Monday, October 27, 2014

Character Trumps Tribe, Part II

In "Character Trumps Tribe, Part I" we started talking about the difference between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to goodness. This is a bigger discussion than race, but we have some examples in racism to describe the problem. So today’s Part II is about that particular type of tribe.

In Obama’s first term, a Boston area professor caused a kerfuffle at his doorstep when police arrived to follow up on a tip from a neighbor of what looked like a break-in. The police did nothing but come to the door and ask questions, and learn that the professor indeed lived at the residence and was not an intruder. But the professor decided the police had no right to follow up at his house, because he was a black man, and that meant the complaint came because of his race. When this hit the news, it should have been a non-story. But the president inserted himself, saying the police acted foolishly—without even checking to find out the police had done nothing amiss. The president has a knee-jerk racism reaction. He’s for tribe over character.

This showed up again with the Trayvon Martin case. The president decided, before all the facts were known, that a black teen had been killed because of his race, when he was just innocently walking through the neighborhood. And he announced that, if he had a son, he’d likely look like Trayvon Martin. He failed to wait for evidence that the “innocent” teen had beaten up the (Hispanic) man (with a non-Hispanic name) who shot him in self-defense. It was a tragedy. But it would have been avoided if the “innocent black teen” had not attacked the man to whom he looked like a hood-wearing black teen unknown in the neighborhood.

Then, recently there was the situation in Ferguson, MO. It was immediately purported to be a white cop shooting an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown, for no reason beyond race. Stories were even told that Brown was fleeing and was shot in the back. Based on this invention, race riots were instigated. The president apologized to the UN that racist tensions such as in Ferguson happen in the US, comparable to human rights violations like beheadings elsewhere in the world.

Except that the “black man murdered by cop” story differed from the story of the injured police officer and some other witnesses. Almost right away there was evidence the “victim” had just robbed a convenience store. Immediate evidence showed the victim was not shot while fleeing. And the eventual autopsy report matched the police officer’s original story, that the first shot came inside the car, with the man trying to attack the officer and get his gun, and that he seemed to be rushing the officer when the final shots were fired. Witnesses corroborating the officer’s story are afraid to allow their identities to be revealed, because their disagreement with the racism story makes them enemy targets of those pushing that story.

The victim was a very large, very strong nearly 300 pounds of muscle, judgment impaired by drugs, who had just committed a crime, refused to follow directions to get out of the middle of the street, and instead attacked a police officer in his car. He was shot because of his race? Really?
In each of these instances, the appropriate response from a civilized person (not to mention a person in a powerful position such as president) should be to stand back, wait for the facts, and say and do whatever is needed to further truth and justice. Instead, in each instance we got people putting forward their tribe—as though belonging to the tribe equates to rightness, regardless of behavior, regardless of facts.

This isn’t a singular problem with our president; it’s a problem with the overall “tribe.” Think back to the O. J. Simpson trial. It was constantly in the news, so simply waiting to observe the outcome was hardly allowed as an option. But, really, it was a murder trial little different from other trials—except that it involved a famous person. And the famous person—wildly successful in sports, media, and even movies, so not what you'd call oppressed—happened to be black. So there was a tribal defense of him—as though his actual guilt or innocence didn’t matter; what mattered was his color. Because there was perceived unfairness toward that “tribe” somewhere historically, he should be acquitted—for the sake of the tribe.

The tribe called that justice. But civilization does not.

There’s a conversation going on lately about “white privilege.” [I'm curious about the movie Dear White People, which I won't see, because I choose not to see R-rated movies. But some reviews say it is an intelligent, nuanced view, instead of just an attack on all of us as racists.] I don’t feel privileged. But I do have the advantage that, when people see me, they don’t grab their purses and fear I might be a criminal. But some of that has more to do with how I place myself in society—a law-abiding, modestly dressed, educated, middle-aged woman. Women in like categories—differing only in race—get treated pretty much the way I do.

What do we do when we meet blacks at Tea Party meetings, or Republican rallies? We welcome them. Their very being there separates them out from the 90% of their tribe who value tribal identity above character. Just by showing up and joining with those who think like we do, they have declared their preference for freedom, prosperity, and civilization. That puts them in the American greater society, even though it probably causes them ostracism from their race tribe. Their statement is a show of character. And to those of us who value character, we’re glad to welcome them.

So let’s consider behavior and choices. Think back to times when western settlers faced various native tribes. If you found yourself surrounded by natives dressed in the clothing and symbols of Apaches, you’d feel more fearful than you would in a group of peaceful Pueblos. The difference is not because you know the individuals involved; it’s from experience with those particular tribes.

In some urban centers, where the black “tribe” is a large segment of the population, you get a lot of crime, a lot of poverty. But it may relate more to the 70% of children being born without fathers in the home than with outside oppression. When families fail, in large numbers, you get savagery.

But if people escape the trappings of the tribe, dress as though they respect themselves, and follow the formula for success in America, they’re a lot less likely to strike fear in their neighbors as they walk down the street.

What is the formula? Again, it is:

Don’t have sex before age 20.
Don’t have sex until after marriage.
Stay married.
Obtain at least a high school diploma.

In Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart, he claims that part of the problem is that the successful fail to share this secret. There’s probably more to getting into the elite neighborhood Murray talks about, but this formula works so well that it practically guarantees getting out of poverty and into the middle class. And it builds social capital for the next generation. This formula works for any tribe—any group.

Character—living according to principles of ultimate good—brings about civilization. Squabbles between and among tribes can do no more than change the flavor of tyrannical power.

That is the main point of this discussion. But there’s another “tribe” in the ongoing intertribal war worth covering—the gender war. So we’ll take Part III to look at the so-called “war on women” and what that really means.

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