Meet the new bigotry, same as the old bigotry

This is a guest post by Michael Towns.

In 1971, seminal English rock band The Who released a classic entitled “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which includes these words: “Meet the new boss….same as the old boss!” For decades, it’s been interpreted in a political context. Nixon was viewed as not that different as Johnson – both escalated military actions in Vietnam and thus the “new boss” was the same as the “old boss.”

There is a troubling aspect to contemporary social discourse. It goes something like this: you don’t agree with the social, political, or religious beliefs of a person or a group of people, yet instead of meeting those beliefs from a position of mutual respect in the marketplace of ideas, you label the person or group using a catch-all epithet designed to so marginalize your opponent that the labeling party essentially can claim a victory before the battle has even started. The labeling party views this result as perfectly condign to the crime of talking about certain topics. Meet the New Bigotry. It’s the same as the Old Bigotry.

In a way I can see the logic of such a tactic. By anathematizing the “other”, you can insulate yourself from having to wrestle with your political or social conceits. By marginalizing those who believe differently than you, you can supposedly remain perched upon your moral tower while ensconced in your blissful echo chamber. It frees you from having to engage in the rough and tumble of debate. But let me be perfectly blunt about it: doing so makes the person a complete anti-intellectual coward.

In the marketplace of ideas, people should be free to bring up historical aspects of …oh….say “slavery”… without being labelled a racist. People should be allowed to bring up potential negative side effects of feminist policies without being labelled a misogynist. And so on and so forth.

It is profoundly troubling that people resort to these cowardly tactics. I should know, because I’ve had these weapons trained on me, and it’s a most unpleasant experience. Yet it seems that the adherents of such cowardice fail to notice the hard irony of their own bigotry while standing as the supposed watchmen of bigotry in others. Yes, it is bigotry to call other people racist when they haven’t said a discriminatory thing. Yes, it is bigotry to label an entire group with such an epithet when there are many individuals in that group who didn’t even have the conversation and are thus innocent. Guilt by association tactics have always been wrong and have no place in true intellectual conversation.

This new bigotry is no different than the old bigotry. It’s a mirror reverse of the shameful bigotry of the past, except this time it’s employed by folks who regard themselves as moral sentinels. A quote from C. S. Lewis comes to mind:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”
― C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)

I am asking for those on the other side who seem to have a proclivity for seeing “racism” in every tree and bush and shadow to lay down their weapons and stop attacking folks using words of destruction. I am asking them to rise above the atavistic hypersensitivity that anytime black people or slavery or discrimination is mentioned, that person who mentions it must therefore be a Bad Person. It has a chilling effect on speech. It has a chilling effect on intellectual discourse. It is harmful. It is wrong. And it needs to stop. Now.

31 thoughts on “Meet the new bigotry, same as the old bigotry

  1. Michael Towns, good contribution. Thanks. A few comments:

    –This is especially pertinent because unfortunately many ignorant people think the only slavery that has ever happened in the world was the horrible slavery of Africans brought to the Americas. Anybody who knows anything about slavery also knows that slavery has been around for millennia and has involved people of all races. And, very sad to say: there is still slavery around today, and it affects people of all races.

    –The most pernicious racism of recent times in the United States was almost certainly the horrible segregation in the South until the 1960s. People like myself who grew up in the 1960s remember very well the ugly mottled faces of the white people intent on continuing to oppress the blacks of the South. This was true racism, and it was a horrific thing. The morally “superior” left-wing accusers of racism today insult the victims of true racism by claiming that racism exists everywhere and is caused by people they disagree with politically. There is simply no comparison between the true racism that really did exist and the occasional failure to use a political correct phrase, which is then pounced on with malicious intent in order to score a political point. The former should be condemned, but the latter should treated with charity by humble followers of Christ. There is a moral difference between a sympathizer of the KKK and somebody who does not know all of the political correct phraseology, and we should all agree that it does no good for anybody, especially the real victims of racism, to conflate the two and claim they are the same thing.

