This post comes out of an interesting discussion with my youngest child last night.
I forget the precise nature of the discussion, but it had to do with conservatives and their views on (among other things) science, abortion, and the relative values of lives. I would remember more but I was building a fire at the time this all came up.
Oh, yeah! She asked me how conservatives justify imposing “morality”-based laws (e.g., DOMA) on other people when they view the imposition of laws generally as a “bad thing.”
Anyway, this morning the discussion was still resonating when I came across two pictures that, taken together, were a revelation.
The first was this shot of a banner. This is not the original banner, but a rather troubling Photoshop job. I’ve seen the original banner, and the last line was added later by someone who I probably wouldn’t like all that much:
Here’s the original:
(In case the photos disappear, the original is of a black banner that reads, in white lettering, #BLACK LIVES MATTER. The ‘shop job adds the line: “BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE KILLED BY COPS. KILLED BY EACH OTHER? NOT SO MUCH.”)
And then I saw this, as a corrective:
And suddenly, I got it. It’s probably blindingly obvious to other people. But here’s where I think a large part of the conservative mindset is coming from:
Guilt and innocence.
It’s OK to impose bad consequences (or, alternatively, a law) on those who are guilty. And it’s OK to impose harsh consequences (i.e., via a law) to prevent harm to the innocent. Government exists to protect the innocent from the guilty.
Now. How do we figure out guilt or innocence?
I think it’s largely taken from a very crude (you will pardon the phrase) Judeo-Christian perspective that has in turn been influenced by a whole mess of philosophies and institutions, including patriarchy and slavery. So the innocent include, inter alia:
Fetuses and/or children (age cutoff depending on denomination), [female] virgins, successful business[men–because of Calvinism], Europeans [because of anglo-Israelism, etc.] the faithful in religiously-sanctioned heterosexual marriage, those who have accepted Christ as their personal savior.
The guilty and/or potentially guilty include, inter alia:
Anyone who hasn’t accepted Christ as their personal savior, adults, particularly those who are not faithful in religiously-sanctioned heterosexual marriage, providers of abortion and/or birth control services, those who do not succeed at business and the poor generally [because of Calvinism] and non-white people [because of the mark and or curse of Cain].
Now, being an attorney (a much nicer term than lawyer, I think) it’s important to notice that there are some interesting relationships here. First of all, innocence is supposed to be conjoint (i.e., there’s supposed to be an “and” connecting all of those categories) and guilt is supposed to be disjoint (i.e, you are guilty if you are an abortion provider even if you’re successful in business).
In practice, the relationships don’t work out that way. Many successful businessmen are held to be innocents even though they have been unfaithful in marriage, and of course, taking Christ as one’s personal savior covers a multitude of sins, as does public repentance (which is much the same thing). And black people are generally held to be less innocent/more guilty (even if they’re children or successful in business).
Second, like the list of factors that effect guilt or innocence, the precise outcomes of various mixtures are going to vary widely. Ronald Reagan was approved by religious conservatives even though he and his spouse were big astrology fans (astrology being very much on the outs in general) and even though he had divorced his first wife. Newt Gingrich is approved for several reasons even though he is a Catholic convert and has been married multiple times. Conversely, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a professing Christian, but he was black, so he gets a stamp of disapproval (also, because we know that blacks are intensely sexual animals). Matthew Shepard? White, but gay. Jews are considered proto-Christians, so they’re inherently less innocent than Christians but more innocent than Muslims.
Ultimately, it comes down to a tribal calculus of guilt and innocence. Innocent lives aren’t worthy of the same sorts of protections as guilty lives, so when someone says they’re pro-life, consider what they mean. Remember, government exists to protect the innocent. And punish the potentially guilty.
That’s why the reference to “black on black” violence (as opposed to “white on white” violence). There is an underlying assumption is the black people are less innocent/more guilty. And that the #BLACKLIVESMATTER idea is thus a sort of false complaint. It’s not a complaint about the “acceptance” of black on black violence within the black comunity (an acceptance which I have not seen)–it’s an endorsement of it. You’re black? Expect to encounter violence, either at the hands of police or at the hands of your fellows. You’re not as innocent as white people. You’re different from us. You don’t have the same respect for life that we do. We’ve all heard this language before. In Viet Nam. In the Middle East.
In other words, from a conservative perspective, #WHITE LIVES MATTER MORE.