Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On Killing Progressives

That Ovid, what a sage he was! I think particularly of a widely used selection from his Letters from the Black Sea (Epistulae ex Ponto). He wrote:
Adde quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.
The second line is the motto of the University of South Carolina. Many others, including Napolean, used that as well. In South Carolina's case, the literal translation, (liberal education) humanizes character and does not allow it to become fierce, has a vernacular definition — we make gentlemen out of roughnecks.

Them Damned Liberals!

I'm still stunned by last weekend's murders in the Knoxville UU church. I have little to add to the commentary on air, online and in print. I did think of Ovid though in light of murder Jim David Adkisson's oral and written comments scapegoating progressivism and liberals for his sundry troubles.

One of the most frequent addle-pated clich├ęs of wingers is that college professors manufacture pinkos. That is, otherwise sensible conservative students enter the higher-education machine only to be forced through some ultra-liberal mold and emerge unfit for the Republican Party. Indeed, the truth is that while it is relative easy to find multi-degreed sorts who are conservative, higher education does tend to relate to liberal attitudes and politics.

What the wingers leave out is the high likelihood that knowledge per se fosters liberalism and acceptance of diversity. The more history, philosophy and soft sciences you learn, the more likely you are to become left-wing. The more you learn of historic and current inequities and classism, the more likely you are to favor social justice. Acceptance of and caring about others are hallmarks of deep and broad education. My position is that conservatives must be very selective in their knowledge to justify their politics.

From Nashville, blogger Sharon Cobb claims that the winger talk show types were evident in this case, turning up the boil on a very disturbed person. "The wingnuts didn't make the killer kill people, but they contribute to pushing an unstable person over the edge," she wrote.

From Seattle, David Neiwert blogs that UU churches and congregants aren't the types to cower and quit, even after a murderous assault. As he put it:
If the right wing ever does turn its anti-liberal crusade into a shooting war, it's easy to predict that the country's UU churches will be among their first targets. What's less predictable -- unless you know the people, the theology, and the history, or took careful note of everything that happened in Tennessee today -- is just how surprisingly fierce and fearless that response is likely to be.
Right now, there's a good set of comments on LeftyBlogs in the Tennessee section. Distant and national blowhards of various types in many media have their own takes, but I find greater power in those physically closest in this case.

Perhaps it's best all around that murder's weapon of choice was not one intended to kill people. He used a shot gun of the variety for hunting small animals and birds, the type of weapon widely accepted by even gun controllers. He did not sneak in and out of some gun show with a Dirty-Harry style handgun or an assault rifle. Had he flipped out such weapons from his guitar case, the death toll might have been dozens, but we can examine the deeds without the fuzzy filter of gun rights.

Attacking Do-Gooders

I'm a long-term UU, well versed in the many centuries of European and American versions. I know of those murdered for their faith in church inquisitions and by mobs. I belong to the church that James Reeb did when he was beaten to death by a segregationists carrying clubs in Selma in 1965. He died for living his faith by participating and living with protesting local blacks. It was a very UU thing.

On lower levels, I recall UUs ready to defend themselves and theirs. At the Arlington Street Church, for example, we had threats a couple of decades ago after calling and installing an openly lesbian minister, Kim Crawford Harvie. From time to time, during the business week and the Sunday service, a person or two would come in swearing about fags and dykes and liberals and communists. Sometimes, they kicked pew doors while ranting and sometimes confronted employees or parishioners.

I remember several times when (not yet Rev.) George Whitehouse or I would approach a disturbed person acting out. Of course, we wanted to protect Kim, but we also wanted to defuse the trouble. Almost always, an arm around the shoulder and a hand on the forearm was all that we needed to lead the person out of the nave and hold a calming conversation. We always were aware of possibility of serious violence by the disturbed, particularly when they went on about our liberal politics.

Picking Enemies

Many UUs are examples of that faith-in-action call. While there is a large percentage that are fairly inert checkbook liberals, UU, UCC and several other denominations have a surprising number of members who walk it like they talk it.

That can be infuriating to those who want simple answers and clear villains. As an early boomer, I recall very clearly growing up with WWII-era movies, war flicks and westerns alike, that had just such black hat/white hat clarity. When events and circumstances are overwhelming, the understandable impulse is to specify the bad guys. Then you put yourself squarely in the hero camp. That's that.

In Knoxville, the liberal and loving UUs were Adkisson's villains, his enemies, during his most disturbed moments. That's only a more extreme example of what UUs and progressives often experience.

To the demented part of the gunman. His long last note and comments from those who knew him limn a grim portrait. He was out of work with no prospects and about to lose his food stamps. He had five failed marriages. His latest ex-wife had been a member of the Knoxville UU church. While described by one acquaintance of 25 years as that he "disliked blacks, gays, anyone who was a different color or just different from him."

Somehow, particularly for the economic woes, liberalism became the toxin and liberals the spreaders of it. Were deaths and casualties not involved, that might be simply risible. Those associations and blame far more belong with the borrow-and-spend, war adventurism Bush administration. Our economy, dollar and and future are shattered by the failed White House policies. Adkisson's viscous gaze should never have fallen on the tolerant, equality promoting, and economically equitable UUs.

Instead, they are really to blame in part for various groups getting full rights and opportunities. So far, that's never been a capital offense.

Back to Ovid, his quote from that letter translates into:
Add that faithful application to the liberal arts
softens behavior and does not permit barbarism
Here the dual meaning of liberal is crucial and relevant. Broad reading and resulting knowledge fosters tolerance. They act as brakes on judgmental blaming that can lead to harming others, physically, through laws or other discrimination.

Adkisson seems to have come to church for the wrong purposes. Rather than put faith into action for a better world, he acted on his perceived otherness of the UUs. There surely would have been a place for him there, and everyone would have benefited from his exposure to the liberalism of the TVUU Church.

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1 comment:

jUUggernaut said...

One reason aside from those you mentioned about the humanizing experience of college and scholarship explains why there may be more progressives than conservatives in academia:
Conservatives flock to higher incomes and are not content with the pittance available in the halls of science and humanity.
I'm married to a natural scientist, and her grad students often make more that she does the minute they get hired by industry. The greedy go where the money is, and those who want to learn and to share stay to teach and do research.
Incidentally, many business professorships are sponsored by industry or their surrogates to establish or augment a position so that it be palatable to one of their professional liars and agitators.
The Right plays mass manipulation as a numbers game, which it is.