Time for Self-Reflection

Self-Reflection stands as one of the truly marvelous aspects of my life.   And I am grateful beyond measure that I find some time for a significant measure of self-reflection each and every day of my life.  The usual pattern for me is merely to take a walk.  A good 20-30 minutes of walking occasions a wealth of insight into my character and thus my motivations as wells as my fears and hopes and also the things that I so profoundly appreciate.  To be sure, on no occasion of walking do I cover all the categories just mentioned.  It suffices that I cover one or two on each instance of taking a walk.

As I look back over my life it is rather striking how committed I am to finding an excuse to take walk somewhere; for, as I have already indicated, it is in walking that self-reflection achieves both extraordinary depth and majesty in my life.  Quite honestly, I cannot remember when I did not engage in walking as a means for self-reflection.

Insofar as I am blessed to be a person with considerable self-knowledge, the explanation for that reality is none other than those moments of self-reflection that are a routine part of my life.  Likewise, insofar as I am not a bitter person, the explanation for that reality is none other than the moments of self-reflection that are a routine part of my life.  And last but surely not least: insofar as I consider myself to be a quite fortunate person in this ever so complicated world, self-reflection has been the key to that reality in my life.

A mere email from a student or a friend may be the occasion for a walk.  Reflecting upon a wonderful conversation may incline me to take a walk.  Or, in the other direction, a very painful experience may be the catalyst for a walk.  In the first case, a walk may be the occasion to appreciate just how much a friend means to me.  In the second case, a walk may shed so very much light on the role I played in someone’s life and the trust that the person has in me.  In the third case, a walk may be absolutely key to my not becoming a bitter person; for the walk may help me to see that notwithstanding the wrong that I may have endured, it nonetheless remains the case that the wrong I endured did not in any way diminish my abilities or hamper my successes or opportunities for success.

It is my considerate view that a wealth of self-knowledge is absolutely key to avoiding major mistakes.  Far more positively, I hold that self-knowledge is absolutely key to living well.

Whilst my death does not appear to be eminent, I hope to be able to go to my grave with an ever so profound sense that I have lived a good life.  In other words, self-knowledge will play a most majestic role in taking the sting out of death.

It also seems to me that self-knowledge plays a most significant role in eliminating jealousy.  When in my youth I first read the biblical passage that “Jealousy is as cruel as the grave” (Song of Solomon 8:6), I thought to myself that passage was utterly ludicrous.  I no longer think that.  Indeed, I can see that jealousy has been the catalyst for considerable evil on the part of human beings.

The self-reflection that I engage in whilst walking has been an absolutely key factor in my being able to live a life that is essentially shorn of jealousy.

At this point in the history of humanity, with our constant pre-occupation with this or that gadget, I wonder if people give much time to self-reflection these days.  I look around me; and it appears that people cannot walk from place A to place B without texting or listening to music or chatting on their cell phone.  Of course, it is perfectly possible that whilst at home these individuals engage in deep and ever so admirable self-reflection.  But possibility is one thing and probability is quite another.  Lots of things are possible.  Yet, they are not very probable at all.  While it is possible that I will defecate in public tomorrow, the probability of my doing so is surely next to zero.

Of course, taking a walk is surely not the only way in which people can engage in self-reflection.  Absolutely not.  But there is the following question: Are people becoming so besotted with their gadgets these days that they accord precious little time to self-reflection?  I would that I could be convinced that the answer to the question that I have just asked is a resounding “No”.  If not, then there is an extremely poignant sense in which humanity is worse-off on account of technology precisely because technology has become an impediment to self-knowledge.

Living well entails being the author of one’s life.  And that is absolutely impossible in the absence of a tremendous measure of self-knowledge.  With the prevalence of technology, having tremendous self-knowledge requires far more self-command (to use Adam Smith’s term) than anyone would ever have imagined.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Modernity and Evil

There is more evil in the world today than there was in the past.  At first blush, it might seem that such a claim is absolutely absurd.  And it might be thought the very existence of slavery in the past clearly demonstrates that there was far more evil in the past than there is nowadays.  Alas, this line of reasoning is false.  And it is false for the simple reason than in terms of knowledge, human beings nowadays know far more than even some of the most brilliant people of yesteryear knew.  For example, the idea that all human beings are equally human is manifestly obvious nowadays.  Even the most diehard racist has to admit that not all members of her or his privileged racial group is morally or intellectually superior to all members of some other ethnic group.  Basic biological evidence will simply not warrant such an absurd view of superiority.

Yet, a most disconcerting truth is that in comparison to the indisputable knowledge that we have that all human beings are equally human, physical differences to the contrary notwithstanding: The degree of evil that human beings are committing nowadays is utterly astounding.

