The Intersection at the End of the World

“The most quintessentially American band to have ever existed, Sam,” Dave began as something of a preamble, “and mind you I’ve no love for the word ‘quintessential’ thanks to an alarming overuse of it, was Creedence.”

“As in Clearwater Revival? Willy and the poor boys? The dudes with an alarming aversion to commonplace meteorological phenomena? Four white dudes from California are the most quintessential American band to have existed?” We were on foot at this point, having abandoned the pickup after bouncing the drive shaft clean out of it while merrily attempting to jump a fallen log, in the style of the Duke Boys. “I can’t wait to hear you justify this one.” Continue reading “The Intersection at the End of the World”

Edouard_Manet_-_Luncheon_on_the_Grass_-_Google_Art_Project

Coping With Contradiction

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself

Featured image is Luncheon on the Grass, by Edouard Manet.

Practices are organized around constitutive goods that we strive to articulate, however imperfectly. But how adept are we at this, by nature? Is there a natural harmony between theory and practice?

Not only do I suspect this is far too optimistic a framing of the relationship between theory and practice, I suspect it is too optimistic about the internal divisions of theory and practice themselves, considered separately. And I think it is precisely this sort of optimism that leads people to trample over the politics of truth without noticing what they’ve done.

Continue reading “Coping With Contradiction”

Joseph_Highmore_-_The_Angel_of_Mercy_-_Google_Art_Project

Social justice, mercy, and healing

Featured image is The Angel of Mercy, by Joseph Highmore, c. 1746.

A deeply political knowledge of the world does not lead to a creation of an enemy. Indeed, to create monsters unexplained by circumstance is to forget the political vision which above all explains behavior as emanating from circumstance, a vision which believes in a capacity born to all human beings for creation, joys, and kindness, in a human nature which, under the right circumstances, can bloom.

Susan Griffin, The Way of All Ideology

The solution, in tangible terms, is community care and a great deal of awareness of how most of us did not get our needs met at key developmental stages, which means we did not move out of those stages and must do so now. Collective healing is possible. We can heal when we can finally be our whole, unguarded selves, in human community, without shields or guards, and be liked, accepted, seen, held. This is systemic change, spiritual change, at the core levels of our culture, lived each day.

Nora Somaran, The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture

Justice, equity, and mercy

In her essay, Equity and Mercy, Martha Nussbaum contrasts three concepts of moral and legal adjudication: strict justice, equity, and mercy. Strict justice observes that a crime has happened, and demands it be balanced with some proportional retribution. Details of personal history, environment, even ignorance of relevant knowledge have no bearing on strict justice.

The world of epieikeia or equity, by contrast, is a world of imperfect human efforts and of complex obstacles to doing well, a world in which humans sometimes deliberately do wrong, but sometimes also get tripped up by ignorance, passion, poverty, bad education, or circumstantial constraints of various sort. […] Epieikeia is a gentle art of particular perception, a temper of mind that refuses to demand retribution without understanding the whole story […].

Nussbaum argues that equity doesn’t really work against justice; instead justice should be seen as a set of general guidelines with gaps. Equity fills in the gaps with the details of a particular case. Equity completes justice. “The point of the rule of law is to bring us as close as possible to what equity would discern in a variety of cases, given the dangers of carelessness, bias, and arbitrariness endemic to any totally discretionary procedure.”

Equity gives us a finer grain classification of wrongdoing, but once actual, appropriate guilt is determined after incorporating personal and situational details, there is nothing more to be said. Punishment must still be exacted; the proportionality of that punishment is just understood better after considerations of equity have been taken into account.

Following the Roman Stoic Seneca, Nussbaum goes beyond equity. Mercy asks us to be open to forgiving even deliberate wrongdoers on the theory that all human beings are formed amid wicked social influences. Nussbaum summarizes Seneca:

People who do bad things—even when they act from bad motives—are not, [Seneca] insists, simply making a foolish and easily corrigible error. They are yielding to pressures—many of them social—that lie deep in the fabric of human life. Before a child is capable of the critical exercise of reason, he or she has internalized a socially taught scheme of values that is in many ways diseased, giving rise to similarly diseased passions: the excessive love of money and honor, angers connected with slights to one’s honor, excessive attachment to sex … anger and violence connected with sexual jealousy; the list goes on and on.

