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A LETTER CONCERNING TOLERATION
Can a Rhinestone Cowboy Ride to the Rescue?
Treat everyone with the same respect that you want to be treated with. That's going to take a collective group of people to do it. There's not one individual that's going to change it. It's going to take multiple people getting out, learning who each other are and loving each other no matter what their political views or what their background is.
My Daily Inspirational Quotes live up to its name some days. It must be the natural emotional hangover that comes with the realization that a certain chapter has ended and another has yet begun that causes one to mull over the days more than usual.
I had these seemingly disconnected randos bouncing around my skull. The horrific shootings. The border and fentanyl. Gas and food. Baby formula? WTF! And always, blame. Not taking it. But spreading it. Absolutely cowardly. But what is blame? And who gets to cast it?
It all boils down to the same thing. Always. Where do we get our liberty from? What is the source of human freedom? How can we heal and keep moving forward? What earthly magistrate judges our eternal worth?
One hears the adage “don’t focus on the past and don’t worry about the future.” Yet we’re admonished to “plan for tomorrow” and chastened with “don’t forget your history.” We hear the mantra “ YOLO - live in the moment” but then are scolded for living gratuitously freewheeling. That’s information overload. Not misinformation or disinformation. Just straight-up bullshit.
That quote struck me as so decent and full of common sense that I just presumed Mr. Hill to be long since gone. Nope. Turns out he’s still alive. And playing in the NBA. Yeah. Profundity comes pounding the rock on the hardwood. A ball fan I’m not. Obviously.
Check out this feel-good piece about George Hill from a few years ago. In it, Hill talks about his grandfather and his college choice. Very touching story. No wonder his quote resonated with me. More times than not, human beings find deep connections that are so far beyond skin color, that it seems almost ridiculous then to interject race into that relationship. Check out George Hill Rising Stars 5 Golden Rules:
Education is the key to my future; If I work hard and apply myself I WILL unlock the door.
I will Respect all authority figures, my parents, teachers, principals, bus driver, coaches, classmates, teammates and myself. I will show respect on and off the court.
I am a leader not a follower. A man that does not stand for something will fall for anything; that will not be me.
I will be Appreciative of everything someone does for me, because nobody owes me anything.
I will have the GUTS to go above and beyond my personal best in all situations on and off the court, GRIND every minute of school, practice and all games. Whether I finish first or last I will hold my head high and give God all the GLORY.
But here we are. I picked up a print magazine at the airport last weekend. Yeah. Paper. With a cover and pages. And ads. And a pullout (postage-paid!) fill-it-it-out-with-a-pen-postcard. It was so quaint. My seatmate, a recent UCLA grad, asked what it was! She asked to hold it. She was astonished. Or it could've been because it was National Review. Anyways.
I picked it up not because of its politics but because it had a compelling lead, US Grant and Civil Rights. Titled Ulysses S. Grant, Forgotten Republican, it’s parked online behind a paywall. Now I wonder: if I paid for a print version, shouldn’t I be able to access it online for free? Oh, the injustice of the interweb.
An added bonus was a short essay preceding the main post by a writer named Diana Schaub. Lincoln Did It Better is declarative enough, but the sub-title is a straight-up call-out: The Second Inaugural vs. the 1619 Project.
The cherry on top was a great book review of In the Shadow of Leviathan: John Locke and the Politics of Conscience by Joseph Loconte. One of the reasons I enjoyed it was that it pretty much destroyed the premise of the book’s author, Jeffrey R. Collins. Nothing like nerds fighting in public. Here is a link to the review.
George Constanza's fake profession is Marine Biologist (post-fake-architectural career, that is). Mine is History Professor. Except for that time in Vegas, Dr. Mark tabbed me as an ER Doc in front of a group of drunk nurses. That worked out well. Who knew I had such great bedside manners?
As the fake professor I profess to be, history is actually very real to me. So much so, that it is one of my five elements of life that create culture. Read all about that concept here. The reason I love history is pretty simple. It is more interesting than fiction. One of my favorite historical figures is John Locke, the 17th Century thinker of big thoughts. Most of our Founding Fathers were inspired by his writings.
He basically rethought the convention that religious freedom, therefore personal freedom (or liberty), flowed from the state (monarchy OR government). He believed, and postulated in a break with the other subject of the book, Thomas Hobbes, that religious freedom and personal liberty flowed directly from God. Without crown or council. And that this concept is self-evident natural law.
Every man has an immortal soul, capable of eternal happiness or misery
Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.
Later echoed by Thomas Jefferson
Our rulers can have authority over our natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
John Locke is most famous for A Letter Concerning Tolerance. If you’ve never read it, you should. Maybe share it with friends having a hard time understanding other points of view. To that point, Locke philosophizes thusly:
It is not the diversity of opinions, which cannot be avoided; but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opinions . . .that has produced the all the bustles and wars, that have been in the Christian world, upon account of religion.”
