The Unspeakable Evil of Child Sexual Abuse

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The evil of child sexual abuse is the individual wrong that I find the most incomprehensible and the most despicable.  For instance, I can at least make sense of how somewhat might commit a murder.  For example, if Susan killed a person’s infant child, I can make sense of how there would be so much rage on the part of the parent whose child has just been killed by Susan that the parent would attempt to kill Susan.  I will not rank order the wrong of child sexual abuse and wrong of the rape of an adult woman by an adult man.  But if an evil individual forced someone to choose between (i) the rape of a child and (ii) the rape of an adult person (female or male), it seems to me that (other things equal) the someone in question should choose (ii) over (i)—and not merely flip a coin.  My explanation here is that child sexual abuse undermines—and in some cases destroys—in a most dramatic way the proper development of the moral sensibilities of a child.  There is the saying that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  Is it likewise better for a person to have had a deep sense of self-worth and then to lose it over having subjected to systematic mistreatment than never to have had a sense of self-worth at all on account of having been systematically mistreated from the very beginning of her or his life?

This is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  I am focusing upon the most horrendous wrong done to the most innocent of all, namely the sexual assault of children.

The wrong of child sexual abuse is inextricably tied to a deep form of moral depravity on the part of the wrongdoer.  For it is not even possible for the sexual abuser to have the fantasy that the child will enjoy being subjected to the sexual encounter.  So it is even in an era where by way of television, music and the internet children are exposed to sexuality at a far younger age than was the case in the past.  Exposure to the contrary notwithstanding, children do not have the emotional and psychological maturity to have sexual fantasies.  No 5-year old male child looks at an adult female with lust and thinks to himself “Wow!  Her breasts are nice”.  Likewise, no 5-year old female child lustfully thinks to herself “I wonder how large his penis might be”.  The two-pronged point that I have just made is known by every child sexual abuser.  And that very fact is central to why child sexual abusers are so morally despicable.  What mightily distinguishes the wrong of child sexual abuse from the wrong of rape is that the child sexual abusers willfully take advantage of the developmental innocence of the child.

In the past, male rapists often made the ludicrous claim that the woman would enjoy the sex even though the sex act was entirely involuntary on her part.  No child sexual abuser can have that thought about sex with a child.  The rampant child sexual abuse on the part of Catholic priests was not in any way tied to the belief on the part of the priests who so behaved that the boys actually enjoyed the sexual interaction to which the priests were subjecting the boys.  And that is why the sexual misbehavior of priests was invariably tied to an exercise of power that constituted a form of entrapment of the young boys.

Are there unforgivable wrongs?  My own view is that if any wrong is unforgivable it is the wrong of child sexual abuse.  Here is why.  First of all, the difference between a child and a young adult is ever so apparent.  Everyone rightly acknowledges that there is a significant developmental difference between a 5-year old and a 13-year old.  Yet, precisely what is true is that child sexual abusers wilfully exploit the innocence of children even as the child sexual abusers grasp that children are not psychologically engaged by sexual desire.  So, an unexpurgated truth is that child sexual abusers are not even self-deceived.  They do not suppose that in point fact the child is actually getting pleasure out of the warped sexual encounter.  Indeed, precisely what they seem to delight in is the reality that the sexually abused child is not developed enough psychologically to get any pleasure out of the sexual encounter with the abuser.  So what we have with child sexual abusers is none other than an utterly horrific moral and psychological configuration on their part.

The psychological configuration of the child sexual abuser is so warped and is so unequivocally constitutive of the person’s character that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that any form of moral redemption on the part of such an individual is possible.  So it is even if the person should go on to repent; for child sexual abusers invariably return to their despicable behavior.  Decades ago we may not have grasped that truth about child sexual abusers.  But we do now.

I can think of only one consideration that is a mitigating factor with respect to child sexual abusers, namely that no one chooses or would choose to be a child sexual abuser.  In that sense, child sexual abusers are hostage to an evil psychological configuration that they had no role in choosing.  In that respect, child sexual abusers are victims of a most horrendous case of moral bad luck.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Homage to Steven Utash: Reverse Racism in Detroit

Steve Utash is a white man who did the right thing in Detroit when he stopped and got out of his truck to help the 10 year old black kid named David Harris, who ran out in front of the truck that he (Utash) was driving, and so whom Utash accidentally hit.  The reports make it clear that Utash was not in any way at fault.  Alas, the behavior of various black people, on the other hand, is utterly despicable.  They kicked and hit the white man to such an extent that he is in such critical condition; and it is not at all out of the question that as a result he might die.

We all know if that things were reversed and a black truck driver had accidentally hit a 10 year old white kid in a like manner and a bunch of white people kicked and hit the black man until the black man’s very life was in jeopardy, there would be no end to the cry of racism on the part of blacks.  There would be Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson calling for boycotts and protests.  Indeed, there would be riots.  There can be no doubt whatsoever that I am right in that assessment.  Hence, if whites kicking and hitting a black truck driver who accidentally hit a white kid is unquestionably a case of racism on the part of whites, then it follows that what we have in the case is Steve Utash is none other than a case of racism on the part of blacks.