Of course I would add to Seneca’s list our modern diseased values of sexism, racism, and other forms of conscious and unconscious bigotry. Focusing on punishing the offender does nothing to make victims whole and does nothing to combat the diseased norms and other pernicious environmental effects (poverty and so on) that contribute to or facilitate evil. Punishment, while it may have legitimate deterrent effects, fundamentally looks backward to evening scores rather than forward to making the world better.

Retributive social justice

As someone who has been participating in feminist discussions for some time, it’s easy to find retributive anger. I’ll do myself no favors by beginning with an example of a rather monstrous offense, with really nothing in the way of mitigating circumstances.

Brock Turner was earlier this year convicted on three felony sexual assault charges for his rape of an unconscious woman on Stanford campus. Outrage erupted when the judge sentenced Turner to “only” six months in county jail with felony probation. This outrage came in two forms, often in conjunction. The first is outrage that this white male clearly hailing from privilege was getting a lighter sentence than would, say, a poor black kid who committed the same crime. This outrage is perfectly reasonable and it goes hand in hand with criticisms of America’s mass incarceration problem and the way it exacerbates a plethora of social ills.

But the second kind of outrage is at the sentence itself, that Turner is “getting off light” and deserves a harsher punishment. “Rape victims don’t exactly get off easy from all of this…. Why should the rapist have an easy time of things?” sums up the anger. It’s the idea that there is a cosmic balance that must be righted when a crime happens. The victim is irreversibly injured; therefore, the perpetrator must suffer comparably in turn. The anger quickly materialized as a petition to get the person responsible for sentencing, Judge Persky, removed from his position.

One San Jose public defender argued that the sentence was “exactly what I would want for a public defender client of mine under similar circumstances … the sentence we would want for our brothers, our sons, and our friends if they were convicted of crimes, even sexual assault, for the first time.” I posted the public defender’s blog post to a relatively non-dogmatic feminist discussion forum.  The forum reaction, almost unanimously, was that this was “apologist garbage.”

Criticism of the sentencing often turned to the public letter written by the assailant’s father, who naturally tried to humanize his son. And the father’s letter was outrageous, as he minimized his son’s crime as merely “20 minutes of action,” the “unfortunate result” of “binge drinking.” He even seemed to deny that his son’s actions even qualified as violent. But there’s some irony in condemning the father’s letter while demanding retributive punishment for the son. If this is the dazzlingly oblivious privilege and textbook rape culture that Turner grew up with, it’s easy to see how Turner would even now fail to understand his wrongdoing. To be clear, Turner was guilty of rape. The authorities have every right to constrain his liberties and compel him to community service or whatever might be useful. But to the extent possible this compulsion should focus on reeducating and rehabilitating him. Throwing him into a cage for a decade to languish or become victimized himself forgets that he is also a human being. There is systemic injustice in how individuals from less privileged backgrounds face harsher punishments for lesser crimes. But we should extend Turner’s treatment to these unlucky souls, and not expand miserable treatment.

The social justice warrior and the social justice cleric

A similar dynamic plays out in social justice discourse. The following exchange took place in the same forum over this article about the Red Pill community. Red Pill is a forum well known for men’s rights activists (MRAs) and quite a lot of misogyny. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think there’s something slightly culpable about visiting Red Pill in earnest (as opposed to having ironic or journalistic intentions). By analogy think of earnestly attending a KKK rally. You know they are devoted to white supremacy, and there’s nothing to be gained by immersing yourself in that hateful rhetoric. Still, Red Pill exists, and it’s surely worthwhile to learn why men may go to such a place in order to understand how they view and discuss their problems, and to stand a chance of learning what might get them to reconsider their misogyny. I’ve anonymized the interlocutors, both women incidentally.

mercy1

mercy2

 

cleric
Cleric image here.

It’s important to understand that SJW is right. The man in question is culpable for projecting his problems onto women in the workforce and other triumphs of feminism. SJW is also correct that many women face far more serious problems qua women than what Mr Hapless has to deal with. It is no one’s (certainly no woman’s) responsibility to gently, patiently listen to his bullshit and guide him back to reality. And yet our Social Justice Cleric sees him as a human being, and even seems to be able to help him ease back from the misogynistic ledge. She effectively deploys Seneca’s “merciful attitude,” which “asks the judge to imagine what it was like to have been that particular offender, facing those particular obstacles with the resources of that history.”

