JK is one of the good looking dudes from my old neighborhood. We are fraternity brothers, and like most people from the old neighborhood he's exceptional. Almost nobody from my 'hood disappeared into mediocrity, we're all somewhat extreme. I met him among many of my frat at a smoker in Mid City this evening. Afterwards, since some brothers were from out of town, we made it a point to take in some seafood at Harold & Belle's. I forget how good and how reasonable they are. I'm going back again soon.
We talked about the world, because we've seen it. More of it than we expected to see, I'm sure for all of us. Character counts, and we all had a lion's share. In the end, JK, who knows how to turn a phrase had the most compelling tale to tell. His tale, about a chaplain's assistant who refused to be separated from his charge, going two levels up the chain of command was inspiring and instructive, but it was one phrase tangentially contextual that caught my mind. It was something I know I hadn't written directly on - something we'll cover here.
But first a bit of context. I'm a bit of a prodigal when it comes to hanging out with such excellent gentlemen as my fraternity has produced. You see, I'm an Alpha Phi Alpha brother but despite that I have given up my rights to be a member in good standing with the Talented Tenth. I grew up adjacent to but in close social intercourse with the communities of Ladera Heights, Baldwin Hills and View Park. I didn't want to be a doctor, lawyer or accountant. I wanted to be a scientist, but a scientist who drove a convertable Mercedes 450 SLC. My father was an old school Episcopalian (good) but also a black nationalist (bad) and a US Marine (what!?). My mother could pass any paperbag test (good) and was a Catholic from New Orleans (good) but converted to the Foursquare Church (bad). Yet both were civil servants (not bad) and conservative in that unique way the black middle class is. And yes we were totally white collar. Still, I was the prodigy and did my requisite hobnobbing at cotillions and partied with the cool kids at Palisades, Harvard, Westlake & Loyola. I wanted and expected the tudor gothic house. I just wondered how I was going to get it with my Engineer's degree. At some point, however, I became gradually outcast - perhaps more in my own mind - from the mainstream of those of us dedicated to Uplift, the Struggle, the Movement and Community Service. I made a series of radical breaks with traditions, but I still love those very specific peoples. There's no way I can explain it all. But I'm glad they know me. I'm glad to know them, but I've been out for a long walk on the Right side of the wall.
JK spoke about the absurdity, from his unique point of view, of the way America's foreign policy puts us into conflicts, especially in the Middle East. He described his understandable difficulty, as an army chaplain, in digesting the political objectives surrounding our engagements in that part of the world. In the end, duty prevailed, but the phrase 'hearts and minds' stuck in his craw. And why shouldn't it? As he went over that matter several things occurred to me, one of them rather unique. From my own grandmother's lips used to come the phrase "You just want to stay mad." in describing the refusal of any number of peoples to be pacified by American military action.
You cannot presume to win hearts and minds simply by providing security.
We Americans tend to assume that people want what we have, simply because we do. There is a kind of tacit acknowledgement by all Americans that wealth and fame is what we all want. That subtext out of the way, we debate endlessly about the ethics of means. You cannot have a political discussion in America that doesn't boil down to a tug of war about the means, but everybody promises the same ends. Education. Health Care. Employment. Infrastructure. We know that a world of immigrants beat a path to our doors for those things, and all of us in the spoiled 5 figure middle class want incrementally more. We can get into full preacher mode verging on indignant hostility when we talk about the gap between black teenagers in urban Chicago and white collegians in suburban Virginia despite the fact that there are literally billions of humanity who would risk much to get into the South Side, even for the conditions at the end of the Great Migration generations ago.
And yet when we attempt to go about the planet doing God's work in 'nation building' it seems to strike all the wrong chords. What sort of nerve do we have providing the Infrastructure for Education, Health Care, and Employment in Iraq? What kind of American exceptionalist arrogance is that? We are easily accosted as wrong for attempting to provide for others what we all clamor for here at home. The irony weighs a ton. And yet human nature provides the perfect answer (see above text).
