Category: culture war

Two kinds of white folks: David Brooks reviews “Coming Apart”

By Alan Bean

Like many people on the progressive side of the political continuum, I have a love-hate relationship with David Brooks. The New York Times columnist has a gift for reducing complicated arguments to their essentials. He likes books that swap the left vs. right divide for a fresh analysis that defies conventional categories. Brooks is a political conservative who cares about the common good. When the Republican side of his nature takes over, the results are as predictable and pedestrian as the next talking head; but when he rises above the culture war claptrap, Brooks is worth five minutes of your time.

“The Great Divorce” (a title he stole from C.S Lewis’s book about heaven and hell) is Brooks introduction to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.  Murray is the libertarian who reportedly convinced Bill Clinton to end “welfare as we know it.”  He also co-authored the controversial The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class in American Life which argued that the different social and economic outcomes between whites and blacks couldn’t be attributed entirely to structural or cultural factors and must therefore reflect basic differences in intelligence.  Murray thinks public assistance programs, though well-intentioned, have damaged America’s most vulnerable citizens. (more…)

There’s hope for reconciliation between religious right, progressives

This ground-breaking op-ed by Mark Osler and Randy Potts appeared in the Christmas Eve edition of the Dallas Morning News.  Historically, opinion leaders in the Christian conservative and social progressive camps have viewed one another as ideological opposites and, regrettably, frequently bolster their fundraising efforts by attacking the other side of the culture war stand-off.  Having worked with folks from both sides on both sides, Osler and Potts see more similarities than differences.

Law professor, Mark Osler, will be familiar to our readers.  Randy Roberts Potts, a former social worker and middle school English teacher, is a freelance writer who wrote about his coming out experience as the grandson of televangelist Oral Roberts in the recent book, It Gets Better.

There’s hope for reconciliation between religious right, progressives

The holiday season is a time to rejoice, a time to eat and be merry, a time to reflect on what unites us. Especially at this time of year, it seems that too much of our political landscape has been covered with battles between conservative Christians and social progressives.

Some people see the occupy Wall Street and tea party movements as a manifestation of that divide, but such an analysis (though true in part) obscures the fact that that both sides of the culture wars now feel ignored by a power structure that most values the rich and large institutions. Within this truth lies an opportunity for reconciliation between two groups that in many ways are natural allies. Like estranged relatives who find themselves welcome again at Christmas dinner, we need to drop our guard and open our hearts.

Why should we have hope that such reconciliation is possible? (more…)

“Both sides are us”: Stuntz and Kennedy unpack the spirituality of criminal justice reform

By Alan Bean

In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels.  Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.

 If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium.  Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it.  We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.

In 2011, two books by white males revealed that Michelle Alexander is not the only American scholar in search of a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration.   The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz, and Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy are not books written in response to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Stuntz and Kennedy are white male academics who see mass incarceration and the war on drugs as unmitigated disasters.  These authors tackle America’s racial history head on.  Most importantly, they agree with Alexander that a movement to end mass incarceration must begin with a new moral consensus.    (more…)

Fetal personhood and civil rights

William Wilberforce as portrayed in "Amazing Grace"

By Alan Bean

Personhood USA, the group arguing that personhood begins the moment of conception, is promoting itself as a latter day embodiment of the civil rights movement.  Days after a “fetal personhood” amendment was rejected by 60% of Mississippi voters, Personhood Florida’s Bryan Longworth is undaunted.  William Wilberforce didn’t end slavery in England the first time he tried, Longworth says, and his group isn’t about to give up simply because voters in the most conservative state in America aren’t buying the fetal personhood argument.

The reference to Wilberforce caught my attention.  Nancy and I saw Amazing Grace in an Amarillo movie theatre in 2007.  We were weighing our options at the time.  Did we really want to stay in the criminal justice reform fight?  Sure, we had won some important victories, but when you live in the Texas Panhandle you have few illusions.  Every struggling rural community of any size is sustained by a state prison and there appears to be zero support for ending mass incarceration.  When you have repeatedly slammed your head into a brick wall you sometimes think how nice it would feel to stop. (more…)