Simple justice requires nothing more of us than to leave men like this to their diseased ideas and poisoned environments. It is, after all, not anyone else’s fault, and it’s his responsibility to pull himself together. But simple justice alone does nothing to directly address toxic masculinity, gendered expectations, oppressive relations, outright racism and racial bias, rape threats and harassment, white and male fragility, and the just world bias that makes it hard for the lucky ones to even believe any of these problems exist. Not to mention poverty, institutional oppression, and their legacy effects. These are the social and spiritual ailments that afflict not only their traditional victims, but their host bodies as well. They require patient, holistic attention to cure. There is good in the merciful approach, and even if it’s somehow supererogatory, it may be nonetheless necessary to achieve a world we can all thrive in.

The paradox of mercy

It’s past time I acknowledge the obvious objection to all this. I’m a comfortable white man urging a patient, merciful attitude toward other straight white men who, frankly, often don’t deserve the kid gloves. Guilty as charged. My only defense is that I see a whole population of people who are losing their privilege at a rapid clip but they still have enough social power and are infested with enough angry inner demons that they could destroy us. But they don’t even know they’re possessed by these demons. Without a doubt, men like me have to play a more significant role in this mercy and healing than others. Women already perform a disproportionate amount of emotional labor. But ultimately mercy is for everyone.

Will Wilkinson struggles with the same sticky paradox in a facebook post (shared with permission, emphases mine).

Social justice really has been and still is to a large extent about reducing the status and power of white guys relative to everybody else. This is a real loss and especially bitter to poorer white guys who don’t have other easy accessible sources of status. Imposing this loss is totally necessary, but it’s been badly done. Some of the most difficult and frankly distasteful work in moving toward justice is allowing a sort of face-saving accommodation for those who have (justly) lost power and status. There’s an ugly formless and dangerous rage out there among downwardly mobile white dudes … and it’s ridiculous to think it ought to be catered to. But I do worry that it has been rendered even more dangerous by a failure of prudent restraint in the expression of exasperation and contempt at white dude blindness to privilege. … It really is too much to ask for that restraint, especially from those who remain worse off in absolute terms, and for whom the progress of social equality means a rising sense of empowerment and effective voice. I mean, you’re supposed to use that voice to say, “Really, really super-sorry you’ve lost your power to bully me?” No. It’s too much to ask. When we’ve been fucked over, we want straight-up revenge—to put the [boot] to the people who put the boot to us. And it seems like it’s restraint enough, more than big enough of us, not to seek that. Still, at the same, if we don’t want the wounded animals to wound us, it does seem like it might be wise not to keep poking at them, even if you can’t summon the Christlike will to hold a cool cloth to the big babies’ fevered foreheads. It totally is above and beyond to say “I’m sorry that this is happening to you,” when you’re totally not. … This seems like an impossible subject. It seems safer, socially, not to bring it up. I think that’s part of our problem.

May the Force be with us all

But we do need to talk about it. Not only because white males have the power to hurt us in various ways, but because—remember—they too are human beings who, just by being human, deserve to be healed, to be able to live and love as healthy, whole souls. But beyond this, if we don’t embrace mercy we risk our own souls and cannibalize one another. Nussbaum again summarizes the ancient Jedi Master,

Given the omnipresence of aggression and wrongdoing, [Seneca] now argues, if we look at the lives of others with the attitudes typical of the retributive tradition of justice—even in its modified particularist form—if, that is, we are determined to fix a penalty precisely proportionate to the nature of the particular wrongdoing, then we will never cease to be retributive and to inflict punishment, for everything we see will upset us. But this retributive attitude, even when in some sense justified, is not without its consequences for the human spirit. A person who notes and reacts to every injustice, and who becomes preoccupied with assigning just punishments, becomes, in the end, oddly similar to the raging ungentle people against whom he reacts. Retributive anger hardens the spirit, turning it against the humanity it sees. And in turning against humanity, in evincing the rage and hardness of the angry, one then becomes perilously close to the callous wrongdoers who arouse rage in the first place.

yoda-dark-side

 

Grief

PAINTINGS
painting
Israels, Josef (1824 - 1911, Dutch)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 22 7/8 in; 46 x 58 cm
  


Painting entitled 'Grief', by Jozef Israels


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Farewell Gord Downie

Featured image is Grief by Josef Israels

I was never really a Tragically Hip fan, and this isn’t really about the Hip. I’m a little too young and a little too western to be fully within the demo, though cancon rules means that no Canadian could every fully escape them. You can get a taste of it here or here or here if you’re not familiar with them, but it’s a bit too late for that. Though the coverage has been ubiquitous north of the border I don’t know how much the rest of the world knows or cares, so I might as well tell you that the lead singer, Gord Downie has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and just finished giving his (nationally televised) last concert.