The reviewer points to Desiderius Erasmus as a more likely source of inspiration to Locke than Hobbes was. Ideas like this:
“Let us not devour each other like fish,” wrote Erasmus. “The world is full of rage, hate, and wars. What will be the end if we employ only bulls and the stake? It is no great feat to burn a little man. It is a great achievement to persuade him.”
Maybe White Goodman sum it up best
I learned the Art of Argumentation from Grandpa Smitty. I write about it in this aptly named post.
Monty Python’s Argument Room is a comedy classic because it pokes fun at how uptight we are about arguing. It’s an art form. The argument is the highest form of rhetoric. It has the innate force to cause highly emotional reactions to rational logic. It’s happening in real-time all around us. Those that seek to engage in a battle of wits come to the contest unapologetically unarmed but frightfully fragile. Better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
Freedom to Just Walk Away
I mentioned Mike Rowe and his foundation in a past post. Reading the Golden Rules put forth by George Hill made me think of Rowe's S.W.E.A.T. Pledge. Hmmm. Look at that. A Black dude that plays basketball and a White dude that makes TV shows both offer scholarships to youth. Both have rules for earning those scholarships. Both are based on work ethic. And gratitude.
Read about Mike Rowe’s pledge here. But check out this letter that criticized his rules and asked an interesting question. Notice the art of persuasion at work here:
I believe that I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.
Mike. I have a question about your SWEAT Pledge. Specifically, about the first tenet. Why do you disqualify those from applying for a scholarship who don’t feel grateful for living in America? There are many people out there who would like to better themselves by learning a useful skill, but who lack the privilege that you possess. Why insist that those people profess “gratitude” for living in a country that has treated them less fairly than others? A country, by the way, that was stolen from indigenous people, and built on the backs of slaves?
The short answer is because grateful people have a harder time feeling sorry for themselves. In my experience, people who don’t appreciate the miracle of their own birth, or their good fortune at being born in America, are more inclined to quit, complain, or blame others for their failures. These people are less likely to succeed, and therefore, less deserving of my foundations limited resources.
To say it another way, Janice, I believe all Americans are privileged. Sure, some are smarter than others. Some are better-looking. Some are more gifted and more talented. Some are raised by loving parents, some are adopted, some are abused, some are healthy, some are sickly, and some are just luckier all around. There are many reasons, including race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, to feel sorry for oneself, if one is inclined to do so. But we were all born, and that obliges us, in my opinion, to at the very least, feel grateful for the miracle that we exist. And today, even in these tumultuous times, those lucky enough to be born in this country have more to be grateful for than most humans who have ever called this planet home.
Obviously, you’re free to disagree, even on our national holiday of Thanksgiving. But, as I’ve said to many others over the years who object to the tenets of the SWEAT Pledge, “this particular pile of free money is probably not for you.” As for the past, I understand the many injustices that have accompanied the American experiment, and I’ll make no excuses for the unfairness of the world, or for the decisions and actions of others. But neither will I accept the blame for those decisions and actions that weren’t my own. I believe we should do all we can to create and encourage a truly color-blind society, and I’m personally grateful for the opportunity to do my part. That’s why my foundation, and my work ethic-scholarship program, focus only on those traits within the control of the individual. There are many, but chief among them is an attitude of gratitude.
Persuasion huh? I don’t see much of that from the pinnacle of power today. Just power. The bludgeon of a bully with no salvation or solution. But I do see something else. Or rather, feel something else. And I’ve felt it for some time now. That feeling was the impetus for this very platform.
It’s now poll-tested. Billionaires feel it. Zeronaires feel it. Meaning we all feel it. And that feeling is an extreme pain for some right now. Potentially for all real soon. Let’s resort to common sense, informed by history, guided by good faith, and enjoined by all communities to multiply our force for healthy change.
All Hail the Hoff
Whoa! So all well and good up to now, right? And now I throw The Hoff on you? Yeah, he covered Rhinestone Cowboy. Reading about Grant and Locke and the struggle of power and oppression, I’m left to wonder: Aren’t we all Rhinestone Cowboys?
The middle hook of the song speaks to the struggles in the life of the cowboy singing it. The rhinestone is just a costume. As is the smile. The pain is real. He’s prepared for “a load of compromisin’” in search of his dream. And he’s free to fail. Or get to the shinin’ lights. Without crown or council.
Well, I really don't mind the rain And a smile can hide all the pain But you're down when you're ridin' the train That's takin' the long way And I dream of the things I'll do With a subway token and a dollar tucked inside my shoe There'll be a load of compromisin' On the road to my horizon But I'm gonna be where the lights are shinin' on me
It’s not often one is treated to a comparative literary analysis between a corny country song and one of the greatest philosophical essays in history. But that’s why you subscribe, right? Where else but here?