Indeed, the behavior of the blacks who brutally attacked Utash very much calls to the mind the behavior of the Klu Klux Klan, which looked for an excuse to take the life of a black person.  It could easily enough be sufficient that a black person did not show adequate difference to a white person because the black failed to get off the sidewalk so that the white person walking along would have ample space.  It would be utterly irrelevant that the black person did not see the white person because, for instance, the black was absorbed with reading a letter or, even better, the black was absorbed with comforting the crying infant that the black was carrying in her or his arms.

I have heard black people tell me that blacks cannot be racist.  And I imagine that there are white liberals who share that view.  Well, that stance amounts to none other than a Pyrrhic (that is, empty) victory.  Why?  Because whether we call the behavior racism or not, what is true in any case is that the behavior is absolutely abominable.  Just as the lynching of blacks by whites was abominable, the violent and venomous attack of Utash, the white truck driver, by blacks is no less abominable.

As Bob Lonesberry of WSYR radio station in Syracuse (New York) has noted, we have not heard much in the news about the horrendous wrong committed against Utash by blacks, it being understood that most of the news reporting throughout the United States is run primarily by whites.  And I have asked myself a very simple question: Why has so little attention been paid to this horrific story?  Does this count as a deep and sincere show of support for black people?  Is it the view that the tremendous racist wrongs committed against blacks in the past thereby excuse blacks for whatever wrongs they commit?  Neither explanation will suffice.  History shows that no one has ever become mightily responsible merely as a result of being allowed to be ever so irresponsible.

And then there is the following question: How plausible is it to suppose that black people are deeply and unequivocally committed to just for blacks and whites and whomever when it is the case that blacks can be ever so unjust in their treatment of whites.  The very fact that Utash got out of his truck to attend to 10-year old David Harris was a very, very, very good sign that he was not a white person at all indifferent to the harm that he might have accidentally caused a black person.  And the fact that blacks overlooked that reality and brutally attacked Utash bespeaks a horrendous level of moral callousness on their part.

It is my considered view that white liberals are doing black people more harm than good, if in the name of the racism of yesteryear on the part of white people against black people white liberals are silent with respect to clearly despicable behavior on part of blacks.

Finally, it is simply false to suppose that having self-respect entails being venomous and brutal in the treatment of those who are not a member of one’s ethnic group.  For self-respect at its best is not tied to harming others.  Quite the contrary, self-respect at its very best is tied to self-development.  And in this regard, I will conclude by playing the “race card” as they say.  Surely, the point that I have just made about self-respect is manifestly obvious.  I do not think for a moment that white liberals can miss it.  And this tells me that the silence of white liberals when blacks does what is unequivocally and obviously wrong, whether the wrong is against a white or a black or whomever, reveals a deep and abiding lack of respect on the part of the typical white liberal towards blacks.  A fundamental and immutable truth is that it is not possible to respect a person, no matter what the ethnic configuration of that person might be, and then routinely let that person wallow in mediocrity and self-destructive behavior.

It is thus my considered view that –when it is all said and done– liberals are no better than conservatives in thinking of the N-word as being an appropriate lable for blacks.  For constructive criticism is one of the deep, deep signs of genuinely carrying about others.  And in that regard, most white liberals widely miss the mark.

God bless Steven Utash.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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The Majesty of Non-Verbal Behavior

We have all heard the expression “a pregnant pause”.  Although such a pause can mean many things, it is ever so striking that with rare exception we understand perfectly what such a pause means.  In one direction, a pregnant can mean that a person did not immediately think of an adequate response to the remark that a person made to her or him.  In the other direction, a pregnant pause can mean that a person is so full of emotion that it takes her or him a moment or two before she or he can speak.  Between the best of friends, a pregnant pause can be a most affirming moment.

So the reality and significance of the pregnant pause tell us something ever so interesting about human beings, namely that although the capacity for language is one of the defining features of human beings that distinguishes human beings from animals, it is nonetheless the case that the depth of emotion remains a deep, deep aspect of human interaction.  To be sure, something as visible as tears can be a profound sign of how moved a person is as a result of what the individual has witnessed or heard.  Yet, something so simple as a 3 or 4 second pause can be a most profound indication of the depth of a person’s feelings.  And that reality also tells us just how wonderfully perceptive human beings can be.  For one thing, 4 seconds hardly amount to enormous amount of time.  For another, it is hardly known in advance that there will be a pause of 4 seconds on the part of an individual.  Yet, it is the very rare case that a 4 second pause is missed by the other person who is engaged in the conversation.

