“What Is Wrong Is That We Do Not Ask What Is Right.”

Guest post by E2

[Introduction: G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) is one of the greatest of all English language writers and thinker, as well as one of the most entertaining. He wrote about literary and visual art, history, religion, politics, economics, science, and ethics, and if this is his first appearance on Ethics Alarms as I suspect, I am awash with shame. E2, in this guest post, does us all a great service by presenting this example of his thinking regarding the ethical problem of deciding how to construct better cultures and societies. The title is taken from the conclusion of the Chesterton quote offered—JM]

I have known about G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) for a long time, as a brilliant British philosopher and social critic (and the author of the witty and wry and silly “Father Brown” stories – though obviously not of the TV version), but I never bothered to actually read him. I admit that it was only recent chance and a cheap Kindle book that finally allowed me to do so.

The first chapter of his 1910 book “What’s Wrong With The World” was a ‘bright-light’ experience for me. Though hopelessly outdated in some 21st century factual respects, it is interesting because Chesterton takes the time to examine the thought process and how it affects the outcomes of different kinds of thinking, reminiscent of the “observer effect.” (Though he was, in 1910, much more trusting of science and medicine than we are now, e.g., and did not address 21st century thought process issues like the scientists’ dilemma about doing something simply because they can, without considering if they should.)

Herewith a short sample of G.K. Chesterton’s “What’s Wrong With The World,” now in the public domain in the US and considered to be one of his more interesting works. (So why did I pay anything at all for the book when I could have downloaded it for free? Because I wouldn’t have thought that day to google him or it and so have had this happy accident.) If you check the internet today you will find articles as recent as Christmas Eve 2021 about GKC and Santa Claus… Final note: succeeding chapters are just as fun.

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Two 2022 State Of The Union Addresses [Corrected]

Guest post by A.M. Golden and Steve-O-in-NJ

[Introduction: These two entries from this week’s Open Forum are a collective natural for a combined post. A.M. and Steve-O take different approaches to what President Biden’s second State of the Union message is likely to be. You can guess which one I would rather see delivered. [Notice of Correction: I erroneously wrote that this was the first Biden SOTU. What confused me was that last year the Speaker of the House neglected to perform the traditional “tearing up of the speech” that marks the official end of the event…]

First up: A.M. Golden…]

***

I’ve been working on this for a bit. When President Biden ran as the Unity candidate and urged unity in his Inauguration address only to maintain the business as usual divisiveness that has characterized his party’s tactics, I started to wonder if there were anything he could do to change it.

With permission and forgiveness- for the length and the hubris it took to write this – I wonder what would happen if Biden’s State of the Union address in 2022 went something like this.

My Fellow Americans,

The purpose of the State of the Union address is to inform the citizenry of where we stand as a country at the beginning of a new year. In keeping with the spirit of that intent, I’m going to use this time a little differently than you may expect. In my Inaugural Address, I urged the country to come together in a spirit of unity. Since that time, we have become more divided than ever. We have seen hostility between people based on race, gender, religion, class and ethnic origin spike. Our children’s education is at risk as parents battle teachers, teachers battle parents and all battle school administrations. Our law enforcement officers and first responders are at risk more than ever. Families are at war with each other, tearing the basic unit of our society apart. We have lost the ability to give each other the benefit of the doubt, preferring instead to assume the worst of others.

I’m here to apologize to you on behalf of myself, the Democratic Party and its entire leadership for our part in creating and maintaining this schism.

For decades, the Democratic Party has contributed to the undermining of our national institutions. We questioned the legitimacy of the elections of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, using irresponsible rhetoric that encouraged ignorance of our Constitution and the protections provided in it by the Founding Fathers. Indeed, we have undermined the Founding Fathers themselves, dismissing their incredible gift to us, by characterizing them by the worst decisions they ever made. In doing so, we have fomented disrespect of our way of life, our history, cultural heritage and national achievements among our youth. Democratic officials in county, city and state politics have followed our poor example, refusing to concede elections and destroying local customs and the memory of historical figures alike with iconoclastic fervor.

