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I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the twittersphere since the Zimmerman verdict on Saturday. In the process I started following one of my favorite–now only occasional–NPR voices, Michele Norris. Norris left All Things Considered, which she used to cohost, to write a book, and started something in 2010 called The Race Card Project.

The Race Card Project. I love that name. Have you ever noticed how quick white folks are to play the “play the race card” card?

Yesterday at lunch I was skimming through the site and felt prompted to write my own six-word essay. I encourage you to take a shot at it yourself. It’s a helpful process. Mine–which hasn’t shown up yet just showed up at the site–follows.

Here’s the link: We don’t want your “White” America.

We don’t want your “White” America.

By all appearances, I’m “white” and I was raised in white middle class America. My biological father was Hispanic (my relatives on that side are mostly pale, like me). My dad, the man who helped raise me, is part Native American. My wife’s son–now my son–is black, technically mixed race. And there’s a hodgepodge of miscellaneous race and ethnicity throughout my family tree.

Perusing this [The Race Card Project] site, I couldn’t help noticing an excess of comments by a few folks claiming to defend our “national identity,” [our white European identity]–defending it from the likes of me and my family.

1) By any sane reckoning, this country was long inhabited by brown-skinned natives before being invaded and colonized by fair-skinned Europeans.This was never a “white” country, except by the most despicable usurpation.

2) Skin color, while it may be a beautiful feature, is an arbitrary means of discriminating among peoples. I’m willing to wager that you could discern neither my character, intellect nor even my heritage by the color of my skin.

3) Despite its checkered past and frequent and flagrant hypocrisy, this nation, as it has existed for the last 200+ years (see #1), was founded on principles of opportunity, equality, diversity and freedom–freedom from, among other things, bigotry and oppression.

4) And we have grown in our understanding and embrace of those principles, grown to recognize and institutionalize constitutionally the rights of women and of blacks. This country is no longer, thank God, a white European good ol’ boys club. We have farther to go, but the progress that we’ve made–not some calcified snapshot of a particular point in the past–is who we are. As much, indeed, as we are in part who we were, we are far more what we are becoming.

5) Our culture is a sometimes chaotic commingling, sometimes harmonic union of a multitude of voices. Our language is notoriously and gloriously bastardized–stolen, borrowed, hopelessly corrupted, inventively conjugated–from every language on the planet.

Diversity is inherent in our national identity. More, it is what makes us great.

A monotone is unmelodic. Monoculture is weak and vulnerable. A palette of only one color–or even a few shades of the same color–offers little opportunity for expression.

This is not your “White” America.

This country has never been and–as long as I can help it–will never be your “White” America. It angers and disgusts me, but, more than that, it saddens me that anyone would want such a boring, insular, inbred construct of sameness. If that’s what you want, go make it somewhere else. If that’s what you want here, you’ve declared war on the nation you claim to be defending and I for one would be happy to see you treated accordingly.

One of my favorite bits in the Bible is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. He uses the metaphor of a body to describe the community of the faithful. And I would argue that this theme–even when not always in the same language–is pervasive in the Jewish and Christian canons.

Each body part tends to think it’s the only one that matters and has a hard time seeing past its own ways of looking at and interacting with the world. Or, um, that’s the way the eyeball would say it. The eye wants everyone to think and act like an eye. The reality is that we’d look (damn, there’s that bias again) pretty ridiculous and be completely dysfunctional if we were all just eyeballs. Or ears. And even the lowly sphincter, toenail or intestinal villus is important–vital even.

I have rarely felt that folks fully comprehended the truth and profundity of either the passage or broader analogy or the depth and breadth of its proper application, let alone the extent to which most of our behavior belies it.

That we should fight against discrimination in all of its forms–gender, race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc.–should go without saying. And yet it must be said.

Too many operate under the illusion, for instance, that we live in some kinda of “post-racial” society. However sincerely they might believe it and however much I wish they were right, I know that they are wrong. And the most telling rebuttal is the experience of racial minorities. One need look no further than the morning news to see bigotry rampant–in everyday life, in popular culture, in public policy.

