On processing a confederate heritage
I was born in 1945, a child of secondary school teachers, and graduated in 1963 from a segregated high school in south central Mississippi. I was an active invested member of a rural Southern Baptist Church, being seriously involved in all aspects of the youth activities provided by the faith community.
Wanting to live out the behaviors represented by Christian teachings I stopped while driving home from basketball practice to help a young black man diagnosis the reason his automobile had stopped running and was parked beside the road. Not knowing anything about car repair I offered to give him a ride home where he told me he could get some help with the car. When I returned to my house my parents were anxious. They told me they could lose their jobs if people in the community learned about what I had done.
I remember seeing different sections of business and entertainment operations designated for ‘White’ and ‘colored’ clients, mostly restrooms and water fountains, and that ‘blacks’ were to be served in the back. I wondered why black people wanted to separated from white people. When I was a student at Mississippi State University the first black student enrolled there. My roommate and I invited him to attend athletic events with us. He became a welcomed participant in Baptist Student Union activities. When I graduated and reported to my military assignment as a student pilot in west Texas I painted a confederate flag on my helmet visor. There was a black fellow student in my class. I did it because of the way the historical confederacy had been represented to me while growing up in the south.
I recalled the confederacy as a location, as a geographical setting. I was proud to be associated with the southern region of the United States, to be identified as a resident of the south. I liked the environment, I had enjoyed the work I had done on my grandfather’s farm. This was my home. Now that I was a part of the broader American community I found reflecting on my experiences in the south to be a kind of companion for me, a source of comfort as I maneuvered in the unfamiliar setting. When I graduated from pilot training and reported to my first duty station I was assigned to be a roommate of a black officer. When I walked into the room and announced that I would be living with him he immediately left and told the staff he refused to share a room with me. He was assigned another room.
Now I look back at my observations and adventures as a white person growing up in Mississippi before the civil rights movement gained traction in the mid 20th century. I regret trusting our government leadership that we needed to fight a war in Vietnam. I regret not being a part of the civil rights movement. I know now that was the fight I should have been in. I have tried to reconstruct what I was told about the confederacy, and why this instruction influenced my choices as I became an adult.
I recall how the Civil War was described. I remember it was depicted to have been the result of an economic concern, about the need for cotton in the north and the concern of southern farmers about how they would be compensated. I had helped my grandfather grow and pick cotton so this made sense to me. I recall that Lincoln had used emancipation as a way to advance the Union’s pursuit of maintaining access to cotton. Being quick to defend their rights the southern states formed the confederacy as a means of resisting a potential invasion by Union soldiers. Becoming a confederate soldier was proud identification. It was a way to stand against the dangers of an invasion, a way to defend a family and a home and a way of life.
There was no mention of the underlying reality that the cotton industry depended on the labor of slaves in this description of the rise of the confederacy. There was no assessment of the morality of using human labor as a machine and viewing human beings as property. There was no recognition of the dignity and equal worth of black people and of the pain and suffering they endured in order to make the cotton industry so profitable. Even in the Christian churches there was no admission that black people were neighbors to be treated in the way white people wanted to be treated. The idea that black people were animals was an accepted designation never to be examined.
This is the mindset of people who today defend the confederacy and the monuments that have been erected to celebrate those who defended it from destruction. At the heart of this defiance is the unwillingness, maybe the inability for them to see the black people as human beings. And if they cannot do that then they cannot begin to understand what the confederacy means to black people, how the confederacy is a representation of a time when white people fought and died to be able to treat them as animals.
On being uncivilized
There are no simple lessons in history. . . . It is human nature that repeats itself, not history.–John Toland
Many explanations have been used to excuse the presence of pain and suffering that occurs in the functioning of the earth. I am not referring to the pain and suffering that results from running into a wall, or falling off a cliff, or having a tree fall on you. I am talking about the pain and suffering that results from a creature in the earth attacking another creature, whether it be human or animal or bird or sea dweller.
We can faithfully assume all creatures feel pain. Although we cannot totally get into the experience of a creature unlike ourselves we can observe how they respond when affected by an attack, either an attack on themselves or an attack on their offspring. We can clearly see their reactions of anguish, their displays of turmoil, and hear their sounds of distress. Whether or not they have reasoning or discernment, all creatures certainly know pain and suffering.
