Sunday, March 05, 2017

My Friend, the Non-Gazebo

My friend Edric Haleen, despite recent appearances, is not a gazebo. Yet I recently received an email from Edric which simply stated,
So, yeah.  This is now a thing . . .
The link is to his brand new Twitter feed, which began with the following images:

Now, for the record, Edric is neither black, nor transgender, nor female, nor an immigrant, nor Muslim, and he didn't come here from Mexico. As for his pride, I haven't inquired.

Also, Edric has famously (among his friends, at least) shunned almost all forms of social media. He's not on Facebook. He doesn't tweet. He's not on Myspace or post on online forums, or do any of the social stuff that so many Americans have adopted as cultural norms. With the exception of his personal website (which I don't think is secret, so here's a link), we've simply come to know that "Edric don't do Internet".

Given several other strange and weird cues, those of us who know him were a bit curious as to whether he was hacked or had simply lost his mind. Since Poe's Law makes guesswork unreliable, I cut the Gordian Knot with this incisive question: "Were you hacked?"

Came the reply...

Not hacked. But also not crazy. He is taking on the role that Dr. Danusha V. Goska would describe as "champion of the oppressed". I'm not using that in a pejorative sense, as I know that Edric's motivations are pure. And I believe that Edric himself would admit it's a fair characterization given the hashtag he has adopted: #usingmyprivilegeforgood.

But in our email exchange he does ask a question:
But why should I enjoy rights beyond people who are simply because I am not?
The question deserves an answer. I thought I might share it with you. I'll give you the short one, then I'll relate and greatly expand what I've already said to Edric himself.

The short answer is that of course no human should enjoy rights beyond another. 

I also told Edric, "Since you now have a public presence, I hope you don't mind if I explore the topic in a blog post. I think it's a fascinating subject."

This is that exploration. It's not a refutation. But I will close the loop at the end, I hope.


I think you would find no Liberal, Libertarian, or Conservative who would disagree with the point. You won't find a Democrat or a Republican who would seriously challenge it. It's one of those Universal Truths.

So if there is discourse to be had, it must lie in the vagaries of language.

Sadly, political conversation too often gets muddied by imprecise language. In general conversation we have a tendency to speak of "rights" when we mean "privileges". Note that I'm using the word "privileges" in a descriptive and non-pejorative way, as we often use that word (without the "s") when we mean "advantages".

Thus, it's common that a particular non-citizen may have all the rights of a particular citizen, some of the advantages, and none of the privileges. That's the nutshell.

So to make this easier, I'm going to define what *I* mean when *I* use these particular terms when I talk about them here. These aren't presented for debate, but so that you understand the words I use.
  • Rights are the those things inherently due to any human being, whether by the grace of God or through the mere fact of his or her existence. But rights are limited to those things that do not impose upon other human beings. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness all can be achieved without imposition. And if we accept that free speech is a right, then it logically follows that censorship cannot be. Rights are both unalienable and not limited to those that are enumerated in the Constitution. 
  • Privileges are afforded by citizenship, are defined by social contract, and are by definition alienable. If you wish some gain that can only be achieved by imposition on another's time, labor, or other resources, then it is provided through this social contract. In other words, privileges are granted. Here's an example to illustrate the difference: everyone has the right to pursue an education. You cannot say to someone, "You are forbidden to learn," as was done to so many slaves in the past. But to have a provided education imposes upon the time and the talents of teachers, administrators, and those who provide the facilities and materials. This falls squarely into the realm of privilege. We are not all privileged to have a first-class education, though we wish that were the case and work to expand education. Social contracts that provide for privileges include taxation or charity. You might call these "entitlements". I don't.
  • (Dis)Advantages are attributes acquired through birth and heritage and genetics. We are born with advantages and disadvantages, and often there's very little we can do about them. I'm 5'8" tall, and not very athletic. I wasn't born into a rich family, either; and inherited nothing in the way of wealth. Those are facts of my existence. Under most circumstances height is an advantage... but not if you want to be a fighter pilot.  So I was born with an advantage there, though I'm at a distinct disadvantage on the basketball court. Under most circumstances my race is seen as advantageous... but not when I was in school, and not when I lived in the southern part of Washington, D.C.. Whether your attributes are advantageous or not depends on your circumstances, understanding that some attributes are more often advantageous than others.
This is non-standard usage, but I'm not terribly concerned about that. If someone can stand there with ginger hair and a radioactive Caucasian glow and claim to be a Black female Muslim, I'm entitled to define my terms.  Most people would say "check your privilege" where I would say "be aware of your advantages". I prefer my phrasing because, "check your privilege" both improperly implies that you have something to do with those advantages; and that they are always in your favor. For instance, the phrase "White privilege" implies that it's something you exercise and that it's always advantageous. It isn't, and it's not. Much controversy revolves around discussion of whether certain specific things are privileges or rights or just the way things are (advantages / disadvantages). There's too much depth to discuss any of them here (well, maybe a little at the end).

Again, my rule of thumb is that it's a natural right if it requires no imposition on another person. I find that to be pretty solidly definable and defensible in that a right is always rooted in the principles of liberty and self-determination.


So, back to topic.

