Eradicating the Sense of Moral Guilt: “Justice” in the PC Era

I am going to offer three examples by way of considering the issue of whether or not a business owner should be permitted to refuse service to a customer on moral grounds.

I’ll lead into the first example by recalling the business of my grandmother.  From a reverend old house in Austin with four Ionic columns facing West 14th, constructed in 1873, she directed a small but profitable operation.  She and my grandfather lived on the original structure’s bottom floor; the rest she transformed into nine apartments rented to single occupants.  She had a peculiar requirement of her tenants, though not so peculiar back in the Fifties and Sixties: she demanded that they not bring home overnight guests.  Naturally, the intent of the stricture was not to ban a visiting parent or relative.  Put simply, tenants were not to import boyfriends or girlfriends onto the premises for night-long stays.  Today, any mass of idlers on their iPhones would vote down such moral “bigotry” in a trice.  Yet the restriction was indeed founded upon my grandmother’s moral convictions, and the times were initially not against her even in Austin, Texas.

Since she paid the utility bills for her tenants, as a practical-minded advocate might observe, a long stream of casual lovers visiting one or more occupants could represent a not inconsiderable financial burden to her—but this was not the crux of the issue for my grandmother.  Nevertheless, our advocate might add that toward the end of her life, when tenants increasingly began to dishonor this part of their verbal pledge, abuse of the furnishings and defacing of the property also increased.  Those like me who were spectators of this cultural drama are tempted to conclude that one kind of moral dissolution played into several others.

With that much in preface, let me now offer my first hypothetical.  Imagine a hotel (or “an hotel”, as people used to say) in Township X.  The route from W to Z is a long one, X being the only stop besides Y, which is another 120 miles down the road.  Yet the proprietor of X’s one hotel refuses to rent rooms to people of a certain race or ethnicity.  All responsible adults would agree that this is intolerable.  The situation’s trespass upon decency does not simply reside in the additional two-hour drive that a weary wayfarer might have to make to the hotels of Y.  In fact it’s really irrelevant whether or not X has two dozen hotels and whether or not all except this one take every comer.  The moral issue is absolute and non-negotiable.  Extreme physical handicaps aside, people must not be denied service for reasons having nothing to do with their chosen behavior.

So the distinction involved in this two-part example should be clear.  My grandmother’s objection to a certain kind of tenant was plainly and wholly a matter of moral conduct; the person who wished to reside in her house need only have abstained from certain behavior which she found objectionable.  In contrast, the helpless traveler who might find himself turned away from the hotel in X would be banned for reasons over which he had utterly no control.  This is inhumane and blockheaded in a primitive tribal fashion unacceptable to free, fair-minded people.

Example Two: Now consider a baker who is approached by a homosexual couple and requested to make a cake for their wedding.  He politely declines, offering in excuse his moral principles as taught by his religion.  The cake itself he consents to bake, yet he refuses to decorate it in the fashion required of him; as a compromise, he offers to contact for his would-be clients another baker two blocks over.  None of this satisfies the gay couple.  Instead, they sue him for everything he’s worth—and win, effectively ruining his business.

Let’s make the example more interesting: let’s say that the baker specifies as a ground of his moral objection that encouraging the gay lifestyle may lead to one of the parties in such unions committing suicide.  Let us say further that after this particular couple has been married for five years, one of the pair indeed kills himself, leaving behind a letter that explains as a motive his long-standing troubles about his sexuality.  Now we have solid evidence that the baker’s worries were only too well justified.  Would he not have every right to counter-sue the survivor of the marriage, seeking all the money that was originally taken from him, as well as the projected profits of business never transacted and pain-and-suffering?  He feared that one of these two might severely suffer if a fraternal stop sign were not thrown up in his path: it appears that this is precisely what happened.  How could the baker possibly lose his case in court?

Nevertheless, we all know that he wouldn’t stand a chance.  This inequity is well worth considering.  It tells us much about the motives driving the forced acceptance in our society of non-biblical or conventionally aberrant lifestyles over the past three or four decades.

Final Example: Say that a pitching coach is approached by a father who demands that his son be taught how to throw a curveball.  This is not an extravagant request.  The boys is twelve, and many of his age are already throwing the pitch; yet our coach is convinced that giving the father what he wants might imperil the healthy development of the child’s arm, so he refuses.  The father sues the coach.  Evidence is sketchy.  The coach’s decision must be said to be based upon a subjective value judgment rather than clinical research, or even practical experience.  Furthermore, plenty of other coaches would willingly teach the boy just as directed.  For that reason alone, the father’s suit would surely be thrown out of court: the fine points of the coach’s claim would never come under scrutiny.  We could accept them as a professional’s judgment of a vague health risk, or we could conclude that the coach was irrationally but sincerely apprehensive about straining the boy’s arm.  Either way, however, the abundance of other options for the client would render a punitive judgment against the professional unnecessary, and even absurd.