Some humans explain this disruption as the presence of evil, either resulting from deliberate mistakes and calculated assaults intended to take something away from another or produced by the the presence of a devil who makes creatures behave in selfish and violent ways. Each of these explanations and others similar to them are used to excuse the presence of pain and suffering, to deflect blame for these discomforts away from whatever might be responsible for creating the earth and the variations of life in it.
Whatever the reason, the presence of pain and suffering inflicted on creatures by other creatures is an uncomfortable aspect in the design of nature. The design, if it was intentional, did not have to be this way. Pain and suffering as a consequence of creatures attacking each other is not necessary for life in the earth to function. So taking this assessment as a foundational observation, what options are left for us when searching for an explanation for and the management of the presence of pain and suffering caused by assaults?
If the design of nature was intentional, then the creator used a crass and despicable element in crafting the product. Allowing for pain and suffering from attacks to be present confirms a dark side of character, a fundamental ingredient of evil, a perverse desire to include this distress in the life of creatures. At some corner of consciousness the creator wanted there to be pain and suffering—it exists as an entertainment, a source of pleasure and satisfaction. Therefore the concept of the creator being a loving and benevolent being cannot be supported by what we can easily see and hear.
If the design of nature was random, then there would be no way to prevent the presence of pain and suffering that results from creatures attacking each other. Whether the design of nature in the earth resulted because of the fluke offspring of an unpredicted influence of alien beings or because of some obscure reaction in the universe, all that exists in the earth would be without intentional control; it would have occurred according to some unprincipled association of components and their peculiar unconscious characteristics. Therefore any speculation of what may occur in our future is without any merit whatsoever.
Either of these possibilities is equally appealing, and each one stands with the same dire consequences for life in the earth. If the design of nature in the earth was intentional then a conspicuous flaw in the design is evident. If the design of nature in the earth was random, then we may be grateful the design is not more distressing; that there remains a way to navigate in the earth so inevitable experiences of pain and suffering can be diminished even if they cannot be avoided entirely. Either way we are confronted with a stark reality—the impossibility of peaceful coexistence—and we are left with no prediction that our future will be any more consoling than our past and present.
However remote and elusive there might be embedded in the design of nature a way for human beings to fashion life in the earth so that creatures would not attack each other. It certainly seems unlikely because this amiable relationship is something humans have not been able to achieve thus far just among themselves.
Yet occasionally, occasionally, there has appeared in the awareness of persons with adequate perception a profound insight—an element of wisdom—that could have moved the course of human history toward a more comfortable life experience for everyone. Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, M. L. K., these people have called for mutual respect and for the sharing of the provisions in the earth so everyone could be blessed with the necessities of food, shelter, and safety. It was a simple request, completely within human reach. No need for competition; no reason for suspicion; no quest for domination—conceptions that prey upon and exasperate the natural urges that cause humans to attack.
In the spirit of these ambitions some societies have enacted laws and governing principles to curb human aggression and to reduce the inequitable disparities in the condition of specific groups of people. It was a visionary quest, a quest to be civilized. Yet the experiment has never succeeded; there has never been enough compassion and empathy to include everyone in this circle of concern.
The quest to be civilized has not succeeded because of the fundamental flaw in the design of nature.
It is human nature that repeats itself, not history.
On the political currency of Donald Trump
Donald Trump is an exceedingly popular figure among a certain category of people. There seems to be no political action he can take that will disenfranchise the devotion of this following. There seems to be no personal action he can take that will disenfranchise the devotion of this following. It is both peculiar and staggering how this consistency in support has been exposed over the past years of his candidacy and presidency.
It will be accurately and indisputably noted that Donald Trump does not appeal to most highly intellectual and well educated persons. These are not among those who assemble to praise him. Nor will rational and analytical persons be found in the company of those who applaud him. Neither will moral and virtuous people gather to listen to and cheer his ravings. So if these kinds of people do not approve of and support Donald Trump who then is left to propel him into public office?
Donald Trump depends upon being able to exploit the ignorance of persons who choose to be fundamentally stupid. These are people who take pride in their minimal education. These are people who refuse to be informed about how issues affect individuals beyond their close associates. These are people who are unable to think critically about the consequences of words and actions of persons in positions of power and leadership. These are people who care only about their self interest. These are people who have formulated a religious ethical system that does not tolerate persons who are different from them. These are people who believe patriotism means preserving white privilege. These are people who feel ethnically superior and blame their unhappiness and disappoints on groups of persons who are not white and do not speak English.
