Only hermits have missed the outcomes: A terrible mass shooting in a Charleston church, police brutality disproportionately directed at Blacks, a general increase in hate speech, massive rallies in Ferguson and Baltimore, and suspicious fires at predominantly Black churches.
Whatever’s going on here presents ample human and moral (as well as geopolitical) challenges. For those of us who see all things connected and love to think of the world as a giant causal loop network, it also invites system analysis.
The transition of whites to minority status has already occurred in several US regions. In the country at large, all the people “causing” the demographic transition have already been born, so the outcome is inevitable. Simply, these persons of color and of non-Protestant persuasion have parents and grandparents who bore more babies than their White Protestant or Evangelical neighbors.
White folks, you can take your partners to the bedroom and get busy right now, and it will still be too late. Your anti-abortion legislation – especially combined with your disinterest in caring for others’ unwanted children carried to term – is a candle in the wind compared to the Catholic church’s centuries of opposition to contraception, and the general dominance of that church in Latin America, the region that has given us so many immigrants.
We can sympathize with Whites’ apprehensions; they know how minorities tend to be treated, in our country and in others, and they’re not looking forward to being on the receiving end. Rightly or wrongly, they feel that certain American cultures dating from the 1776 Revolution and before are suddenly under attack.
Nonetheless, the sensible thing to do is to get used to being in the minority. No doubt there will be those who refuse to do the sensible thing, and I can only hope that whatever wacky, radical action they take won’t result in much injury to others.
Why have pro-birth sentiment and a selective view of the Sixth Commandment (it being okay, apparently, to kill in war) become a part of religious doctrines? It is, and always has been, about survival of the tribe. A tribe holds its own against neighboring groups by having enough population to maintain a bigger warrior class and a bigger scholar/artist/artisan class, to exert military and cultural influence respectively.
It’s logical that religious injunctions against homosexuality had similar roots, because homosexual activity produces no babies. Those injunctions, however, predated the modern understanding that (i) gay aunts and uncles help care for siblings’ children, thus protecting the gene pool; (ii) women’s gay male friends provide valuable social glue; (iii) the artistic contributions of our gay neighbors are undeniable; and (iv) we have too many people already; more will not advance survivability. Number i has supposedly been shown scientifically, number ii is slightly facetious (though I believe it), and number iv is the central culprit in environmental problems that climate scientists, for example, quietly acknowledge but feel discouraged from mentioning publicly.
It’s then interesting that Pope Francis, much the reformer in other areas, has not (yet?) renounced the no-contraception doctrine. Our notional causal-loop diagram shows the irony in this: The doctrine worsens environmental problems, but has set the Pope at the leadership of a huge number of people, rendering his screed on climate change influential.
We can’t stop, though, with just a shrug at the irony. We have to appreciate the complexity of the feedback loops, acknowledging that a negative local effect can, in the context of a larger set of loops, help create a positive outcome. We must acknowledge that indirect effects are important.
An example of the latter: A Philadelphia professor has noted that technology embraced by the service industries has virtually eliminated summer jobs for teens. We now push buttons at automated car washes, and on automated menus order food at restaurants and fast-food joints. These are the kinds of simpleminded service activities that used to be conducted by inexpensive and less-trained humans, i.e., teenagers (if you consider teens to be humans). They are the jobs that introduced teens to a work ethic, and taught them how businesses work. Lacking this knowledge leaves teens less employable in their future years, and lacking legitimate jobs this summer pushes teens into street entrepreneurship of an illegal nature, and thence to prison. This loop is strongest among urban teens, and guess what’s the predominant racial make-up of urban teens? The end result: perpetuating racial inequality.
Nor can we facilely dismiss the Pope as a hypocrite. Just as paranoids can have real enemies, hypocrites can be right. Bill Cosby’s sordid past doesn’t invalidate his moral lectures of recent years, nor does the Pontiff’s stand on contraception mean his remarks on climate change are incorrect.
When I share the above argument with virulently religious anti-gay folks (not neglecting to point out that they themselves observe other biblical injunctions mainly in the breach), they retreat to the simple stance that homosexuality disgusts them. (As one social media commentator wryly noted, that disgust presumably does not extend to lesbian porn.) This, though, is an argument well removed from the political realm, and irrelevant to policy formation. If they (as I) have never engaged in homosex because the idea is somewhere between uninteresting and distasteful, it becomes no different from the fact that I have, for the same reasons, never eaten stinky durian fruit, but have felt no call to condemn those who do.