If, as most would claim, that there could have been no excuse—let alone justification—for the slavery of yesteryear, then surely what follows is that the evil of the present is far less excusable, given the knowledge that we now have of the biological make-up of human beings.  As I often note, if person of group Alpha is in need of a blood transfusion and person of group Gamma is entirely healthy, then it follows that the person of group Gamma is in the position to provide blood to the person of group Alpha.  There is simply no way to deny that truth—a truth that in point of fact would have been utterly incomprehensible a 400 years ago.

There mere fact that there is so much violence taking place in this very century is proof par excellence that there is a most disconcerting respect in which human beings are a despicable species.

Here is simpler piece of evidence in support of the above line of thought.  A most disconcerting truth that trust betwixt human beings has not mightily grown over the centuries.  Indeed, in comparison to the level of knowledge that basically constitutes a form of commonsense these days, it is arguable that there is significantly less basic trust between human beings nowadays than there was the past.

If indisputable knowledge of the equality of human beings, physical differences to the contrary notwithstanding, has not occasioned a far greater degree of trust among human beings, then there is every good reason to believe that humanity is in big trouble.

On the one hand, the respect for humanity in general has not risen to the level that it should be.  On the other, the ability of just one person to commit tremendous harm against a group of human being has risen substantially.

I often point out that one is hardly a pessimist if one thinks that a plane is going to crash, given the fact that the plane has just lost one of its wings.  Au contraire, one is quite a realist.  An analogous point applies to human beings.

Needless to say, I do not deny the good that some human beings do for others.  The support of Karen Klein and the giving to help the people in Thailand hit by a Tsunami are marvelous examples of goodwill on the part of some human beings.  Alas, it is also the case that we have far more instances of horrific behavior on the part of human beings nowadays than we do of goodwill.

Most informed people are aware of the individuals who have converted to Islam with the very aim of committing horrendous harm to others: Christopher Lee Cornell in one instance and Alton Nolen in another.  Nolen beheaded a woman in the name of trying to convert her; whereas Cornell was aiming to blow up the U.S. Capital thereby killing countless many human beings.  I am not interested in criticizing Islam here.  Rather, the far more interesting point is simply the fact that these individuals used as Islam as an excuse to pursue acts of horrendous harm.  In effect, their behavior is no different than Christians endeavoring to blow up a Planned Parenthood building.  Alas, the very fact that at this point in history people can think that it is morally acceptable to commit evil for the sake of bringing about what they take to be a good is as inconvertible an indication as we could have that the moral character of humanity has declined considerably.  In the 21st Century, there are way too many human beings who are morally indifferent to committing (or aiming to commit) acts of evil that rival the evil committed many centuries ago.  And that is rather equivalent to a plane at high altitude losing one of its wings.  Barring a miracle, sheer disaster will occur.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Self-Respect versus Arrogance

The difference between arrogance and self-respect is subtle, profound, and ever so important.  In a perfect world, everyone would have self-respect, whereas no one would be arrogant.  To have self-respect is to grasp fully that one has a most significant measure of moral worth simple in virtue of the fact that one is a human being.  To state the obvious, every self-respecting person believes that she or he ought to be treated fairly.  But then by parity of reasoning, it is also the case that every self-respecting person believes that all other human beings ought to be treated fairly.

In a like manner, every self-respecting person is motivated to perform simple acts of decency on behalf of another when (a) that other person is in need of a simple act of assistance and (b) offering that assistance would not in any way inconvenience the person offering the assistance; nor would offering the assistance require some major expense on the part of the person offering the assistance.  A classic example of a simple act of kindness would be that of entirely healthy person travelling with only a very light shoulder bag giving up her or his seat on a crowded bus or metro car to a feeble elderly person who boards the vehicle.

Significantly, there is absolutely nothing about the nature of having self-respect that requires a person to make major sacrifices in order to help others, although a person with self-respect will typically be moved to offer some form of assistance.  A very important truth is that having self-respect does not entail being profoundly altruistic.  Not being tremendously altruistic does not entail being morally callous; nor the other way around.

Last, but not least, although a person with self-respect undoubtedly has a clear sense of both her intellectual and financial wherewithal, a self-respecting person has no desire whatsoever to make a point of calling to just how well off she or he is.  And this last point directly brings us to what is characteristic of an arrogant person.

An arrogant person is one who is forever calling attention to something about herself or himself in virtue of what she or he is clearly superior to others.  To take a simple example, an arrogant person will find a way to mention that she or he owns a Mercedes even if the conservation is only about which airline has the best service to China has.  To take another example, an arrogant person with tremendous academic credentials will find a way to mention her academic credentials even if the conservation is about none other than whether it is worth seeing the movie “Sophie’s Choice”.

