What My Neighborhood Needs: Fewer Virtue Signaling Lawn Signs
Because of the number of diplomatic offices and residences in my neighborhood, the uniformed division of the U.S. Secret Service patrols much of this Ward (Ward 3). Because we are located near Rock Creek Park, the Park Service forces regularly travel through it along with the D.C. Metropolitan police. This doesn’t begin to cover all the law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia -- such as the private forces of the several universities here and the public forces that guard a particular institution, like the National Zoo and the Smithsonian. Per Wikipedia: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics' 2008 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies (the latest I can find), the District had four local law enforcement agencies employing 4,262 sworn police officers, about 722 for each 100,000 residents. This is the highest proportion of police officers to citizens of any state or territory. As you might expect the crime rate here remains low -- mostly thefts from parked autos.
About 80% of the people in my ward are white; 5 % are black and 7% are Asian. 81% of us are native-born and the per capita income here is $90,000. It’s also a highly educated slice of the city: (In rounded figures) 29% have bachelor’s degrees, 57% have master’s, professional, or doctor’s degrees. I don’t know how many of us are registered Democrats but the city-wide figure is 76%. And I’m sure we meet or surpass that. “Ward 3 in Upper Northwest continues to have the highest percentage of Republicans in the city, about 13.4 percent.” We Republicans in Ward 3 rarely meet each other and when we do it is with some astonishment. You would think we have everything a person might need here: Safety, decent public and private schools, easy shopping, fine restaurants, lots of easy transportation options. But you’d be wrong. What we need is fewer virtue-signaling lawn signs and a greater appreciation of the blessings all Americans have.
As soon as the mayhem began in Minnesota, a number of houses on the next block sprouted commercially prepared lawn signs supporting Black Lives Matter. (Many of these same homes earlier sported lawn signs saying “Hate has no Home here” and “All Are Welcome” when the President halted immigration from countries where background checks were decidedly unreliable.) Frankly, I was never under the impression that black lives didn’t matter. I’m old school enough to think all lives matter. Indeed, I think treating all people equally and entitled to the protection of their person, property, and rights of civil enjoyment is essential to preserve an orderly, prosperous society. (In case you are wondering, All Lives Matter is a preferred statement by a majority of Americans and more blacks than Black Lives Matter according to a recent Rasmussen poll.)
So I wrote this off, as mere virtue signaling by people who had no reason to fear their homes and places of businesses would be destroyed by marauding thugs. It is a telling feature of today’s Democrats that they are unable to empathize with the middle and working classes of their country of all races. They are cosseted in tenured university slots, the federal state and local government bureaucracies, other secure professional slots, living in safe neighborhoods and in little danger themselves.
I could dismiss this as mere virtue signaling by the blind, but an article in the Tablet about Judith Shklar provides a more accurate, I think, view of it: It’s moral cruelty.
In her brilliant book Ordinary Vices, published five years before “Liberalism of Fear,” Shklar argued that we need to be afraid not only of physical cruelty committed by officials and police, but of the “moral cruelty” committed by those who claim to hate oppression. Drawing on the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche -- whom she considered one of the most dangerous enemies of liberal democracy -- Shklar warned that liberalism can degenerate into a cult of victimhood that permits our sadistic desires to be passed off as unimpeachable virtue. As the United States is confronted with (often violent) protests against police violence and an increasingly strident and intolerant political culture of racial “wokeness,” Shklar’s argument that liberalism is endangered by both physical and moral cruelty is of urgent relevance. We have much to fear. [snip] Shklar did not provide present-day examples of moral cruelty, preferring to stay with the safely nonpolitical example of a 19th-century allegory about 17th-century Puritans. We cannot afford such detachment. Everywhere around us, people are acting cruelly in the name of eradicating physical harm and arbitrary power. Anyone working in a university, cultural institution, or large corporation today has spent recent weeks reading emails, attending meetings, and participating in conversations that are theaters of moral cruelty. White people in such contexts are asked -- or required -- to admit that they are culpable, that they lack ethical and epistemic authority, that they must listen to and heed the demands of victims of racism. They humiliate themselves, literally kneeling in propitiation.
