"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, March 26, 2018

Marching–Our Need For Collective Identity

There have been many marches on Washington since those first ones in the 1960s for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.  There have been Million Man marches, women’s marches for equality, marches for the environment, and most recently marches against guns.  Washington residents are used to these demonstrations and pay them little mind.  Washington is a city with its own problems – crime, drugs, dysfunctional families, corruption, and failing schools – and these are issues for the municipal government. Gun violence is endemic in the city, although concentrated in three majority black wards, and the issue is not gun control but police vigilance, community action, and family responsibility. Marches for racial equality mean little in these de facto segregated wards where few if any white families live and even fewer risk driving through.  There is racial equality in Ward 8, but the worst, most pernicious kind – a persistent, dangerous, and violent homogeneity with no moderating influences.  No white, successful, middle class models of rectitude and community responsibility.  No entrepreneurial success stories.  No high-performing schools.

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For decades these inner city communities have remained isolated from the white middle-class mainstream; and despite hundreds of millions of dollars of local and federal investment and years of progressive efforts to reform, raise, and integrate these marginal neighborhoods, nothing has worked.  In fact they are worse off then they were when home rule was established, victims of their own neglect, political exploitation, and the dereliction of community leaders.  The population pool is never refreshed, for the children of marginal, isolated neighborhoods have no other choice but to marry each other.  They no opportunity to marry up, have little exposure or access to moderating social and cultural influences, and continue a legacy of social incarceration.

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The status of women has nothing to do with the glass ceiling, upward mobility, and full economic opportunity; but affected by persistent machismo, absent or abusive fathers, and an out-of-wedlock birthrate.  The women of the inner city suffer physical and emotional abuse every day but are caught in a pernicious and seemingly unbreakable cycle of dependence and futility.  The women of Ward 8 are not on the National Mall marching for equality, for not only does it mean nothing in the terms of the streets, but because they have little in common with the highly-educated, wealthy, and nationally-aware demonstrators  It is a highly selective club to which they have never been invited.  Protests over the poor status of women for members of this club has little or nothing to do with their endemically low status in the neighborhoods. Women who are confined by poverty, dysfunctionality, political exploitation, and anti-social codes of behavior have their own unique battles to wage.

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Issues of global warming, environmental protection, clean air and water have little resonance in these inner city neighborhoods where blight is endemic, deteriorating housing stock common, park spaces few and far between or poorly maintained, and the quality of life substandard.  It would take concerted community effort, serious political interest, and carefully-invested public and private financing to effect ‘environmental’ improvements.

Gun control has little meaning in communities awash with guns. If you don’t have a gun in violent neighborhoods you are at risk.  Of course hundreds of innocent victims are shot every year in these neighborhoods; but the issue is not gun control – most of the guns are illegal anyway – but social control.  Without the moral and religious opprobrium necessary to deter the ethos of violent confrontation, no amount of focus on weapons will have any effect whatsoever.  Some voices of the community have been even more vocal.  Jewels rapper Killer Mike criticized those who think they are "woke" to the cause for tighter gun control in America, saying: "You're a lackey of the progressive movement, because you've never disagreed with the people who tell you what to do." The Second Amendment has a very different meaning in the inner city than in the wealthy suburbs.

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This indifference to the marchers on the Mall is not restricted to inner city neighborhoods.  Poor communities throughout the United States find little in common with the so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’ demonstrating on their behalf.  Life for these Americans is indeed poor, brutish, and nasty – two or three jobs, scarce daycare, trailers, and the same forced insularity of their fellow black citizens in Washington, Baltimore, or Detroit.  Not only do these demonstrations have little immediate relevance, they deflect attention from the real, immediate concerns of their communities.  It is no surprise that they are very vocal in their demand for Second Amendment rights.  It is not only that they are concerned that government will take away their arms, but that government seems set on limiting most of their Constitutional rights.  It is no surprise that conservative social demands come from the white working class.   It is a matter of resentment as much as practicality.

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The marchers on the Mall are well-meaning enough.  There are environmental, social, economic, racial, and gender issues which deserve attention; but few of these public demonstrations have any real focus.  Contrasted to the very purposeful, narrowly-focused and politically realistic activism of the Sixties – ending the war and passing civil rights legislation were clear, unmistakable, and politically actionable demands – today’s protests are vague and formless.  The ‘environment’ means many things to many people, and demonstrators are on the Mall to protest for or against the spotted owl, fracking, coal, water and air pollution, vehicular traffic, bike lanes, recycling, and much more.  While all share common core values, such inspiration is likely to have little effect.  The tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental protection are highly complex and contentious.  There is no easy, simple way to solve the environmental puzzle.

Cries against ‘racism’ have grown louder in recent years despite the growth in economic and social opportunities for black Americans.  Once again inner city violence has been at the center of the protests.  However rather than address the fundamental issues underlying it – community dysfunction, perpetual anti-social norms, dereliction of pastoral and political duties, and a corrosive and persistent culture of entitlement – protest movements, such as Black Lives Matter have become aggressive but unformed. There is no cure for racial prejudice and discrimination except economic equality between the races; and that can never be achieved without directed, specific, purposeful political and private action to promote economic opportunity.

Demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street were similarly vague and unfocused.  The issue of income redistribution has been a contentious issues for a century; and despite angry cries at the concentration of wealth in America, such inequalities  have always been part of economic liberalism.   There is no easy fix.

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When asked about the specific purpose of their protests, demonstrators often answer, “To raise awareness”; but by now all issues have been presented, discussed, vetted, debated, and filed.  There is no more useful awareness to be had.

So it all comes down social collectivity – an expression of concern for a common cause which unites thousands into a community of ideas – an identity community with markers, banners, logos, doctrines, and liturgies.  Belonging feels good, feels important, feels useful, and most importantly reflects one’s own goodness.

It is no wonder that the millions of people who have real, immediate, and often immediately soluble problems have little interest in the protests on the Mall.  As Killer Mike implied, they are forced progressivism, elitist assumptions of righteousness and far from the practical, imperative demands of the community.

Demonstrations on the Mall come and go, the grounds are policed, re-turfed and –sodded for the next round of protests, social media are saturated with images and stories for a few days and then re-calibrated, return to normal while the protesters return home, to school, and to work.

Meanwhile the residents of DC hardly know anything happened.

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