Now, a quite interesting fact is that people who are often lacking in self-respect will often make that assumption that an individual is arrogant merely because the individual mentioned a quite positive fact about herself or himself that was absolutely crucial to understanding what she or he said.  For example, suppose that Sara and Naomi (who are perfect strangers to one another) strike up a conversation at the airport and Sarah asks Naomi “From where did you just fly in?”   Naomi responds with “Frankfurt”; and Sarah asks “Is this your first trip to Frankfurt”.  Alas, Naomi responds with “No, I live in both countries; and so travel I back-and-forth between them on a regular basis”.  Well, with that remark by Naomi, the conclusion that Sarah draws is that Naomi is one arrogant wench.  Clearly, it is Sarah who has a problem here; for Naomi’s remark about living in both countries is simply a way of making sense of the claim that the trip to Frankfurt was not her first one.

To be sure, Naomi could simply have said “No, I have gone back and forth to Frankfurt on several occasions”.  But if Sarah could not handle the claim that Naomi lives in both countries, then there is no reason whatsoever to think that Sarah would been able to handle the claim that Naomi has gone back and forth on several occasions.  And it will be remembered that it was Sarah who asked Naomi “Is this your first time to Frankfurt?”  Clearly, a person who lives in both Frankfurt and the United States is not likely to be wallowing in poverty.  The same holds for a person who has gone back on several occasions (military personnel aside).  On the one hand, then, what we have here is not some horrendous display of arrogance on the part of Naomi.  On the other hand, though, we have considerable insecurity on the part of Sarah who opened that conversational door by asking “Is this your first time to Frankfurt?”  Accordingly, we can conclude that Sarah’s measure of self-respect is not at all what it should be.  .

Think about it: It makes no sense whatsoever for a person with a full measure of self-respect, who asked the question that Sarah asked Naomi, to be in anyway threatened by Naomi’s response.

As one can surely imagine, I want to say that no one with a full measure of self-respect who asked the question would be threatened by Naomi’s response.  And it goes without saying that if Naomi has a full measure of self-respect, she would not have simply volunteered the information about travelling back and forth between the U.S. and Frankfurt; for that would have been tantamount to showing-off.  And people with self-respect are not given to boasting.

To be sure, the line between showing-off and saying what is appropriate can be a thin one.  However, it is also the case that if a person has a full measure of self-respect, it will typically be quite apparent whether a person has clearly said more than she or he needed to say in order to answer the question that was asked of her or him, where the additional remarks only to serve to reveal the quite impressive standing that the person has.

I shall always remember the occasion when I approached an elderly black man who was on the second-floor of Marshall Square Mall.  He was doing some stuff on his laptop.  I thought that he was a professor and approached him with the following question “Sir, what Department are you in?”  Much to my surprise, he was an older guy going back to school.  But guess what?  His follow-up question made it clear that he thought the exact same thing was true of me.  So I responded as follows: “Sir, I am a very lucky person.  I was able to get my Ph.D.; and now I teach at Syracuse University”.  I said nothing else about my career; and what I got in return was not a sense of what kind of nonsense is the guy telling me, but a tremendous smile of admiration.  My response was entirely consistent with my maintaining my self-respect and equally consistent with my being ever so mindful of the self-respect of the elderly man.  To state the obvious, maintaining my career in the scenario just described did not at all require going into details about my professional life.  Indeed, it almost never does.

I shall conclude with a very poignant observation.  Nothing anchors self-respect in a person’s life like parental love.  Individually or jointly: No amount of gadgets given to a child and no amount of money given to a child will be anywhere near the equal of parental love in anchoring self-respect in a child’s life.  Losing sight of this truth will increasingly render human beings the very handmaiden of evil.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Suicide and Courage

Ironically, committing suicide may often be more courageous than committing murder.  For instance, it is common enough for people to commit murder simply out of revenge or anger or brazen indifference.  By contrast, it is ever so rare for people to commit suicide for such reasons.  Indeed, people very rarely commit suicide in order to harm a person.  Rather, they do so because have come to the conclusion that staying alive no longer has the moral significance that it used to have.  Thus, staying alive can be more cowardly than committing suicide.

But I suspect that there is going to be a significant rise in the number of people who commit suicide.  And modernity itself may be the reason why that is going to happen.  Let me explain.

Families no longer have the geographical stability that they used to have.  And one deep, deep consequence of this change is that increasingly families no longer provide the kind of direct face-to-face affirmation of the tremendously ill that once was commonplace.  All by itself, being around loving family members can be a deep, deep form of affirmation that mightily underwrites a tremendous sense of being valued in the life of an extremely ill person.

But with the sharp rise in mobility, families no longer have that kind of stability that was so very commonplace just a few decades ago.  Another major factor is technology.  I shall say something about that below.