Discrimination–including both extreme manifestations such as apartheid (which exist in essence in parts of this country), hate crimes, genocide, blatant economic and political oppression and lesser but still dangerous forms such as hiring, social and consumer biases and bigoted speech–is in itself an issue of justice and social responsibility. It is, in other words, a moral imperative.

So-called “affirmative action” policies may or may not be situationally effective and their inclusion in specific solutions would therefore be conditional. Deliberately, proactively–indeed, aggressively–attacking the problem is not. Action is necessary and it must be targeted and strategic. Simply ignoring the problem, thinking wishful thoughts against it or even rhetorically opposing it won’t make it go away.

As with any issue of this enormity and importance, action most be taken individually and collectively. The solution must be part of how we live but it must also be institutionalized both in corporate and governmental policy.

But my point extends beyond issues of discrimination, oppression, inequality of opportunity and disenfranchisement. Returning to the body metaphor, overcoming bigotry and xenophobia and practicing inclusion are acts of enlightened self-interest. We are stronger, smarter, more effective, more whole–indeed we can only be complete and we can only ever hope to overcome our challenges and achieve our potential–to the extent that we not only tolerate and respect, but seek out and embrace diversity.

The principle of diversity applies to religion. While we may in some sense be called a “Christian” nation, those who cling to that identity must acknowledge that “Christians” themselves fundamentally and broadly disagree about both core values and practice. More importantly, what has allowed this nation to survive and thrive is not an arbitrary “Christian” dogma but pluralism and an appropriate separation of Church and State.

Religious freedom does not mean–as some seem to think it does–that I have a right to impose my personal religious convictions on others–either to compel or restrict their behavior. As a person of faith–yea, as a person of passions and conviction–I cannot separate my beliefs and religious values from my public and political participation, but as a citizen, I must exercise and express those values in a way that respects the beliefs and values others.

To be clear, we are stronger as a nation in part because of our cultural, philosophical and religious heterogeneity.

The principle of diversity applies not only domestically but to our engagement internationally. Our foreign policy must fully respect not only the humanity but the cultural legitimacy of both our allies and those we label as “enemies.” Of course we shouldn’t embrace what is immoral or amoral, but we should be circumspect enough to recognize that many times these judgments are wholly subjective and that often it is our behavior and/or the behavior of our allies that is repugnant.

Being American doesn’t make us right. Being American doesn’t elevate us above or excuse us from accountability to the rest of humanity or to the court of nations.

Our foreign policy should be free of imperialism and it must not subordinate the rights and interests of other states. We should be cooperative participants in the international community and guardians of the ideals that unite, protect and advance all of our planet’s citizens.

Much of the greatness of our identity is that we are a nation of many peoples and that our cultural and intellectual inheritance is international, global and encompassing.

We are an immigrant nation. Indiscriminately locking down our borders or tolerating a subordinate, essentially slave class of disenfranchised laborers is inconsistent with our national achievements and the nobility of our ideals and aspirations; and it is a tragic waste of the costly lessons of our national history.

Our immigration policy must be merciful and rational and it must recognize the contributions of our undocumented residents and acknowledge and accept our responsibility to humanity beyond our circumscribed–geographically or otherwise–borders. The pathway to citizenship must be open and not unduly arduous. Our treatment of immigrants–documented or otherwise–has to respect their human rights and their basic human needs.

Again, a humane immigration policy is enlightened self-interest, appreciating and facilitating the continued infusion of vitality, innovation and productivity from our newest residents, workers and citizens.

Money, like Time, strikes me as an over-rated, arbitrary, grossly erroneous, frequently disastrous quantification of things that quite often might otherwise be holy. Money–whether intrinsically or just practically doesn’t really matter–reduces “value” to a number and renders all things fungible.

I’m not altogether convinced that it’s ultimately helpful, though I acknowledge that it works after a fashion. I’m not at all convinced that it’s good, let alone necessary.