To state the obvious, what so very much matters to human beings conversing with one another is not just what they say, but the manner in which they say it.  Thus it is surely no accident that human beings have maintained their capacity for laughter.  For laughter is none other than the non-verbal sign of goodwill between two individuals.  Accordingly, an instance of laughter can be ever so affirming.  And in the other direction, the lack of any instance of laughter can be ever so revealing of a person’s less than positive attitude or mood at that very moment, given that the two individuals are supposedly having a friendly conversation.  Indeed, a friendly conversation entirely without a little laughter is rather like food without seasoning.  Unseasoned food is certainly edible.  Yet, such food is not nearly as enjoyable, let alone memorable as food with the right seasoning.  In so many ways, laughter is like seasoning to a conversation; whereas the pregnant pause is rather like that very special meal that one was not expecting.

One of my very favorite figures is the late Erving Goffman.  He was a sociologist of the first rank and, to my knowledge no one has surpassed his command of the significance and subtlety of non-verbal behavior.  And that insight rather profoundly underscores the point of this blog-entry.  The speaking capability of human beings to the contrary notwithstanding, the marvelous ability of human beings to speak does not in any way whatsoever render otiose the non-verbal behavior of human beings.  Indeed, human beings would have to be very different creatures if non-verbal behavior were entirely absent from human interaction.

Significantly, the parent-child relationship masterfully underscores the point of this entry.  After all, a child wondrously grasps the love her or his parents long before the child can understand a single world.  Indeed, by the time the child truly understands the words “I love you”, she or he has long known the truth of those words.  For the non-verbal behavior of the parents marvelously and ever so wondrously conveys to the child that they love her or him.  And in a very profound sense that reality never changes.  Anyone can say, “I love you”.  But to say those three words in the right way, and thus with the right tonality and body language is to give those words both a majesty and a force that they could not otherwise have.  Such is the gift of non-verbal behavior.  In this regard, what bothers me about technology is that I fear it is having a negative impact upon our self-command whereby we can exhibit the appropriate affirming non-verbal behavior at the right time and in the right way.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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The Majestic Smile

The smile is a social gift like none other. We are born entirely without a command of words or even a sense of who we are.  Yet, within weeks after our birth we are capable of smiling.  And to every set of loving parents, that smile on the part of their new born child is none other than a majestic gift.  The point just made about an infant smiling tells us something so very, very profound about human nature, namely that from the outset human beings are capable a very profound and ever so affirming form of communication that does not in way whatsoever involve words.  For loving parents, witnessing the smile of their newborn time and time again is none other than a glorious rainbow in terms of a sign that they are caring for their child in just the right ways.

The smile is none other than nature’s ever so marvelous and wonderful non-verbal way of expressing affirmation.  And that is awesome precisely because it happens all too often that people say what they think that the other person wants them to hear or they say what they think will make them look good in the eyes of the other.  But a spontaneous smile is ever so genuine.  And guess what, we are typically rather clear about the difference between a polite smile, on the one hand, a genuine smile of enjoyment, on the other.  This preceding point is ever so relevant to the first paragraph.  This is because new born infants are incapable of polite smiling.  Every smile on the part of infants is ever so genuine.  Quite simply, their smiles are none other than irreplaceable fountains of affirmation.  And if this were not enough, there is the ever so tremendous delight that a child takes in the smiles of her or his parents.  All of this with ne’er any kind of course or set of instructions about smiling.

And when we consider friendships, we get something analogous.  To be sure, a friend can always say “It was great spending time with you”.  But nothing will give that very claim more credibility than the countless many smiles that the individual conveyed during the interaction.  And that point speaks to the observation made at the beginning of the preceding paragraph: “The smile is unequivocally nature’s ever so marvelous way of expressing non-verbal affirmation”.

Now, with age there is also what is known as the polite social smile as well as the devious smile.  But it is rather fascinating, is it not, that typically we do not confuse these two types of smiles with the genuine smile.  Human behavior would have to be very different if, owing to human nature itself, such confusion was commonplace. And it is rather interesting, when one considers the matter, that barring considerable facial deformity a genuine smile on the part of a person is recognizable rather instantaneously no matter what her or his facial features look like.  People who have never met before can readily recognize such a smile on the part of one another.  And the person who is very physically attractive has no advantage over an unattractive person with respect to conveying a smile.  That is, one is not clearer in the first case than in the second case that a smile took place.

What exactly does a genuine smile mean?  The answer I believe is quite simple (leaving aside cases of tragedy).  The smile is none other than an ever so natural, non-verbal, and spontaneous way of expressing our sense that we have experienced or witnessed genuine goodwill on the part of another.  Or, in the other direction, the smile is a way of conveying our goodwill towards another.  So, it is no accident that a smile is the first thing that occurs when two friends encounter one another.  With the simple gesture of the smile on the part of both individuals, each has ever so beautifully affirmed the goodwill of the other.  This is nature’s way of providing an affirmation between friends that majestically transcends words.  Indeed, all the right words in the absence of a smile would be a very sure sign that something is terribly wrong.  And there is no clearer proof that the smile is a most sublime form of affirmation than parenting itself.  After all, even though no child will understand what her or his parents are saying until at least 18 months after birth and new born infant can express herself or himself in words, the facial features the child’s parents, with the smile of the parents being front and center, will be an ever so clear message to the child of the loving care on the part of her or his parents.

