Monday, February 18, 2008

Perspective on the Pledge: Part 7 - Tolerance

This is another addition to a story I have been writing that looks at the arguments surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance, and tries to present the absurdity of those arguments, by showing how the look in a slightly different context.

Perspective on the Pledge: Part 7 - Tolerance

“I’m here to explain what is going to happen tomorrow,” said Vice Principal Lewis as he sat across the table from Shawn. “Normally, Principal Hadley would do this himself, but you have him pretty riled up.”

“Of course I have him riled up,” Shawn answered. “He’s white, and he is in a position of power. Naturally, he wants to stay in a position of power. One of the things that helps him do this is a national policy that equates patriotism to the preservation of white power. I am challenging that practice. So, naturally, he is upset. He wants me to continue to accept this pledge of allegiance to white power without question or complaint.”

“I’m not here to discuss the merits of the case, Shawn,” Lewis said. “I’m simply here to explain the rules. Now, Principal Hadley has scheduled an expulsion hearing for tomorrow morning at 9:00 am. He has already talked to your parents . . . “

Shawn interrupted, “Principal Hadley must have amazing powers if he talked to my father. He’s dead.”

“Whoever is responsible for raising you,” Lewis answered. “Your mom? Whoever it is has agreed to be here during the hearing. In addition, you are allowed to have an advocate. Now, this is an administrative hearing not a court of law, so there is no place here for a lawyer. If you do not agree with the decision reached in this hearing you will, of course, have the option of hiring a lawyer and filing a complaint in civil court. That’s actually quite common with parents objecting to anything that we may say against their children. But that is in response to the hearing, not the hearing itself.”

Lewis took a drink of water, than continued. “Like I said, you are allowed to have a representative – somebody who understands the rules and can speak in your defense. Typically, we ask one of the guidance councilors Would you like one of the guidance councilors to represent you tomorrow?”

“How do I know?” Shawn asked. “Guidance councilors are hired by the school. The school is paid for by government money. The government is run by white people who, for the most part, are quite infatuated with this idea of a pledge of allegiance to white power. Is there anybody who is not working for the other side?”

Lewis answered with a shrug. “I can arrange for you to speak to Mr. Fox, if you would like. I don’t need a decision right away.”

“Then I think I should talk to Mr. Fox,” said Shawn.

Lewis scribbled a note onto his pad, then continued, “If the decision goes against you, then you will be escorted to your locker to pick up your things and you and your mom will be escorted off the campus. If you attempt to return to campus without an appointment, then you will be arrested for trespassing.”

“How long does it take the committee to reach a decision take?”

“Typically, they make the decision on the same day – in less than an hour, usually.”

“And if the decision goes in my favor?”

Lewis took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “If the board decides in your favor then you will be allowed to return to class. Now, I’m not on the board and nobody is asking me to be impartial. I can tell you honestly, Shawn, that this hearing is a mere formality. You will have a chance to make your case, but the Board will vote against you and you will be removed from the school system. The only thing that can save you is an apology and a promise not to disrupt class again. Are you prepared to do that?”

“Are you officially prepared to sit there and be quiet while the school you work for officially calls your wife a whore and a slut whose only interest is in her own pleasure?”

Lewis grew noticeably red, but did not answer.

“Well, then, I’m just as ill prepared to sit there while the school officially declares that my dad was not a patriot because he had no allegiance either to establishing or preserving a white nation. He preferred a nation that was color-blind.”

“Then the Board will vote for your expulsion, Shawn. Be prepared for that.”

While Lewis spoke, he slid a stapled set of pages across the table. “Those are the formal rules, in case you want to read them. Do you understand each of the rules that I have explained them to you?”

“I think so,” said Shawn. “I would like to speak to Mr. Fox before I say so for sure.”

“If you insist,” Lewis said. “When you’re satisfied, sign the form at the front of the document and I will pick it up at the end of the day. If you have any questions, tell the guard that you need to see me.”

“Yes, sir,” answered Shawn.

A few minutes after Vice Principal Lewis left, the guard returned to escort Shawn to see Mr. Fox.

Shawn found Fox in his office, greedily downing a thick sandwich. “I hope you don’t mind if I eat,” said Fox through a mouth full of lettuce and bread. “The first days of school are murder. There’s no free time.”

“Not at all,” said Shawn, sinking into a small couch on the other end of the office.

“Do you want me to represent you before the Council?” Fox asked slowly, almost nervously.

“That depends. What do you think of my case?”

Swallowing, Fox answered, “Okay, I will be completely honest with you, Shawn. I am amazed at how intolerant you are of views other than your own. One of the things we value in this school is tolerance. We have a widely diverse student body, and one of the ways we all get along is by simply accepting that others have views different from our own. But not you. You want to force your views on everybody else. If anybody has a different view, you’re more than happy to bring in the state to sweep them aside and institute your views.”