So, yaknow, just a warning, that’s the kind of guy you’re dealing with.

I don’t find myself particularly “entrepreneurial” and past a point I don’t find the mechanisms of capitalism especially motivational. Even where it works, it too often feels dirty. I don’t mean that to be offensive; that’s just how it feels to me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong.

I admit that I like stuff–indeed, I like my stuff–and I’m a bit of a consumer. At this point in my life, I’ve come to realize that I might have difficulty transitioning to a system without private property; I’m not proud of that but I readily confess that it’s true. Moreover I do well enough as a capitalist; maybe better than I deserve. That being said: though I tend to be a passionate guy, there’s little in the Free Market that gets me positively hot and bothered (and, yeah, there are many things elsewhere that do).

What’s more, I know plenty of folks who work exceptionally hard and are incredibly smart but the Free Market is not their friend. It’s no good telling me that they’re not the right kind of smart, because that’s my point exactly. Capitalism favors a few forms of intelligence and effort and is either indifferent or disrespectful toward most others. We take that for granted and make all sorts of rationalizations for it. But it’s not right. Even a man like Warren Buffet admits as much (I didn’t need Warren to point out the obvious though I appreciate that he did).

I don’t have to accept it and I won’t.

I’ve seen no evidence that persuades me that the Market on its own distributes wealth equitably or that a supposedly “freer” market would do better. By no means do I believe that people are paid what they’re worth or that we’ve any hope of achieving such a fantasy with laissez faire capitalism.

It probably goes without saying but just in case it’s not obvious: I think trickle-down economics is madness.

I should clarify that I know and respect several legitimate entrepreneurs. Many of them are among the finest folks I know. And to a great extent their character is proportional to their success. We need people like them and I’m thankful that they’re my friends. But frankly I feel that much of their talent is wasted in the convolutions of a pointless game.

I’m not an economist. It’s something I considered studying way back when I was just a lad, but I leaned another direction.

I’m not an economist but it seems to me that Capitalism is mostly broke. I’m not suggesting that it has no value or that we should completely abandon it. And even if we should, I’m not sure within what time frame or by what method we could.

I certainly don’t advocate Stalinist or Maoist communism. And, though some will surely disagree, I’m not a big fan of statism.

All that to say that the word “socialist” doesn’t bother me. Its usage does. It’s overused and misused with wild abandon by demagogues, ignorant mobs, parrots, xenophobes and alarmists. It’s overused especially by folks whose view of the world fits comfortably within a scarily narrow bandwidth. Which is not to say–I feel compelled to clarify–that one can’t or shouldn’t use the word or that one can’t be intelligent and do so. Hell, intelligent people misuse and overuse all of the time ;-p–and of course they also use rightly.

I’m not so much offended if you call me a socialist, because in my heart I might be closer to that than to any other easy economic label. I don’t so much like facile labels but I recognize their inevitability.

I am a little offended when you call Democrats who are clearly not socialists “socialists” (a grammatical note that I’m sure will be lost on most: I did not say “Democrats, who are not socialists,” even though I think most Democrats, particularly our president, are not) both because I think it completely misrepresents them and, as many have been forced to point out over the last four years (as a result of all of that overuse, donchaknow), because it’s a bit of an insult to the actual Socialists and a trivialization of socialism proper.

I don’t honestly know the solution for our economic woes or for the economic injustice endemic to, well, most every modern culture. I think we’re stuck with capitalism for the foreseeable future–at least for my lifetime (and I do see that it has its benefits, though I honestly feel little urge to enumerate them, given the ubiquity, loudness and persistence, on both sides of the aisle and in the media, of those who will do that for me). But at the very least I’m convinced that it needs to be well-regulated–far better than it is or has been.

Welfare capitalism is certainly not the worst we could do.

I’m quite comfortable sidestepping capitalism completely when necessary.