From an evolutionary standpoint, a most profound is truth that the smile is an entirely irreplaceable excellence.  Without the smile, human beings would have to be ever so differently configured.  For it is one thing for a person to say another “I am so very happy to see you”.  And it is a different matter entirely for that other person to see the smile on the other that says “So-and-so is very happy to see me”.  Thus, without the simple smile, human interaction as we know it with regard to the expression of human warmth would have be fundamentally different.  Who would have thought that something so simple would have irreplaceable standing with respect to human interaction?  And then there is this: It is only through social interaction that we learn to speak a language.  But no social interaction at all is needed in order to know how to smile in an ever so meaningful and wonderful and affirming way.  Nor is there any need for improvement in our smiling.  Finally, there is the ever so sublime truth that barring some severe deformity with respect to a person’s facial features, a smile is always recognizable.  Thus, notwithstanding the extraordinary importance of language, the unexpurgated truth is that language does not–nay, cannot–replace the smile.

 © 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Dignity versus Self-Respect

Dying with dignity is viewed as a considerable moral attribute.  Interestingly, we do not hear people talk this way about self-respect.  We do not hear that so-and-so died with a tremendous sense of self-respect.  This consideration would suggest that there is a non-trivial difference between having dignity, on the one hand, and having self-respect, on the other.

One of the most famous cases of people dying with dignity would be the sinking of the Titanic, where many men stayed on the sinking ship so that women and children could get on to the rescue boats.  We see this as extraordinary act of dignity on the part of these men—not as an act of tremendous self-respect on their part.  Yet, it would surely seem odd to say that these men who willingly give their lives lacked self-respect.  Indeed, it seems incoherent to say that a person has tremendous dignity but little, if any, self-respect.

And there the case of Chantal Sébire of France who was struck by a rare form of cancer‑‑esthesioneuroblastoma‑‑which brutally disfigured here.  The following two pictures reveal the devastation of her health.  14-03-2014 15-25-37We have a healthy quite nice looking person in the first picture and a horrendously disfigured person in the second one.  Again, we would characterize her decision as a tremendous act of dignity—not self-respect.  So what on earth is the difference between dignity and self-respect that would seem to rank dignity above self-respect?  Notice that from the fact that a person has self-respect it does not seem to follow that the individual has dignity.  By contrast, it makes no sense to say that a person has dignity but not self-respect.

Interestingly, an insight comes from the difference between what we call old money and new money.  It is quite common for people who suddenly come into lots of money to spend it in foolish ways.  M.C. Hammer is well-known for having done precisely that.  In 1991, he had a net worth of $33 million.  By 1996, he was in debt to the tune of $13 million dollars and filed for bankruptcy.  By contrast, people have had access to considerable amount of money from the very outset tend to be very wise in the spending of their money and typically act in ways to increase their wealth or, at any rate, to protect it.

Some people are so busy insisting upon their rights that they often seem oblivious to the fact that sometimes a form of excellence can very much be a matter of refraining from doing just that.  Suppose that an 80 year old white woman refers to a 40-year old man black man as boy in asking the black man if he would be nice enough to get the bottle off the top shelf for her.  Well, the 40-year old black man could get all bent out of shape over the fact that some old white person referred to him as boy.  Or, he could simply think if the worse that happens to him that day is that an 80-year old white person call him boy, then he has had a quite wonderful day.  The first reaction would count as an expression of self-respect.  The second reaction, however, would count as expression of dignity.  Of course, we would have servility on the part of the 40-year old black male if he had the second reaction that I have described when any white person referred to him as boy.  But I can easily imagine that no such thing is true of the black male.  And if it seems that I am playing the race-card here, please notice that we can tell exactly the same story if the elderly woman is black.  Indeed, the black man could rush to call the 80-old black man some sort of deeply servile black.

On my view, a person with dignity has such a deep, deep sense of her or his value that the individual is extremely clear about, among other things, when to insist upon his rights and when not to do so (it being understood that in either case there can be multiple considerations that differ from one another).  By contrast, a person who merely has self-respect will often insist upon her or his rights even when there is no benefit of any sort to doing so.  Notice how striking the parallel is to old money versus no money.  And I suggest that we have striking parallel with the case of Chantal Sébire.