“Mr. Fox,” said Shawn, “My view is that it is wrong to treat people like my father with contempt – to dismiss their service and to say that they are not patriotic because they have no allegiance to a white nation.”

“Exactly,” said Mr. Fox. “Now, I don’t really blame you for this, Shawn. It’s not really your fault. It’s just that, as you know, white people have a moral sense that black people just don’t have. You’re governed only by your own private interests. The only thing you have any reason to care about is yourselves. So, it’s not surprising that you can’t see how wrong it is to force your view on others. Imposing your will on others is the only thing that is consistent with the way you people think. But, it’s wrong. If you had a moral sense like we do, you would see that.”

“I should tolerate your views,” Shawn repeated.

Fox answered, “You should tolerate all views.”

Shawn said quickly, “You should tolerate the view that white people have no special moral sense, and that black people are just as capable of acting morally as whites – better, in fact, than some whites.”

“You see, you don’t understand. There’s a difference. When we white people reflect on our special place in the universe . . . our special status as those with special access to moral knowledge . . . this is what gives our life meaning. This idea, that we are morally superior to all other people, is what gives us purpose and a sense of place in the universe. You would take all of that away from us. You would lower us to the level of . . . well, to the level of blacks. You would have us slaves to our passions, devoid of moral reasons and purpose, like you are.”

“Have you ever listened to yourself, man?” Shawn asked. “Why is it that I am supposed to be tolerant of the view that you are morally superior to me, but you don’t have to be tolerant of the idea that we are morally equal? Why is it that denying your view is ‘offensive’ and something that no good person would do, but affirming your view that me and my people are morally inferiors is perfectly legitimate?”

“It’s okay, Shawn. It’s good to ask questions,” said Fox. “I really have a hard time grasping the idea that you have no moral sense. I keep thinking that if I described the situation – the inherent wrongness of trying to lower whites to the same level as blacks – would help you to understand. Every time I am caught off guard by the fact that your lack of moral sense just doesn’t allow you to see these things. I forget that trying to explain morality to a black man is like trying to explain color to a blind man. The blind man just is not going to understand what blue is, and you’re just not going to be able to understand the moral fine points of tolerance. But, the blind man, if he is wise, will trust himself to be guided by somebody who can see. You, too, Shawn, need to learn to be guided by those of us who have moral sight. Trust me, Shawn, we have a much better grasp of the difference between right and wrong than you do.”

“How do you know this? How do you know that you have a moral sense and I don’t?”

Fox leaned back in his chair. “It’s obvious. It’s evident in the fact that you don’t understand tolerance, and we do. It’s obvious in the fact that you are trying to remove ‘white nation’ from the Pledge of Allegiance, when there is nothing wrong with true Amerycans pledging allegiance to a white nation. We are, after all, a white nation. Eighty-seven percent of us are white. If that’s not enough to justify calling us a white nation and pledging allegiance to a white nation, then I don’t know what is. Ultimately, however, it is simply a part of our beliefs – our culture – our faith. We have adopted a world view where we are the morally superior race. That’s who we are, and you should learn to respect us for who we are.”

Suddenly leaning forward, Fox added, “In fact, Shawn, it’s patently offensive for you to claim to be our moral equals. It’s degrading, dehumanizing. it’s more than offensive. Don’t you see what you’re doing Shawn? Oh, of course you don’t. You’re black. You are attacking our beliefs, our way of life. It’s like you’re asking for a war against white people – a war to put an end to white rule in this country. If you insist on attacking white people, then you really should be prepared for us to defend ourselves. It’s only natural.”

“I’m not attacking anybody,” Shawn shouted as he got to his feet. “I’m attacking the idea that the government should have its children pledging allegiance to a white nation. I’m attacking the idea that a person has to have allegiance to a white nation in order to be patriotic. I’m not trying to drive white people from the public square. I’m not protesting the fact that there are white people in government. I am not trying to force white people out of public office. In fact, you’re the one whose guilty of these things, saying that Ameryca must be ruled by white people and that only a white leader is acceptable.”

“I was speaking metaphorically, Shawn,” Fox said. “Your intolerant, abusive, hate-filled speech against those who believe in white moral superiority is, well, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for compromise. Clearly, you’ll not be happy until you have scrubbed every public document and public building of all reference to the moral superiority of the white race.”

“You could say that,” Shawn answered.

“You don’t see what’s wrong with that? You don’t see how this actually proves that you lack the moral sense that all white people share, the moral sense to see how wrong it is to attack whites like that?”

With a sigh, Shawn said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Fox, but I really don’t think that it would be a good idea for me to have you represent me before the Council.”