    –The greatest source of bigotry today in the United States resides in the political left. I already mentioned the horrible bigotry of claiming that people are racist when they are not, but it bears mentioning that the left is, as predicted by CS Lewis in the OP, oppressing us all in their mindless tyranny as do-gooders. Bakers are being forced to bake cakes for gay weddings, turning them into slaves of their own customers. Same with florists and photographers. CEOs are fired simply because they once contributed to a politically incorrect cause. Perfectly respectable people are being prevented from speaking on campus because one group objects to their ideas. The truly ugly mottled faces today are the always-angry left-wing promoters of “tolerance” who see a bigot around every corner. Take, for example, this UC Santa Barbara professor assaulting a 16-year-old student who dared to disagree with her politically and is being celebrated on campus:

    –It is very sad to see left-wing Mormons join this ugly campaign against people who dare to express an opinion with which they disagree. Polite disagreement is always encouraged, but left-wing Mormons are (with a few exceptions) always angry and always outraged. Could anything be farther from the spirit of Christ than this constant rage against “the other?”

    I encourage anybody reading this to engage in some healthy self-examination and find a way to put aside such negative thoughts. Contention is of the Devil. Find a way to be at peace with people with whom you disagree.

  2. These days, if a sparrow falls in the forest, it’s because of male patriarchy, benign or benevolent. It’s tough to have a civil discussion when you have already been convicted of the heinous crime of being born male.

  3. Full disclosure (along with mandatory trigger warning):

    A white, privileged patriarchal male wrote this essay.

  4. Great post. I do disagree on the idea of “new” and “old”, though. The “old” bigotry is still around. Only we’ve added this “new” bigotry to the mix. In fact, they’re going head to head these days. And I wouldn’t be so quick to make this an easy Right vs. Left thing, either, as some commenters have done. The problem of bigotry is simply the problem of oversimplification in order to destroy empathy. I think you captured this very well. But let me also say that everyone engages in this to some extent. We throw labels around in order to alienate all the time. One side will call the rich “heartless fat cats”. The other will call the poor “lazy, entitled moochers”. One side calls undocumented immigrants “criminals”. The other calls folks concerned with a porous border “xenophobic”. The problem of bigotry is a human problem. We are incapable of understanding the world in its endless nuance, so we simplify. It’s just how we work. It’s what keeps us sane. However we all need to be careful about how we do it and why. Are we simplifying in order to alienate? The cure to bigotry of both the “old” and the “new” kinds? Empathy, engagement, and a willingness to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

  5. David Lindes,

    Thank you for your comment, and I agree with both the empathy part and giving folks the benefit of the doubt. We desperately need more of both, not just online but also in our daily “real” lives.

  6. It’s awesome being a minority woman. People will still argue with me, but I’m allowed to be gracious and stuff.

  7. I’d add the word “shame” to the list of intellectual cowardess. Why debate modesty when you can simply claim you are “shaming” girls or women.

  8. I married across racial lines in the early sixties. My 8
    married children have brought home mates from various races and cultures including oriental, African, polynesian and several varieties of European. All have been welcome and valued, but because I tend to identify as politically conserative, just shy of full Libertarian, my mostly liberal brother and sisters have hurled the accusation that I am ‘racist’. I have been the target of actual racism from members of various races, people who treated me hatefully or disdainfully. I personally know the difference between real racism and PC labels.

  9. Pat, isn’t it strange how that turns out? I know a lot of people who have had experiences very similar to yours. Very strange times indeed.

  10. We’ve had a couple of commenters now try to use this thread to claim the Church is bigoted for one reason or another. Take those comments to another blog. They are not welcome here.

  11. The problem is “they” don’t feel they need to engage your ideas because they are morally repugnant, according to them. For them, it would be like debating a sincere supporter of Hitler why you shouldn’t kill Jews (Goodwin!).

    Sure you might debate the first few times, they say, out of sincerely wanting to correct tragic misunderstanding, but at some point they just claim the debate is over and they don’t owe you the respect of a response and instead just want to make you and people like you go away.

    That’s ultimately the thought process underlying the anti-bigot bigot response to you. Developing a strange label like anti bigot bigot makes me realize how easily labels in the Book of Mormon like anti nephi lehis “came to pass”.

  12. “For them, it would be like debating a sincere supporter of Hitler why you shouldn’t kill Jews”

    Well, I suppose I would question the mental capacity of anyone who claims that not supporting Obamian welfare states or racial quotas is *just the same* as supporting Hitler’s genocide. It’s so beyond the pale.

    “but at some point they just claim the debate is over and they don’t owe you the respect of a response and instead just want to make you and people like you go away.”

    Yes. And eventually, this sentiment is going to gain more muscle and teeth. We’re not that far away. Soon, traditional-family conservatives are going to be as palatable as members of the KKK. It’s what “they” want, ultimately. Those of us who feel like we have a beef in that fight –and it should be all of us — need to stand up and show some courage.