What distinguishes these circumstances from those of Case One, where the traveler in search of lodging might have sought a room in several of X’s other hotels?  Our coach’s ground of objection has dubious moral value but is not overtly immoral; that is to say, we can recognize a predisposition to honor a moral objection even if we find it silly.  The defendant’s concern clearly focuses on harm being done to an innocent party.  When my grandmother refused to rent to people whose lifestyle was not abstinent, she too would readily have explained (if asked) that the sexual revolution was causing great damage to innocent victims, many of whom were not even aware of themselves as such.

Yet here we stray into a gray area.  I am by no means confident that as of the year 2000—and certainly not by 2015—a plaintiff might not have won a case against my grandmother, even though Austin abounds in single-occupant apartments.  The difference between her case and that of the reluctant coach would obviously be that the latter had not fallen afoul of political correctness, whereas the former might very likely be judged deserving of punishment for clinging to antediluvian values.

Conclusions: First of all, the convenient presence or inconvenient absence of a comparable server in these cases should never be considered.  I think the matter surfaces so often because we’ve grown uncomfortable with making moral determinations; but if a potential client is refused service based on factors that are morally invalid (and have no practical merit, as might certain physical limitations), then he shouldn’t be subjected to the trouble and humiliation of traveling even next door for proper attention.

Second, a genuine moral objection should target a specific act, not vaguely associate the client with a constellation of remote acts.  My grandmother wouldn’t have refused to rent to a pretty young woman on the supposition that the girl would be more pursued by men and hence more likely to break house rules.  Our hotel in X shouldn’t refuse Muslim lodgers because of 9/11.  The baker shouldn’t decline to produce a generic cake because the customer “looks gay” and might top off the confection later by posing two male figures at an altar.  The pitching coach shouldn’t refuse lessons to a certain boy with the claim, “Black kids get into sports and then neglect their studies.”  A moral objection responds to specific behavior and not to a careless ascription of behavioral patterns to broad groups.

Finally—and what’s obviously the central point of this piece—our system has been tending to adjudicate these cases, not with respect to how well they meet genuine moral criteria, with respect to how well they conform to politically correct doctrine.  No one cares about our somewhat over-punctilious pitching coach: he can go free, because his objections have no political value whatever.  In many locales, however, the system brings all of its force to requiring that bakers—and tee-shirt designers, and candlestick-makers—accommodate the overt promotion of the gay lifestyle.  Resistance to that lifestyle is assumed definitively immoral from the outset.  Or in my grandmother’s case, if a promiscuous tenant decided to haul her into court in 2019, does any of us doubt that she would be forced to rent the room and also pay damages for “emotional distress”?  Our courts haven’t so much thrown out biblical principles as they have decided to enforce an airy “Good Book” existing only in the heads of activist judges.  Do you suppose, at least, that the supercilious hotelier of X may still not turn away a traveler whose hair-color he doesn’t like?  I’m not so sure.  A Best Western hotel in a German city turned away attendees at an Alternatif fur Deutschland (AfD) conference last year.  The new-and-improved Klan is likely coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

I offer this final thought, not as a conclusion, but as an honest query.  Are we seeing this Procrustean surge of PC enforcement from the bench because we, as a decaying society, have decided to be done once and for all with guilt?  I’ve observed in my lifetime two favorite ways that people tormented by the inward conviction of their behavior’s wrongness will handle their torture—I mean, besides repenting and changing their ways.  One strategy is to repeat the behavior in hopes that the accompanying sense of trespass gets old and falls away.  The other, often used in tandem with the first, is to browbeat bystanders into silence, or even into praise of the culpable behavior.

Isn’t that what’s happening right now?  “You’re not going to get off with saying nothing against what I’ve done—no!  You’re going to bow to me, and then you’re going to rear back and applaud, and cry, ‘Oh, how brave!  How noble!  How we admire you!’  Do it… or die!”  This is the utterance of a damned soul teetering on the edge of Hell.  When the legal system glowers at us over that soul’s shoulder, exacting obedience with its clenched fist, we’re apt to think that our lives have reached a very dark place; but Hell is much darker, and choruses of forced praise will not suffice to make it disappear.

The Art of the Ideological Shakedown: Silencing Speech by Controlling Minds (Part Two)

A shakedown, as I understand that essential term of modern urban living, lies somewhere between extortion and larceny.  “Hey, why would I squeal about your ramming the boss’s car because you had too much to drink?  We’re friends, right?  I mean, you were going to let me see those confidential reports even before this happened.  Right?”