In September of 2014, the Washington Post published the following article: “Tourism to Switzerland for Assisted Suicide is Growing, Often for Non-Fatal Diseases”.  I am not surprised at all.  Why?  Precisely because the kind of cross generation stability that was commonplace among families no longer is commonplace.   And there is very real sense in which it may understandably make very little sense for an elderly person to go on living if the person does not have loved ones around.  Merely being kept alive in a home for the elderly has little if any deep psychological appeal.  For just as there is no equal to a parent’s simple “I love you” when said with tremendous depth of emotion, it is likewise the case that there is precious little to be said for staying alive if all that this amounts to is being fed and bathed in some home for the elderly, because each family members is busy living here or his own life to really be a part of the elderly person’s life.

As I have already indicated, there will definitely be a rise in suicide.  And I hold that the rise in suicide will have a most disconcerting correlation with rise of the place and importance of technology among human beings.

It is a striking feature of technology that it does not really privilege face-to-face interaction.  It is striking just how animated people are these days merely by the fact that they are texting back-and-forth.  People are starting as kids giving more weight to texting and on-line games than to actual face-to-face interaction.  Indeed, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that parental love of itself is competing with technology as kids attach more importance to their technological gadgets than to the affirmation that comes from their parents.

As the place of technology in the lives of human beings continues to rise, suicide will increasingly seem to be an ever so natural option for the elderly.  This is because the very affirmation from this and that family that in the mind of an elderly person made life worth living will be increasingly less common.  And the profound irony here is that so many young people growing up will have enormous difficulty understanding why face-to-face interaction is so important to their elderly parents.  It is against the backdrop of that very reality that committing suicide will increasingly become an act of courage on the part of the elderly.  Committing suicide will be a very profound way for the elderly to their life in their own hands.  And that, I suggest, is precisely what those who are courageous will increasingly do in a world which, thanks to technology, increasingly trivializes face-to-face interaction.

So between the increasing rise of both mobility and technology, death will more and more and more appear to be an ever so reasonable alternative for the elderly that far surpasses merely staying alive in some nursing home.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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When a Black Is Killed: Blacks versus Whites

When a white person kills a black person, it turns out that black people trip over themselves claiming that a horrendous act of racism has been committed.  Indeed, folks like the morally despicable Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are often quick to show up and give a speech about the horrendous act of racism that has been committed by a white person against a black person.

Alas, when a black person kills another black person, we have deafening silence on the part of blacks—including the ever so non-righteous black leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Now, what on earth explains the deafening silence on the part of blacks when a black kills a black by contrast to the considerable trumpeting on the part of blacks about racism when a black is killed by a white?  Is it that more blacks are killed by whites than there are blacks killed by blacks?  Well, a most poignant truth is that nowadays far more blacks are killed blacks than blacks are killed by whites. The number of black people killed by black people far exceeds the number of black people killed by white people.  It is rather common knowledge that black-on-black crime is considerable.

Of course, the fact that more blacks kill blacks than whites kill black does not in any way excuse the killing of a black by a white, given that there is no reasonable excuse of the white’s behavior.  But that point equally holds for a black’s killing of a black.  A black’s unjustified killing of a black is no less horrific than a white’s unjustified killing of black.  Yet, we do not hear any moral outrage on the part of blacks with regard to black-on-black murders.  Instead, what we primarily get in the case of black-on-black murders is none other than deafening silence on the part of black people.

Now, it goes without saying that the wrongful behavior of blacks does not excuse the wrongful behavior of whites.  But a profound truth in the other direction is that the killing of a black by a black is no less wrong than the killing of a black by a black.  So, it is utterly stupefying that blacks get all worked up when a black is killed by a white; whereas there is essentially deafening silence on the part of blacks—including the Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson—when a black is killed by a white.  Nay, the silence on the part of blacks with regard to a black killing a black is utterly incomprehensible.  For surely, it makes absolutely no sense at all to suppose that a black person’s life is somehow worth less when the black is killed by a black person than when the black is killed by a white person.

So what can possibly explain the fact that blacks are essentially silent in the matter of black-on-black crime but are ever so outspoken when a black is killed by a white?  There can be no morally acceptable answer to that question.  None whatsoever.  Hence, it follows that we have none other than a deep, deep form of hypocrisy on the part of blacks, given that blacks are so quick to protest the killing of a black by a white; yet we have essentially deafening silence on the part of blacks when a black is killed by a black.  Indeed, we have a like silence on the part of blacks when a white is killed by a black.