Shklar found such acts of self-debasement no less cruel and terrifying than the violence that they are supposedly meant to resist. Healthy minded people, she urged, do not want to suffer in this way -- nor do they want to attain power and self-respect at the cost of presenting themselves as a “model of moral victimhood”.
The lawn signs of a few of my neighbors are mere blips of moral blindness compared to the moral cruelty we are seeing every day, from the campaign against professors like Professor William Jacobson who is critical of BLM and UCLA Professor Gordon Klein who refused a demand to grade black students differently than other students.
As usual, the universities and colleges proved the weakest link against fascism of the left but corporations were not far behind. There were absurdities like changing the names of pancake mixes and syrup, rice, and Eskimo pies, attacking political and entertainment figures for tweets and conduct far in the past. The CEO of Chik-Fil-A, a company whose warm and inclusive operations I have long liked, debased himself most of all, polishing a black man’s shoes and saying we all should do this to atone.
Cringeworthy as well are the countless messages from corporations condescending to black customers and insulting to white ones.
Statues and memorials to Lincoln, Gandhi and noted abolitionists were defaced in D.C.
Also defaced were statues of General Grant in San Francisco and abolitionist figures and soldiers in D.C., Philadelphia and Boston.
In so doing, they hope to copy regimes which tried to erase all history and, as in Orwell’s 1984, condemn us to lose the lessons of the past, lessons worth remembering as human nature seems never changing.
The leaders of Hillsdale College, with a strong abolitionist past, refused demands that they issue a statement. Their response is noteworthy in its entirety, but of special interest in connection with the erasure of history:
The College is told that invoking the high example of the Civil War or Frederick Douglass is not permitted. Perhaps it is thought that nothing relevant can be learned about justice and equality from the words and actions of great men and women in history. Instead, the College is guilty of the gravest moral failure for not making declarations about… justice and equality.
The College is told that it garners no honor now for its abolitionist past — or that it fails to live up to that past — but instead it must issue statements today. Statements about what? It must issue statements about the brutal and deadly evil of hating other people and/or treating them differently because of the color of their skin. That is, it must issue statements about the very things that moved the abolitionists whom the College has ever invoked.
It is told that failure to issue statements is an erasure, a complicity, an abandonment of principle. The silence of the College is deafening...
There may be something deafening in the culture -- certainly there are those who cannot hear -- but it is not from the silence of the College.
There is a kind of virtue that is cheap. It consists of jumping on cost-free bandwagons of public feeling -- perhaps even deeply justified public feeling -- and winning approval by espousing the right opinion. No one who wishes the College to issue statements is assumed to be a party to such behavior. But the fact that very real racial problems are now being cynically exploited for profit, gain, and public favor by some organizations and people is impossible to overlook. It is a scandal and a shame that compounds our ills and impedes their correction. Hillsdale College, though far from perfect, will continue to do the work of education in the great principles that are, second only to divine grace, the solution to the grave ills that beset our times.
Those who liken the speech constraints and iconoclasts’ acts to the start of China’s Red Guard movement are not far off. And like Robert Zimmerman, I think the constraints on free speech and thought are now substantial persecution. Those who would not themselves engage in violence contribute to it by submitting to this censoring and the attempt to obliterate history.
“Without a social order that supports freedom, the ability of anyone to express dissent dies.”
Moral cruelty contributes to actual cruelty by uncritically accepting lies that blacks are all and always treated disproportionately in the criminal justice system, by nodding in agreement with the nonsense that there is “systemic injustice” -- that is to say the very rule of law is racist. This is moral cruelty. So is groveling under the nonsensical “white privilege” rubric in the face of thuggery and cant. There is no collective guilt or collective innocence. All Americans of every race are privileged by a system designed to procure and secure equal rights for all. It is a system based on a refutation of collective guilt or innocence. We are individuals united only when we acknowledge that each of us is responsible for our own conduct. Period. Whites and blacks. We all matter and are all entitled to the great privilege of liberty.