These people find Donald Trump to be so appealing because he lets them be comfortable in their ignorance. He needs them to be comfortable in their ignorance just as he is comfortable in his own ignorance–of history, of society, of community, of security. This is his most critical asset—people who continue to be fundamentally stupid; people who continue to be short-sighted and self-centered. If ever these people begin to listen to and observe what he is saying and doing and thereby be prompted to recognize how all human beings are related and have equal dignity, then Donald Trump will be politically bankrupt.
Those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, let them use them.
On the failed democratic experiment
We watch again as frustrated and angry citizens of the United States express overflowing outrage prompted by the abuse of authority and power. This reaction arises whenever incidents of blatant misbehaviors occur that reveal a lingering deep anguish and suffering within a segment of the population. And whenever this reaction occurs we name reasons to explain it, to remove the presence of it, to cause the purpose of it to go away.
Protests make us uncomfortable. They disturb us. They make us alter our patterns of living and thinking. Protests force us to reckon with realities we do not want to confront. They break into our awareness and demand that we explain them, that we find a justifiable way to dismiss them. We want to avoid having to address them, to have dialogue with them, to put ourselves in the circumstance of others. And when we do this we betray the quest for democracy.
There are many ways to explain the presence of angry persons who are complaining about apparent injustices. We find solitude in most of these explanations. We find comfort in pretending that the origin of protests are selfish concerns, revelations of personal failures, the inability to conform to established norms. We criticize those who make noise, pronounce demands, carry posters that call for change. We do not experience the anguish and suffering that they do so we make ourselves believe their disgust is unfounded, unworthy, intended only to cause us trouble, to inconvenience us.
Among the many explanations that usually come to the surface when protests occur there is one that seems to be at the heart of every incidence when people show up in our streets to demand change. This explanation seems to be justified, to be the core reason why people congregate to call attention to particular behaviors they judge to be wrong. This explanation seems to identify the concern that generates the energy and intensity always evident in those who protest. And this explanation describes the failure of the democratic experiment in the United States of America.
Repressing the right and ability of each citizen to vote in elections is the basic reason why people protest. Wrongs, injustices are committed by persons in positions of authority and power. Under many forms of government these practices are routine, normal, expected. But in a democracy persons who perform these abuses can be held accountable by the rule of “one person, one vote.” For every person to have a voice in how government works, how authority and power are used, this is the defining character of democracy.
When the right to vote is suppressed, whenever a segment of the population is denied presence at the ballot box, democracy has failed. This situation creates a condition where abuses cannot be quietly and comfortably managed. To claim that the government is a democracy and yet to allow persons to work to prevent certain individuals from voting, this hypocrisy is the culprit, the fundamental reason for protests.
If we want to know why people protest, if we want to identify the persons responsible for protests, then we will expose those who are working to undermine the ability for every citizen in the United States of America to vote. If we want to direct our attention to understanding the reason why people march in our streets, why they so emotionally respond to misbehaviors, why they so sincerely demand change, then we must recognize how people—fellow citizens—have been silenced, pushed aside, made to obey the rule of oppression because they have not been encouraged and enabled to vote.
Are you bothered by protests? Do you know of any people who are trying to prevent individuals from voting? If you do not like protests then blame it on these people.
Focused attrition intended: it must be told
The hazy plan for managing the COVID-19 crisis envisioned by the White House lead by Donald Trump must be made clear to American residents. The rigorous direction for businesses to reopen—especially business that employ a large primarily minority workforce like meat packing plants—displays an element that must be called into open relief. Likewise it must be clearly explained and publicized that a vast majority of persons who are dying because of virus infection are from minority populations, specifically African American and immigrant communities.
There is no explanation for the enthusiastic promotion by the Trump administration for businesses to reopen other than that this practice will disproportionately expose minority workers to the virus. This fact will explain the latent motivation for this urgency: the observed attrition caused by the virus is that it kills mostly minority citizens, period. And this is the intended goal of the Trump administration—to kill as many minority persons in the United States as possible.
No requirement that employees to be protected is included in the demand that a business reopen. No insistence that all employees must be tested for the virus is included in the mandate. No possibility that employees will be able to hold employers responsible for their ultimate sickness and death when they return to work is recognized. No continued unemployment benefits will be possible for workers who are told to report to work yet refuse to show up because they fear contracting the virus.