On Twitter, in between the reminisces and appreciations and early eulogies was a link to Johnny Cash’s 2002 cover of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt. It’s soulful and haunting, perhaps the best cover of my lifetime, and I mourned Johnny Cash. Part of culture is engaging with the dead, their thoughts and ideas, their arguments and art. I grew up on Shakespeare, the Everly Brothers, Beethoven, Wagner, and Monet and the rest of the dead white guys. But they died well before I was born. I don’t mourn them anymore than I mourn the great-grandparents I never met, who fled civil war, poverty and persecution to Canada and put me here. But I mourn Johnny Cash, and I mourn Terry Pratchett, and I will mourn Gord Downie whenever I hear their songs or read their books.

This is perhaps just what getting old feels like. When I was a boy I talked to the living and to the dead. Now I talk with the living, and with the dead and with those who have died. Their memories will always be tinged with sadness even in triumph, and their share of my memories is only growing. Farewell Gord Downie. We’ll miss you.

Simple Greed

As I’m certainly the least-popular and least-educated Sweet Talker, my ideas aren’t formed from a deep dive into the academic literature, they’re based on experience and observation. I won’t deny having read my fair share academic tomes, and like any good nerd I do read journal articles for pleasure. But that’s just my evening gig; by day, I’m a regular old beer-chugging Joe Sixpack who finds himself caught up in a volatile world, and who has occasionally been known to articulate his thoughts well. For my money, one won’t find real explanatory pay-dirt shoveling through the literature. Instead, we’ll find it in a person’s ability to fuse a workable and ever-updating narrative out of the details of his or her life. The more consistently one’s narrative anticipates and produces good real-world results, the more accurate it is.

Continue reading “Simple Greed”

Mother of Exiles

mother-of-exiles

Cryptoconservative moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has delivered another important essay in light of the ascension of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for POTUS. The piece follows his usual pattern of rebuking liberals and progressives for failing to appreciate the rich, technicolor palette of conservative—in this case literally authoritarian—morality. Liberals see racism and conclude their analysis there. But Haidt argues persuasively that this is just the beginning of understanding the conservative moral mind.

[Authoritarianism is] a psychological predisposition to become intolerant when the person perceives a certain kind of threat. It’s as though some people have a button on their foreheads, and when the button is pushed, they suddenly become intensely focused on defending their in-group, kicking out foreigners and non-conformists, and stamping out dissent within the group. At those times they are more attracted to strongmen and the use of force. At other times, when they perceive no such threat, they are not unusually intolerant. So the key is to understand what pushes that button.

Authoritarian conservatives are different from Burkean conservatives, who merely wish to uphold the dominant traditions and norms of the status quo.

But status quo conservatives can be drawn into alliance with authoritarians when they perceive that progressives have subverted the country’s traditions and identity so badly that dramatic political actions (such as Brexit, or banning Muslim immigration to the United States) are seen as the only remaining way of yelling “Stop!”

Haidt concludes with advice for liberals about immigration:

Legal immigration from morally different cultures is not problematic even with low levels of assimilation if the numbers are kept low; small ethnic enclaves are not a normative threat to any sizable body politic. Moderate levels of immigration by morally different ethnic groups are fine, too, as long as the immigrants are seen as successfully assimilating to the host culture. When immigrants seem eager to embrace the language, values, and customs of their new land, it affirms nationalists’ sense of pride that their nation is good, valuable, and attractive to foreigners. But whenever a country has historically high levels of immigration, from countries with very different moralities, and without a strong and successful assimilationist program, it is virtually certain that there will be an authoritarian counter-reaction, and you can expect many status quo conservatives to support it.