Dare I raise the question of police forces in America? Of course I dare. Because nobody wants to live in thugland, especially those with infrastructure, education, health care and employment. Everybody in America agrees that public safety comes first, without which even our greatest cities fail in misery and shame, not to mention are more than a little bit backwards cities and towns. We all agree on the one hand, that nobody will succeed in business or society when there is appreciable violence in the streets. We are reluctant to agree that you can't jawbone violence into submission. Killers need way more than stern lectures. There must be fierce retribution and zero tolerance, right? This country's citizenship has rent its collective clothing for the past several months over a handful of deaths. We're dying to see peace and quiet, truth and reconciliation.
But people have decided to stay mad.
It occurs to me, as one of my brothers intimated about the depth of culture and history in Israel, that we in America might decide to carry on grievances about slavery for 400 years beyond today. Maybe nobody in the large majority of African Americans wants to get over it. So let's just assume it. Let's assume that I, and the 3 or 4 million in the Talented Tenth are the only ones capable of 'just getting over it', even though only a third of those actually *want* to get over it. So let's say I'm in the minority of the minority prodigally engaged, but substantially divested of all racial baggage. Let's say that I will never be the one representing or represented the 'permanent interests' of the African American community (as that is generally interpreted to be vis a vis the Legacy of Slavery). Let's say there's only half a million of us so dedicated and so consecrated. We're happy. We are Thomas Sowell or Shelby Steele or whomever we are. We have our own reasons for our own patriotisms. We're satisfied in the mainstream. Our lives are secure.
But the rest of us, so the logic goes, are oppressed or suppressed or depressed or otherwise flattened and hard pressed in our communities. The rest of us want to stay mad, and we never worked our way out of our ghettoes. We live on 138th and Lenox and we have never been to the Central Park Great Lawn to play frisbee. We live in the 5th Ward of Houston and we've never gone on the tour of NASA. We don't know our way to your America. We are hypersegregated and we're always and forever going to need some extra efforts to rescue us out of our pressed situations. We're always going to be that Other America no matter how many sturdy hard-working immigrants arrive at our shores volunteering themselves into the melting pot. We are always going to be the descendents of slaves and that will always be the determining factor. So what if we live in America? So what if we have security? So what if this is the richest country on the planet? All the more reason for us to stay mad. Or so the logic goes.
It bears repeating. Battles for hearts and minds end up just being painful battles, because some hearts and minds are closed. They may wear advertising about 'any means necessary'. They may say 'we want a national dialog'. They may claim that an equal opportunity requires an unequal push and so on and so forth, but every bus has a front and a back and in the end, some folks are just more comfortable at the back of the bus.
No matter what you say, people have their pride, and that's what this is all about. Pride is not logical. Here's the thought experiment, which almost sounds ridiculous to bother explaining. What would you rather have, education, employment, health care and infrastructure or your community pride? Are you so proud of your ways in America, knowing that by sticking to them you lose education, employment, health care and infrastrucutre? How far back into the Legacy of Slavery or the conflict between Israelis and Arabs or the split between Sunni and Shia are you willing to dig in? How long will you refuse to conform? How long will you refuse to melt, to intermarry, to blend in, to get it where you fit in, to compromise, to let bygones be bygones, to bury the hatchet, to get over it? How many generations will you accept the burden of pride? Is it worth it? Yes? Because you just want to stay mad. You reserve the right to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance. You reserve the right to veto the settlement. You reserve the right to opt out, because you are not committed to integration. Segregation now and forever. Because Pride.
More specifically, when it comes to violence, pacification does not provide acceptable justice. That's because 'The People' don't exist and so the Justice System does not satisfy the granfathered exceptions to the social contract granted to My Special Community. That's Israeli justice, not my justice. That's Shia justice, not proper Sharia. That's the white people's System, not mine. Hearts and minds aren't equal. They want to stay in their own little ghettoes. They want their own inviolate turfs. They don't accept the mainstream. They must have their own Pride Parade down Main Street, and City Hall better not deny the permit. So don't send your army in here to try and fix things. We like it the way it is, and who do you think you are anyway?
We know this ends badly. History is violent. People bear grudges. Forever.
But the premise of progress is that lives can always be improved. So a Progressive agenda seeks to square the circle and reach out to the pressed peoples and make them over. It desires to do so with the assumption that what it has, the others do not, and their lack ought to make them submit to the program. When that fails, the opposition is blamed, but never 'blame the victim'. Really?