“Not if you insist that this crusade of yours actually has merit. Shawn. I think you’re a nice guy and I would hate to see you hurt. I don’t really understand why you hate Ameryca. We don’t hate you. Our philosophy is not a philosophy of hate. It’s a philosophy of love and respect. We only want the best for people like you, Shawn. Honest. The fact that you have no idea what the best is causes problems. You need to learn to accept our guidance in this. We want to make your lives as happy as possible, in spite of your limitations. Ours is a philosophy of love. I hope you understand that.”

As Shawn stepped up to the door, Fox suddenly said, “Hold on a moment, Shawn. I have a question.”

Pausing, Shawn said, “Okay, what?”

“Okay, you think I’m wrong. You think that there’s something wrong with pledging allegiance to a white nation. You think that I am morally blind because I can’t see that. Now, in order to condemn me like that, you have to be thinking that you are better than I am. You have to be thinking that it is okay for you to judge me – to look down on me for supporting a pledge of allegiance to a white nation. Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite? Aren’t you doing the same thing you accuse me of doing?”

“Mr. Fox, let’s assume that you just said that you were taller than me. We both know that is not true. You are, I would guess, no more than five foot six, while I am five foot nine. So, I say that your claim to be taller than me is false. Instead, I claim to be taller than you. That’s not hypocrisy, Mr. Fox. That’s a fact.”

“You are morally superior to me,” Fox said.

“On the issue of whether or not it is morally permissible to have children pledge allegiance to white power every day in public schools, I am right, and you are wrong. That does not make me morally superior to you. That simply makes me right, and makes you wrong.”

“But, morally, how can you possibly know that you’re right and I am wrong, when I am the one with the moral sense, and you are not?”

“Good bye, Mr. Fox,” Shawn said as he reached for the door.

“I stumped you, didn’t I?” Fox said with a self-satisfied smile. “You don’t have an answer for that.”

“Good bye. Mr. Fox,” Shawn repeated.

“Think about this, Shawn. Just, think about it. You can’t refute my views, here. But, still, you want to sweep them aside. Think about how you are exhibiting intolerance, and how bad the world would be if all of us were as intolerant of different views as you seem to be.”

Basting in self-congratulation, Mr. Fox turned his attention back to his sandwich.


Uber Miguel said...

I'm not quite as sold on this version of Part 7 as the psychological encounter. Perhaps I'm a little too far removed from the racial perspective, but the connections between tolerance of views and the assumptions of moral superiority seem quite loose. I'm sure it exists in theory.. but what percentage of your readers going to feel as lost at this point as me?

Perhaps it's pure naivity on my part.. but I'm racking my brain trying to think of an example where a racist would merge these two different arguments together. Replacing race back in place of religion clearly reveals the connection, but the story must hold up as reflecting reality on it's own premises. When the reader is forced to make race/relgion substitutions to maintain coherency, then the entire analogy loses merit.

There will already be protests against your comparison of holding certain beliefs with having a particular skin color.. and don't get me started on the whole "color-blind" issue. Of course, you can only go so far to appeal to these arguments, but I just hope that you're at least aware of them before rather than after they're being used against you and your story.

This is a great little project you've got going here. I'm very excited to eventually read your finished product.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I'm afraid that I'm a bit lost as to why you are feeling lost.

Fox represents a common view in this country, in defense of the idea that we cannot allow atheists in government, that atheists have no moral basis and are at risk of doing whatever pleases them. To give power to an atheist is to hand the reigns of power over to the next Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.

This is an explicit claim of moral superiorty. And it is in virtue of this moral superiority that we should be a nation 'under God'.

So, Fox expresses a comparable view of moral superiority on the part of whites - to show how denigrating such a view is.

And, I added to this a cultural tradition that says that it is 'disrespectful' to question a religion's claim that those who do not follow that religion are morally inferior and, in virtue of that fact, unfit to lead.

My impression is that, when one translates these attitudes into attitudes of race, it exposes such a clear absurdity that it is, indeed, difficult to imagine a racist making such absurd claims.

But, then, that is what the project is supposed to do - clearly expose the absurdity of certain lines of thought by putting them in a different context.

And the story does not compare holding beliefs to having skin color. It compares the inference from skin color to moral character with the inference from religious belief to moral character.

The response, of course, will be that the inference from religious belief to moral character is valid whereas the inference from race to moral character is not. But the goal here is to throw the burden of proof onto those who make the inference. It is not the job of the atheist to prove that they are morally as good as the theist - it is the job of the theist to prove their moral superiority. But this is a position they cannot defend.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I wanted to add . . .

Thank you for the comment Miguel. I am of the philosophy that anything that I might need to explain outside of the story, really needs to be explained better inside the story. Readers are not going to come here to this site to find out 'what I really meant', so I need to incorporate any deconfusifiers into the story itself.

I have been thinking that perhaps I need to split these two concerns - the issue of tolerance, and the issue issue that the white (or 'under God) group is morally superior to the black (not 'under God') group. Perhaps that will make things clearer.