Forests, trees, and perspectives

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.



  1. I am a long time reader of your blog and appreciate reading ANY discussion that is contrary to my views. I learn far more from posts like that than 'me too' posts. I may not be convinced, but I learn something.

    That is why I read – to learn. Holding grudges because of contrary opinions points at YOUR shortcomings, not theirs. Agree to disagree and move on.

    Thank you for that.

  2. So many today are slipping/being driven into a tribal mindset(ironically). This seems to make people blind to the blemishes of their tribe. It also serves to dehumanize everyone else. I fear none of us will like where that leads.

  3. It seems to me that we’re putting the cart before the horse.
    Go read “Fred on everything” for a clearer explanation.

    I agree with Anonymous (7:56 AM) above.

    – Charlie

  4. Rick sez, This is a great post! This should be tacked up somewhere in every home. I try to be quite objective and judging by how often I am despised by one side/applauded by the other, or, shouted down by both, I think I am doing well.

    What I find most distressing is our society is tearing itself apart from the inside. Too many comments from both sides are sickening to me. I suppose there are some who wish it to be this way, that it serves their purpose. Yet even those who are aware of that speak as it is the fault of the other person, that somehow, because they are trying to quell the violence, et al, they have license to act equally offensive.

    Matthew 7:5 is appropriate here:

    Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam in thine own eye; then thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote of thy brother's eye.

  5. Peter,

    1. "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."

    No. You need to review U.S. history.

    First of all, the Constitution is a contract, and as such, it most definitely is about a specified and defined group. (There is no such thing as an amorphous contract with undefined parties thereof.) It is not about individuals; it is about a defined group called citizens. Non-citizens are not part of the contract with the U.S. government because they cannot be; they have no relationship with the government except as either permitted guests, or illegal invaders.

    The parties are: the government in its defined construction per the Constitution, and U.S. citizens. It is the written ratification of a specific premise that government exists to "secure" (See: DoI) preexistent rights already owned by the people who create the government. This premise includes the understanding that all rights are attached prior to the formation of ANY government, and that THIS government promises to protect the rights, and will not try to infringe upon them.

    The BoR is a compromise adopted by the founders between those who (rightly) believed that government would infringe upon anything not articulated, "Pollyana's who thought better of men, and a third group who thought that enumerating said rights would create an artificial limitation.

    The BoR does not create nor grant any rights; it exists as an articulation of the restrictions placed upon the government. Without a BoR, the rights still exist, just not any articulation that the government will not try to take those rights.

    2. The 1993 movie "Gettysburg" is a movie.

    Please Peter, you can do better than simplistic recitation of product designed for sale and consumption.

    3. You seem to consistently conflate culture with race. The majority of critics of your position continue to point out the reality that all cultures are not equal. You respond in the sense that the Gospel is for all men. Well, yes it is, but the Gospel does not change its requirements; "all men everywhere" must perform to the same commands of the Gospel. And the term "all" when it is used in the principle "disciple all nations" is invariably speaking of cultural demarcations, e.g. Scythians, Jews, Greeks, etc. And when it comes to specified cultural implications, Paul does not shrink back from easily observable characteristics: "“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true."

    You are the one who continues to shrink back from the obvious cultural implications and instead relegate it to race.

  6. First thoughts/impressions are often wrong. As we used to say in the AF, "He's set, locked, and safety-wired in the Pissed-Off position."

  7. @Anonymous at 11:59 AM:

    1. No, the Constitution is NOT a contract between "the government" and "the people". The Constitution is "the people" setting out the nature and composition of the government they are prepared to tolerate. This is why the Constitution had to be ratified by the states (and thus the citizens of the states, more or less directly, through their state governments) before it could take effect. It could not be imposed on the people. It had to come from them, via their delegates, and they had to approve what had been enacted in their name, before that government could be established.

    2. Read what I said concerning the quotation from "Gettysburg": "Those are words to live by. They embody the values of the Gospel and the approach of Jesus Christ, too…" I'm not indulging in the "simplistic recitation of product designed for sale and consumption", as you put it. Rather, I'm saying that quotation embodies some of the principles by which I strive to live. There's a difference.

    3. You say that I "seem to consistently conflate culture with race." Actually, I'm pointing out the simple fact that race is, in many cases, more a cultural concept than anything else. When one refers to the "Anglo-Saxon" or "Celtic" or "Aryan" or "Hispanic" races, their genetic differences are so minor as to be inconsequential. One is really referring to their language and culture. In the same way, tribal differences in Africa or anywhere else are seldom sufficiently genetic to be biologically distinguishable. Rather, they are cultural.