We have undermined the legitimacy of the Supreme Court with dangerous hyperbolic statements about the threat to our democracy if a decision doesn’t go the way we want. We used our allies in the news media, the entertainment industry, academia and friendly corporations to mischaracterize high court rulings, spreading ignorance among the population as to how the court is designed to work. We have turned Supreme Court confirmation hearings into circuses, demonizing anyone nominated by our opponents and encouraging our aforementioned allies to engage in relentless character assassinations so that we can protect our pet platform issues.

We have tried to get around Constitutional protections of Freedom of Speech, Religion, Press and Assembly by putting pressure on private businesses to shut down opposing viewpoints and to punish our political critics while claiming that it’s an acceptable practice so long as it’s not government committing the actual violation. We have irresponsibly inserted ourselves into local law enforcement issues, sometimes demanding outcomes that hinder a defendant’s right to due process and ability to receive a fair trail. We have pressured higher education to destroy the lives of students by virtue of a mere accusation, again mocking the concept of due process.

In particular, we have disappointed the parents who entrust their children to us for their education. We keep unfit, unqualified teachers in the classroom, give lip service to quality education while pushing out graduating classes of increasingly failing students and spend precious education time indoctrinating students on wedge issues important to us.

We have encouraged racial enmity by advocating suspicion of law enforcement, endangering all of us with irresponsible demands to defund the police, allow violent protests that destroy property and lives and incentivize lawbreaking by refusing to enforce the laws in existence. We have harmed minority communities with endless social welfare funding that exacerbates the problem of poverty instead of solving it, creating generations of families unable or unwilling to learn how to support themselves. We have engaged in relentless fear-mongering of our opponents to keep the minority vote, painting any alternatives to eternal dependence on government as being motivated by racism while we ourselves have engaged in the soft bigotry of low expectations, trying to convince you that you can never compete fairly with white citizens, can never truly be successful in the Land of Opportunity and are not intelligent enough to do simple things, such as get a government-issue ID.

Irresponsibly, we contributed to a crisis at our Southern border for political gain by encouraging untold numbers of poverty-stricken people to violate our immigration laws and opposing any legislation designed to resolve the issue.

We have helped put this country in unsustainable debt that will take generations to pay so that we could toss money at every problem and fund our programs.

We labeled anyone who questioned the wisdom of these actions as bigots and dangerous extremists.

These practices were ramped up after the 2016 election. Instead of going high, as our former First Lady asserted, we went as low as we could. We gave no quarter to President Trump and did everything we could, along with our supporters in the various industries I’ve already mentioned, to keep him from doing his job. We made sure he would never be given even the most minor of Presidential honors that have been afforded incoming Presidents traditionally. We approved the most unlikely conspiracy theories regarding his election and nodded in agreement when our allies in the news media published rumors as fact, cited anonymous sources and failed to report accurately any news that favored the administration. Prominent members of our party encouraged public harassment of administration officials with no disciplinary action or even a rebuke in response. Congress made no effort to work with the President at all on any important piece of legislation, to the detriment of our country and its citizens. Every move by our party’s Senators and Congresspersons was done to harm the Trump administration, regardless of the collateral damage done to all of you.

When the pandemic loomed, we ignored it while we engaged in partisan political theatre intended to damage the President’s re-election chances. Our Speaker of the House violated democratic norms by tearing up the President’s speech on television. Suddenly, as the strong economy began to falter on pandemic fears, we seized on that as a way to pull a victory out of the 2020 election. We insisted on stringent lockdowns, encouraged abuses of power by state and city officials and undermined every effort by the Trump administration to contain the pandemic within Constitutional parameters. We further pitted family members against each other, already divided along political lines, by vilifying anyone who questioned the effectiveness of such methods.

We exhibited blatant double standards when it came to what constituted acceptable gatherings, showed our own hypocrisy multiple times as prominent members of our party violated their own restrictions and excused confusing, contradictory messaging about the virus coming from government agencies and the scientific/medical communities. We did our best to destroy the morale of the country before the election. Worst of all, we discouraged confidence in the vaccine so that President Trump would not get any credit for its remarkably rapid development only to change course after the election results were in.

