In recent blog posts, I’ve raised questions about some current hot-button issues (including land confiscation in South Africa and arming teachers in US schools) that have drawn disapproval from some long-term readers. They appear to think I’ve changed my views, or am pandering to left-wing causes. Neither is true; but some explanation may be in order.
I’ve always tried to examine issues discussed here from a broad perspective. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I approve of every perspective; rather, it’s because a blinkered approach can (and all too often will) produce a limited response that fails to take into account some very real aspects of the problem. I’m always very wary of people who claim to have all the answers. “Just do as I say, and everything will be OK!” Er… no, it probably won’t. None of us is omnipotent or omniscient. We all have “blind spots”. It behooves us to acknowledge that reality, and to keep it in mind when analyzing anything. As Oliver Cromwell famously put it:
“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”
Too many of us refuse to consider that possibility.
There’s also the problem that we often act, react or approach an issue with too little information. We may think we know all that we need to know, but sometimes we simply don’t. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this in relation to my former homeland of South Africa. Its history is immensely complex, tortured, and tangled. There are no simple answers to historical problems. One commenter on my South African article tried to tell me that “Apartheid was the best that could be done under the circumstances“. That illustrates very clearly that he knows almost nothing about what apartheid actually meant to those forced to live under its restrictions. (I covered that extensively in a prior post.) When a policy that condoned torture, murder, and the treatment of almost 90% of the country’s population as if they were sub-human, is described as “the best that could be done”… that’s just sickening.
The same can be said about arming school teachers. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: in the absence of sufficient armed, well-trained school security personnel, I think armed teachers are a good idea. They’re certainly a damned sight better than nothing! On the other hand, there are numerous valid concerns about what that implies, and what it might lead to. Raising those concerns does not imply opposition to the concept at all. It merely calls for a careful examination of them, and addressing them as best we can within the context of improving the security of our schools. Unfortunately, to some, merely asking those questions appears to convince them that the questioner doesn’t approve of the concept. That’s not true. It’s a knee-jerk reaction rather than a reasoned response. Sadly, such reactions appear to be increasing.
One might characterize the issue in terms of “can’t see the forest for the trees“. Some argue that a person isn’t seeing or understanding the overall problem, because he’s so focused on its components or elements (the trees) that he can’t see it (the forest) as a whole. On the other hand, focusing on the problem as a whole may prevent one from seeing and/or understanding the individual elements that make it up. Sometimes we don’t need to focus on the entire issue, but on one or two select components of it that, if resolved, would “follow through” to solve the problem as a whole. It’s not a question of either the forest or the trees: we need to see, and be aware of, both.
This applies particularly to approaching human beings as individuals, rather than as members of a given group – trees, rather than merely a forest. Our Bill of Rights is all about individual rights, when push comes to shove. When it speaks of “the people”, it means the individuals who make up “the people”. Each individual has the right to free speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, etc. Their membership of a group – a church, a political party, a race, a tribe, a culture, whatever – is irrelevant. Similarly, in dealing with government policies such as apartheid that ignored individuals and treated people only as members of groups, I’ll continue to condemn them on that basis.
I’ve always liked the words used by Sergeant Buster Kilrain in the 1993 movie “Gettysburg” (one of my all-time favorites):
The thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time.
Those are words to live by. They embody the values of the Gospel and the approach of Jesus Christ, too – both important to me as a pastor. That’s why I have no time for those who condemn all “blacks”, or all “Muslims”, or all anything. People are individuals. There are good ones, and bad ones. Most of us (including myself) are a mixture of good and bad. To impose a knee-jerk response to an individual based solely upon his or her membership of a group is to deny his or her basic humanity. (I wrote about that at greater length after the Paris terror attacks in 2015. If you haven’t thought much about it, I recommend that earlier article to your attention.)
I suspect another part of the answer is the increasing polarization of our society. We’re becoming less tolerant of others’ views, less open to considering them. That’s a serious problem, because it means we’re no longer listening to or talking to each other. Instead, we’re talking past each other. As Bob Calco pointed out recently, in the context of the Parkland school shooting:
Democracy dies in darkness, but truth dies in broad daylight in a culture that no longer values the rule of law and the primacy of deliberative debate over partisan political point-scoring.
. . .
… we are reminded of the legitimate reasons our system was designed on republican principles—to allow our elected leaders to take a more circumspect and deliberative approach to the hot issues of the day—not just to spout off and ignite knee-jerk emotional reactions for popular consumption in our media.
This is real cause for concern since it gets to the heart of our very form of government. An attack on the facts and calls for action without debate is an attack on nothing less than our social contract … we are witnessing in real-time the politically assisted suicide of both the rule of law and the quest for truth.
There’s more at the link.
As far as possible on this blog, I’ll continue to try to bring out the wider ramifications of issues, and take all sides into account. I’ll have my own opinions, of course, with which readers are free to disagree: but I won’t shrink from bringing up perspectives that may be unpopular or politically incorrect – no matter what side of the political spectrum may see them as such. To do anything less would be to refuse to admit that I can be wrong, too.
I hope all of us can keep that in mind, in these polarized times.