Sunday, October 16, 2005

Pavlov's Negro

In the 1890s and early 1900s Russian Psychologist, Physiologist and Physician Ivan Pavlov did a study in which he introduced various stimuli, such as the ringing of a bell, before each feeding of a dog. After some time he removed food from the equation and only rang the bell. Simply the stimulus of a ringing bell, having been associated with the expectation of food for a period of time, was enough to get the dog to salivate. The term "conditional reflex" was developed which later became known as "conditioning." As I was watching the news about the riots in Toledo yesterday, as harsh as this may sound, I am afraid that a great bulk of Black America is no different from Pavlov's Dog. It is a perfect case of response to conditioning.

In the riot about 114 people were arrested for various forms of civil unrest in which they, vandalized vehicles, and stores, set fire to a bar, and attacked police and emergency rescue vehicles. So, what sparked this protest and riot? Less than 25 members of the so-called National Socialist Movement, which calls itself "America's Nazi Party," planned a march at a park in Toledo. Did you comprehend that? Less than 25 Nazis gathering for a march sparked a riot. On a side note, I find it interesting that nowhere in the written reports do you find any mention of the fact that there were white anarchist groups present opposing and agitating against the Nazis prior to things getting out of hand. The blame for the violence and destruction has been put on gangs seeing an opportunity. I believe that this is a cop out though.

With regard to the conditioned response, as Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said: "It's exactly what they (the Nazis) wanted.'' This is evident in that the march was canceled and the Nazis had left town hours before the riots began. I can see them "high fiveing" it all the way home. All that these people wanted was to start something, and to get some attention. The black residents of one area of Toledo more than accommodated them. Mission accomplished. Another interesting thing is that this occurred on the same day as the "Millions More" gathering was taking place in Washington D.C. but the Toledo event has now managed to garner much more attention than the Farrakhan event. I believe the two things are not unrelated.

This brings me back to my title for this piece, and Pavlov's conditioned behavior study. You cannot expect to present people with a certain picture of reality over and over again, asking them to form certain views in light of that picture, without it invoking a predictable response. The Toledo mayor correctly stated that this is exactly what the Nazis wanted and could predictably have expected. This violent reaction to less than 24 Nazis marching is the equivalent of a dog salivating to a bell ringing without the presence food. A mere symbol with no meat behind it. What harm can 25, or even 100, ignorant, attention seeking people do to an entire race, especially in an evironment in which the national conscience is opposed to such racist ideology? I propose to you- none. What do you think would have happened if the 20 or so Nazis showed up anywhere and no one else did? They and their movement would die a swift and silent death. It has, however, become all too predictable now that the KKK or other such groups will announce a meeting in a town, and the media plays it up. In most cases 3-10 KKK or Nazi members will actually show up and you end up with a much larger number of protestors than racist marchers. The media will cover it and make it look much larger than it actually is, and the racist group gets the attention they sought and need to survive. How long will we be so foolish and fall into this trap? The Toledo event has not only fallen into their trap, but has exceeded their grandest hopes. Mark my words, there are plans being made around the country by several groups at this very moment for more such events based solely on the success of the Toledo march, which turned out not even to be a march.

It is time for black Americans, and others with sense to rise above this and speak wisdom into this situation. No, we do not need Jesse Jackson, or Howard Dean, to tell us how this is evidence of the growing tide of racism and poverty in America, or neglect by the Bush administration. It is rhetoric and thinking like this that is the cause of the Pavlovian reaction by so many of our people, not the remedy. We need a cure for the conditioned response. We need vision and hope not doom, gloom and immediate outrage. We need to be smarter than this.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Becoming What We Hate Pt. 2

Several months ago I wrote an essay entitled, "Are We Becoming What We Hate?" That piece was dedicated to my fellow black conservatives. In that essay I addressed the fact that since the election of 2004, politically active black conservatives appear to be exhibiting traits of their liberal counterparts. I am now afraid that the disease is spreading and today I find myself addressing conservative political activists at large.

A few months ago when Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stepped down from the bench we got a glimpse of what was to come when we heard the expressions of fear from the right at the possible appointment of Alberto Gonzalez to the bench. Many on the right were opposed to his appointment because of one ruling while he was on the Texas Supreme Court. A ruling, by the way, that I feel was misunderstood. I stated at that time, that I doubted President Bush would nominate Mr. Gonzalez to the Supreme Court, but that even if he did we should trust the President's choice. So, here we are again finding ourselves in the same boat of having conservatives all tied up in knots about the nomination of Harriet Miers. In the comments and near outrage that I have heard in the past week I say again to my conservative brethren: "are we becoming what we have hated, about the left in the past?"

