For neither Man nor Angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
Invisible, except to God alone,
By his permissive will, through Heav’n and
By liberalism I mean false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought upon matters, in which, from the constitution of the human mind, cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place.
—Cardinal John Henry Newman
Within the first twenty-four hours the news broke on the attack by a gunman on an army base in Texas, and with the appropriate reserve owed to an event of such severity, various media outlets were hesitant at first to speculate on the identity and ethnic origin of the assailant, not wanting to foment irrational fears and reactions. What intrigued however was the quickness with which some news organizations began the narrative of a soldier ridiculed because of his ethnicity, ultimately cracking and lashing out in a rage against his perceived persecution. Making matters more interesting was the possibility of the murders carried out because of post-traumatic stress, an unusual possibility to say the least since by latest account, the attacker had not yet been deployed overseas and therefore had yet to experience the fire of combat.
The mystery behind the massacre’s motivation still remain unclear. What is peculiar is the motivation behind a seeming attempt to find more preferable reasons to deliberately and with a fixed intention kill a dozen people and injure dozens more. Perhaps unknown to its authors, the veins of this narrative run deep and parallel to the precedents set forth by various philosophical schools in the last century. Paramount here is the dichotomous worldview ham-fistedly established by Marx and perennially finding converts among cultural elites. The dialectical clash between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is often chameleon-like, assuming the suitable color and hue to fit the assigned socio-political context.
In the liberation theology of Paolo Freire, the paradigm of the oppressor and the oppressed takes form as the basis for the Brazilian’s distillation of Socratic dialogue into “conscientization.” In this third world setting, members of the latter class are made aware of their assigned status and encouraged to rebel, sometimes violently, against the former since, as Freire claims, rebellion is an “act of love.”
Integral in this school of thought is the belief that group membership in the oppressed class, even removed by both time and current economic conditions, permits for looser interpretations of moral norms, enabling a historically underprivileged group the license to “correct” their plights by means restricted only by their creativity. An example removed from the wages of war perhaps here is helpful for illustrative purposes.
In 1990, an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii wrote a letter to a school publication addressing the word “haole” as it was and is used in pidgin Hawaiian. The term literally denoted a foreigner, but as most who have visited or lived in Hawaii would know, it is more specifically focused on people of Caucasian descent. The student went on to describe how he had discovered the many negative associations to the term, relating to his own experiences within the island of Oahu, up to and including his being assaulted and beaten more than once simply for his ethnicity alone.
At university, one would expect perhaps a spirited letter or essay submitted to counter such claims, if only for the academic exercise they would involve. