“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov
So Nicholas Kristof, whom I am fond of, recently wrote an article that argues that Liberals are intolerant because there aren’t many Christians or conservatives teaching in universities. There is so much to be exhausted about right now, but this article connects too much with several thoughts that have been swirling around in my soul.
They mostly have to do with false equivalency. And relativism. And gas lighting.
Growing up as a conservative Christian, I was warned about secular, liberal relativism. Nothing’s really bad, who knows, it’s all relative. We had to be careful about such slippery slopes. After the gays got us to buy into such poor logic, then would come the goats, then the children, then the Satan worship would follow. But it turns out that this sort of relativism is entirely a myth of the right. The only people who ever try to implore relative logic (at this sort of crass level) are conservatives. Trying to play “gotcha” with liberals. And it’s exhausting.
I have some difficult news for everyone: Progressives aren’t interested in diversity. We aren’t interested in inclusion. We aren’t interested in tolerance. The progressives I know give exactly zero shits about those things.
We have no interest in everyone getting treated the same. We have no interest in giving all ideas equal airtime. We have no interest in “tolerating” all beliefs. I don’t know where this fairy tale comes from, but it’s completely disconnected from every experience I’ve had with progressive liberal folks in my lifetime.
When conservatives cross their arms and glare and shout “It’s not fair! You’re supposed to welcome everyone but you aren’t being nice to me!” it stings about as much as if they shouted, “It’s not fair, you’re supposed to be wearing tutus and juggling flaming donuts!”
The progressive liberal agenda isn’t about being nice. It’s about confronting evil, violence, trauma, and death. It’s about acknowledging the ways systemic power, systemic oppression, systemic evil, work in our world around us. I’m not fighting for diversity. I’m not fighting for tolerance. I’m fighting to overturn horrific systems of dehumanizing oppression.
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.
What We’re Actually Confronting
Take a few facts on race. White America is exhausted of Blacks invoking 200-year-old history as an excuse for their problems. They’ve had it just like whites since the Emancipation Proclamation. Or since MLK. Or since Obama made it into office.
Let’s pause on this. I live in Seattle, Washington. A liberal city if there ever was one. Full of cheery whites with “Black Lives Matter” signs in their windows. But in Seattle, Washington, black residents make less money than white ones. 5% less, 10% less? No. The average black Seattlite’s income is less than half of the average white Seattleite’s income.
Less than half.
So, either there are unspoken forces at play that make it twice as hard for black people in Seattle to earn money, or black people are exactly half as intelligent and hard-working as white folks. Take your pick. But be honest about which one you’re choosing.
How’s the country as a whole? Well, on average, white families have more wealth than black families. How much more? Is it 200%, like Seattle’s income disparity? 500%. No. White families in the US, on average have 1700% the wealth of black families.
How much progress have we made on racial equality in America? Well, apparently we’re 1/17 of the way there. Only 16/17 more to go.
I have a four-year-old white son. A black boy his age, in the same income bracket, same level of education, will live, on-average, 5 years less than him. Half a decade. Mysteriously.
That same black boy has a higher chance of spending time in prison than my son. How much higher? 110% the rate? 150% the rate? Nope, 500% as likely to be imprisoned.
Empowering the Oppressed
So am I worried that not enough Christian professors are getting hired at universities?
Every single president of this country has been a Christian. Every. Single. President. Barack Obama’s presidency now means that it’s about 20 times easier to become president if you’re white than black. But it’s still infinitely easier to be president of the United States if you’re a Christian. 92% of the House and Senate are Christians. Try throwing a rock in either building and not hitting a Christian.
When your religion is represented by every President in history, and 92% of the governing body that rules your land, I’d say you’re doing okay in the whole representation thing. When conservative politicians have control of the White House, Senate, House, of the country with the most economic and military power in the history of our planet, I think crying ‘persecution’ of conservatives might be suspect.
But crying ‘persecution’ is what conservatives do with every single step towards gender equality, racial equality, any movement that seeks to treat all humans with the same dignity currently conferred on white men. The conservatives’ definition of a war on their rights is that gay people are allowed to get married and Latinx people are allowed to live in the same zip code. The false equivalency of straight white Christian men’s feelings with everyone else’s lives is absurd.
Poor Nazi soldiers, getting rounded up into prisoner of war camps while those Jewish people are getting let out of prisons by the same Allied soldiers! Jewish people get all the preferential treatment…
Furthermore, conservative Christians have allied themselves with racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, mass incarceration, war crimes, death sentences, and gun culture. These Christians work actively to undermine scientific thinking. Anti-evolution, anti-global warming, anti-intellectual, and anti-factual. None of these line up with the values most universities share.
Yes, it’s important to intellectual growth to have variety. It’s important that unpopular ideas get a hearing. It’s important for there to be debate, and changes of heart, and to allow sincere disagreements to continue to wrestle with one another for clarification. I have no interest in our universities being populated by people who think like me. But I do have an interest in them being populated with people who think.