All these measures indicate unequivocally that the White House intends to expose as many minority residents as possible to the virus so that they will hopefully get sick and die as a result. There is no other way to understand the intention of Donald Trump. He is a demonstrated racist and will use any means imaginable to make the lives of minority persons as difficult and deadly as he can.
This truth must be explained clearly. It must be publicized as widely as possible. It must be made explicitly central when any discussion for reopening is addressed. This truth is blunt and cruel yet it is undeniable: Trump wants to kill as many minority persons as possible because he does not believe these people are real Americans.
It is time to call out President Trump for this cruelty. Focused attrition is the plan, it is intended.
Join the Army: be all you’re told to be
I read reports that describe how Commander-in-Chief Trump is requiring 1000 West Point cadets to return to the academy so he can present a commencement address. These cadets were earlier released so they could return to their homes in order to be safer from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across our nation.
Reflecting on this military command requirement brings back disturbing memories. I volunteered to serve in Vietnam, enrolling in Reserve Officer Training, graduating from pilot training, then asking for an assignment that would take me to Southeast Asia. While there I managed to safely land an aircraft damaged by anti-aircraft fire. I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for directing the recovery of a Special Forces platoon who had been ambushed and pinned down by enemy fire. Since returning I have never been permitted to donate blood because of agents present in my body as a result of exposure while in Vietnam. I am now in a special VA study group convened for the purpose of assessing the long-term effects of these agents on the human body.
Fifteen years later while on assignment in Germany I enrolled in the highest level of professional military education. As I read through the materials provided to me for this course I learned that the military is dispatched not only to defend against foreign assaults but also to gain and maintain access to resources determined to be important to our national security. In more direct terms the military is used as a tool by political and business interests in ways that have nothing to do with responding to foreign assaults. This proceeding is referred to as “militarism.” The objective of militarism is to maintain a strong military capacity and to use it aggressively to expand national interests and values with little or no concern for how these covert activities impact local residents or undermine the self determination of foreign governments.
Under these circumstances it is easier to understand why military leaders order soldiers into difficult and dangerous situations for reasons that have nothing to do with what soldiers are taught in basic training. Under these circumstances it is easier to understand what we were doing in Vietnam and the motivations behind the subsequent wars in Iraq. Under these circumstances it is easier to understand why soldiers are not allowed to question orders but must advance or at best be court martialed or at worse be shot as deserters. Under these circumstances it is easier to understand why soldiers develop serious spiritual injury when performing actions that contradict the content of their consciences. Under these circumstances it is easier to understand why soldiers continue to suffer enormous pain and have difficulty reintegrating when they return to civilian life.
The crass, insensitive, callous, self-serving nature of the order from Commander-in Chief Trump that West Point cadets return to campus so he can give them an address, subjecting them to danger of possible illness, all for the sake of a desire, a conception that has nothing to do with the oath they have taken to perform military service as they have been taught–to defend our country from all enemies both foreign and domestic–this order is peculiarly reminiscent of what I have seen first-hand over the course of 26 years in military service.
When I learned how service women and men are ordered into dangerous situations that have nothing to do with defending our country I felt betrayed. I was like many other individuals who enter military corps when asked to serve their fellow Americans. Unfortunately we do not have an option to perform service in a corps that focuses on constructive activities. There is no youth service program that allows young people to sign up for a national curriculum that teaches them activities that enrich and make safer the lives of their fellow Americans. Their only choice is to learn how to destroy. Their only choice is to learn how to perform actions and to follow procedures designed for the purpose of killing. And to now know that their faith in military leadership is often betrayed for the sake of the desire of someone wanting to use the advantage they have over them for a self-serving intention, this action is truly unconscionable.
I strongly caution any one considering a tour of military service to ponder with full awareness exactly what they will be doing—deliberately forsaking their sense of personhood and individuality to become not all they can be but what they are told to be, never being able to trust that they will always be ordered to spend themself in campaigns that are worthy of their purpose for serving. That is a high price to pay for a ribbon and a medal.