Speaking of the election, we continued the undermining of our election process by demanding the use of unsecure paper ballots, dismissed any concerns about tampering and used our allies to propagandize for us again, counting on them to bury stories that helped the administration or hurt us. We ignored the bizarre hours-long cessation of ballot counting in swing states that ultimately turned in our favor. We demanded that the results of this election be accepted without question or pause, not hesitating to again label concerns as dangerous extremism, knowing full well how we would have responded had the election gone the other way under the same circumstances.

And we denied that we did any of those things.

We were hypocrites.

Since I have taken office, we have continued these same practices. We laid down the law on the frustrated, but misguided, people who forced their way into the Capitol on January 6. We have encouraged repeated misrepresentations of that event. We have used our corporate allies to shut down opposing political speech and to try to force vaccine compliance. In our country’s darkest days, it has been the job of the country’s leader to give hope. Instead, I have lectured you ceaselessly and allowed excuses to be made for my failure.

I want to take time now to apologize specifically:

To President Trump. You deserved a chance. We didn’t give that to you. The political climate today exists because we could not accept that we lost. We have no right to complain about 2020 election concerns after spending four years questioning your victory. No right to complain about incivility toward me when we practiced it toward you relentlessly.

To Betsy DeVos, Sarah Sanders and other members of the Trump administration who were prevented from doing their jobs or even enjoying a private dinner out because of harassment encouraged by the Democratic Party. You deserved the same consideration that I would want for my own officials.

To Trump administration associates and colleagues who were targeted by the DOJ, whose employers were pressured, who faced constant threats for their association with President Trump. We made a mockery of the right of Freedom of Association.

To Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and, especially, Brett Kavanaugh. You were badly treated because of who nominated you. We went as low as we could go and that’s saying something. You deserved fair hearings and didn’t get them.

To Republicans. You have been unfairly maligned as racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes and every other unpleasant characterization. We should have listened to your opinions with respect, even if we disagreed with them. Congressman Steve Scalise and other Republicans with him on the day a gunman opened fire on them were endangered by the same kind of rhetoric we have routinely maintained poses a danger to others. We have set a poor example for our supporters.

To Law Enforcement officials nationwide, including our Border and Customs agents. We have made your jobs impossible by openly siding with lawbreakers and risked your lives with our damaging grandstanding. You deserved our support and we threw you under the bus.

To parents who have every right to know what their children are learning and to express their concerns about it. No one should ever be made to feel like an enemy for speaking out at a School Board meeting. Your participation in your children’s education is essential.

To businesses and property owners, large and small. We facilitated the destroying of our economy for political gain. We placed the unreasonable demand of expecting you to enforce local and federal mandates while struggling to stay afloat financially. You should never have been made responsible for policing the public.

To our minority communities. Our cynical pandering to you for decades to prop up our voter base has caused significant harm to you and helped cause the racial animus we are seeing now. You have the right to think for yourselves and make choices as individuals, not groups, even if one of those choices is not voting for me.

To religious believers. We have shown open hostility to those of faith on a regular basis and practiced double standards in how various groups of believers are treated. You deserve to be treated equally and fairly.

To the American people. You deserved better. You didn’t get it. You have the right to expect honesty, fairness, impartiality and transparency from your elected officials who should be working hard for you, not on their campaigns or personal agendas. I intend to change things for the better starting today.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We will get through this. I personally believe that every American should be vaccinated. I do understand, however, that there is a great deal of mistrust here that we have been responsible for creating. I hope that, in the coming months, we can gain your trust by reaching out in partnership with our political opponents and working together to repair the damage to our country. It will be difficult and we won’t always make the right decisions. I have confidence that the people of this country can overcome all the obstacles in our path if we join hands and tackle them together.

We are Americans. This is who we are and what we do.

God bless you. And God bless America.