    I don't so much "conflate" culture with race as acknowledge that the two terms are frequently interchangeable. In other cases (e.g. Oriental versus African versus Caucasian) the genetic differences are more physical and more visible – but the races involved are still genetically very close to each other. That's a matter of medical and biological fact that may be easily verified.

    Compare this to the "gender" versus "sex" controversy. In the latter case, the chromosomes have it. With the (vanishingly small) exception of intersex persons (genuine cases of which in the general population are measured in hundredths of one per cent), our chromosomes are XX or XY, and we are therefore male or female. To claim a "gender" different from one's physical sex involves a mental distinction rather than a physical one. To the extent that this mental distinction differs from physical reality, it may also indicate a psychiatric or psychological issue. In the same way, to claim that "race" is distinct from "culture" is scientifically very hard to sustain. The DNA variation between races is so small as to be insignificant – far less than 1%. On the other hand, the cultural variation between tribes or "races" is often very significant indeed – much more so than genetic distinctions. Don't take my word for it: look up the facts for yourself. They're not hard to find.

    Therefore, no, I'm not "conflating culture with race". I'm saying that race is, in practical terms, insignificant compared to culture – and I'm prepared to defend that position with real-world examples, because it happens to be demonstrably and verifiably and empirically true.

  8. 2 points:

    Your assumtions on the previous article, as to what role armed teachers might take, are incorrect: They are not supposed to be police, but rather Responders on the Spot, until police get there. And your assumptionn that police are trained to a fine edge is also incorrect. Cops, for the most part, are poorly trained, and often cannot even work together. When it comes to handling of firearms, your assumptions about most cops are laughably incorrect.

    There may only be small differences in the genetics of the different races of humans, but those tiny differences affect not only physical features, but also mental processes. Folks thing differently not only because of culture, but also because of how their brains are wired. Blacks are different than Whites, who are different from Chinese, who are different from Japanese, who are very different from Central American Latinos….who are very different from South Americans….who are different from Asian Indians who see the world greatly differently from middle easterners….American Indians are yet another different group…as are the Mongoloids peoples of central asia…Even "Russians" differ from western Europeans in their ways of thinking *unrelated to culture*. . Culture, religion and race all affect our thinking, but race most of all. Race is NOT "insignificant to culture". Both affect our thought processes greatly. Nurture does not change Nature.

  9. Peter,
    Thanks for this post. You've once again made me think. To borrow a quote and mangle it some what, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, keep it up."

    I found myself in knee jerk reflex shouting 'arm the teachers!' Your comments in that regard made me think. I had some lingering doubts in the back of my head, which your article brought to the fore. I still think it's the right answer, for many places but hardly all, and there are clearly many questions that will need to be addressed. I absolutely do think that Sen Rand Paul is right in his call to end the Gun Free School Zones act since 98% of mass shootings occur in gun free zones. Removing that legal roadblock will at least, as Larry Correia so eloquently points out, let those with concealed carry permits at least act as speedbumps. The perfect solution? Hardly. Suitable everywhere? Undoubtedly not. Easy and cheap and fast to implement in many places? Yes.

    I have a partial disagreement with your comments on individual vs group. Yes, absolutely, each individual we meet we should treat as the individual he or she is, just as Christ does. My however is this: However those individual are parts of groups which inform their attitudes and outlooks and which to varying degrees those individuals try to conform. I find it wise to take that group identity into consideration when dealing with the individual. Not to substitute the group for the individual by any means, but to use it to help build a more complete picture of the individual. I admit, this may lead me to overlook things or have preconceptions that aren't correct. I try to keep this in mind, and would like to think I mostly do so, but I'm hardly omniscient.

    Anyway, that's a very long winded, 'thank you, please keep sharing your wisdom.'

  10. Well written and I agree with much of it except that part indicating we should not ever judge a group and condemn all of any group without first looking at them as individuals. For instance, I condemn all practicing Nazis. I need not look at the make-up of any individual Nazi to know that anyone who is part of the group of practicing Nazis is morally corrupt and indeed evil. I would judge them morally based on that affiliation alone. I also would morally judge all active members of a group such as MS13 as evil; I would judge everyone of them based alone on the fact they are active members of that group. I could go on and on about which groups I could judge in like manner and would not give a moment's thought about morally judging any active member of those groups based upon them being individuals. If you want to judge each person by their individuality, I think you will never arrive in the state of being free of such evil doing groups.

