Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fighting cynicism and finding the will to change

In President Obama’s memorial speech at Dallas, part of what he said follows:
But we know -- but, America, we know that bias remains. We know it. Whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or of Middle Eastern descent, we have all seen this bigotry in our own lives at some point. We’ve heard it at times in our own homes. If we’re honest, perhaps we’ve heard prejudice in our own heads and felt it in our own hearts. We know that. And while some suffer far more under racism’s burden, some feel to a far greater extent discrimination’s sting. Although most of us do our best to guard against it and teach our children better, none of us is entirely innocent. No institution is entirely immune. And that includes our police departments. We know this.
And so when African Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment; when study after study shows that whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently, so that if you’re black you’re more likely to be pulled over or searched or arrested, more likely to get longer sentences, more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime; when mothers and fathers raise their kids right and have “the talk” about how to respond if stopped by a police officer -- “yes, sir,” “no, sir” -- but still fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door, still fear that kids being stupid and not quite doing things right might end in tragedy -- when all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid. (Applause.) We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and coworkers and fellow church members again and again and again -- it hurts. Surely we can see that, all of us.
We also know what Chief Brown has said is true: That so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. (Applause.) As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. (Applause.) We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. (Applause.) We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book -- (applause) -- and then we tell the police “you’re a social worker, you’re the parent, you’re the teacher, you’re the drug counselor.” We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs, and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience. Don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when, periodically, the tensions boil over.
We know these things to be true. They’ve been true for a long time. We know it. Police, you know it. Protestors, you know it. You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are, and you pretend as if there’s no context. These things we know to be true. And if we cannot even talk about these things -- if we cannot talk honestly and openly not just in the comfort of our own circles, but with those who look different than us or bring a different perspective, then we will never break this dangerous cycle.

In the end, it's not about finding policies that work; it’s about forging consensus, and fighting cynicism, and finding the will to make change.
What have we learn this year in Dr. Oliver's class from one or more philosophers which might help us in “fighting cynicism, and finding the will to make change?”


  1. A pro gun friend of mine told me to watch Obama's speech so I did on Youtube after it was over. He was upset because Obama said it was easier to get a gun than a laptop or even a book. After watching the speech I assume he's using a metaphor as it's much harder to get a gun than a book. Books are literally free at any public library, while guns are expensive. Even illegally purchased ones. I had to explain to my pro gun friend that it's a call to action not Obama "taking away your guns"

    1. Yes, and it's a recognition that while books are in free circulation at the public library, a young person in deprived circumstances who has not been encouraged from an early age to frequent the library and develop his intellectual birthright may indeed find guns "easier" to lay his hands on.

      I'm sad that your friend and others like him will selectively attend to a small rhetorical statement while missing the larger message, the call for mutual respect and empathy. The president has attended a dozen memorials for victims of senseless gun violence. In that context, his rhetorical statement is really an understatement.

    2. What have the philosophers taught us, about rejecting the bad kind of cynicism and working for constructive change? We haven't come to the pragmatists yet, but they and their precursors - Hume & Mill, Locke to an extent, some of the skeptics, Aristotle, even the original Cynics with their refusal to accept tradition and convention at face value - have taught me the lesson our president said he found in scripture: the lesson of perseverance, character, and (especially) action.