Today, after working out I was greeted by one of my favorite things: a blinking green light on the top right corner of my cell-phone. A friend had messaged me via Facebook. What a delight! Now this friend has obviously seen some of my recent Facebook posts and possibly even read my most recent article on maintaining civility between private citizens, in contrast to the behavior of our political figures. He jokingly asked, “are you becoming a social justice warrior now?” Fair as this question seems, especially as I have been “championing” civility and open discussion between private citizens both online and in-real-life lately, it hides a subtle and sinister desire to quell open discourse.
For context, this friend, intelligent as he is, works in finance and is likely taken by and deeply influenced by his daily reading of Breitbart.com. Well, that is one way to perceive him in order to write him off in the way that he attempted to write off my thoughts– undoubtedly by thinking of me as a “liberal teacher championing the issue of “black lives matter.” Neither perception, however, would really do justice to the other person and would likely, if maintained, result in an all-too-common unproductive and unnecessary opposition to one another. In contrast to my initial adverse emotional response to him, I might also, just as honestly, perceive him as a current and former employee of a humanitarian organization with a special and personal insight into issues of race in America. Very different, indeed. And he might just as well perceive me as a non-unioned charter school educator specializing in the implementation of “Great Books” curricula (often accused of being conservative to the core against contemporary diversity initiatives)– these are dramatically different ways of perceiving the same person. Such misunderstandings are extremely common, and this is largely, I believe, due to private individuals, rather than doing the hard work of learning the subtleties and intricacies of each others’ beliefs, preferring or finding it more convenient to think of each other as public figures beholden to public beliefs neatly divided along a liberal or conservative line. This is hardly ever truly the case with thinking individuals, who are largely a mass of clear and confused thoughts, but always capable of listening, thinking, and changing their minds.
About my political beliefs and alliances, however, let me be clear. I agree, full-sail, with Emerson’s assessment of placing doctrine above discernment in his seminal essay Self-Reliance:
“The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers, — under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are. And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blindman’s-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know that, with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side, — the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history; I mean “the foolish face of praise,” the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved, but moved by a low usurping wilfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face with the most disagreeable sensation.”
The full text of this short and perennially relevant text may be found here, and I recommend that everybody read it. Emerson’s contention, which I maintain, is that one’s thought ought not be dictated by party-politics nor even, I would add, the general talking points presented and repeated over and over again in the public sphere via the media. This is neither an attack on parties nor the media; this is an exhortation to use one’s discernment to discuss, develop, and determine one’s thoughts in accordance with one’s own thoughts and reasons. This is what it means, truly, to be free or liberal (from the latin word: libero–to be set free), and also what it means to maintain an ancient and medieval value, discernment, and to be conservative (from the latin word: conservare: to protect or safeguard).
So, rather than paint my friend as some party-minded conservative and ignore those aspects and thoughts of him which makes him far more moderate, and vice versa, instead of identifying myself with the liberal aspects of my profession (as seen in one way), I stand for and argue for equanimity. Equanimity, as a word, comes from the latin word Aequus–“equal, even” and animus–“mind”. It means to maintain composure and even-headedness in our language. As opposed to becoming angry or forcing one’s self or another into a doctrinaire position, I argue to maintain the middle, the place of thought and calm reflection in a time when the storm winds are rising.
In response, then, to my friend’s question, “are you becoming a social justice warrior now?” I will remove the word social, and with it its liberal connotations, and leave just the word justice there. I am now, avowedly, an advocate for justice, or justice as fairness, or “blind-justice”, as I imagine any American, really, ought to be.