What I particularly don’t tolerate well is this notion that Capitalism is some godlike primary force to whom we owe obeisance and whose principles are inviolable.

My inclination is to say that the Market and the profit motive should be subordinate and subservient to everything of value. I think in fact that that’s what good men and women who call themselves capitalists do but then when it comes to policy they too often confuse the servant with its master. Values such as honesty and integrity, the pursuit of excellence, the desire to do good and make a difference in the world–these are all things, thank God, that I sometimes find working in the Free Market, but I don’t see that they are especially at home there. And, on the other hand, I see several less noble impulses that are.

We have a social responsibility. I am my brother’s keeper.

We need each other. We have a moral obligation to one another.

Government is one of the ways that we exercise that mutual responsibility.

I can agree that Government–in general and in each specific instance–is flawed, corrupt, inadequate, inefficient. But so is every other human institution or system–including any organization, business or corporation, including the Free Market itself, including the Church. I would argue that government–depending of course on the specific context–can be more effective, more representative, more just than any and all of these other institutions. Yes, sometimes it is less effective.

I don’t think that Government is the Answer or Savior. But I don’t think it’s the Enemy. At least it doesn’t have to be. We as a nation, acting through the agency of our government have accomplished a great many good and significant things. I think it both foolish and irresponsible to abandon that effort, least of all to suggest–as many on the Right have done–dismantling, crippling or inhibiting one of our most powerful means to the common good. Even our financial success can be largely attributed to the political environment that allowed it. We are great not in spite of government, but to a large degree because of it.

To be very clear, I do not believe (and see little evidence for and much to the contrary of) the assertion that the Private Sector or the “Free” Market is intrinsically able to overcome the challenges we face better than or without a larger framework of cooperation.

Each institution is subject to its own unique weaknesses and each has its own strengths. I don’t suggest subverting or eradicating any of them, but I am emphatically opposed to tendencies I see in our society to lean on Capitalism, Commerce, Privatization as the panacea for everything that ails us. That capitalism exploits the selfish urge is perhaps its genius, but that urge is also its great weakness and what profoundly limits and distorts it’s progress toward the good.

Perhaps just as importantly, each man or woman acting on his or her own is intrinsically inferior to our acting together.

Individualism is one of the most lethal and insidious cancerous lies infecting our contemporary culture, especially Conservatism and especially the Church.

That’s certainly not to deny the absolute requirement of individual responsibility or the vital necessity of protecting individual liberties. Indeed one of the things that I believe our particular form of government is relatively (v. Business, v. the Market, v. Church, v. anarchy) well-equipped to do is to secure the rights of individuals and minorities and to prevent a tyranny of the masses or a reduction of all its citizens to a bland anonymity.

It is imperative that we protect the variously vulnerable members of our society against oppression and reckless indifference or abuse that they might otherwise suffer whether by racial animus, individual prejudice, emotionalism, consumerism, greed, dogma, ignorance, etc.

Moreover anyone who lacks food, shelter, education, healthcare, justice, economic opportunity, access to culture, represents our moral failure as a species.

[I think this is actually my first post about 9-11, but, yaknow, other people blog about it all of the time.]

I usually listen to NPR on the way in to work. I wasn’t listening to the radio 11 years ago today. I think I was in the middle of a media fast.

Of course everyone was talking about it when I got in to work.

I was content to not see any of the now-famous images for weeks.

But it affected me. In particular the man who had been my best male friend up to that point in my life was working in one of the towers. We looked for him frantically for a while. He’s fine and has a beautiful family now.

I won’t walk you through the process of arriving at my current emotional response to 9-11. Much of it was immediate. Some of it evolved slowly over time.

Obviously it’s tragic that so many lives were lost. My friend might have died that day.

Ultimately it’s that feeling of personal loss that makes the most sense to me. I’m sad for those who lost someone–many lost multiple someones. Death is always, in many ways, difficult and wrong. Whatever else I say, I want to be clear about that.