The kind of shakedown I had begun to describe in my last post was ideological.  What I intended thereby was a bullying in the world of ideas, such that the intimidated are compelled to pay lip service to propositions which they may find repugnant or else face reprimand or termination.  Acceptance of those propositions at the level of genuine conviction is not required.  In the first place, how can anyone know if you sincerely embrace what you verbally endorse?  But in the second place, it seems likely to me that the shakedown artist must rather enjoy the thrill of power that goes with compelling another to feign an endorsement.  And in any case, people of the persuasion that my discussion addressed—fanatical cultists, that is—don’t believe in the existence of inner imperatives.  There’s no such thing as conscience: only conditioning.  Hence their obsession with education of one sort or another (and the political cultist is as eager to run every child through a public-school brainwash as the sectarian cultist is to home-school children in “Bible-only” physics and geology).  To such minds, the glass is utterly empty until you pour something into it.  As long as new disciples are singing the right words in tune by the end of the day, who cares if their heart is in the song?  For there is no “heart”: the minions in question are just servile machines to be programmed.

This much is certainly true of religious cultism as we commonly know it.  The cult has a catechism; the acolyte memorizes and repeats it.  After the requisite number of repetitions, he or she is awarded with the hood, the ring, the tonsure, or whatever the tribe’s elite designation may be.

It’s equally true of the new socio-political cultism of the progressive stamp.  You learn to repeat the profession of faith like a zombie… and then you’re all ready to swing into action, slinging drinks on diners in restaurants or leaving feces on cop cars or smearing your crotch with fake blood.  “I believe we live and die as contemptible vermin unless we renounce individualism utterly and commit ourselves to The Cause.  I believe that The Cause is our one and only Reason for Being.  There is no redemption except through The Cause.  I love The Cause and only The Cause, for nothing else in the universe is worthy of love.  I love and obey Peerless Leader in all that I say and do, for He has been chosen to receive Enlightenment and to lead our species into its fight for The Cause.  He is The Cause made flesh.  I deplore all of those who resist his will and blaspheme against The Cause, and I will work for their destruction in any and every way possible.  White Privilege is our enemy.  The Male Gender is our enemy.  The Christian Faith is our enemy.  All systems that refuse to subordinate their interests and accommodate their values to the exigencies of our species’ destined ascent, as outlined in The Cause, are the enemy.  Their members are excommunicate—excluded from the human family and fit only to be treated as contemptible vermin.”

Hello.  Welcome to our new world.

Now, the tests for your personal “verminous quotient” are many and evolving.  Everyone now knows that critics of gay marriage are murdering Nazis who insist upon the fixity of certain values—i.e., the guaranteed preservation of their special privileges—and adversaries of the human species’ advance to a higher plane.  Everyone is beginning to understand that the use of gendered pronouns like “he” or “she” is likewise the bid of the slaver to keep his captives in chains (gendered pronoun permitted in the foregoing case because all offenders are male).

Take another case—an almost random example (for they all seem random, and indeed are so; the endgame is simply to eliminate all defense of any principle whatever).  The taking of the knee during the flag-raising ceremony among certain players of the National Football League interests me not in the least, except insofar as it has become another instance of, “You don’t need that twenty dollar bill, do you?”  That is, it’s yet another chapter in The Art of the Shakedown.  To present this bit of thigh-stretching as a First Amendment practice of free expression is to court the approval of idiots with sheer idiocy.  Naturally, kneeling breaks no formal law; neither does my refusing to utter the Pledge of Allegiance on any occasion (as a result of my discovery that Francis Bellamy penned the Pledge to inoculate schoolchildren against the Tenth Amendment).  Nevertheless, I stand when the Pledge is recited.  I do so out of consideration for others and in the understanding that they know not what they do.  No one notices my silence.  I’m not creating a free expression; I’m refusing to collaborate in an ambiguous one.

For an expression must first of all be expressive.  The intent behind the Pledge is actually pretty plain, though its pious murmurers pay little attention to it: we vow to serve the single, centralized State which loving Big Brother has prepared for us.  (Did I say that Bellamy was a committed socialist?)  The intended message behind the kneeling, however, appears so cloudy that kneelers themselves cannot put it into words.  (And these are mostly college graduates, I will hasten to add before someone drops a quip about their verbal proficiency deficit; of course… quip all you like about educational rigor and college athletics.)  The act of kneeling, explain the hulks, is not disrespectful; it’s just… showing that the nation doesn’t deserve respect.  Police are not its target; the target is… the way cops do their job.  America isn’t necessarily a racist society; only those who question the kneeling are racist.