On the Viral Sickness in the world
Today the world is sick. It is not the usual sickness that plagues humanity. It is not the sickness of greed, of arrogance, of conquest, of dominance, of control, of acquisition. It is not a sickness that can be destroyed with violence. Nor can it be lied to, or conned, or cheated, or intimated, or sued in order to make it go away.
It is a sickness caused by a virus that threatens every human in the earth. No one is immune to its adverse effects yet not everyone will be disturbed by it in equal measure. Those who are the most vulnerable are the ones most susceptible to its perilous nature. The wealthy and the powerful are positioned to take precautions that can more effectively insulate themselves from the danger of its infection. Those who are marginalized because of racial inequity or social standing or economic disparity or political dissent, these are the ones who will suffer the most.
In the course of living through the experience of this sickness there is a lesson that many humans will learn. It is a lesson that some know already. Those who serve, those who perform menial tasks that make life more convenient and comfortable for the others, these are the ones who already know this lesson. They have learned it by being forced into the shadows of prosperity. They have learned it by spending themselves in subjection to those who are in positions of power. They have learned it by being minimally compensated for the laborious work they perform. They have learned it by having been exposed more fully to the dangers associated with human existence.
The lesson that many will learn through this experience is that not all threats to human survival can be defended against with guns and tanks and rockets and bombs and wealth and deceit and intimation and faith. No amount of weapon arsenals can prevent the invasion of this virus. No amount of prosperity can provide a suitable covering. No amount of cunning and cheating can subdue its advance. No amount of belief that it will not affect me will make any difference. This virus is an insidious invader, an invisible and silent killer. The only way to escape its wrath is to avoid coming into its presence. And avoiding coming into its presence requires making adjustments in human behaviors. Until there is a proper antidote nothing else will do.
The lesson to be learned from this virus is that all humanity is of the same nature. The concept that some are more important than the others is a perversion of human being. The pattern of living that elevates the comfort and convenience of some at the expense of the others is an assault on community. The inequities created by power and wealth and position and place are illusions of prosperity that in the end will not suffice to enable any advantage whatsoever. Those who have depended upon might and dominance to save them from despair will learn that they are only human and no amount of prestige will change this.
The human predicament is a fate we all share. Only when this truth is embraced will each individual understand the human condition. Understanding the human condition will inevitably produce changes in human behavior. And only then will it be possible to find meaning and fulfillment in what it means to be human, what it means to be a good human in the earth.
On assigning responsibility
Trump wants his name to appear on the checks that will be sent to citizens to help them better endure the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That would not be appropriate because of his presidential record of resisting proposed legislative support for financially marginalized persons.
However there is a place where it would be appropriate for the Trump name to appear–on the coffins of persons who have died because of complications caused by the virus. Trump not only ignored the danger and arguably intentionally mislead persons about its known threat but also refused to implement and coordinate safety measures that would hinder its spread across the United States.
There are times when identifying responsible persons is especially important. Now is one of those times.
On ending organized violence
The astonishing reality is that leaders and rulers often, almost always, create dangerous tensions that lead to confrontations which usually, almost always, lead to armed conflict because of the need to establish an advantage. Whether it be greater territory, more access to resources, elimination of suspicious behaviors, suppression of descent, and perhaps other aspirations, leaders use their power to antagonize their opponents. These interactions escalate until there is defiant resentment. Further acts of encroachment upon the possessions or the self determination of the other results in resistance. The next step is the entrenched defense of perceived values and domains. That defense requires violent assault against the perpetrator.
Yet it is not the leaders and rulers who carry out the assault. That demand falls to the assembled followers who have been enlisted to serve the directions of those in charge, those with power over them. Maybe by brut force or exceeding cunning or economic manipulation, those that lead, those with power over the others engage their enlisted and armed force to respond to the crisis the leader has created. But what happens if the followers refuse to obey. What happens if the followers refuse to fight the battle their leader has begun?
The followers must choose either to fight the battle for the leader or to refuse to fight and let the leader alone play out the script that has been composed. If the followers choose to fight the battle, many will suffer, some will die, for a cause they may not aspire to. Many will suffer, some will die for a pursuit they may not condone. They will be rewarded, proclaimed heros, awarded tokens and medals that attest to their courage and bravery. The heros will be portrayed as examples worthy to be emulated by younger persons in the community in order to condition these eventually to enlist in what will be described as a nobel undertaking.