Now, there can be no greater evidence that white liberals really do not take blacks seriously than the fact that white liberals are equally silent with respect to black-on-black killings, yet white liberals trip over themselves crying racism when a white kills a black.  If I really care about a person, then it would of the utmost importance to me that the individual properly cared for herself or himself.  To be sure, I will want others to treat that person properly.  Yet, it would be of first-order importance to me that the person cared for herself or himself.  In fact, it would be utterly disingenuous to go on and on and on and on about the ways in which others mistreat the person all the while remaining absolutely silent about the way in which the person to do what is appropriate for herself or himself, given that the person is in the position so to behave.  Indeed, such silence on my part would be an ever so clear sign that I do not really care about the person.  Well, it follows by parity of reasoning that white liberals do not care about blacks as much as white liberals say that they do.  Not at all.  And guess what?  It also follows either that (i) black people generally are deeply lacking in a proper sense of self or that (ii) blacks are deeply dysfunctional.  It is simply not possible that there is a genuine sense of deep pride on the part of blacks and yet there is deafening silence on the part of blacks with regard to black-on-black crime.  And, of course, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson each stands as a paradigm example of an utterly hypocritical human being.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Letters of Reference. Is There a Right to See Them?

Getting a superb letter of reference is awesome.  The surprise, though, is that increasingly many students do not waive their right to see the letter of reference written on their behalf.  Alas, the move of not waiving the right to see the letter is an ever so grave mistake.  I explain why in what follows.

The very best letters of reference are letters that make a very explicit and positive comparison to one or more former students or employees who have done quite well.  If, for instance, Janet went to Harvard and obtained her Ph.D. in two years, then a letter that ever so favorably compares a new applicant to Harvard with Janet’s abilities puts the new applicant in a quite favorable position, since a program invariably want candidates who will be quite successful in the program.  No one wants a person for whom the evidence suggests that she or he is likely to do poorly in the program.

So a letter of reference to a program that ever so favorably compares a new applicant with a brilliantly successful person who completed the program mightily raises the likelihood that the new applicant will be accepted.  And there is the rub.

If names of successful applicants from the past are mentioned in a letter of reference and the person for whom the letter is written does not waive her or his right to see the letter, then the right to privacy of the successful individuals has been violated.  No new applicant has a right to know that letter-writer Alpha compared the new applicant to one of the very successful applications for whom Alpha has written in the past.  So if the new applicant does not waive her or his right to see the letter of reference, then the rights of the previous applicant who was ever so successful have been violated.

This is why it is now my very rigid policy not to agree to write letters of reference on behalf of those who do not waive their right to see their letter of reference.  I have had the good fortune of teaching some very successful students, one of whom became a Rhodes Scholar.  But no new applicant has a right to know what I have said about any very successful student whom I have taught and for whom I have written a letter of reference.

As a radical conservative—which is what I often call myself: People clearly have a right not to waive their right to see a letter of reference that is being written for them.  And at first blush, the thought might be “What does the letter writer have to hide?”  Well, the typical thought is that the letter writer should not have anything to hide.  Alas, that answer turns out not to be quite false.  That is because the letter writer could make a very rich, and so positive, comparison between a present applicant and an ever so successful former applicant.  Well, the present applicant is not at all entitled to know what was said about the former applicant.  Indeed, suppose the letter writer thinks that the new applicant is ever smarter and more talented than the former applicant who proved to be ever so successful.  Surely, the new applicant has no right whatsoever to know that.

I have shared with students letters of reference that I have written for them.  But I have always blocked out or changed the names of the students mentioned in the letter.  However, if an applicant does not waive her or his right to see the letter written on her or his behalf, then she or he can see what was explicitly said about other students.  And no applicant has a right to know what was said about a previous applicant for whom the letter writer has written a letter of reference.

These considerations make it quite clear that wanting an applicant to waive her or his rights to see a letter need not in any way about hiding the fact that one is going to say something negative about the individual.  Quite the contrary, one may want to make an extremely positive and ever so astute comparison.   And the individuals mentioned have no less of a right to privacy.

So waiving the right to see the letter of reference is about respecting the right to privacy that others mentioned in the letter have.  At colleges and universities, the very best letters of reference from a senior full professor will invariably make quite explicit comparisons.  The very power of the letter of reference is tied to the professor doing so, which is precisely why a letter of reference from a typical assistant professor is barely worth the paper upon which it is written; for the typical assistant professor is not in the position to make rich comparisons to other ever so successful students whom the assistant professor has taught and for she or he had written a very glowing letter.

Hopefully, these remarks shed considerable light on the importance of folks waiving their right to see the letter that is being written on their behalf.  And if they do not trust the person, then they should not ask the individual for a letter of reference.

As I have already indicated, it is now my official policy not to write on behalf of folks who do not waive their right to see the letter of reference.  And that is not because I am going to say something inappropriate.  No, if I may say so, I write a damn good letter of reference, which is why I write so few letters of reference.  No, the policy of not writing for those who do not waive their right to see the letter of reference that I write for them is out of respect for the privacy of quite successful students for whom I have written a letter of reference.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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The Evil of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson

Rioting in Missouri or Building a Better World?   I am not here to defend Darren Wilson as such, although I know that Michael Brown was not quite the suite innocent angel of goodness that he has been made out to be.  Rather, I should like to make a very different point.  Why is it that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton and other black leaders have not drawn blacks together with the aim of having blacks doing something constructive for themselves?   And unless I am from another planet, there is no acceptable answer to that question.  And that reality says something very, very, very negative about both of  Jackson and Sharpton, namely that they are both exploiting blacks.