Here is how I see this. All along President Bush has said that he would appoint "strict constructionist" judges vs. "judicial activist" judges to the court. Conservatives applauded this stance and have championed it. In the past, every time I heard Sean Hannity, and others with a voice, discuss the Supreme Court they mentioned the need for "strict constructionist" judges. Judges in the mold of Rehnquist, Thomas and Scalia. Nevertheless, these same conservatives are now upset at the President's choice. They appear upset that President Bush has not appointed a judge that they would have chosen. In the case of Harriet Miers, many say she has not shown herself to be conservative enough, or that she does not have any judicial experience. They say, "she has no judicial record by which we can judge her." You would think these were the words of Chuck Shumer, not the "voices of the right." The problem with this argument, though, is that one of the judges they cite as their model is the late Chief Justice William Renquist, who had no judicial experience prior to joining the supreme Court either. And Justice Clarence Thomas had but one year of experience as a judge. When liberals attacked Judge Thomas for his lack of experience conservatives circled the wagons and came to his defense. "How dare liberals question his credentials," they were quick to say? Now these same voices imply that Ms. Miers is not up to the task for the same reasons.

To take it a step further many of these champions of the right appear to be questioning Ms. Miers, educational pedegris. Remeniscent of the liberal ilellectual elite, we now appear to have found our conservative intellectual elite. It is as though one cannot judge rightly without an Ivy League Law degree. How presumptuous! Or is it that she not the right kind of Christian? She is afterall an evangelical. Are they quietly saying, "how do we know that she is not a religious nut?"

As troubling as all of this is, the problem is really deeper than a select few's fear of having their posse's party crashed. The greater issue is that too many conservatives, like their liberal counterparts, have either forgotten, or else given up on our Federalist/Republican system of government. As a quick reminder, our governmental system was set up so that the people should decide how the nation is run. The President is not a king or a dictator and, therefore, cannot make or change laws as he sees fit. The Supreme Court is not supposed to be able to do this either. They are supposed to rule on the morality and fairness of laws and see that they are followed by law enforcement and those courts below them. Laws are supposed to be made and/or changed by the Congress. That means the Senate and the House. The people elect their representatives and they should make or change the laws according to the will of the people of the various states. Unfortunately, Democrats in not being able to achieve the desired changes via the Congress have begun using either "Executive Order" or judicial rulings to circumvent this system for some time. Now Republicans have apparently become impatient or just lazy, and want to short cut the system too, in wanting to have judges appointed that will change the laws instead of defending and interpreting them. I woud say that there is a crisis of faith in both parties. Till now the GOP has been able to claim that the system works if we trust it, and asked us to believe. That claim is now in danger. It has not been damaged by the Democrats and all of their attacks, but by some of the most respected minds in the Republican Party.

I would ask my colleagues to consider some things.

1) In his 2000 campaign for president Mr. Bush, when asked if he would overturn the Roe V. Wade decision said, The people are electing a President, not a dictator. If the people want to overturn Rove V. Wade they need to vote in people that will make that happen. If they bring me a bill to sign, I will sign it.

2) President Bush has worked and is working hard to place strong conservative judges into the appellate courts. If these judges do their job well many of the pertinent cases should never reach the Supreme Court, and if they do, there should be strong support by the SCOTUS to uphold sound decisions.

3) President George W. Bush has, until now, always been a man of his word, and a man to be trusted. Why should we doubt him now? I say we should trust him until he proves unworthy of that trust. We do him and ourselves harm in helping the "Left," by doing the work of tearing him down and undermining him. President Bush needs us now and he needs us more than ever. He does not need us to second guess his every move.

In closing, I would simply say to my conservative colleagues, instead of waiting to see what President Bush or the Supreme Court does, we should be demanding Congress men and women with the same trustworthiness that President Bush has shown. We need a Congress that will fight vigorously for and make righteous laws. I do not believe that we are getting this currently, and that is a shame.

Much of what is wrong with America is our fault as the people of this great nation, and that needs to change. Let us not become what we hate and have stood against. Let us rather hold firm to our principles. The Supreme Court is not and should not be the place where laws are made, or changed. Neither is the White House. Let's not fall into thinking they are. If anything we should be trying to return the court to its proper place as a minor or equal part in the Federal equation, not the final authority.

I, for one, am not going to begin thinking and acting like those people and tactics I have spoken out against for years. I am also not going to excuse that behavior in friends or those I respect. As with my blood family I want to tell them that their behavior is shameful and that it needs to be reevaluated. Let us return to reason, and discuss these issues in a manner that gives the President the respect and trust he deserves, as well as asking honest questions of him. The first action on our parts should never be to degrade a judicial or any other appointment, or to accuse the President. Unfortunately, that is what I have seen in the past few weeks and it is not pretty. Maybe this is a good exercise for the GOP and hopefully it will make us all stronger in the end. But first I think there will be the need for some humility on the part of many, and that is sometimes a hard thing to do.