If the followers choose not to fight, then the leader will be exposed as will be those under the leaders influence. Family, friends, neighbors, all these will be exposed to the violence of the opponent, persons who had no involvement in the course of action that resulted in the certainty of armed assault and the disastrous consequences of an unopposed onslaught of violence. This creates a serious dilemma for the followers. Although they disagree with the perceived cause for the armed engagement they will be persuaded to fight the battle in order to protect those they care about who otherwise would be defenseless. Or they could rise up against the leader and deliver the leader into the hands of the opponent.
There is an obvious solution to this madness. Without the followers to enlist when a leader opposes a designated foe, without the armed force to back them up, the leader will think a violent encounter to be unrealistic. Without followers and an armed force to order into battle the leader will be forced to use some other more civil means of attaining the aspired objective. Without the gathered followers to do the fighting the leader will hesitate to fight the battle alone.
You may think this proposal is outrageous, unrealistic, naive. But what of the alternative—a continuation of violence a usual, leaders maneuvering to force others into fighting battles that leaders bully into being. This selfish bickering, egotistical antagonism of leadership is outrageous, irresponsible, and it must end. Followers must refuse to fight a battle that is not their own. They must deliver their leader into the hands of a neighbor the leader has deceitfully fashioned into an opponent to prevent harm to their families and friends and fellow residents.
That is the right thing to do, the appropriate thing to do, the civilized thing to do.
On the critical condition of ‘Duty, Honor, Country’
We gather here to hold with deep concern the principles of ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’ These three principles were once front and center in the declarations of persons who committed themselves to be of public service. These principles stood as guideposts to persons who sought to spend themselves in the service of the public good. They radiated from the halls of West Point and served as a constant reminder of the importance, of the necessity to put an allegiance to what is good and right before any desire for individual glory and the promotion of segregated entitlement. We remember them with gratitude, not because they always prevailed in their discipline of our public servants but because before they were always there to inform them, to inspire them, to remind them of their sacred charge. Now these three have been assaulted and neglected; they are suffering, almost out of sight, out of mind, struggling to survive.
Where once before persons elected to serve the public good embraced the principles of ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ and sought to serve with integrity and to protect the dignity of every resident of this country, now the individuals who occupy the highest places of our national government are silent before the face of injustice, even afraid to confront and expose incidences of misconduct when they see abuses of power and observe attitudes and behaviors that discredit the rule of law and the sanctity of human existence. ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ are now only faint memories, echoes, recollections of how majestic public service could have been, principles no longer presented as pledges to be obeyed and mandatory to be in the collection of attributes of human character worthy of aspiration.
Yet in spite of their approaching demise ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ still lives within the consciousness of some courageous public servants–subordinates, persons under the command of higher officials, individuals who embrace integrity and a sustained commitment to public service. They have not betrayed their oath to the values that constituted our Republic. The behavior of these national patriots puts to shame the conduct of higher elected government officials who are betraying the public trust.
Duty—an internal obligation to be faithful to a solemn oath and a promise to put the success of a mission before the safety of the individual.
Honor—a measure of the preservation of integrity and honesty in response to accepting the calling to serve a cause higher than self preservation.
Country—the nation and its values to which a position of public service is dedicated and representative of everyone who resides within its boundaries.
‘Duty, Honor, Country’ I applaud your idealistic challenge, your high ideals, your incessant reach for truth. Do not be content to be pushed aside, trampled under the feet of impersonators motivated by selfish aspirations. Become agitated, regain your strengthen, arise to call us all to servanthood, to the defense of all that is true and right, and to the quest of achieving the human potential.
Forty seven minutes past Jerusalem
Maybe you can explain this strange unsubstantiated proceeding:
pronouncements and behaviors that challenge the actions of individuals of Jewish linage routinely result in the culprit being labeled ‘anti-semitic’ while similar pronouncements and behaviors promoted by Jewish people toward individuals of Palestinian linage are not referred to as also being ‘anti-semitic.’
Semitic, adjective: relating to or denoting a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic and certain ancient languages such as Phoenician and Akkadian, constituting the main subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic family; and relating to the peoples who speak Semitic languages, especially Hebrew and Arabic.
Given this formal dictionary definition of ‘semitic’ one is rightly confused by the general understanding of the meaning of ‘anti-semitic’ and the way it is used in modern discourse.
