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Judgment, Character, and Color

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"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Today is the golden anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King's famous speech. These are, by far, the most important words Dr. King ever spoke.  They are the most important for the same reason that the Declaration of Independence is the most important document Thomas Jefferson ever wrote.  These are words that transcend the individual author.  They were embraced by the nation as the distillation of the idea that motivated a great movement, a leap forward in the cause of freedom.

If you visit the MLK memorial in Washington, don't bother looking for these words among the many engraved quotations.  They aren't there.  They have been banished by Political Correctness.
"Judged."  That word lands with a thud on PC ears today.  Heavens forfend that we should ever judge anyone.  We must understand.  We must excuse.  We must have "unconditional positive regard," regardless of what a person has done.  Well, unless the person has been judgmental.  We can judge him harshly for that sin alone.

"Character."  [Eyeball roll here.]  How hopelessly old-fashioned.  Nobody sophisticated talks about "character" any more.

But what of the sentence as a whole, more than the sum of its parts?  It is about justice.  We have justice when each individual is judged on his or her own merits and not on group membership.  Justice is an individual matter and not a group matter.

Yet in nearly every debate on criminal justice policy, the soft-on-crime crowd injects a racial argument that is diametrically opposite to the great proposition that America agreed to when we passed the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964.  They say we should change this policy or that because it "falls more heavily" on a particular group.

But the whole point is that group does not matter.  The whole point is that justice is individual.  In criminal cases, each individual should be judged on the acts he chose to commit.  Our sentencing policies should be judged as right or wrong depending on whether the sentences are just deserts for the crimes and for their efficacy in deterrence and incapacitation.  For lesser crimes and first offenders, rehabilitation is also an important consideration.  But let the group numbers fall where they may.  Unless they indicate racial bias overriding the legitimate factors, group numbers are irrelevant.

In the mid-1960s, I believed that people should be judged individually, not on the basis of their group membership.  I was just a kid, but support for civil rights was a big deal in our home.  For this belief I was called a "liberal" by some and an epithet I will not repeat here by others.  I still believe this today.  For the very same belief I am called "conservative" by some and different epithets by others.  That is the strange world we live in.

Update:  John McWhorter has this op-ed at the WSJ on a related theme.

5 Comments

Kent explains, in a patient and wholesome way, the same phenomenon that I, in a more cynical way, was attempting to expose in my last entry.

I'd love to see a liberal (as the word is now used) rebuttal to what Kent has to say. I have a feeling I shouldn't hold my breath.

It is hard to believe that the term "disproportionate impact" has gained as much currency as it has. Like the much sought "national conversation on race" it is only viable in one direction-a lecture rather than an honest discussion. Where is the outrage over the disproportionate impact on whites of the enforcement of federal methamphetamine statutes or child pornography laws.

There is none nor should there be. If a statute is lawfully passed and promotes a social good-let the chips fall where they may.

I am going to paraphrase a statement my french-speaking, liberal arts phd carrying wife would say to this topic...

I think there are a lot of lingering effects of racism both institutional and otherwise both here and elsewhere. For examples, one can find a lot of similarities between the problems facing black Americans, black South Africans, American Indians, Australian Aborigines etc.... these groups suffered from formal state oppression, and now live in relative poverty and all suffer from high crime rates, lower life exptentancy, obsesity ... you name it.

These communities problems are a lot more complicated than anything the criminal justice system can solve. All it can do is punish wrongdoers and do its best to rehabilitate those who hae a chance, but it can't on its own lower the crime rate. However, I think it is wrong to assume that the crime problem is 100% internal to these communities and that a least not a portion of it has some sociological background.

Actually, I moderated this a bit with my views - but on the other hand, the wife has long since defected to private industry as in her words "academia paid too little", so extreme liberalism does have its limits for everyone.

Also, WSJ link is dead.

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