Thursday, October 11, 2007

Civil Rights and Meta-Civil Rights

From time to time I have mulled over the white-hot, hot-potato question of gay marriage. In trying to organize my thoughts on the issue of gay marriage, my thoughts have meandered down several paths. I've decided that I want to begin to explore the topic and other related topics by carefully examining the idea of civil rights, to engage in the dangerous task of stepping outside of the phenomena of civil rights to examine it, even as I live in the world of civil rights and as I profoundly value many civil rights.

"Civil rights" is a loaded term, pregnant with meaning. If one invokes "civil rights", one cannot claim to be merely advancing a legal agenda. Making a "civil right" legal is not the same as making a new increment in the sales tax legal. Making a "civil right" legal is to advance a peculiar arena of law that has meaning far beyond merely the law; having profound cultural, moral, philosophical and symbolic meaning. The goal of civil rights is not simply to make it something legal, but to win a profound moral, spiritual, cultural and philosophical battle through the strategic use of the law and moral and cultural persuasion. It can be said that the successful advancement of a "civil right" confers both "legal rights" and "cultural rights" to the beneficiary.

In the Black civil rights movement, those who advanced the idea that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional were not doing so merely as a technical constitutional argument. Challenging the constitutionality of "separate but equal" was an act of finding the thread of constitutional law that hangs directly on the moral "Jesus bolt" (the bolt that holds the propellers to a helicopter) of the Constitution. This “Jesus bold” is found in the pre-amble of the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The specific issues of constitutionality combined with the powerful rhetoric of Martin Luther King, who invoked the Declaration in the context of being an echo of Scripture. Through a combined moral, Scriptural, legal and cultural attack, the Black civil rights movement sought to expunge any idea that Blacks were inferior and in any way unworthy and to advance it into the mainstream of our cultural that to think otherwise was to be bigoted.

Of course, the Black civil rights movement was right. It is the genuine moral force of the Black civil rights movement that has been harnessed to lend moral authority to other civil rights movements. Following the basic template of strategy and rhetoric of the Black civil rights movements, other civil rights movements have sought to incrementally expand the meaning of the term "all men" to include all races and ethnicities, both/all genders, lifestyles, all degrees of physical ability, etc...

In addition to expanding the term "all men", civil rights movements have also laid claim to the meaning of Liberty. It is has been the goal of civil rights movements to make the advancement of a legal right not merely to be the advancement of "freedom" but the advancement of liberty, which is moral freedom. To advance Liberty is to advance a class of freedom that is required for the innate design of human beings for their happiness and fulfillment and is therefore immoral not to grant to people. What is at stake with those who disagree over a question of civil rights is a fundamental difference of opinion over what is the innate, self –evident nature of humans, a question that lies at the core of any moral philosophy. In the context of a civil rights movement, the debate cuts to the core of how, exactly, the "Jesus bolt" of our nation is to be understood as the Jesus bolt that it is.

That is why those on either side of a civil rights debate so fiercely oppose each other. By advancing a legal right as a moral freedom, a civil rights movement does not seek merely to be tolerated, living peaceably in a "moral salad bowl" among those who differ in society. It is not good enough for those who disagree to tolerate with each other with a veneer of pleasant appearances. Rather, a civil rights movement seeks to employ a combined legal, moral and philosophical strategy to prosecute the ideas of those who disagree as being fundamentally backward and bigoted ideas.

Since the legal issues and the culture issues are two wings of the same animal, those advance a "civil right" will not only prosecute direct legal action, they will prosecute via a form of cultural "law" expressed in the advancement of cultural taboo and social pressure. For a civil rights movement, the "person is political" and the "cultural is legal". This is made all the more important by those areas of law that are set up to be determined by the culture. Aspects of discrimination law, sexual harassment law, and obscenity law come to mind.

Having taken a hard stance on the moral value of a particular civil freedom/license/liberty, there is a tension in every civil rights movement between the question of sameness and equity. A civil rights movement is organized to expunge a particular idea of difference from law and culture. A civil rights movement will say that for all practical, legal and social purposes, a difference either does not exist or is irrelevant to most, if not all, aspects of public life.

As such, civil rights movements have imposed a particular moral idea on how, if at all, the idea of a difference is allowed to be broached in the realm of intellectual debate, art and conversation. For this reason, it has become more and more of a delicate matter to openly discuss the idea that there are differences between people, their ideas, their character and their choices that matter. To broach an idea incorrectly is to be vulnerable to the charge of being called a "bigot" or some related term.

As this has happened, "civil rights", has been incorporated into a broad moral, social, legal and practical realm of thought. The collective power of all of these civil rights ideas have lead to the advancement of a certain "meta-civil rights" moral philosophies, which are cultural and moral philosophies that are designed for the maximum assimilation and re-organization of ever more and ever civil rights ideas in law and culture. Political correctism is the primary term to describe A) the sum total of all of the cultural "civil rights" that have been added to the mix of mainstream thought by the various civil rights movements and B) the renegotiations of these civil right ideas within prevailing meta-civil rights philosophies.

A meta-civil rights philosophy that operates within political correctism, which I have defined as primalism, is the idea that differences between people are beyond the capacity of an individual person to fathom and must be sorted out by the collective intuition, as expressed by the "times". Within this meta-civil rights idea, differences, having been expunged from common discourse, have their place to be explored in the realm beyond that which can be articulated – the world of art and pop art. In the realm of not-quite-articulated art, catchy slogans and transgressive art, both consumable and non-consumable is understood as a medium of protest and advancement of cultural civil rights. Purchasing consumable pop art in the market place is a key way that the "times" ratify a particular aspect of the working out and the renegotiating of differences that have been barred from common discourse.

Yet another meta-civil rights moral idea is that only those people that a civil rights movement considers as the offended party in history have the right to set the terms as to how and when the idea of a difference may be discussed. This meta-civil rights idea establishes this right as a sort of "cultural affirmative action" that is granted to members of the offended party. This "cultural affirmative action" is part of a larger politically correct meta-civil rights calculus of how and when to discuss a difference that negotiates the flux that exists in the moral force of civil rights taboos. The calculus is this: whether suppressing the discussion of difference serves the cultural civil rights of those considered to have been oppressed. If discussing differences in a certain time and place is not friendly to the cultural civil rights cause, which is considered essential to the legal civil rights cause, it is suppressed under the force of taboo. Since this calculus will vary as it is adjusted by the "times", the politically correct taboo on the discussion in any moment in time may be as much as a "necessary fiction" as a truth; a fiction whose truth is found more in context than in pure, objective content.

Yet another related meta-civil rights idea is that civil rights, and all of the moral freedom associated with it, are only continually advanced through the mainstreaming of meta-civil rights ideas. For primalists, the broad acceptance of meta-civil rights philosophies is understood as the achievement of our current collective moral intuition as a human race, originally endowed to us through evolution, that has been arising in history as the "emerging concensus". For primalists, to question an aspect of meta-civil rights it is to move to a more backward, less evolved, less enlightened and darker age of human existence.

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