Well, it’s a little different, because people can have sex discreetly, but no one can eat durian without alerting the whole neighborhood.
Many of my homophobic interlocutors are anti-black and anti-immigrant, with similar virulence. I remind them that Southern Whites brought or bought the unwilling African immigrants whose descendants today’s radical Whites wish would disappear. I remind them that complaining about the crime rate among Blacks without comparing it to the rate among Whites is fallacious. Judging from their responses, I guess I disgust them too.
In this connection, the words of Prof. Steven Conn, about the difference between heritage and history, are apposite:
History… is our attempt to reconstruct and understand the events, lives, and experiences of those who came before us - the good, the bad, and the ugly. History follows rules of evidence and interpretation. Most important, it is debated and revised constantly as new evidence and new ways of interpreting the evidence come to light.
History reveal[s] the complexities and contradictions of the human experience and force us to grapple with nuance and paradox. It is intellectually challenging and can often be deeply unsettling.
Heritage, by contrast, is a mythologized version of the past, stripped of all the unpleasant parts. Heritage remains largely impervious to historical evidence and relies instead on a past-as-we-wish-it-were version of events.
Separating the two is a challenge liberals have not met. Substitute Japanese or Turkish for Southern White: We may not forget or forgive former atrocities committed under their banners, but we do not begrudge the annual cherry blossom viewing or Turkish festival. We love the yearly Polish fest and the Chinese dragon boat festival, cheerfully ignoring history at least for a day. We might allow ourselves to enjoy bluegrass music, grits, and Dr. Pepper in the same way.
In this connection, the recent removal of Confederate flags from public spaces made minority groups feel better (in the short term only, I fear) because a symbol of racism has been officially shunned. However, the indiscriminate rhetoric used to achieve it – conflating heritage with history – was a clumsy attack on Southern pride, thus portending a worsening, rather than an amelioration, of racism. An easy target, the flag diverted our attention from the real problems of race relations and gun violence. It invites easy rebuttals, like, okay, the Confederate flag flew over a slave society, and the Stars and Stripes flew over “We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo, so why take down one and not the other (aside from the fact that the South lost the Civil War and hasn’t got over it)? The symbol is down; the racism persists. The Confederate flag takedown was badly conceived.
There’s one important difference between Southern heritage and Japanese-American or Italian-American heritage: Southern Whites are the only American subpopulation that talks about secession from the United States. Even as they rant against federal regulation and Supreme Court decisions. As it seems impossible to simultaneously secede from the Union and be the boss of it, what are they hoping to accomplish? Is this a threat, a give-us-what-we-want-or-we-will-secede? Bad move on their part. It assumes Americans are as gung ho to preserve the Union as we were 150 years ago, that we feel the same pull of manifest destiny. No plan has been put forth stating what territory they’d want, who would be eligible for citizenship, or the status of non-citizens. So, no credibility. The rest of us hate it when we are made to feel less American than everyone else, and here is a group voluntarily positioning themselves as less American than everyone else. Go figure.
There’s a sociological reason for the ambivalence about seceding. Conservatives have always stood for “local control.” This is one of their gripes about federal government, and has given rise to continual states’ rights movements. However, these folks cannot come to agreement about how local is local, an issue that has now come to the boil in Texas. Facebook postings show some of a libertarian bent have already taken this to the limit predicted by theory, retreating to communities of about 150 people.
You can remember the names, faces, families, and life details of at most about 156 people. (So say those who study such things. They speculate that this is the historical reason for the size of a military company. If you don’t believe it, review how many of your 500 Facebook friends you really remember and feel familiar with.) There’s a spread, with the number sometimes reaching 300, and within this range was the “natural” size for a village or a nomadic group in times past.
In times present, though, there’s a problem with local control being this local, especially when it’s combined with a desire to isolate the group from others. That is, it is just not economically viable. To make a living these days means to engage with the global marketplace. Today a group cannot hope to remain isolated, even if it wishes merely to die slowly with its heritage intact. A more economically vital group will simply buy the businesses and land belonging to the utopian group, and that’ll be the end of it.