As a hardcore multikulti liberal my inclination is to cynically interpret this as advice as “Unconditionally accede to the demands of the authoritarians.” But I want to resist this, because even while I disagree with Haidt’s conclusions of limiting immigration I think he’s onto something about patriotism. Earlier in the essay he noted that nationalists see patriotism as a virtue. Rootless cosmopolitans like myself famously denigrate patriotism as an especially vulgar vice. But I have recently come to concur with Haidt that this is a mistake.

Nationalists see patriotism as a virtue; they think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving. This is a real moral commitment, not a pose to cover up racist bigotry. Some nationalists do believe that their country is better than all others, and some nationalisms are plainly illiberal and overtly racist. But as many defenders of patriotism have pointed out, you love your spouse because she or he is yours, not because you think your spouse is superior to all others. Nationalists feel a bond with their country, and they believe that this bond imposes moral obligations both ways: Citizens have a duty to love and serve their country, and governments are duty bound to protect their own people. Governments should place their citizens [sic] interests above the interests of people in other countries.

I’m unwilling to classify patriotism as a virtue. Must an individual cultivate patriotism to lead a flourishing moral life? Doubtful. But it may be a quasi-virtue, a hybrid of love and transcendental faith that helps bind people to each other and to their institutions.

Adam Smith famously observed (roughly) that upon hearing of a megadeath catastrophe on the other side of the world, we may pause to reflect on the fragility of the human condition—and I would add we nowadays may even be spurred to donate for disaster relief—but we shortly forget all about the tragedy, and it leaves us with less of a lasting impression than would the loss of our little finger. Powerful biochemicals support our love for our children. Family is partially glued by a host of closely observed formal and informal obligations. And even friends are held together by long histories and memories of shared struggles, triumphs, and good times. But distant strangers are just too intangible. Thus patriotism. The nation state is the largest unit yet discovered wherein distant others can be effectively joined in bonds of cooperation, solidarity, and even sacrifice. Our fellow nationals are made more concrete through a shared culture and a shared national narrative. We grew up with the same founding myths, songs and rituals, national heroes, and collective traumas (e.g., slavery and Civil War, the Great Depression, WWII, 9/11).

Of course, this very ability to draw people into a willingness to fight and die for the nation is a source of worry for the critics of patriotism. Skeptics, of which I numbered myself until very recently, do have strong objections. The nations we are born into are morally arbitrary. Patriotism encourages unreflective obedience to authority and enforces conformity, easily manifesting in racism, religious intolerance, and other kinds of bigotry. Patriotism is difficult to distinguish from nationalism, and can thus lead to economic isolationism or violence abroad, with a steep discounting of foreign lives. Finally, these concerns aren’t all theoretical. America for example has a bloody actual history of genocide, slavery, white male supremacy, imperialism, and warmongering.

I won’t deny that these are dangers of patriotic sentiment. But they aren’t necessarily entailed or implied by patriotism; they depend on its particular construal. The dangers listed must also be viewed against the proper baseline, which isn’t the perfect utopia of cosmopolitan liberalism. Taking poor or wicked construals of patriotism as inevitable is analogous to condemning all religion or all feminism on account of their popular expressions. Least common denominator bastardization would surely condemn all forms of radicalism as well if they were held to the same standard.

Where we are born is as arbitrary as the color of our skin, but the implications of this are limited. Our families are also unchosen, yet few would deny that we owe a presumptive, provisional faithfulness to our parents. This can be overridden of course (as can patriotism), if we suffer the misfortune of an abusive or toxic home environment. But there is no prior reason to be skeptical of our families just because they’re arbitrary. Likewise it’s not particularly damaging to our chosen relationships with friends and lovers to acknowledge that soulmates are a myth, that there is a heap of chance involved in whom we befriend based on such arbitrary elements as where we live, and the schools, workplaces, and watering holes we happen to attend. We love these individuals all the same and we suffer no cognitive dissonance over the fact that other people love their randomly assigned peoples just as much.