She never doubted that she had a right to life.  But she grasped fully that, with regard to all involved (herself included), insisting on her right to life did more harm than good.  And if I am right that what we have here is a marvelous display of dignity, there is a quite fascinating insight that follows, namely that as wonderful as it is when people have dignity, there is no sense in which we can demand dignity of people.  Or to put the point another way, there is no respect in which we can criticize people for not having dignity.  By contrast, self-respect is simply the immutable conviction that one is deserving of the same basic rights of which everyone is deserving.  In 2014, it takes a very long and unobvious argument to make sense of how anyone could fail to believe that.  With dignity, however, precisely what the person knows is that failing to exercising a right or putting herself or himself in jeopardy for another (and doing so entirely without fanfare) can be bespeak a most majestic sense of worth.

No one is the author of her or his own life simply in virtue of having self-respect.  By contrast, everyone who has dignity is indeed the author of her or his own life.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Humanity: Use It or Lose It

If a beloved student should ever tell me that she or he has just lost a parent, it is my hope and prayer that I shall never ever have to rely upon technology in order to be the kind of professor who, with regard to that student, will both say the right thing and do the right thing.

In a word, my worry is the following: The more we as humans rely on technology to do things that we humans used to do, the more our skills with respect to the activities in question will diminish.  Something as basic as being observant can diminish if we rely too much on technology to navigate for us.  The proof of this point comes from a quite unusual direction, namely a new born infant.  Though born with the capacity to see, a new born infant has no idea what she or he is seeing.

Is technology rendering human beings less perceptive with regard to what is going on around them?  Well, there is a very, very profound sense in which technology is doing that as human being increasingly become more and more absorbed with their gadgets that they attend less and less to what is going on around them.

A commentator about the most recent blog entry, “Technology and Our Moral Sentiments,” rightly noted that there are marvelous ways in which technology is a tremendous asset to human beings.  For instance, the commentator rightly points out that that use of cameras in various public areas have been a key factor in successfully fighting crime.  There is surely no denying the validity of that observation.  And when we reach the point where machines can shovel snow, I do not think for a moment that there will be anyone complaining.

But consider a different scenario.  It was not that long ago when just about any cashier could do basic arithmetic.  So if the bill came to $18.23, it was almost impossible to find a cashier who did not under what the customer meant when the customer gave the clerk a $20 bill and an additional 3 pennies.  This meant that the customer received $1.80 back instead of $1.77.  Everyone was capable of doing that very basic arithmetic in her or his head, including many who did not finish high school.  Alas, this was during an era when cash registers did not perform basic arithmetic calculations.  And during that time, just about everyone was rather competent with respect to doing basic addition and subtraction.

Unfortunately, it is not true any more that virtually everyone has that basic level of competence.  Indeed, cashiers no longer have to do any arithmetic.  The cashier simply taps in the amount of money that was given to them and the machine tells the cashier how much chain the customer get back.  So it happens all too often nowadays that the cashier does not know what to do if the bill came to $18.23 and the customer gives the cashier a $20 bill and then comes up with three pennies—but only after the cashier has tapped into the cash register $20.00 as the amount received.  Time and time again, I have in recent times witnessed cashiers who cannot do the basic arithmetic involving a mere extra three pennies.  What has happened here can be very simply explained.  In relying upon machines to do basic calculations in arithmetic, human beings have become strikingly inept in that regard.  I shall always remember coming up with a penny after the cashier had rung in the $5 bill that I had given him.  That penny would have brought the amount owed down to $4 even; hence, I would have received a dollar in change.  However, the cashier refused the penny; for that very basic arithmetic was over his head.

There is obviously a respect in which we are better off with cash registers than can do the arithmetic.  But, alas, it is equally obvious that there is a non-trivial respect in which we are worse off.

Suppose that you masterfully speak your native language.  Well, if you move to a country where your native language is not spoken and you live 20 or more years there without ever speaking your native language, then what will happen is that your command of your native language will diminish.  To be sure, you will probably never entirely lose the ability to speak your native language.  Just so, there will be a non –trivial difference between the command that you had of the language when you were speaking it routinely and the command that you have the language after having lived 20 years without speaking to anyone in that language.  Needless to say, it is a very profound truth that our command of any skill will diminish if we go long enough without using it: tying, dancing, public speaking, driving, and so on.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the above truth captures what disturbs me about technology.  In the last blog entry, I gave the real-life example of three guys with their headphones on, where on a crowded metro not a single one of them offered a seat to a pregnant woman standing and holding an infant.  On the one hand, there is obviously a respect in which we are better off with less crime, thanks to technology, even if our moral sensibilities have become substantially diminished, owing to technology, to such an extent that the level of self-absorption occasioned by technology leads us be indifferent to a pregnant woman standing and holding an infant.  On the other hand, though, there is a very profound respect in which we are not at all better off.  This is because moral progress will not be what it can be and should be; and that unfortunate outcome will be owing to none other than the reality that technology will increasingly eviscerate our moral sensibilities and thus increasingly rendering us more like zombies than not..