  11. Peter I have always found your commentary interesting and often enlightening. I think your piece on the consequences of using deadly force one of the best things I have ever seen. I have restated it on several occasions and always got a good response. Yes I own several guns and know how to use them but you convinced me that I have few material items worth the aggravation that will come with using deadly force to keep them. Just call the cops and the insurance company. As to South African politics I admit to knowing only what I learned in James Mitchner's novel and what I see on the news(which isn't much) so your input on that area is always of interest to me. As to teachers being armed, many of the one's I remember at my kids school(many years ago)would be as much a hazard as a help in a gunfight. Keep up the good work.

  12. I like and respect you, bother. I'll tell you when I think you are right, and I will throw the BS flag from time to time.

    You are right about the Constitution – it is founded on individual rights. This is something many Europeans never understood. To them, you have rights because you are part of a group. We believe each person has rights because they are human, and the Constitution is to protect those rights from the government and others.

  13. Admission of fallibility, I've found, is an important stepping-stone on the road of maturity.

    You would not BELIEVE how less painful life is when you accept that 'well, I could be wrong'.

    Granted, I seriously doubt I am wrong when I say that evidently South Africa is being run by complete morons. Sorry, Mr. Grant, but if they want to play the expropriation card after watching what happened to Zimbabwe? They're morons. *shrug*

    On the other hand, is arming teachers the best way to fend off shooters? I don't know. It IS a stopgap measure, not addressing some of the more loathsome aspects of the Parkland shooting (the actions of the Broward County sheriff's office, for example). Still, 'better to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it.'

  14. I have noticed the retreat into tribal competition instead of dialoge and truth seeking a lot these days. Social media is a big driver of it, I think. People want to belong, and more and more they chose to identify their group ideologically. On guns, that means if one wants to "belong," they must adhere to one of two stances: ban the guns, or arm everyone (only slightly hyperbolic). To try to argue anything in between will get you ostracized, and these days possibly worse.

    It is disheartening to see this rise of all types of tribalism in the US. If we can't all live as e plurbus unum, we are doomed as a nation. The US is not an ideoligical monolith, nor any kind of enithic mono culture. We either figure out how to work with each other or the end state will be horrific, and resemble a hobbesian dystopia, not the America we know.

  15. The US is being driven into civil war. The Left has been working towards this goal for generations. The cold culture war of the last 80 years has succeeded in breaking us into different cultures, and thus into different tribes. The Left has created the tribes, and is now upset that the Right has finally noticed. We of the Right must now struggle to build our fractious tribes and clans of individualists into a coalition, as the Left has already done. Those whose culture and ideals are inimical to the coalition must not be included as members. Those who would use our freedoms as weapons against us are our enemies, and must be excluded and defeated.

    Leftists are tribe Democrat. Their tribe explicitly includes communists (100%), gays (90%), feminists (99%), blacks (95%), Latinos (75%), Jews (70%), Atheists (80%), Muslims (95%), and anti-Americans of all stripes.

    Rightists are tribe Republican. Their tribe explicitly includes traditional American Christian whites, and a few scattered allies from the groups embraced by (and embracing) the Leftists.

    In a war (which is coming), individuality does not matter. People are judged based on group membership. People from the opposing side should only be accepted gradually, after much vetting, and never, ever given a position of responsibility. In WWII, did we ask every German what his politics were, or did we just shoot them and bomb their towns? In "Band of Brothers", the American Nazi was shot alongside the rest of the Germans. The interned Japanese really did include a large percentage of those still loyal to their mother country (~30%), who would willingly have been spies and saboteurs.

    To summarize – we of the Right didn't choose this war. We are not the ones instigating it through a generations-long culture war and mass immigration. But we need to start resisting as if our lives and our futures were at stake – because they are. Believe your enemy when he says he wants to utterly destroy you, and acts in every way towards that goal.

  16. People here and elsewhere keep making a semantic/rhetorical mistake that colors the discussion and I think that there are elements consciously pushing this mistake because of the attached meaning.

    Please stop saying "arming teachers." No serious person is suggesting passing out guns to teachers with their teaching credential. The actual stated goal is to allow teachers who are armed to be armed at school. The difference is subtle but profound.

    One, they had a right to be armed that was taken away and should be restored.

    Two, "arming" anyone carries a huge freight train load of baggage in the heads of people on both sides and is guaranteed to be inflammatory.

    Three, "arming teachers" inevitably morphs to the idea of forcing teachers to be armed, which is exactly the direction the anti-gunners want people to go. Then they can cite a thousand teachers who you know that would be bad choices for arms.

    Four, rhetorically one phrase is active and one passive. In this case, the active is used to inflame and the passive can be used to diffuse.

    So please stop playing along with the side that is anti-freedom and anti-people. Don't use their language and let them choose the unconscious concepts that accompany that language.


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