So, in his time, religion could be thought of like our Bill of Rights. Specifically, the first few amendments. Locke’s religion is our free speech. His religious liberty, our freedom to assemble. His religious persecution our content moderation.
In Rhinestone, he’s down and out. At the bottom. But he’s not finished. He’s looking up and dreaming. He has the feeling of freedom granted to him inherently by his birth. He is alive and so has enterprise. He is grateful.
He’s as free to lose everything as he is to win it all. His acceptance of compromise is an expression of tolerance. Tolerance for others for sure, but much more so for himself. He even expects there to be much compromising - “There'll be a load of compromisin'“ is celebrated because it’s on the way to his horizon. What could be more optimistic? Or more American?
From Locke’s letter endorsing the right to fail (emphasis mine)
Secondly, no private person has any right in any manner to prejudice another person in his civil enjoyments because he is of another church or religion. All the rights and franchises that belong to him as a man, or as a denizen, are inviolably to be preserved to him. These are not the business of religion. No violence nor injury is to be offered him, whether he be Christian or Pagan. Nay, we must not content ourselves with the narrow measures of bare justice; charity, bounty, and liberality must be added to it. This the Gospel enjoins, this reason directs, and this that natural fellowship we are born into requires of us. If any man err from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to thee; nor therefore art thou to punish him in the things of this life because thou supposest he will be miserable in that which is to come.
Furthermore, he speaks of truth (emphasis mine)
But the business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of the commonwealth and of every particular man’s goods and person. And so it ought to be. For the truth certainly would do well enough if she were once left to shift for herself. She seldom has received and, I fear, never will receive much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is but rarely known and more rarely welcome. She is not taught by laws, nor has she any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men. Errors, indeed, prevail by the assistance of foreign and borrowed succours. But if Truth makes not her way into the understanding by her own light, she will be but the weaker for any borrowed force violence can add to her. Thus much for speculative opinions. Let us now proceed to practical ones.
He draws a conclusion that holds up now (emphasis mine)
For if men enter into seditious conspiracies, it is not religion inspires them to it in their meetings, but their sufferings and oppressions that make them willing to ease themselves. Just and moderate governments are everywhere quiet, everywhere safe; but oppression raises ferments and makes men struggle to cast off an uneasy and tyrannical yoke. I know that seditions are very frequently raised upon pretence of religion, but it is as true that for religion subjects are frequently ill treated and live miserably. Believe me, the stirs that are made proceed not from any peculiar temper of this or that Church or religious society, but from the common disposition of all mankind, who when they groan under any heavy burthen endeavour naturally to shake off the yoke that galls their necks. Suppose this business of religion were let alone, and that there were some other distinction made between men and men upon account of their different complexions, shapes, and features, so that those who have black hair (for example) or grey eyes should not enjoy the same privileges as other citizens; that they should not be permitted either to buy or sell, or live by their callings; that parents should not have the government and education of their own children; that all should either be excluded from the benefit of the laws, or meet with partial judges; can it be doubted but these persons, thus distinguished from others by the colour of their hair and eyes, and united together by one common persecution, would be as dangerous to the magistrate as any others that had associated themselves merely upon the account of religion? Some enter into company for trade and profit, others for want of business have their clubs for claret. Neighbourhood joins some and religion others. But there is only one thing which gathers people into seditious commotions, and that is oppression.
Well, that clears it up? No? Let me tie this up for you then. It’s up to us to employ and deploy our natural freedoms and liberties. Some believe as I do that God granted those freedoms to us. Others believe that Mother Nature was at work. Still, others believe in nothing.
The Rhinestone Cowboy and John Locke both agree on liberty. The thread that binds those choices together? Inherent Freedom. To choose. Or not to choose.
Those freedoms will disappear if we let them. If we keep drifting apart from each other, those freedoms will be ceded to crown or council. Here is a step I took to make a stand.
From their welcome page:
Today, 9 out of 10 Americans say they are exhausted by the current culture of toxic polarization and are looking for a way out.
Created by StoryCorps, One Small Step is an effort to remind the country of the humanity in all of us—even those with whom we disagree. One Small Step is currently working intensively in four main communities across the U.S. to bring strangers with different political views together to record a 50-minute conversation–not about politics, but about who we are as people. Let’s come together to feel less torn apart.
Piloted in 2018 and launched in 2021, One Small Step brings strangers together for a conversation about their lives–not about politics. Each conversation is archived at the Library of Congress and a small number of interviews are edited into short audio and animated stories that showcase the impact of One Small Step.
One Small Step is based on contact theory, which states that a meaningful interaction between people with opposing views can help turn “thems” into “us-es.” One Small Step’s scientific and systematic approach is supported by a group of advisors that includes social scientists, researchers, and psychologists.
Maybe we turn this around. Maybe not. But I’m going to stop rearranging the deck chairs.