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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Mother and Boyfriend Tortured 3-Year Old to Death

Every now and then an instance of wrongful behavior defies the imagination.  Over the years, it has become clear to me that more parents than I would have ever imagined fail to love their children.  While I cannot quite make sense of this callous attitude on the part of parents, I nonetheless know that it is a reality.  But what is yet even more incomprehensible to me is a parent deliberately causing her or his child significant physical harm.  I cannot even bring myself to harm a child who is not mine.  So in my mind the very idea of a parent harming her or his very own child is as incomprehensible to me as a jet taking off by going backwards down the runway. Alas, the newspaper

Independent reports horrendous moral callousness in the following article dated 7 November 2014:

Mother and boyfriend ‘had sex, ate pizza and laughed as they tortured son (3) to death’

Here we have a form of moral callousness that, in a real literal sense, defies the imagination and that surpasses countless many evils of the past.  One has to be utterly callous—and not just morally numb—to be so indifferent to the crying of one’s very own 3-year old child that one proceeds to hang upside down and then proceed to torture the child.  Can there be a more callous and evil act?  I suppose so.  However, I am unable to think of one at this moment. The question that this example of horrendous wrongdoing raises is the following: Can a person commit such a morally evil act that she or he forfeits his right to life? I am unable to avoid an affirmative answer to this question when the wrongdoer is none other than one or both of the child’s parents.  What reason can there possibly to keep such an individual alive?  What form of moral decency does a society exhibit in keep such an individual alive?  In either case, I am unable think of a convincing answer.  In what sense is a society a better society for keeping such an individual alive and in prison rather than putting the person to death?  Am I embracing the idea of an eye-for-an eye?  Absolutely not.  For I do not hold that whenever a person wrongfully kills another, then the wrongdoer should be put to death.  For instance, a fight between two gangs could result in the death of one of the gang members.  Yet, I would not automatically hold that the individual who committed the murder should be put to death.  To be sure, it is possible that we could have the same level of moral callousness as with the mother in the case just described.  However, that is far from obvious that such is likely to be the case. In the end, the question is this: Can a person commit such a horrific act of evil that she or he forfeits her or his right to life?  It seems to me Jillian Tait did just that to her son Scotty McMillan.  Likewise, so did her boyfriend Gary Fallenbaum.  I have never had any interest in having a child.  But I cannot even begin to imagine myself harming a child in the way that Tait and Fallenbaum harmed Scott McMillan.  Indeed, I would go quite some distance to save a child from (the) harm (of death), where such a thing happening right before my very eyes. I do not see that a society is in any way better off as a result of keeping such individuals alive.  Indeed, it seems to me that there is clearly a respect in which society is worse off because it is in effect saying that no matter how horrific a person behaves in taking the life of another, it is none the less the case that the wrongdoer’s life always has sufficient value that wrongdoer’s life should not be brought to an end.  And that very much strikes me as the wrong message to send. As we know, people in the United States have been either hung or burned at the stake or put to death in some way or the other for truly ridiculous reasons.  But what is the lesson to take from that reality?  Well, the lesson simply cannot be that a person should be kept alive no matter how morally despicable the person’s behavior was with respect to taking the life of another.  Surely, the case of Jillian Tait and Scotty McMillan in their treatment of Scott McMillan makes that claim manifestly clear.  It suffices that there is simply no room for doubt.  A most astonishing reality is that increasingly there are occasions of the horrendous killing of a person where there is absolutely no wrong for doubt.  The death of 3-year old Scotty McMillan owing to the horrendous mistreatment of Jillian Tait and Scotty McMillan is just such a case.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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Religion: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes “Slaves be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh” (Ephesians 6:5). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes “Slaves in all things obey yours master on earth (Colossians 3:22).  Nowadays, of course, no Christian takes seriously those remarks by the Apostle Paul.  What is intriguing about Islam is that there are so many Muslims who hold the view that the Coran should be taken literally even when the Coran requires or recommends a form of behavior that nowadays we rightly deemed to be ever so morally indefensible.  In the French newspaper Le Point, the following article appeared on-line: “Pakistan: une foule enragée tue et brûle un couple de chrétiens” (“Pakistan: An outraged crowd kills and burns a [married] Christian couple”)

The married couple was killed and burned for having profaned the Coran.

As much as anyone, I hold that the biblical texts of a religious tradition should be accorded a modicum of basic respect.  So, for instance, neither the Coran nor the Bible nor the Torah should be used as a doorstop.  But I am curious as to why across the board Islam has not made the kind of reasonable progression that Judaism and Christianity have made in terms of how we treat other human beings.

As I have already said: No Christian nowadays thinks for a moment that any form of slavery is justified.  And the truth of the matter is that the Coran is not filled with one passage after another, page after page, about how the non-believer should be brutally treated.  At Surah 2:221, we find the words “A man slave who believes [in Allah] is better than a non-believer”—a claim which sounds more familiar than not to the claims about slavery attributed to the Apostle Paul mentioned above.

However, if one takes the Coran literally, then the following passage might offer some insight: Surah 4: 56: Those who reject our Signs we shall cast into the Fire.