[Next…Steve-O-in NJ’s version]

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Faultless Injustice: A Case Study

It is largely forgotten now, but the Brandon in “Let’s Go Brandon!” is NASCAR driver Brandon Brown. It was he who was being interviewed by NBC sports reporter Kelli Stavast at a NASCAR event October 2 when the then-popular “Fuck Joe Biden!” chant began to drown out the exchange. Stavast, thinking too quickly for her own good and not properly mindful of the falling credibility and trust of her profession, decided to try to cover for the crowd, NASCAR, or the President and commented that the NASCAR spectators were chanting “Let’s go, Brandon!,” which they clearly were not.

Thus a slur, a joke, a catch-phrase and a rebuke was born, one that has not only not faded, but that appears to be gaining in frequency and legend after nearly three months. And who has been harmed by the chant, other than civil discourse, respect for the office of the President, and our political culture?

Why Brandon himself, that’s who, though he is the one blameless party in the whole chain of events. The chant, he says, has killed his prospects of signing sponsorship deals, costing him untold thousands in future income.

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Museum Ethics And Gift Ethics: The Robert E. Lee Statue

Lee statue down

Guest post by Steve-O-in-NJ

 Steve’s post below discusses the issues posed by this news [from the Smithsonian]: 

…In Charlottesville, Virginia, lawmakers decided to transform one torn-down monument entirely, reports Teo Armus for the Washington Post. Instead of storing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, officials will melt down the 1,100-pound bronze monument into metal ingots—raw material that can then be used to create new art.

City council members approved the proposal unanimously on Tuesday morning, reports Ginny Bixby for the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Put forth by the local Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC), the plan was one of six considered by lawmakers during months of deliberation.

According to JSAAHC’s proposal, organizers plan to hold community listening sessions in barbershops, places of worship, schools and other businesses throughout Charlottesville. With community input, the “Swords Into Plowshares” team hopes to select an artist or artists to design a new public artwork by 2024.

The museum has already raised more than half of the $1.1 million required to bring its project to fruition and is continuing to fundraise online. Proceeds will be used to donate the transformed statue back to the city, where it will go on display by 2026.

JSAAHC executive director Andrea Douglas tells the Post that the project “will allow Charlottesville to contend with its racist past.”

***

Something is dead wrong about a museum, which is by nature dedicated to the preservation of the past, even out of the general public view, instead participating in the destruction and rewriting of the past.

You know where they did things like that? The USSR, where art was harnessed to be a propaganda organ of the state, and every museum, gallery, orchestra and dance company was dedicated first to pushing forward the State’s narrative before anything else, and anything that didn’t do that was pushed into the background or destroyed. The world is damn lucky that Russia was able to rebuild the Cathedral of Christ the Savior that was blown up (!) to make way for a “Palace of the Soviets” that never materialized due to WWII. The world is also damn lucky that the Soviets were nothing if not practical, and repurposed most other buildings (including churches and synagogues) rather than destroying them outright, and still didn’t quite dare to destroy things like the tomb of St. Alexander Peresviet (maybe useful as a nationalist hero) or the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov (though they hid them away for a time). Otherwise, the physical link to all that history would be lost.

Know where else they did things like that? Reformation England under the bigoted rule of Henry VIII and later Cromwell. You can still go to Canterbury Cathedral, but you can’t see the jeweled shrine of St. Thomas Becket. In fact I think the only one of those shrines that didn’t get trashed was the one of St. Edward the Confessor, which no one was brave (or hateful) enough to destroy, and still rests in Westminster Abbey. Know where they’re doing things like that now? Afghanistan under the Taliban, and up until recently the parts of Iraq that were controlled by ISIS.

This won’t be the first, you mark my words. I really don’t like the idea of every city now raising honors to George Floyd as almost all of them did to MLK, who was on a much higher lever. I’m also going to be very disgusted if statues of Columbus, some raised by Italian-American communities by public subscription and donation as a thank-you to the communities where they got their start, begin to be melted down and reforged into either apologetic native statues or statues from the new pantheon of martyrs. Continue reading

Further Reflections On “Juneteenth”

Guest Post by Michael West

My summary observations of something that is more complex than most people make it out to be:

The Fourth of July must always be the preeminent holiday in the American “liturgy”. Even for the slaves whose lives were spent in a state of legalized kidnapping, it was their Independence Day also even while they didn’t enjoy the reality of it. Yet I understand some arguments, such as those who perpetuate Frederick Douglass’s observations on Independence Day. But frankly, anyone espousing that attitude *still* are anti-American.