This behavior on the part of both has been around for quite some time.  Not only, they have made some horrendous mistakes.  See my remarks from 2007 regarding the morally disgusting behavior on the part of both Jackson and Sharpton: Credibility & Racial Equality: from the Duke Lacross Team to Don Imus.  And then there is the story of Stephen Utash, in April of 2014.  He did the right thing and had done no wrong.  Yet, he was the object of violent attacks by blacks.  But, of course, not a word from Jackson and Sharpton.

I have not claimed that racism no longer exists.  Rather, I mean to be making a quite different point, namely that the deafening silence on the part of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton in the matter of leading blacks to pursue constructive activities and goals reveals that both ministers are in fact evil people.  I cannot think of a single instance where either has inspired blacks to be, as I like to say, the authors of their very own lives.  And in this regard, white liberals are equally to blame.

Whatever else is true, the argument cannot possibly be that it is not until racism has been entirely eradicated that one can even think about encouraging blacks to engage in constructive activities on behalf of blacks.  Only a fool could think that.  And since neither Jackson or Sharpton is a fool, then precisely what cries out for an explanation is why is that they have not encouraged blacks to be the author of their own lives by opening the door to constructive routes that blacks could pursue?  Here is a very, very, very simple truth: If I genuinely care about a person, then while it is certainly true that I will be concerned to protect that person to the best of my abilities, it also true that I will be equally concerned to have that person achieve a rich measure of self-realization whereby that person can mightily contribute to her or his own excellence.  Needless to say, this point fully applies as much at the general level as it does at the individual level.  Moreover, it is a point the truth of which is manifestly obvious.

It is against the backdrop of the above considerations that I am able to conclude without any hesitation whatsoever that both Jackson and Sharpton are evil individuals.  I do not claim that they were always evil individuals.  But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they are now.

It is simply not possible for anyone with a modicum of intelligence to think that rioting is the best thing that blacks could be doing for themselves.  And given both the resources and influence of both Jackson and Sharpton nothing is more striking than the fact that they have never used their social and political standing to bring it about that blacks are pursing more constructive lives by mightily contributing to the flourishing of blacks generally.

Indeed, if white racism is such a problem for black people, then one way around that problem is to make blacks economically secure and independent of white people.  Now, if I—a black whom many other blacks would refer to as an Uncle Tom—can see the power and significance and advantage of blacks being the author of their own lives, then surely those who are socially and mentally black through and through can see that.  For what is the point of being black through and through if one is not using the wherewithal that one has to make it the case that blacks are leading a better life.  To be sure, so behaving is not at all incompatible with complaining about existing forms of racism.  However, it is also the case that so behaving clearly involves far more constructive objectives than complaining about racism.

The preceding remarks speak to why I am hereby convinced that Sharpton and Jackson are evil.  Neither has ever come even close to suggesting a single constructive endeavor for black people.  And one does not have to be a genius in order grasp that blacks would be so much better off if they were mightily engaged in constructive behaviors for themselves.  And if I—a supposed Uncle Tom by many blacks—can see the value of so uniting and inspiring blacks, then in the language of the late-Bernard Williams: It will take a very long and unobvious argument to make sense of why it is that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who are black through-and-through, do not see that moral and social reality.

An evil person knowingly and willingly contributes to another not achieving the excellence that the individual could achieve.  Jackson and Sharpton hide behind the concern to diminish racism.  Alas, they use that very concern to keep blacks as second class citizens and to make blacks less trustworthy.  There is no other name for such willful behavior on the part of Jackson and Shaprton than evil.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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The Deafening Silence of American Muslims

Jews and Muslims are not perfect.  Moreover, it is obvious that there are immutable difference between them.  But something has gone terribly wrong when Muslims from Pakistan can attack Jews who are praying at a synagogue in West Jerusalem, killing 4 of them, and ne’er a Muslim in the United States expresses her or his disapproval of such a horrendous act of evil.  This is an instance of what is known as deafening silence.  And let me repeat: I am under no delusion that Jews are always right and Muslims are always wrong.  I think no such thing about either group.

I shall not use the reality of Pakistani Muslims attacking Jews who are praying as an excuse to be angry at all Muslims.  I have taught and I am now teaching Muslim students.  Indeed, I have admired numerous Muslim students whom I have taught.  And I have no intentions whatsoever of becoming hostile or wrongly treating any Muslim, be they students or not.

But the moral posture on my part that I have just described has no bearing whatsoever on the point that I am generally making, namely that there is deafening silence on the part Muslims in America.  A Google search does not seem to turn up any reaction on the part of American Muslim of the truly horrendous behavior of the Pakistani Muslims in killing Jews praying.