When it comes to genuine human rights, no one would argue that all humans should not enjoy them equally. In the United States we hold (in theory, at least) that aliens and citizens alike have the right to free speech; freedom of religion; to peaceably assemble; to be free of unlawful search and seizure; to be secure in their homes, etc. It doesn't matter whether you're born in Kentucky, formally immigrated there from Korea, or are just a German tourist.
(I say "in theory" because we've made a poor showing of ourselves on many counts, including but not limited to civil forfeiture; a heinous and blatantly unconstitutional practice that should be abolished retroactively.)
When we're talking privileges, though, it's a different story. We have certain "rights" (properly privileges) that are reserved to citizens alone. Foreign nationals don't really have the right to enter the country and take up residence. Many have been privileged to do so, including my grandparents, who became naturalized citizens. Citizenship grants the privilege of permanent guaranteed residence, as a US citizen cannot be exiled; whereas non-citizens or those to whom citizenship was granted improperly may be deported. On the legal strength of it, we call that privilege of citizenship a "right". For non-citizens there's no such thing. We have an INS, and we have laws determining legal processes for immigration. Since Edric's shirt simply says both "immigrant" and "Muslim-American", I assume these have been followed.

The same goes for voting. Voting is the only "right" specifically mentioned in the Constitution that is limited to citizens alone. It is granted to those who are eighteen or older and is presumed to apply to all who are of such age (26th Amendment). It can be revoked, but not on the grounds of "race, color, previous condition of servitude" (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), or failure to pay a poll tax (24th Amendment).
(If Edric's shirt said "Black, transgender, female, immigrant, Muslim-American ex-convict", I would point out that the 15th Amendment's "previous condition of servitude" clause, coupled with the Virginia Supreme Court's ruling that incarceration is slavery (that is, the only slavery that is in accordance with the 13th Amendment) requires that no restriction can be made upon their vote as a result of such incarceration, and that all voting rights must be restored upon their release. I kind of wish he'd just write that in with a silver Sharpee.) 
But why should citizenship be such a big thing?

Well, on one hand, it's not. Just being here puts you in a place where all human rights apply. Being here legally puts you in a position where there must be additional just cause to return you to your home country. Being a citizen allows you to vote.

On the other hand, it is. It's participatory expression of self-determination. The whole point of a country is to build and maintain a society that operates on certain principles (many would say "culture"), and to defend those principles. A giant Achilles' heel would be exposed should we decide that anyone who got from the border to a polling station, legally or not, should be allowed to vote. An invasion would not take the form of a military incursion, but a queue. And it wouldn't have to be done nationally, as state and local elections are of significance. Should we be so irrationally soft-hearted as to ignore the concept of citizenship, we would take the first step toward giving up our ability to safeguard any rights from those who would abolish them.
(I am not saying this is what Edric is doing. But he did ask a question.)
How is it that voting gets a pass on being restricted to citizens given what I said about rights, above? It's because voting, by its nature, is also an application of force. Apply enough force in the form of ballots, then under the terms of the social contract you are granted the ability to impose your will on others through law. You can't vote without imposing on the people who will have to abide by your laws or submitting to those who impose upon you. Under normal conditions we all agree to these rules or are born to them. But having the "house rules" changed by a family vote is a very different thing from having a group of ruffians walk in the back door and announce that the rules have changed... get used to it.


On the subject of advantage (what others would call "Privilege")... once you've said, "Liberty and Justice for All" there's very little to do, really, except educate people about that word "All" without losing rationality or losing sight of Justice. Not every restriction is X-ist. For instance, if I'm hiring, it's a rule of thumb that I should consider any applicant. But if I'm casting a documentary about Hitler, I probably want to limit my auditions to people who physically resemble Hitler. The casting director isn't racist or sexist for auditioning Hitler look-alikes.

I've mentioned elsewhere that we try to impose too many things by force when we shouldn't. We don't need the law to do those things that peer-pressure and economics do better. One of the notable things we can do better is to address those difficult fringe cases that are better served by rational judgement than by the blanket application of intractable law.

Thus, I think it's stupid to have a law about restrooms at all when we all know that even a guy in a dress still has to use the john now and then. If he quietly picks the one that calls the least attention, and everyone quietly looks the other way, then it's only when somebody wants to peek under somebody else's clothing that it becomes an issue for either side. I think we can reasonably limit the problems to that.  If somebody wants to marry someone else, I think it's a religious issue. On the subject of religion, the Constitution says, "make no law". So I'm in favor of no law, just like it says. To me, this means no law about taxes with regard to marriage, too. And frankly, your marriage is none of my business at all. I'm neither in favor of it nor opposed to it. And I think if my "approval" or "disapproval" makes a difference to you, then you need counseling. As far as race is concerned, people are people. If you're from some culture I'm not familiar with, I might ask some ignorant questions out of curiosity; but ignorance isn't racism. Frankly, I'm pretty sick and tired of the racists who think it is, and they are in as much need of remedial education as anybody else.


Now, the above commentary is all over the place, and a lot of it is pretty wide of the point that I think Edric is making.

At the end of the day, Edric wasn't hacked and he didn't lose his mind. He's not a gazebo. The kind of peer pressure and education that I'm talking about is mostly what he's doing here. It's "shock theater", where you notice the absurdity of a White guy making such claims, and it gets you thinking about his tweets in ways that you would not if a PBTFIM-A from Mexico had made them. Edric can correct me, but I think they're deliberately non-controversial when applied to him so that you can see more easily that it's absurd to make them controversial when applied to others.

He's a teacher. It's what he does.

I'll have more to say.

No comments:

Post a Comment