BUT, it should surely be acknowledged that even while Independence Day was for ALL Americans (even those who in reality didn’t enjoy its blessings), there were those who in reality didn’t enjoy its blessings. And an end to their legalized kidnapping, finally realizing the values of the Declaration, SHOULD be celebrated.

Now, whether that celebration ought to be “Juneteenth”, or the ratification of the 13th Amendment (January 31, 1865), or the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), or the defeat of the Confederacy, I don’t know. Still, it is appropriate for the U.S. to honor such a momentous event that all Americans should be grateful for.

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Reflections On “Juneteenth”

Juneteenth

Guest Post by A.M. Golden

[Well THAT was fast! This morning’s Open Forum generated not one but two guest post-worthy comments regarding the newly created “Juneteenth” national holiday. I had intended to post on it yesterday; for once I’m pleased that life got in the way. This is the first; the second will appear shortly, and who knows? There may be more!–JM]

So let’s talk about Juneteenth, shall we?

A blatant attempt to pander to the African-American community. A federal holiday that only a small group of people actually celebrate. I’m still trying to figure out if I can go to the post office tomorrow.

I’ve also read one article already by a person of color who admits to feeling uncomfortable with the thought of white people celebrating this holiday.

So, no, this won’t be divisive, will it?

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A Deeper Dive Into The Western Washington University “No Exit” Protest

empty seast

Guest Post by Rick Jones

[Before I turn the floor over to Rick, also known here as “Curmie,” a couple of comments are in order. I had hoped that the post yesterday about the Western Washington University student protest over the decision to produce “No Exit,” the 1944 existential drama by Jean-Paul Sartre, would generate commentary from Rick, for several reasons. First, he is one of my favorite bloggers on his own, the proprietor of Curmudgeon Central, which has a new post up right now regarding the George Floyd incident one year mark. More relevant to our topic right here and now, Rick is a distinguished college professor, drama teacher and stage director, who has special insight into university students and live theater. As he reveals in the article to come, he also is better qualified to discuss “No Exit” than I; indeed, he has now convinced me to give the work another chance, since it has been decades since I read or saw it.

I also was thrilled to receive this submission from Rick because I feel very strongly that live theater is imperiled in the U.S. I know most readers here do not share my dedication to theater; few Americans do, and fewer all the time. But I have lived a double life (as a character in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” adds “At least!”), spending  as much of my passions and energies on theater as any other pursuit from high school until to five years ago, when I ended the 20-year run of my small, maverick, professional theater company. My timing was excellent, because the panic-driven lockdown has killed many of The American Century Theater’s competitors here in the D.C. area, maybe most of them, and a year of using Zoom and streaming services has undoubtedly convinced many one time audience members that live theater isn’t worth the time, inconvenience or expense. In the same period, toxic political correctness, political obsession and woke fanaticism has grown exponentially, and these were existential threats to theater already.

The “No Exit” controversy is a symptom of a very serious threat to live performance art, which has been a force for uniting societies and enlightening the public for centuries. We need it more than ever now. A lot is at stake. JM]

***

My department has produced “No Exit”(which, by the way, I like a lot more than you do, Jack) twice in the last decade.  The first of these was directed by a talented and intelligent female student (an ardent feminist, by the way) who went on to earn a Master’s from a prestigious university overseas.  And we also did an online-only production last fall, directed by a colleague who’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, with a PhD in Theatre from arguably the best doctoral program in the country.  Oh, did I mention that she’s a lesbian? 

And, of course, the sense of isolation in the play was a major reason the play was chosen: because we all have a greater understanding of that phenomenon now than even the most creative thinkers could have managed a year earlier.  Moreover, please forgive me if I think that perhaps my colleague, who has published and taught courses on Queer Theatre, might have a more sophisticated understanding of the concepts at play in that particular theoretical framework than would a gaggle of pretentiously woke undergrads.