And this ever so mightily raises the issue of basic moral trust.  It is probably ever so reasonable to say that Jews and Muslims (mentioned in alphabetical order) will never see eye-to-eye about how land should be parsed out in Israel.  But that truth is compatible with another truth, namely that some forms of behavior are utterly despicable notwithstanding the disagreement between Jews and Muslims regarding the parsing of land in Israel.

If being a committed Muslim means that it is utterly unacceptable to criticize another Muslim no matter how despicable the behavior of that other Muslim turns out to be, then Islam has a truly warped view of what it means to be committed to Islam.  It is surely possible to respect a person’s commitment to her or his religion and nonetheless regarding that person’s behavior in a specific instance as entirely unacceptable.  I would spit in the face of a Jew who took an innocent Muslim infant and killed that infant in the name of getting even the wrong that some Muslims committed.  The point here is very simple, being a devout Christian or Jew or Muslim does not excuse any harm that such an individual might do to a person who belongs to one of the other religious traditions.

I take it as a given that Muslims would be furious if any person, whatever the person’s religious commitment might be, if that person walked into a mosque and killed several Muslims who were praying.  In this instance, surely what is known as the Golden Rule is ever so applicable.

Of course, I fully understand that Muslims in the United States are not fighting the horrendous war that is going on the Middle East between Jews and Muslims.  And I fully respect the faithfulness of anyone to her or his religious tradition.  But faithfulness is ever so morally bankrupt if it is not permissible to express moral outrage over what unequivocally morally despicable behavior, as is surely the case with killing Jews who are engaged in morning prayers.

In effect, the silence of Muslims in America with respect to such an evil instance of behavior amounts to none other than a form of moral approval of the evil behavior.  Indeed, the silence of any religious group in the face of its members engaging in such evil behavior would be a form of moral approval of that evil behavior.  Muslims are not the exception to that principle.  Jews are not the exception to that principle.  Christians are not the exception to that principle.

There need not be complete agreement between groups in order for there to be basic and solid trust between them.  But it is utterly indefensible for any group to think that it is morally acceptable to kill the members of another group who simply in the midst of saying basic prayers.  That entails have a level of moral callousness that can only be properly described as being the handmaiden of evil.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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“Nigger” With a British Accent. Huh?

A quite interesting feature about the world is that it is primarily in the United States that tonality of voice so sharply tracks ethnicity, especially the difference between black persons and white persons.  If a black in England speaks with an accent other than the typical English accent, then one can be quite confident that the black was not born in England.  Likewise, for the black in France or Holland.  In France, there are countless many accents owing to the fact that there are lots of people who have migrated to France.  But persons born and raised in France sound French and there is no tonality that tracks ethnicity as such among native born French people.  Likewise for persons born and raised in England.

I mention the above because while there is so very much talk among blacks in the U.S. that the word “nigger” is only to be used by blacks, I suspect that the truth of the matter is that what American blacks really have to mean is that the word “nigger” is be used only by American blacks.  It would be an utter disaster if, whilst speaking to an American black person, a black person from England uttered the word “nigger” with a full British accent.  Likewise if a black from Sweden or even South Africa did so, since neither have anything like the required tonality.

Indeed, I am willing to bet that there are young American white youth who could easily outdo a black born and raised in the United States in terms of uttering the word “nigger” with the tonality that mightily, if not entirely, resembles a black American uttering that word.  Lest I be accused of some sort of racial bias, let me quickly add that I do not suppose for a moment that all blacks born and raised in the United States can utter the word “nigger” with the tonality that would be acceptable among blacks who routinely use that word.  However, that truth only lends credence to my more general point, namely that the use of the word “nigger” easily has as much to do with tonality as it does with skin color.  For there is no chance whatsoever that a black American, whose voice does not have a certain kind of tonality being able to get away with using the word “nigger” in conversation.  I do not see that changing.

Alas, the foregoing considerations may point to a kind of deep hypocrisy with respect to the use of the word “nigger” by black Americans.  Can it really be that tonality is all that matters?  And if, in the end, tonality is all that really matters, then it is not more than a little hypocritical to limit the use of the word only to blacks?  I mention this because in lots and lots of contexts tonality does indeed matter.  And I can easily imagine cases where a person should not say something because she or he cannot manage the right tonality and perhaps corresponding non-verbal behavior.  Here is an example.  In French, the words “Je t’embrace” literally mean “I kiss you”.  In practice, though, the expression is used as a warm term of endearment between all individuals regardless of gender.  But as one can readily imagine: The words very much need to be said in the right way.  And a person who cannot utter them in the right way is much better off saying something like “Merci beaucoup de ton gentillesse.” (Thank you so much for your kindness).