But other than the numbers, and aside from the horrible personal reality that many experienced (which, again, I don’t at all mean to dismiss or diminish), I don’t find the incident particularly tragic or unjust.

It was unjust and tragic, no question. 9-11 reminds me that the world is a wicked place, full of death and meaningless destruction.

And here’s where I start to have problems with–and depart from–the national response. Honestly I don’t think our nation or our people have suffered particularly. People talked about feeling violated that day. Maybe that’s true. Maybe we were violated. But our innocence was already lost.

Typically we don’t even think of the tens of thousands across the planet who die daily, not just of famine and disease, but from bullets and bombs–children and other innocents among them. We especially don’t want to think of the part that we play in that, both directly and, in multiple ways, indirectly.

We spend more on death in the name of defense than any other nation by far, more than several of the next biggest spenders combined. And we export weapons to our friends, however unfriendly they might be to their neighbors.

We’re at war right now. There’s national outrage over the soldiers killed in those battles–as there should be. But there’s noticeably less outrage over the children and other foreign civilians who get caught in the crossfire, let alone the soldiers we kill. Those foreign soldiers have families too. They believe they’re fighting for their loved ones, for their country, for their God; they believe that they’re fighting to survive, fighting because they have to. You’re sure that we’re right and they’re wrong just as they’re sure that they’re right and we’re wrong.

Then there’s the fact that we feel entitled to more of the planet’s resources, energy and prosperity than anyone else. And we don’t even think about how that affects everyone else, how much more difficult it makes their “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” I wonder if we truly believe that those endowments are for them too or just for us.

Some folks stirred controversy by saying that 9-11 was God’s judgment. I’m not going to join them. But I will say that if you look at the death and tragedy across the globe and either ignore it, rationalize it or, indeed, claim in any way that it is God’s judgment, you have no right protesting when others speculate the same about 9-11.

I don’t know for sure what God’s judgment looks like. I don’t claim to be able to distinguish which deaths are divinely sanctioned and which are not. I’m pretty sure that one way or another they all are. So then it becomes a matter of which ones He really means. Yeah, you can think about that if you want. When I think about it, it just pisses me off.

I don’t begrudge folks their grieving over 9-11. It’s totally appropriate to grieve. In some way I think we all lost something that day.

What I don’t approve is the need for blood. It’s bad enough that we started a war in the name of vengeance. We can argue about whether the war in Afghanistan and the broader “war on terror” actually improve our national security or accomplish some other meaningful thing. Lots of folks seem to think (or seem to have thought) that they do. And their position is at least understandable.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not also motivated out of the “need,” as even its supporters have put it, to go kick someone’s ass. I don’t consider that patriotic. And if you want to call it patriotism, I don’t mind saying that I see no nobility in that kind of patriotism.

But we started another war in the wake of 9-11 on pretext and because we could put a villain’s face on it.

And though many Americans, I’m proud to say, have learned and/or exercised tolerance in the last eleven years and have grown in their appreciation for those different from them, far too many others have used 9-11 as an excuse to hate Muslims, Arabs, people of color, foreigners of any kind, anyone who’s different.

I started to say that that’s the thing that disgusts me most. It’s close.

Probably what disgusts me most is the upsurge of folks crying out “God Bless America.” Don’t get me wrong, I long for God’s blessing and grace upon us. But I notice that He’s blessed us plenty and we’re not much thankful for it. One of my favorite bumper stickers suggests what’s long overdue: “America Bless God.”

I also notice that we’re more than happy to sing “God Bless America” even as we’re whispering under our breath, “and to hell with those other bastards.”

We didn’t want God after 9-11; we wanted protection, we wanted to add His might to our acts of violence, we wanted to feel better about ourselves.

I don’t think Americans are especially evil; I just don’t think we’re especially good. I think we’re human. And I am sick to death of all of the talk of late about American Exceptionalism. I mind it a lot less when it’s a call to action, to sacrifice and hard work. I mind it more when it justifies our arrogance, indifference and sense of entitlement.

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