A classic Monte Python skit featured a movie mogul’s boardroom and a table full of “yes” men.  The would-be DeMille saunters in with cigar and cowboy hat, sits down regally, and begins to vent an idea around the table.  He at once banishes one sycophant from his presence for agreeing with him, then another for disagreeing, then a third for vacillating.  I believe that the fourth either faints or throws himself out the door deliriously without attempting an answer.  Finally a terrified victim blurts out, “Splunge!”  “What’s splunge?” queries the Great One in a drawl from under his Stetson, genuinely puzzled.  “It means that I’m not agreeing, but I’m not disagreeing, but I’m not vacillating and I’m taking a position.”  Legendary Producer/Director temporarily likes the response… so the remaining crew immediately start chirping, “Splunge!”

It occurs to me that “splunge” must be the mainstream white male’s proper response to the NFL’s knee-takers.  Though they, in this morph of the skit, are the ones broadcasting a mean-nothing “free expression”, it falls to the verminous mainstream to rise above vermin level and recognize in @#$&*:!? a rare, sensitive, profound commentary on the state of society.  The demand would not be significantly different if one’s boss confronted one with a canvas carrying two buckets of randomly applied paint and then awaited lavish praise… with termination assured if the wait stretched for too many seconds.

I don’t know that the protest’s originators had any of this in mind.  I doubt it.  I suspect, rather, that the “badboy gambit” (on the part of a bunch of overgrown boys who seldom heard “no” from biological fathers) has been taken over by the progressive programming engine.  After all, it’s the ultimate test: I say “splunge”, and you construct from that a social critique of such depth that it approximates a dissertation abstract.  In other words, you give up words.  You take whatever words I feed you.  Naturally, values are tied inextricably to words: the former would scarcely exist without the latter (perhaps only in some ghostly fashion, the merest inklings of a duty to do or not to do).  Once I have your power of speech enthralled, then, I can dictate your values as best serves my purposes for that hour of the day.

Hey, I’m your friend, right?  Nothing to worry about.  Just help us out here.  I’ll make the nooses, and you put them around the necks.  We’re only hanging a few rats.  Lots of rats, actually… but our new world will be ratless by the end of the day.  You want that, too… right?

The Practice of Free Speech Is a Spiritual Necessity

I almost began by writing that I’m sick of politically tinged topics and wish to dedicate a column to something spiritual… but this one lands me right to the heart of free speech.  Everything, alas, has grown political.

In my nightly meditation (it’s my variety of prayer), I pass a “station” where I ask myself if I have “reached out” that day, because I’m convinced that exchange of some sort has to be an essential part of why we’re here.  We are not finished products.  We cannot allow ourselves to be deposited in a curio cabinet (or deposit ourselves there), safe from dust and errant missiles.  That doesn’t mean that we have a holy obligation to throw our elbows about and shout around the water cooler; it simply means that we must find a way to register our “take” on the truth as events unfold around us in this accelerated, hyper-active, overly medicated e-world of our creation.  Not to speak up in some manner, unfortunately (for the meditative, to whom silence is golden), is these days equivalent to nodding quiet assent to the slanders and inanities that build a dizzy momentum on Twitter, Facebook, and the rest.  “Pushback” is required.

And it was ever so, to be honest.  Monastic seclusion is beneficial only to the extent that it allows the hermit to reflect.  As soon as it favors a suspension of thought and a mind-numbed retreat into daily routine, it shuts down the individual’s opportunity to grow further.  A cow is not the ultimate sage.

I write this as someone with very strong tendencies to flee to an island and sink the skiff that brought me there.  That’s why I have to hold myself to an accounting every evening.  Exchange is required, not just (or even primarily) for the benefit of one’s “benighted” neighbors: it prods one’s soul, as well, into probing questions deeper and framing answers better.

Hence my quoting the word “benighted” above—for we must not think of our intellectual participation as gracing the world with prophetic revelations or as hammering sinners for not falling in with the onward march of Christian (or socialist, or utopian) soldiers.  An exchange not only runs in two directions: it also, in a truly Christian context, must accept limitation and fallibility.  Beings such as we cannot fully grasp ultimate truth, let alone express it.  Though I may be closer to the mark than you, and though I may know well that you won’t accept my correction—however modestly offered—I still need the “exercise in futility” involved in making my case to you so that I may better guard against any straying off target from my side.  When I’m enhancing a digital photo, I always overshoot the point where the lighting or coloring is just right; for how will I know where “just right” is if I haven’t veered into “too much”?

Not that I deliberately go too far in my speech or writing… but I will never “nail” the full truth; and without the evidence of a day’s slight (or gaping) misses, how will I restrain myself from the pride of feeling that I—in my superior silence—understand everything while the others are mere puny mortals?

There, in a nutshell, lies the spiritual necessity of exchange.  And there, as well, lies the wickedness of shutting down exchanges in the interest of “what’s right”.  So you know exactly what’s right, do you?  How generous of God, to loan you His eyes and sit you upon His throne!  But, of course, the people who would shut down such discussion do not regard their perspective as on loan.  In a post-religious world, their vision has become the new god—and they are all his prophets.