Indians complain that the fastest-growing demographic in India is Muslims, who harm the society by valuing secular education less than the Hindus do. Similar criticism of Israel’s fecund Chasidic Jews is heard from many quarters. Catholics have been bearing this cross, so to speak, for centuries now. For better or worse, who has the most babies, wins.
This doesn’t prevent friendship and dialog across demographic lines. Like Dylann Roof, many people who condemn Blacks in general have Black friends (who, obviously, are showing great forebearance). Multiple-perspective system analysis resolves this curious fact: People seem oddly able to partition their personal, political, and organizational attitudes, insulating each from the others, with minimal cognitive dissonance.
Further upstairs in this column I used the phrase “embattled middle class.” Actually,
A mentor of mine, who was a techno-entrepreneur billionaire, distinguished educator, recipient of the US National Medal of Technology, and son of a “White Russian” family who had fled the Bolshevik revolution, was surprised to die without having seen a revolution in the US or Mexico. He did not fear one, and certainly did not want one; he simply expected one. To stave off the inevitable rage of the dispossessed, he dedicated himself to growing a middle class on the Mexican side of the US border, to innovative manufacturing in the US, and to education and entrepreneurship for American youth.
How much more surprised and dismayed he would be, 15 years after we dined in Ciudad Juarez with that city's mayor, to see (i) Juarez become the most dangerous city in the world, with its nascent middle class jobs lost to the Chinese manufacturing juggernaut, and the rule of drug gangs substituting for revolution; (ii) the rapid dwindling of America's middle class, which he had mistakenly taken for granted; (iii) the clownish “revolution” of the Tea Party, who think government is their enemy, the advertising machine having successfully deflected their attention from the corporate depredations that are the true cause of their economic distress; and (iv) the Supreme Court decision reinforcing the personhood of corporations. He would have been the first to draw a parallel between the court's decision and the final Italian corporatist excesses prior to the hanging of Mussolini. He would have been the first to say “I told you so” as revolution simmered in Egypt and Libya in 2011.
Income inequality continues to grow dangerously in the US, the upper fraction of 1% having interests and lifestyles startlingly foreign to the rest of us. They show continuity, however, with the capital-versus-labor history of the country, capitalists substituting equipment for labor and hiring employees only reluctantly and with preference for Whites. Few people doubt that the plutocrats buy elections and attempt to influence the media, trying to keep their persons and their wealth safely isolated from the masses, and, as my mentor would say, failing to show their appreciation for the opportunities America has afforded them.
Given that, is what’s happening in America revolution or race war? Are the Ferguson and Baltimore demonstrations racial or economic? Hard to say, in that the segment of the beat-up middle class most beaten up is Black. Certainly though, it is in the interests of plutocrats to let others paint the situation as Black vs. White, and to, um, whitewash the rogue police who are shooting Blacks in horrendous disproportion. This sets us against each other, rather than united against the few who are preying on all of us. One suspects the plutocrats’ covert, or at least tacit, support for white supremacy youth groups, ensuring that racial strife will continue through the generations. They may not have instigated the situation, but they’re smart enough to take no steps to stop it.
Race, history, heritage, income inequality, tolerance, religion, environment and fertility are all connected. It is poor policy to whack at one of the moles without anticipating which mole will pop up in reply. (This metaphor from system science implies no disrespect to moles or anyone else.) We must act humanely, and act with our best knowledge of the systemic connections.
 “Conservative commentator” Pat Buchanan in fact does seem to anticipate violence: http://www.salon.com/2015/07/10/pat_buchanan_warns_of_another_civil_war_the_time_of_mass_right_wring_civil_disobedience_is_at_hand/
 PolicyMic reports, “The CEO of Starbucks launched an initiative to help 100,000 millennials land jobs. Right now about 5.5 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 aren’t working or in school. Howard Schultz wants to put a huge dent in that number. The coffee magnate teamed up with 17 other companies to create the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, which aims to become the largest private sector-led coalition to hire underprivileged millennials.”
 Steven Conn, professor of history at Miami University of Ohio http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20150712_Heritage_is_not_history.html#IlpYkHk48sORsDVa.99