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Technology and Our Moral Sentiments

Are our moral sentiments better or worse owing to technology? (1)  Our moral sentiments are better as a result of technology if, to a non-trivial extent, people in general are genuinely more thoughtful and caring about others.  In the other direction, (2) our moral sentiments are worse as a result of technology if, to a non-trivial extent, people in general are more indifferent to the harm that occurs around them even when by a very simple gesture they could make a difference for the better.  Unfortunately, I believe that the correct answer to the question that I have asked is (2): People in general are (becoming) more indifferent.

Of course, what we all know is that thanks to technology we have enormous knowledge about the world at our finger tips.  And thanks to search engines like Google and Bing, it takes very little effort these day to learn more about something if we want to know more.  But my question is not: Are people are more informed these days?  Surely the answer to that question has to be affirmative.  But the surprise, perhaps, is that being more informed does not at all entail being more caring.  And technology has mightily occasioned what I shall refer to as compartmentalization egoism.  And that should come as no surprise when one thinks about it.  This is because there is a very deep and profound sense in which the tremendously popular success of technology is inextricably tied to serving the self-interests of people: “Technology enables folks to do what they want to do when they want to do it”.  Listening to music and texting are two marvelous instances of this point.  In the very midst of a public setting, people can be utterly oblivious to what is going on around them as they walk down the street or sit on public transportation whilst in the throes of listening to their music or texting or talking to someone on their cell phone.  Such is the hold of what we may refer to as technology at our finger tips.

My favorite real-life example regarding the untoward grip of technology at our fingertips shall always be the case of three healthy guys (between the ages of 20 and 26) who were on the metro and in the throes of listening to their music (judging by the movement of their heads) all the while staring at a pregnant woman standing and holding an infant.  I did not see the woman until I looked behind me to ascertain what had occasioned a sound that I heard.  And when I saw her I immediately offered her my seat.  But I shall go to my grave utterly stupefied by the fact that those three young and healthy guys in the throes of listening to their music were utterly oblivious to that pregnant woman standing and holding an infant.  How was that possible?  The answer is very simple: Such is the level of indifference occasioned by technology at our finger tips these days.  And one sees such indifference all over the place.  There are countless many stories nowadays about people texting and walking into buildings or falling into fountains or walking in front of an on-coming car.

This is particularly intriguing if one considers that the typical instance of texting or engaging in a cell phone conversation is not at all about something of great importance.  Typically, these cases are none other than a form of self-entertainment.  Yet, people increasingly become angry when they are distracted from that entertainment.  It is almost as the person who is so absorbed says the following: “WTF.  You should have seen that I was busy texting and listening to my music and stepped out of my way, you A-hole.”  In college classrooms, there is an analogous attitude.  Recently, I stood at the back of a large lecture hall and watched student after student after student absorbed in the use of this or that device rather than being attentive to the professor lecturing.

In the face of ever increasing access to technology, the foregoing considerations do not bode well for humanity.  Indeed, while there are have been the occasional wonderful of instance of technology facilitating the support of a harmed person, as with the case of Karen Klein the former bus monitor, the ever so poignant truth of the matter is that general use of technology on a day-to-day basis is very clearly in the direction of moral callousness.  If it is true that human beings have a natural tendency to be egoistic, then it would seem that technology is mightily unleashing that sentiment.  Increasingly, there is not even the pretense of showing a modicum of concern towards the other.  If this is right, then technology at our finger tips may prove to be the greatest enemy of humanity.  This is because no human ability will remain strong if it is not routinely reinforced.  And basic moral decency is not the exception to that rule.  Technology at our finger tips is mightily undermining a sense of basic decency.  Whilst I shall tweet this blog entry, I never want it to be the case that I am more interested in tweeting than in being morally considerate.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Barack Obama and the Reality of Poor Whites

The are Poor Whites.  Before I get to that, though, it is almost as if Mr. Barack Obama set out to prove me wrong with respect to my most recent blog entry: Barack Obama and the U.S. Constitution.  Of course, he had no such aim, since he has not a clue that I exist.  But a dear friend did asked me what I thought of Obama’s stance last night.  My answer is very simple: He played the racial blame game, as if the only reason why blacks in America are in the position that they are in is racism on the part of whites.  For instance, he said nothing about the extent to which blacks can be ever so creative in engaging in morally wrong behavior, with the recent invocation of the “knock-out punch” standing as an ever so clear and poignant example of that.  Nor, again, did Obama address the reality that far too many black men seem more interested in walking with their pants halfway down their ass than with doing something meaningful and constructive in life and for blacks generally.

And did I mention black-on-black crime?  Blacks seems to be killing one another to such an extent that it looks as if blacks are doing the KKK a favor.

For those who might read this blog, let me be clear: I do not think for a moment that racism against blacks has disappeared from the shores of America.  And I grasp that the sentiment of racism can manifest itself in rather ludicrous ways.  I shall always remember walking out of my apartment about two years ago with a tie on, carrying a shoulder bag, and eating an apple only to have the somewhat older white woman coming towards me freak out.  I mean how many males thus attired, be they black or white or whatever, grab a woman’s pocketbook?