As the word “nigger” is being used these days in the United States, the parallel between its current use and the racist use of decades gone by has mightily shifted away from that deep and harsh use.  And it is more than a little disingenuous to deny the reality of that shift.  The typical black rap artist using the word “nigger” these days has no clue what the racism of yesteryear was like.  And that reality may explain why white students are feeling ever so comfortable listening to rap music containing the word “nigger” and using that word among themselves

Every now and then, a most sublime form of progress on the part of a group consists in its members doing none other than merely acknowledging that things have substantially changed — a truth from which no ethnicity or social group can rightly claim exemption.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas


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Diversity and Constructive Criticism

Back in the day (circa 1890), I handed in a 6-page essay to my 10th grade teacher.  About 6 days later, I went to pick up my paper.  And guess what happened?  He tore up the paper right before my very eyes and remarked as follows:

“The paper you turned is entirely unacceptable because it is way beneath your intellectual abilities and talent.  Go write another that is indicative of your genuine talent and submit it.”

Well, guess what?  I did exactly that.  I took my skinny butt home and wrote another paper, which I submitted.  I earned a grade of “A-plus” on that paper.

Now, what makes the story that I have just told rather interesting is that the professor is white and I, of course, was his skinny black student.  But, alas, it never crossed my mind that the professor’s behavior towards me was racist in anyway.  Quite the contrary, I took his reaction to the initial paper that I turned in, as well as his charge to submit a more satisfactory paper that measured up to my intellectual abilities, to be a profound instance of his very positive belief in my intellectual talent.

Fast forward to nowadays. Alas, I cannot imagine nowadays a white professor behaving in such a manner towards a black student; for it would be taken as a given by all sorts of people that the professor’s behavior is racist.  It is that very reaction puzzles me.  For the professor thought that I was smart—and not stupid.  And he thought that my first paper fell way below the intellectual abilities of which I am capable.  What part of that assessment is racist?  It might be that what makes the teacher’s behavior racist is the manner in which the professor behaves towards the black student.  I guess that what the white professor should say is something like the following to a black student:

“I am so sorry to inform you that the paper you submitted was way below your abilities.  I would very much appreciate it if you would submit another paper.”

There you have it: a profound display of respect on the part of the white professor towards the black student.

Alas, the point here is that sometimes a sense of outrage over what a person has done is none other than a tremendous form of disappointment that, in fact, is also a deep, deep affirmation of the person’s abilities.  That high school teacher mightily believed in me and was profoundly disappointed in the quality of the essay that I had turned in.  That is why he tore up the original essay that I had submitted.

Of course, we live a very different world nowadays.  And so no doubt my teacher’s behavior would be mightily out of place nowadays.  Yet, an immutable truth is that nothing whatsoever can substitute for genuine constructive criticism.  And while it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between malicious criticism and constructive criticism, it is usually very, very clear whether a person is doing one rather than the other.  My 10th grade teacher was clear: Go write an essay that measures up to your substantial intellectual abilities.  And while it is certainly true that he did not have to tear up the original paper that I turned in, it is also the case that his doing so did not detract one iota from the reality that he gave me the opportunity to write another paper because he was ever convinced that I could a paper that was much better than the one that I had submitted.

Thus, a most intriguing question that present itself is the following: It is the case nowadays that affirmative action on college campuses genuinely allows for the constructive criticism of a black student by a white professor.  Unfortunately, it is far from obvious that the question gets an affirmative answer even if we concede that the white professor thinks very well of the black student.  Why is that?  My answer is that it has become increasingly difficult for white professors to engage in the kind of constructive criticism that is needed by blacks who attend college with an impoverished academic background without the white professors being open to the charge of racism.

It is obvious that genuine praise is ever so preferable above all else.  However, surely constructive criticism is a very, very, very close second; for genuine constructive criticism is unequivocally tied to a belief in the intellectual abilities of the person being criticized.

The reality is that affirmative action has been around for at least 40-years.  But it has simply not been the success that, back-in-the-day, folks thought that it would be.  Here is why.  In effect, the charge of racism on college campuses has become none other than a very powerful tool for silencing whites and thus eliminating constructive criticism on the part of white professors.  No white professor in 2014 could say to a black student anything resembling what my white high school teacher said to me.  And that reality has a negative psychological impact that no one acknowledges.  There is no better spring board in life than experiencing genuine belief on the part of others that one very much has the intellectual wherewithal to be successful.  Alas, constructive criticism that, ever so sincerely and genuinely, points to the heights that a student is capable of reaching is absolutely essential to a student’s realizing intellectual heights.  Insisting that such criticism of a black student by a white professor is racism has easily done blacks far more harm than good.  And the proof of this is the reality that, aside from the usual obligatory lip service, there is little if any evidence on college campuses that non-black students‑‑be they Indian or Arabic or Asian or white, and so on—have a deep and profound respect for the intellectual wherewithal of blacks.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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