Progressive Original Sin

Recently, I stumbled across an article written by Tucker FitzGerald entitled Intolerant Liberals. It was both thought-provoking and, admittedly, enraging at the same time. Regardless of where I agree or disagree with his position, I am grateful for its effect on my own perspective. I can’t help but appreciate the raw personal honesty expressed by the author.

I suggest reading the essay in its entirety, but one section in particular really encapsulated the core of what I reacted to the most:

Here’s a great example of a liberal relationship to diversity: when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough, she answered “When there are nine.” In response to the collective gasp of every conservative on earth, she elaborated. “For most of the country’s history, there were nine and they were all men. Nobody thought that was strange.”
Personally I’m not interested in a female president for the sake of “diversity.” Putting a woman in the white house in 2020 won’t mean that gender equality has arrived. We’ve had 45 presidents. It’s going to take 45 women serving as president before we even have a chance to reach parity.
Do you get it now?
If you want to pretend that the racial and gender horror in the world has already been righted, was righted in the 1960’s, is almost righted now, or can hope to come close to being righted in your lifetime (45 female presidents), you’re not getting the picture. We have a collective buildup of hundreds (thousands) of years of injustice to metabolize.

The final paragraph resonated with me for two conflicting reasons:

  1. I absolutely agree no single law or event in the last few centuries suddenly righted the wrongs caused by literally generations of oppression or even the idea that they are righted here and now. Such a belief is ridiculous and at odds with basic reality.
  2. Simultaneously, the comments by Justice Ginsberg and the idea that there is some sort of moral scale between the generations — the need for 45 female presidents or 9 female justices — that needs to be balanced is unsettling to say the least.

One of the earliest religious doctrines I can remember rejecting is “original sin.” Even as a child, the idea that any individual should be judged, condemned, or responsible for the unrelated actions of another was utterly offensive to me. The acceptance of this doctrine has been a philosophical nonnegotiable for as long as I have considered such things.

“Ancestral sin,” as it is also known, is unjust and tyrannical by its very nature. I don’t simply reject this religiously, but universally. It’s not anymore acceptable for a secular movement than it is for a religious one. (Although, it does beg the question as to whether any movement is truly “secular” that accepts or preaches such a concept.)

When I talk about ancestral sin, I’m almost always having a theological discussion centered around a Christian sect or Christianity in general. It’s a rare thing that I find this concept making its way so brazenly into a secular or political statement, especially one related to self-described “progressives” or “liberals,” groups I would have thought felt as I do about ancestral sin.

This leads me to another piece of Christian doctrine, one that it took me far too long to see the wisdom of.

Matthew 5:38–42 (KJV): Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

As a young man, “getting even” with those who wronged me was something I reveled in. Every hurtful action was recorded and if I had it in me, I would repay. In fact, I found some of the most basic teachings of Jesus almost annoying as a result. Why should I be a doormat? Why shouldn’t I repay pain with pain? Why shouldn’t the scales of justice be balanced?

The underlying problem, however, is that I was consistently confusing justice with vengeance. Moreover, with age, it became clear that even justice wasn’t necessarily the highest ideal to be sought after. Is it “just” to love those who despitefully use you? Isn’t offering mercy and forgiveness when you are justified in anger and wrath often the better path?

Mercy is the path of peace.

Vengeance is the path of war.

What does having 45 female presidents actually accomplish? If 9 men on the Supreme Court is a problem, why isn’t 9 women the exact same problem? Is the goal to have an equal number of representatives based by some kind of categorization, whether it be by sex, race, gender preference, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation? Or is the goal simply to have a fair and equal playing field wherein a candidate is elected on the basis of their merits?

Does being a woman make a person more inherently qualified to serve in public office? What about being black? What about being gay? I’d actually argue that religious affiliation tells me a lot more about the character of a person — as it is a choice — than the characteristics they were born with.

Our goal as a society, and what ultimately matters, should be a society where demographics don’t matter. They shouldn’t matter. Simply replacing which demographics are given weight with others is nothing but trading one form of inequality for another. In a word, this is vengeance. While it may masquerade as justice, it does so insidiously and yields opposing results.

Each new generation has its own set of challenges, responsibilities, and capabilities. To pass the moral debt of our parents on to our children is to shackle our children with guilt that they in no way earned. Would anyone argue that shackling our children with our financial debt is in any way just? How does it benefit our society or our species embrace these chains on our posterity?

As a father of two small children, I know very well that neither of them are at fault for my mistakes or my own father’s for that matter. Would anyone disagree that I was an awful parent if I favored my daughter over my son or vice versa because of their differing sexes or the differences in the color of their skin? I am to love, care for, and provide for both of my children as they need, not in accordance with society’s past injustices.

My daughter’s generation is barely out of diapers. They are in no way responsible to pay back any debt that my own ignorance has no doubt been a party to over the course of my life. Right the wrongs? For their own collective good and the good of their own children, yes. Pay for their forebears’ wickedness? Certainly not.

What we need to be doing is overturning injustice and inequalities, and there are certainly no shortage. However, there is a huge difference between introducing positive change — whether it be in the form of new policies, cultural shifts, or discarding toxic traditions — and trying to balance some imaginary scale, especially when that scale manages to span multiple generations. Doing this gives the slaveowner from two centuries ago a whip at the back of our children today.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech, he spent a lot of time making pleas for justice and equality and the very essence of the “dream” itself is an ideal that color has nothing to do with our essence as a human being:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

At the same time, Dr. King certainly doesn’t suggest some kind of passive or slow reaction, but to the contrary:

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

This is a thirst for justice. This is a plea for equality here and now. At no point in this speech did Dr. King make a demand that the inequalities he and his children faced should be laid upon anyone, but rather hoped that “black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

The reality is, the horrors of the past cannot be undone. They happened. There is no way to make them right because the vast majority the both the oppressors and the victims are dead and gone. The debt of that darkness is trapped in the past. Those generations died without balanced ledgers. However, the key to changing the future is understanding and correcting the mistakes of the past, not applying the same mistakes in a new manner.

Like Dr. King, I have a dream. I have a dream that my own children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, who they choose to love, or by their biological composition, but by the content of their character. I also have a dream that my son and my daughter will share the same political opportunities and that neither of them will face discrimination because of the actions of their ancestors.

I also hope that they grow to view diversity for the sake of diversity as an anathema and that they embrace intolerance: intolerance of injustice, intolerance of inequalities, intolerance of vengeance, and intolerance of war. I hope that they truly value the “sanctity of each individual life.” That is how injustice is metabolized.

This will never be accomplished with quotas. This will never be accomplished when the demographics are more important than merit. This will not be accomplished if the next 45 presidents are women. This will not be accomplished through the societal acceptance of ancestral sin and generational bondage.

My mother always told me that two wrongs don’t make a right. As it turns out, two wrongs will make a man like Donald Trump President of the United States.

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