But there can be no better indication of how little blacks expect of one another than that time and time again I have had a black person look at me in utter disbelief when I claim that I am a professor.  Recently, one black thought that I was a janitor.  Another who encountered me at Syracuse University’s Marshall Square Mall thought that I was an older student.  And when I mentioned to yet another black that I was going to my office he asked: “What do you mean?”  When I responded that I am professor he asked: “Are you sure?”

But the title of this blog is “The Reality of Poor Whites”.  And I shall always remember the very, very talented but quite white student from the Syracuse area who could not get financial support to go to Syracuse University because “Say, Yes to Education” is essentially intended for blacks.

I gather all too well that the typical white person has not been the subject of the racism that blacks have experienced in the United States.  But that truth is ever so compatible with the reality that there are many whites in America who, through no fault of their own, are tremendously impoverished.  And what is worse, perhaps, is that such whites cannot obtain any sympathy by playing the race card.  Why, it was just last semester that I taught a brilliant female student who is white and is tremendously struggling to survive.

Understandably, poor whites who are passed over time and time again might become bitter.  These poor whites might become bitter as they watch well-off white liberals trip over themselves to excuse blacks for doing little if anything to better themselves or their community.  These poor whites might become bitter because their poverty is deemed to be their own fault, whereas impoverished blacks automatically have racism as an excuse.

Perhaps, there are not many advantages to being older, but one of them is a sense of history.  And an unexpurgated truth is that when racism in the United States was far worse for blacks it turns out that blacks were far more responsible.

No one, be the person Asian or Arab or black or white, will be the author of her or his own life if the person does not act responsibly.  And at the risk of offending any reader of this blog-entry, there is an awful lot of despicable behavior in black communities nowadays that has nothing whatsoever to do with racism.

A most poignant truth is that no black is likely to become responsible if the person is always encouraged to believe that she or he always has racism as an excuse for acting irresponsibly.

A final comment: I do not know Obama’s personal life.  But I am as confident as I am black that he lied in claiming that he was motivated by the unfortunate things that he had to deal with owing to racism.  I do not know the heavy hand of racism.  And there is nothing that Obama has said or even hinted at that would warrant the view that he does.  What is more, it is despicable to suggest that only racism is the fundamental launching pad for aiding blacks.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Barack Obama and the U.S. Constitution

“To Hell with the U.S. Constitution” might be a very adequate way of summing-up Barack Obama’s attitude.  And if one believes, as Plato did, that democracy readily lends itself to immorality, then one might very well suppose that Obama’s stance is indeed a quite admirable.  Honest reflection, however, should reveal that something is terribly wrong with Obama’s stance; and the distinguished scholar Jonathan Turley has very forcefully made this point.  Indeed, in an article that appears in the Huffington Post, Turley observes that Obama has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution.  This is rather significant because Turley is a liberal—not a conservative.  Of course, in an assessment of Obama, it is an unexpurgated truth that I or anyone else can be wrong, whether that person is liberal or conservative.

My assessment of Obama is very much guided by a simple line of thought that I have taken from the novel The Color Purple in which the following insight is offered:

A good listener listens not only to what
one says, but also to what one does not say.

To me, it is a most striking fact that (1) Obama has done precious little to encourage blacks to be the author of their own lives.  What is more, (2) there is a profound sense in which Obama exploits the present climate in America according to which just about any criticism of a black by a white is racist.

The liberal view in America is that racism is part and parcel of being white; and this line of thought is advanced in a way that effectively undermines constructive criticism of blacks.  Here is an illustration of this point.

During Black History Month, we have all heard the amazing stories of blacks who were born a slave but who went on to lead extraordinary lives.  There is Harriet Tubman; and there is Frederick Douglass; and there is Booker T. Washington; and there is Sojourner Truth.  And so on.  The irony is this: Given what these folks went on to do as former slaves and in the very bowels of a veritable hell against blacks, what explains the lack of success on the part of blacks nowadays, since no black at this point in history can claim that her or his life is bad as the lives of those blacks who were slaves.  Barack Obama does not draw attention to this ever so poignant truth as a way of animating blacks in America to be the author of their own lives.  And, of course, no white liberal ever makes this point.

My second example in this regard is none other the small Chinese restaurants.  It is well known that these Chinese owners of the restaurants may barely be able to speak English.  Yet, they own a quite successful business.  I have asked myself over and over and over again: Why is that blacks do not own small grocery stores in their own neighborhood?  There is no good explanation for why they do not.  Alas, it is absolutely stunning to me that Obama has not encouraged blacks to take charge of their lives in this way.  And, once more, white liberals do not so encourage blacks.