I have lived in the West Bank, worked in Jerusalem and Hebron and the small Palestinian shepherd village of At-Tuwani. I traveled the route between At-Tuwani and Jerusalem many times, both by car and by bus. I have seen the manner in which Israeli soldiers interact with local Palestinian residents. I have seen Palestinian travelers ejected from the bus and others outright denied occupancy. I have seen road blocks indiscriminately erected and Palestinian travelers subjected to long delays and grueling interrogations, and afterward turned back. I have seen Palestinian workers stand in line for hours to get through Israeli check-points on their way to work. I have seen Palestinian shop owners intimidated and forced to leave their modest stores while they watch their metal shop doors being welded shut by Israeli army reservists. I have seen residents of illegal settlements hassle and assail Palestinian grade school students as they walked to their classes. I have seen Palestinian shepherds tending their sheep in ancestral pastures being attacked and assaulted by illegal settlers. I have seen residents of Palestinian villages form the dusty ground around their houses with cement so that the rain water runoff would find its way into their meager cisterns while they watch across the valley as irrigation systems spray water on the green grass and vibrant flowers that landscape the attractive Israeli settlement located there. I have seen Israeli travelers drive undisturbed along carefully planned and well maintained highways while Palestinian travelers are denied access to these same highways that run through their olive fields and pastures because they are directed to drive along worn out lengthy back roads in order to arrive at their destinations.
To observe that protests which describe the Israeli policy of occupation and disruption in the West Bank as unlawful and to work to end this oppressive system in all ways possible will certainly be labeled as behaviors that are anti-semitic while the actions of the Israeli government to continue dispatching young army reservists who have been told that every Palestinian is likely to kill them so they must endeavor to repress the Palestinian population in every way possible in order to subdue them, this proceeding is calmly regarded as a matter of national security–to observe this inconsistency fills me with bewilderment and consternation.
Can anyone tell me why the oppressive result of Israeli policies toward Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is not recognized as being anti-semitic? I have wondered if it is because if you are already ‘semitic’ then by nature you cannot be ‘anti-semitic.’ Maybe only non-semitics can be anti-semitic. Perhaps this is the way it works. Yet you can still be cruel and mean whether you are semitic or non-semitic. It is a thing all humans can do, if they choose to do it.
On the art of misinterpretation
You have also wondered about this curious phenomenon: how so many divergent interpretations have been crafted by individuals who confess to understand the meaning of the same primary written source. The fact that so many different conclusions can be made when considering the intention presented in some reputable document causes serious alarm and calls for some satisfactory explanation about the reason for this disparity.
Take religious discourse as an example. The exact same sacred document has been the origin of varying and often contradictory teachings and dogmatic assertions. The presence of many distinctively different faith communities all of whom claim to be honoring the same sacred text causes one to wonder what may be behind their singular interpretations of its content. This confusion is evident in all of the major religions in the world. Followers of these faith communities are divided among many separate groups of worshipers, each one having a characteristically different understanding of the meaning of the sacred text from which the religion was founded.
And another example, that occurring in the law profession, more specifically in the judgement among attorneys of the meaning of the text comprising the founding document of the United States of America—the Constitution. On the supreme court there are nine seasoned and experienced attorneys, chosen for their past performance in deciding justice, pronouncing judgement. To read the varying explanations of what the statements in the constitution were intended to mean, how they were intended to be understood, the divergent conclusions from these nine law professionals is cause for serious alarm.
In each of these examples there is reason to search for the answer to this pointed question: what motivation is behind the individual interpretations of these texts that are pronounced; for what reason does such divergent explanations of meaning exist?
The most reasonable explanation is that the professionals who make these varying interpretations are not doing justice to the text but rather doing justification of the text for the sake of a more deeply held belief. The reason that such diverse interpretations exist is that the primary written source is used to justify a more devoted ambition than that of being faithful to the text in the document referenced. Rather the document is used to give credence to a preference so much so that thereby the resulting authoritative explanation can be used as a way to coerce others to conform to a preferred pattern of behavior.
More precisely these varying interpretations are intended to establish an advantage for a select category of persons, destined to provide the capacity for them to exercise power and advance a narrative that will ensure the privileged positioning of this ‘chosen’ group. Claims emitting from some religious bodies of their being ‘elected’ because of some divine imperative represents a clear example of this kind of misinterpretation.