  13. Thanks for that! And, I particularly enjoyed the C.S. Lewis quote that I don’t recall having heard before.

  14. Aaron, Acutally the name Anti-Nephi-Lehi was a name that a covenant group of Lamanites took upon themselves, not in any way was it intended to be a label or a slur. That name dropped out of existence when they moved to the land of Jershon and called themselves the people of Ammon.

    Anyhoo, great post, Michael. It’s very disturbing to see the rapid direction our society is taking by removing the “civil” out of civil discourse. As Elder Holland stated recently, courage and courtesy will be required from all of us.

  15. Tiger, I’m aware. I think it’s hard to be one when you indentify yourself as part of a group that intentionall makes everyone else “other”. No ones perfect and they’re still more so than I.

  16. It’s lovely being a minority woman. Much harder for folks to fling the racist label in my direction without looking stupid.

  17. Good post Michael. Nothing ever really changes in human nature. It’s only our random cultural circumstances that cause our natural behavior to cycle through diverse manifestations.

    Moral repugnance and prejudice is a very universal, instinctual behavior. It’s the same whether you hate black people, or whether you hate people who you think hate black people.

    It’s tricky, because when we hate people who hate, we are actually trying to combat prejudice. But we are not looking in the mirror. We easily condemn prejudice in others, but we are blind to our own.

    Truly combatting prejudice must start in one’s own heart, and coming to terms with the darkness of it. We must see ourselves in the concentration camp guard, for under the right set of circumstances, we all would be there.

  18. Nice post and comments.

    It is a sign of the times that people no longer have charity towards one another. As Nephi foresaw, we seek to dig a pit for our neighbor, believing if we do poorly, God will beat us with a few stripes and then we’ll be saved.

    I am a privileged white male, with a twist to my story. I spent 17 years in the Air Force in Montgomery Alabama, where my callings in Church had me working in the inner city. As ward mission leader and stake mission presidency, we opened up the missionary work to blacks in 1986 (even though the priesthood ban was lifted 8 years before, no missionary work was being done among blacks until I moved there). My wife was visiting teacher to most of our new convert sisters, because most of the sisters refused to go into the black neighborhoods. I was blessed with opening up the work in Tuskegee, and be its group leader until we formed a branch.
    For those of you who knew her, Renee Olson bestowed upon me one of my greatest honors: she made me an adopted black person and introduced me to Darius Gray and Margaret Blair Young as such in 2004.

    Still, even with all of that, I know I can never fully understand the racism that blacks receive in many parts of America. I am not pulled over by cops because of my skin color. When I go into a nice store, no one stops me to ask why I’m in there. I have been called “honky” on many occasions as I walked through the Tuskegee University campus with the missionaries. But it isn’t the same.

    The members in Tuskegee love me, and I love them.

    I’ve spent the last 4 years serving in a spanish branch of the Church in Indianapolis. Most of the members are not legal. Yet, they love me, and I love them. They especially love my wife and often ask me when she’ll visit again.

    Yet, with all of the outward racism I saw in the South from those who should be Saints, it does not compare to those who toss out racism against their opponents. When one cries “wolf” enough, eventually terms lose their real meaning. When “racism” can mean anything, it suddenly means nothing.

    I am a libertarian. I seek freedom for all people. I seek to eliminate welfare of corporations and people, who become enslaved to government. There was a time when most black families were intact. Our government has destroyed those families and created a society of fatherless drug users. It is our government that is racist in its terrible practices against families of all races.

  19. Very early in this string, after the appeal for understanding and deceit within the topic this appeared: “The truly ugly mottled faces today are the always-angry left-wing promoters of “tolerance” who see a bigot around every corner.” This kind of speech freezes discussion because the speaker, as C.S. Lewis states, makes those on the left of him/her classed with ‘infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.'” I stoop listening when I see it.

  20. Robin Bishop,

    If you’ve been paying attention to current events the last few years, you’ll have noticed that the Left has been going around telling us traditional marriage types that we’re bigots for believing in traditional marriage. That is one example that the earlier person was referring to. Do you dispute the characterization?

    I’ve been told I’m a bigot online by folks that proudly proclaim their Left bona fides. What other conclusion should I draw than to assume that right now, the Left are seeing bigots where they ought to be seeing people passionately holding to principles?

Comments are closed.