I hold two very simple views: (a) You do not believe in me if you do not encourage me to be the author of my life.  (b) There is no greater sign that a person despises an environment than that the person is far more interested in destroying the environment than doing or saying anything that would, in that very environment, enable person after person after person to be the author of her or his own life, it being understood that necessarily the environment would thereby change for the better.

My view of Barack Obama is quite simple: He is an extraordinarily intelligent but quite angry black man.  And his executive order approach is his way of saying “I don’t give a damn about the U.S. Constitution”, since it is the constitution of a nation that he deems to be evil.  Furthermore, Obama invokes the very attitude with regard to whites that in effect has done far more harm than good with respect to blacks, namely that (according to Obama) the odds of a white criticizing a black and not being racist is, for all practical purposes, zero—an attitude that has become ever so common place—if not entirely de rigueur—among academic institutions of higher learning where most of the instructors are white.  No people will ever flourish in the absence of constructive criticism; and blacks will not be the first to be the exception to that precept.  In effect, Obama is so angry that he is doing more harm than good for black people in the United States.  And the very proof of that point is that no one can say that, owing to Obama, there has been a truly remarkable change for the better on the part of blacks in the United States.  No one can rightly say that.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Michael Dunn versus George Zimmerman

Do we have a morally significant difference between Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman?  To me the answer seems ever so obvious: Absolutely and unequivocally.  We have a difference even if one allows that Zimmerman did not act appropriately every step along the way in his encounter with Trayvon Martin.  Still, what Michael Dunn did was absolutely inexcusable.

Let us concede that the black teenagers were playing the music way too loudly.  Who in the United States has not encountered teenagers—black or white or whatever—playing music way too loudly in public?  In any event, it is certainly understandable that Dunn asked the teenagers to turn down the music a bit.  But I see no way to get from the teenagers failing to do so or to their turning the volume back up to Dunn resorting to a gun in order to silence the teenagers.  And this point holds all the more so since we are talking about public space.  After all, it is not as if the teenagers were loudly playing music on Dunn’s porch or in his backyard.    Then there is the fact that had Dunn gone on about his business, there would have been adequate distance between him and the loud music.

As an aside if Dunn would have gotten his gun if all of the teenagers had been white and Dunn would have acted in exactly the same manner, then the charge of racism against Dunn would actually be inappropriate.  In any event, we hardly need the charge of racism in order to have despicable behavior on the part of Dunn.

Now, while there is a rush on the part of someone to say that case of Dunn and the case of Zimmerman are quite parallel to one another, that line of reasoning is very much a mistake.  And we do more harm than good by ignoring substantial difference in order to make the charge of racism.  Indeed, we must allow for the fact that not every instance of a non-black harming a black constitutes racism.  For example, if a white serial killer should kill 3 white people and 3 black people is there any reason to suppose that we have moral difference between the first and the second cases on the grounds that we have racism in the second case but not the first case?  Is there any reason to suppose that we have racism in the second case?  Surely not.  Certainly, the supposition of racism hardly sheds any light on the killing of the 3 black people.

If we do simple probability theory, there certainly can be times when it is appropriate to be suspicious of a black person or a white person (and so on), where that suspicion is not in and of itself racist.  And it will be remembered that even in allowing that Zimmerman should not have approached Martin, it is an incontrovertible truth that Zimmerman did not pull his gun until after he had been rather severely pounded by Martin.  And that difference gives us an ever so significant difference between the case of Dunn and the case of Zimmerman.  So it is even if we hold that Zimmerman should never have approached Martin.  For whereas Dunn did approach the black teenagers with a gun, Zimmerman did not approach Martin with a gun and did not even reach for his gun until after he had been severely pounded by Martin.

I have heard talk show hosts go on and on about both Dunn and Zimmerman being cases of white privilege.  Well, suffice it say that we surely do not have the same kind of white privilege—to say nothing of the fact that Zimmerman is not white but Hispanic.  It goes without saying that what happened to Trayvon Martin and Ron Davis is most unfortunate.  But it is simply false that we have exactly the same moral attitude on the part of both Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman.  We have a maliciousness on the part of Dunn for which there is simply no parallel with respect to Zimmerman.  Even if it was wrong for Zimmerman to approach Martin with a suspicious attitude, there is surely a world of difference between suspecting someone of something and going to get a gun to shot a person as Dunn did.

I have no intentions whatsoever of denying that racism still exists in the United States.  But the very idea that any instance of harmful behavior of a black by a non-black is none other than racism is just sheer nonsense.  Indeed, that stance trivializes the evil character of racism and thus does more harm than good.  And the ever so disconcerting truth in this regard is that the harm is being by none other than black people.  Nothing can excuse the fact that Dunn went and got his gun and then aimed it the boy in the car.  There is absolutely no parallel whatsoever between what Dunn did and Zimmerman pulling his gun upon being badly beaten by Martin.  No morally decent person can think otherwise.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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