists. If I’m not 100 percent sold on the reasons for a political protest, I keep those opinions to myself—though I might show up anyway.
On social media, I’ve stopped commenting with thoughtful push back on popular social justice positions for fear of being called out. For example, even though some women at the 2017 women’s march reproduced the false and transmisogynistic idea that all women have vaginas, I still believe that the event was a critical win for the left and should not be written off so easily as it has been by some in my community.
Understand, even though I am using callouts as a prime example, I am not against them. Several times, I have been called out for ways I have carelessly exhibited ableism, transmisogyny, fatphobia, and xenophobia. I am able to rebound quickly when responding with openness to those situations. I am against a culture that encourages callouts conducted irresponsibly, ones that abandon the person being called out and ones done out of a desire to experience power by humiliating another community member.
I am also concerned about who controls the language of social justice, as I see it wielded as a weapon against community members who don’t have access to this rapidly evolving lexicon. Terms like “oppression,” “tone policing,” “emotional labor,” “diversity,” and “allyship” are all used in specific ways to draw attention to the plight of minoritized people. Yet their meanings can also be manipulated to attack and exclude.
Furthermore, most social justice 101 articles I see online are prescriptive checklists. Although these can be useful resources for someone who has little familiarity with these issues, I worry that this model of education contributes to the false idea that we have only one way to think about, talk about, and ultimately, do activism. I think that movements are able to fully breathe only when there is a plurality of tactics, and to some extent, of ideologies.
I am not the first nor the last to point out that these movements for liberation and justice are exhibiting the same oppressive patterns that we are fighting against in larger society. Rather than wallowing in critique or walking away from this work, I choose a third option—that we as a community slow down, acknowledge this pattern and develop an ethics of activism as a response.
I believe it’s sorely needed as we struggle to mobilize in a chaotic and unjust world.
What might an ethics of activism look like?
Knowing when to be hard and when to be soft
I believe that when confronting unjust situations and unjust people, sometimes hardness is necessary, and other times softness is appropriate. Gaining the discernment to know when to use each is a task for a lifetime. I have often seen a burning anger at the core of activism, especially for newer activists. Anger can be righteous, and it often is when stemming from marginalized peoples weary of being mistreated. And yet, I want to use my anger as a tool for reaching the deeper, healing powers I possess when carving out a path of sustainable activism. Black social justice facilitator and doula adrienne maree brown writes of her oppressors, “What if what’s needed isn’t sexy, intimidating or violent? What if what is needed is forgiveness?” I’ve spent a good deal of energy exercising my ability to speak truth to power and boldly naming my enemies. Perhaps it is time to massage my heart so that I can choose to be soft toward someone in community who is hurting me, and open up the possibility of mutual transformation.
Adopting a politics of imperfection and responsibility
I have been mulling over sociologist Alexis Shotwell’s call for the left to adopt a “politics of imperfection and responsibility” as one way to move forward toward action and away from purity. A politics of imperfection asks me to openly acknowledge the ways in which my family and I have benefited and continue to benefit from oppressive systems such as slavery, capitalism, and settler colonialism. This is an ongoing investigation into my own complicity. I am a Chinese American with immigrant parents, and my family has built economic stability by buying into the model minority myth, which is based largely in anti-blackness. As uninvited guests and visitors to this part of the world, we have claimed our new home on lands stolen from indigenous peoples. A politics of responsibility means that as I am complicit in harmful systems, I also possess full agency to do good. This allows me to commit to dismantling these systems and embracing centuries-long legacies of resistance. It means I am accountable in community spaces and do not destroy myself when others call me out on my errors. It means I practice a generosity of spirit and forgiveness towards myself and others. To do all this, I must publicly claim both imperfection and personal responsibility as an activist.
Tapping into our shared humanity
Marginalized people ask that privileged people look at them and see a human being, not a lesser-than being. Oppressive systems operate by systemically dehumanizing some groups for the benefit of others. On the flip side, I believe people with privilege are dehumanized when internalizing their societal supremacy over others. For example, the ethnographic studies that have been conducted to explain the election of Donald Trump have revealed the mass identity crisis in white America. We have seen poor and working class white Americans denounce people of color and diversity efforts because, sadly, they perceive them as threats to their historically established power and access. Rather than base cultural identities solely on power, could we tap into what we all have in common: our humanity, no matter how trampled it is? Black public theologianChristena Cleveland practices envisioning the humanity in those who challenge and attack her. According to her, training herself to cultivate love for her enemies makes it more effective for her to communicate and speak her truth into their hearts. She is as concerned about her well-being as she is about transforming antagonistic people in her life into “liberated oppressors.” Black elder activist Ruby Sales firmly tells her oppressors, with unyielding love in her voice: “You can’t make me hate you.”
These are suggestions that have aided me in navigating toxic social justice environments. In testing them out, I try to stay open to new tactics while understanding that I must remain flexible and responsive to the variable stages of justice work. If we as activists do not feel safe in our experimental microcosms of justice and liberation, what can we attempt to replicate across larger society?
The phrase "corporations are people" deliberately conjures up images of huge money-grubbing businesses that don't care about people, getting favors from a government that cares more about them than people. It's widely known to come from from early, "Gilded Age" pro-business interpretations of the 14th Amendment. And yet the very name of the "Citizens United" case should be a giveaway that the freedom of non-profit groups of citizens, advocating about political issues, was at stake in the case. Do those who scoff at Citizens United, for supposedly saying corporations are people, really believe that civil rights groups, women's groups, antiwar groups, veterans' groups, and religious groups, have no Constitutional rights?
The second half of the case's name, "v. Federal Election Commission", is a big clue that 14th Amendment case law about "persons" has nothing to do with it. The part of the 14th Amendment about persons and rights, Section 1, solely restricts what states can do to people or "persons". It reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
But the First Amendment, which works directly on the federal government, and indirectly on states through the 14th Amendment, focuses on prohibiting the government from violating freedom of speech, press, or religion, with absolutely no exceptions concerning who or what is speaking, publishing, etc.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; ...
There is a reference to "the people" in the second half of it:
"... or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in Citizens United does not say corporations are people. Instead it points out that the First Amendment does not make exceptions for who is doing the speaking or publishing; that all effective speech costs money, and that an argument that "corporations aren't natural persons" is not wrong, but irrelevant to the First Amendment.
Joe Albanese pointed out this crucial but apparently never-noticed distinction today, reveling in the irony of Ben & Jerry's using its free-speech rights to argue against corporations having free-speech rights, in "Is Big Ice Cream Trying to Hijack Our Democracy?" Former Federal Election Commission member Brad Smith says more about groups' free speech rights, and another threat to them, in "Tester’s assault on corporate rights is an assault on people’s rights."
I wish people would read the case opinion before criticizing it, but if you don't do that, you could at least read the case's name and the most important sentence in our Constitution.