I am apparently lucky not to be at WWU.  When I announced my show for this spring as Jean Genet’s “The Maids”and described the two central characters as “would-be murderers who engage in sado-masochistic lesbian incest,” it generated interest on the part of most of our best actresses; if there was any dissent—from either very liberal students or a very conservative larger community—I never heard about it.  (Side note: although it wasn’t produced until later, “The Maids” was chosen and announced prior to”No Exit” which was a late substitution for a play we were unable to do.  I wouldn’t have chosen to do two existential French dramas from the 1940s in the same season, but that’s what we ended up with.)

But revenons à nos moutons.  When I started this response, I intended to go point by point through the students’ commentary, but that got really long, as virtually everything they say is nonsense.  So: a few general points:

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A Critical Race Theory Primer

Guest post by JP

(From an Ethics Alarms Open Forum)

A while ago I told you all about my opportunity to run for the school board. I didn’t win (not even close). The incumbent and a teacher at the local university were the winners. I (and another conservative candidate) decided that we were going to do our civic duty and attend the meetings anyway (they are open to the public). We learned that the next one was going to have someone there proposing CRT for our school system. This worried me and the other woman a lot, so we decided to prepare a rebuttal.

CRT (Critical Race Theory) is a ideology that asserts that at its core the United States is a fundamentally racist country. This means that all aspects and institutions such as our system of government, our laws, our economy, and equal protection are built upon protecting white supremacy and keeping down black people and minorities. However, CRT does not limit itself to only white supremacy; it also seeks to protect people from so called white institutions such as capitalism and patriarchy, and the nuclear family.

The idea of CRT is not new, going back at least 40 years. It is typically attributed to two CRT scholars, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Theirwork is built upon a twisted definition of racism that isn’t what the average person would understand. Most people understand racism to be prejudice against a particular person or group of individuals based on skin color (or perhaps even culture). Going back to their book, “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” Stefancic and Delgado argue there is no objective way to define racism, essentially arguing that it is whatever the everyday experience is for a person of color in this country. This leads us to our first two big problems with CRT: Interest convergence and  lived experience. Continue reading

Attempting To Understand An Anti-White Bigot

Guest Post by Null Pointer

[The University of Washington featured this head-exploding essay by an anti-white bigot named Andre Lawes Menchavez. Do remember his name, and if he presents his credentials to you for employment, do make sure he explains why you shouldn’t toss him right out the door. Among the offensive quotes: “Whites will continue to do what whites have always done in our history –– create carnage at the expense of minority communities in order to obtain their own selfish desires.” That’s per se racism. That’s what the University of Washington is indoctrinating its students to believe. Any guess where this, multiplied all over the nation in thousands of colleges and universities, inevitably leads? In truth, you shouldn’t have to guess.

It’s ironic that this post, in response to Michael Ejercito’s request for comments on the piece in the last Open Forum, is Guest Post worthy: my flip response to Michael’s question was that it wasn’t worth the time or energy to rebut. Then Null Pointer proved me wrongJM]

***

I don’t get the sense that any of the words came from the author. It is all pure Critical Race Theory, almost verbatim. He sounds like a deeply unhappy person who has consumed large quantities of propaganda. I don’t really know where to start analyzing this, so I’m just going to ramble and hope something smart comes out.

All of the articles I read in this vein seem to be written by people with a completely external locus of control. The individuals seem to think they ought to be able to dictate to everyone else what they can think, say and do, and because they cannot, the world is a horrible place with everyone out to get them. Nothing that happens to them is the result of their own actions, but they want to be made some sort of god who can control everyone who doesn’t think and feel exactly as they do about everything.

If you go through life thinking that the only way you will ever have control over your own life is if you can control everyone else’s life as well, then I would guess you would always feel pretty powerless and unimportant. I pity these people for their misery, and resent them for trying to blame their problems on everyone else.

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