On this view, no decency at all is owed to the person who does not embrace Islam, from which it can be “thought” to follow that harming the non-believer in Islam simply does not constitute a wrong; and surely the “we” in the quote is not Allah, but mere mortals who are Muslim.  Clearly, something like this view is embraced by sufficiently many people of the Islamic faith; and at this point in time that difference constitutes a sharp difference between Islam and Christianity as well as Islam and Judaism.  It is not uncommon to read “Convert to Islam killed or tried to kill someone who is not Muslim”.  Recently, in France there is the article “French Jewish Girl Converts to Islam, Joins Islamic State, tries to Kill Her Parents”.  And there is the story of the male convert to Islam who in Oklahoma who cut off a woman’s head.

Of course, there countless many converts to Islam these days who do not kill anyone.  But the contrast is that there is no respect all in which converts to either Christianity or Judaism are thought to be inclined to kill someone merely on account of the depth of their religious conversion.  While it must surely be the case that such thing has happened at some point or the other, a Google search in that regard does not turn up anything.  Interestingly, though, a Google search will turn up cases where a parent has killed a child who converted to Islam.

Let me conclude this blog entry with a parallel observation about the Jewish female who converted to Islam and then tried to kill her parents as well as the man who converted to Islam.  Whatever else is true, that behavior by the female reflects an unspeakable level of moral callousness on her part.  A like claim holds for the male.  This, in turn, reveals something rather troubling about a conception of Islam that sufficiently many Muslims embrace, namely that there is a conception of Islam that either (a) is compatible with nourishing hatred towards someone simply on account of the fact that the person is not Muslim or that (b) deems as quite morally excusable horrific acts of wrongdoing committed against a non-Muslim.  And the proof of this is that neither in France or the United States was there an outcry on the part of Muslims with regard to the respective behaviors committed by the Muslim converts mentioned above.  And what we all know is that a lack of disapproval is often enough tantamount to none other than a form of approval.

Am I running around full of anger at my present or former Muslim students or Muslims generally?  Absolutely not. Au contraire, there many Muslims whom I profoundly admire, whereas there other Muslims whom I simply know en passant but have no reason whatsoever not to have basic respect towards them.  A part of living well consists in making distinctions that are ever so appropriate.  And I would mightily distance myself from and morally frown upon anyone, no matter how that person is configured either ethnically or religiously, who approved of willfully killing an innocent person.  So far, the opportunity to do so has never presented itself; and I hope that it never does.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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In Praise of Malala Yousafzai: A Gift Unto Humanity

malala-yousafzaiMalala Yousafzai is a role model for humanity.  Most people have suffered far less than she has suffered and yet they are forever complaining and doing little, if anything to make the world a better place.  The circumstances surrounding the childhood of most people are far more favorable than were the circumstances of Yousafzai’s childhood.  Yet, most people have far less self-determination and courage than she has.

In 2012, when she was only 15 years old, she was shot three times by a member of the Taliban.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she went on to exhibit a most extraordinary level of courage and to continue her fight for the equality of Muslim women and the education of Muslim children.

Most people are discouraged by so very much less.  Indeed, there are those who are far more interested in finding excuses for complaining and pointing a finger of accusation at others than they are in doing what would make a difference for the better in the life of others.

In reflecting upon my own life, I can say without hesitation that I am both humbled and profoundly inspired by the life of Malala Yousafzai.  If ever I had a reason to put things in perspective, her life has profoundly given me such a reason.  What is more, her life provides an ever so real and profound and comparative perspective from which I can make personal assessments about my life.  Indeed, the point just made holds for so very, very many people.

If Mala Yousafzai had wallowed in self-pity who could have blamed her?  If an agonizing state of despair have filled her very being, who could have blame her?  Clearly, the answer is ever so obvious: No one.  But instead, she displayed a most extraordinary degree of moral fortitude.  Excusing conditions are almost always available.  Alas, Ms. Yousafzai is an ever so profound reminder of the deep, deep moral truth that living well is inextricably tied to refusing to wallow in excusing conditions.

Mala Yousafzai was one of two people who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  It seems to me that no person has ever been more deserving of that prize.  For her life is an ever so vivid testimony of the moral excellence of which human beings are capable and of the moral fortitude that can anchor a human life.  And at 17 years of age, she is the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  (See photo image at the beginning of this blog entry.)

Her life is the exemplar par excellence of the sublime reality that no one has to be hostage to evil.  For if, after having been shot three times, she had wallowed in self-pity and despair no one could have rightly blamed or condemned her.  Had she given up hope, no one could have rightly criticized her.  Quite simply, she did not the let the wrong—nay, the evil—done to her be an excusing for wallowing in self-pity; and that is a psychological and moral gift like none other which she gave to herself.  And that is the ever so profound moral lesson that I take from her.  It is my hope and prayer that as long as I continue to live I shall exemplify that form of moral excellence and never allow the wrong that I might suffer be an excuse to wallow in self-pity.

Countless many groups in the United States should reflect upon Mala Yousafzai’s life.  And the point of doing so is not to deny or trivialize the depth of the road that needs to be travelled in order to bring about a more just society.  Rather, the aim of reflecting upon Yousafzai’s life is to have an everlasting reminder that one can cross the bridge of moral progress with a deep and an abiding sense of goodwill.  Hence, one can make the moral journey in a manner that ever so masterfully and mightily keeps evil bay.  Such is the moral progress that turns evil upside down and renders it ever so impotent.  Mala Yousafzai’s life is a reflection of that reality and an ever so present reminder that such a morally majestic reality is within the reach of mere mortals.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

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