All world views are not inherently equal. Conservative thinking is, by definition, bent on conserving the status quo. It is often regressive. A shrinking, a backward movement, a return to previous points in cultural, political, and intellectual development.
Universities aren’t bereft of conservatives and Evangelicals because of a vast left-wing conspiracy. They’re bereft of those people because people committed to those world views so rarely have anything to offer to an open-minded, inquiring, growing community. Universities are lacking in conservatives and fundamentalist Christians because the amount of education that it takes to become a professor is likely to expose Evangelicals and conservatives to enough good ideas that they’re no longer fundamentalist or conservative.
The fact that humanities departments are exceptionally lacking in conservatives and dogmatically religious people highlights this reality. Psychology, poetry, sociology, political science. People who have wrestled with the human condition, the human soul, literature and art, are the least likely to give credence to backwards ideas that are diminishing to human value and human dignity.
The Left’s Double Standard
When liberals storm the cities’ streets to protest, rally, and yes, riot, in response to a Trump election, conservatives cry foul. They cry double-standard. Liberals expect conservatives to accept election results they don’t like; why won’t the liberals accept election results that didn’t go in their favor? Why won’t the liberals be relativists, like we want them to be, and treat all outcomes as equally valid?
Because all political decisions aren’t equally right. Aren’t equally moral. Aren’t equally recognizing of human dignity and justice and freedom. Because liberals recognize that there are wrong and right decisions, because they parse good and evil, contrary to what my church taught me about them.
Because democracy isn’t the only value we hold. We don’t accept the 51% enslaving the 49% by popular vote. We believe in human rights. We believe in the Bill of Rights. Because we balance the will of the people with the sanctity of each individual life. And no, your right to not sell flowers doesn’t outweigh someone else’s right to get married. Because not all rights are equal.
Because Hitler was brought to power by a democratically elected government. Because American slavery was legal.
The Right is also willing to confront the government with action more direct than voting, holing themselves up with assault rifles to maintain unpaid access to grazing on public lands, or just because the government might seize those assault rifles. If the government takes our guns, we’ll have no way of stopping the government from taking our guns!
The Left meanwhile is roaring in the streets about the countless deaths of unarmed black Americans by the people charged with keeping them safe. Roaring in the streets about environmental devastation that the smartest humans among us agree poses a threat to all human life. Roaring in the streets about an admitted sexual predator being appointed as administer over our nation’s federal law enforcement.
Conservatives not having taken to the streets to riot when Obama was elected doesn’t prevent us from taking to the streets to direct as much resistance to Trump as humanly possible. Because Trump and Obama aren’t equal. Conservatives being deeply outraged and fearful when Obama was elected doesn’t negate or somehow counterbalance the outrage and fear on the Left right now. Because the Right was afraid of ridiculous, imagined fantasies of end times persecution and wildly inaccurate information. When the primary source of terror in living under an Obama administration is that he’s a Muslim, you don’t have one ounce of sympathy from me.
Meanwhile the Left is dealing with Donald Trump’s actually announced plans. To commit war crimes. To imprison his political opponents. Compel a religious minority to register themselves. To gut the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments. Donald Trump is actually appointing white nationalists to top positions. Actually sexually assaulting women. He’s a man who openly admires the most despotic regimes in the world. His vice president has actually worked to jail homosexuals for applying for a marriage license. Actually worked to redirect HIV treatment funding to Pray-The-Gay-Away™ conversion therapy.
But I have a right to my opinion!
Trump calls Mexicans rapists, liberals call Trump racist. The Right jumps in to defend poor Trump from liberal slanderers. Conservatives want to cry Free speech! Free speech! Forgetting that your right to swing your fist ends at your neighbor’s nose. Forgetting that shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater is both illegal and immoral.
Hillary Clinton thought Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic.” Trump can’t believe Clinton would “attack, slander, smear, demean” those people with those comments. Well, I guess it’s a deadlock. There’s a 50/50 chance that either’s comments are actually harmful. Or Trump may be bad, but Hillary is bad too, don’t forget. She called racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia “deplorable.” Trump supporters might be racist, but at least they aren’t calling anyone racist.
We’ll just have to agree to disagree. Because there’s no way to establish concrete facts or objective reality. Shucks.
This exactly the shoddy relativistic thinking my church warned me about growing up Ω
Postscript: I’m a straight, white, male. I have a Master of Divinity from a Christian seminary. I voted for W both times. I was a conservative, Evangelical Christian, I’m speaking from experience. And of course I have dear friends who are exceptions to my critique of Evangelical Christianity. And yes I am deeply, painfully aware of the Left’s failures. Of Hillary’s disappointing limitations. But the overall movement for dismantling kyriarchy, for human dignity, for restorative justice, is so stifled by so much bullshit misdirection and gaslighting.