Actions of clerics and judges which pronounce interpretations of documents that elevate one distinct group above all other human creatures thereby giving them power over the behaviors of others assaults the foundational observable principle that diversity is a fundamental characteristic of human being.
Determining which of the diverse groups of human creatures is better or worse than the others is an exceedingly presumptuous arrogant assertion that gives evidence of the blatant bias and perverted discrimination at work inside the individual making this desperate assertion. Desperate because such reasoning reveals a fear that promoting equality among human creatures will result in a loss of status or privilege that is interpreted as being a sign of value and worth. And this need is created by a feeling of inadequacy, that being human in itself is not enough.
This factor should raise the concern of any human creature whose life is influenced by such justified declarations. Whether it is religious teachings or legal mandates, every one of us who cares about the dignity and integrity of human being should express great impudence, disobedience in the face of this travesty. We should and we must demand forthright proclamations. And the critique of explanations provided, answers given can be fashioned by the content from within the conscience of every individual.
It is in the spirit of this protest that all the great social movements to improve the human condition have been forged by courageous and visionary persons. In religion and in politics it was the individuals who openly opposed dogmatic pronouncements and discriminatory laws that assaulted human dignity, rising up in bold social and civil disobedience, these individuals have proven to be the voice of truth and the power of change.
We can no longer be silent and submit when we see pronouncements made and actions taken that claim to be deduced from authoritative founding documents but are in fact justifications for some preferred belief or dictated behavior designed to be forced upon those of us under the influence of imposters. In our spirits and our hearts we know what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. Actions that honor what is true are the right choices. If we are to be persons of integrity–faithful to our humanity–we must believe in this; and we must act upon it.
On the privilege of being arrogant
Arrogant, adjective. The definition of arrogant is someone who is full of self-worth or self importance and who tells and shows that they have a feeling of superiority over others. At the same time the person longs to be admired and respected for their special qualities and great accomplishments. An example of arrogant is when a guy on a date brags about himself all night acting like he is the best thing to ever happen to a woman.
Privilege, noun. The definition of privilege is a right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage, or favor, like a special prerogative such as a right or immunity attached specifically to a position or an office. An example of privilege is taking a position that allows the individual to refuse to disclose information or provide evidence about a certain subject or to bar evidence from being disclosed or used in a judicial or other proceeding.
Arrogance and privilege display themselves as characteristics of behavior, and they reveal themselves in the ways an individual functions in relationships with others. In isolation arrogance and privilege are not necessarily problematic. When shielded from public presence an arrogant person does not disrupt community. When shielded from public presence a person claiming special privilege is not a threat to orderly conduct.
I attended a college which had a large open field in the center of the campus. Being a land grant school the institution was required to conduct military training for all male students. The field functioned as a parade ground for reserve officer training for the Army and Air Force. Several concrete pathways had been constructed across this expanse to provide suitable access to various classroom buildings that existed along the perimeter of the field. And there were the usual posted signs requesting—directing—students to use the walkways rather than cut across the grass in order to attend their classes.
In time someone late for class would choose to ignore the signs and walk on the grass, taking a short cut through the field to arrive at a desired location. Seeing the initial benefit of this practice other students interested in arriving at that same location would follow along. Eventually a path was created, a depression that wore away the grass and resulted in a dirty, often muddy trail. Avoiding the mud would cause the width of the trail to grow. Seeing the result of this transgression the institution would construct another concrete walk way to make this trail more aesthetically appealing and safer. This deviation occurred numerous times with the same results. Afterward the site of the open field had been diverted from its original symmetry of pathways and had morphed into a bazar pattern of concrete tentacles that seemed to reach uninvited into the very soul of the campus.
An arrogant person would be one who ignores directives established to promote a healthy and equitably functioning society. Signs requesting that members not walk on the grass would be an example of one of these worthy directives or rules. The feelings prompted by arrogance would result in the perception of a privilege that someone did not need to obey the signs. Their feeling of exceeding self worth would produce an element of superiority that not only superseded the presence of other more modest persons but also concluded that the rules did not apply to them. And this dynamic would conclude that the importance of their perspectives was enough to violate rules and norms that had been established to benefit the function of relationship with others in the community.
Relationships survive only when all parties enjoy some benefit from the interactions. Open grass fields can become completely covered by concrete. Remember the observation of Eleanor Roosevelt: In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.