The alternative to a robust nation state is not one in which everyone views themselves as citizens of the world. It is far more likely that a de-emphasis on the nation will go hand in hand with a return to eminence of the clan. Rule by extended family can be far more oppressive than the modern bureaucratic state, with fewer opportunities for voice and exit, more authoritarian and exclusionary values, and quite likely even greater violence. Nationalism can likewise be seen as enabling greater cooperation and coordination among a larger body of people than the likely alternative, which is not a global village but clans of blood and gods. The actual history of modern democratic states deserve serious criticism, but their contributions to humanity should not be ignored, their rise being suspiciously coincident with the Great Enrichment.

It’s very likely that patriotic sentiment is with us whether we like it or not. Martha Nussbaum, in Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom, argues that powerful emotion and narrative imagination will always be in play in developing and reinforcing popular values. While liberals must evade the various dangers of uncritical patriotism, we must also avoid the danger of the “watery motivation” of abstract, bloodless ideals.

If altruistic emotion is to have motivational power, then, it needs to hitch itself to the concrete. The idea of the nation … needs to hook us in through several features: concreteness—for example, named individuals (founders, heroes), physical particulars (features of landscape, and vivid images and metaphors), and, above all, narratives of struggle, involving suffering and hope.

Patriotism can instead be carefully cultivated to channel liberal values and this liberal patriotism has to be vigorously peddled in the marketplace of ideas and proudly defended the arena of political discourse. Luckily we don’t have to reinvent wheel: we already have narratives of America (I’m sticking with my own country for this post) as an ongoing project of tolerance, inclusion, and opportunity.

Skeptics note that inequality for, inter alia, women and blacks was baked right into the Founding. But America has no shortage of well-recognized national heroes who advanced the cause of equal liberty specifically by appealing to the unfulfilled implications of the ideals of the American revolution. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, and Frederick Douglass to name a few. One can view the nation, as did these individuals, as an unfolding ideal, ever extending its promises. History doesn’t just catalog our national sins. One can just as easily and honestly appeal to history to highlight the celebrated progress of America’s promise.

Critical thought and dissidence can be and have been conceived as American values, as patriotic. MLK Jr, Susan B Anthony, and Rosa Parks are celebrated figures, and of course the revolution itself is garbed in the rhetoric of casting off unjust authority. In the literary canon also, critical thought is enshrined: To Kill a Mockingbird, Twelve Angry Men, and Inherit the Wind all feature the lonely voice of righteousness.

Patriotic narratives both appeal to the past for solidarity in face of oppression or hardship, but they also look to the future. Nussbaum analyzes the powerful examples of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and MLK Jr’s Dream speech as firm resolutions to fulfill America’s promise going forward. Patriotism combines the elements of love and faith already discussed with the future-looking virtue of hope. America as a “shining city on a hill” has been used by two iconic modern presidents representing both parties: JFK and Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s words, America was committed to be

a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.

We can (and should!) criticize Reagan all we want for compromising this ideal, but the ideal as expressed is that of the open society, and rhetoric is important. Contra Haidt, even a conservative leader can embrace “teeming” immigration of “people of all kinds.” Holding faith in the right patriotic narrative (Reagan spoke of the city on the hill for most of his political career) ennobles the homeland while embracing the rest of the world.

Incidentally, the “city on the hill” is reference to the pilgrim John Winthrop’s sermon of 1630, which itself referenced the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells his listeners they are to be “the light of the world.” References to the past, to the canon (and to the faith for some), all serve to viscerally remind us of our past, to remind us of our commitments, to situate us in discourses of justice and striving and hope since antiquity, and to put “contemporary flesh on these moral bones,” in Nussbaum’s words.

We speak of the “American dream,” whereby even an “immigrant coming up from the bottom” can make their own way to prosperity. Criticism is always warranted. It’s always worthwhile to ask just how real the promises of peace and prosperity are. But denying the progress that has been achieved and the progress that is possible is just cynical bomb-tossing. It replaces realistic hope with either unachievable perfection or pointless despair.

But liberal patriotism requires constant vigilance and defense. After all it isn’t the only form of patriotism. Diligent discursive gardening is constantly required to affirm an inspiring vision of an America as an engine of freedom and prosperity for all, regardless of race, sex, religion, sexuality, body type, or nation of birth. When we falter in this rhetorical effort, it’s all too easy to cede the fertile ideological field of patriotism to reactionary, clannish mentalities.

America as an engine of freedom and prosperity, a people not cowardly crouching but standing courageously with arms open to embrace the future and the world is a vision implanted in me by yet another member of the American canon, the New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”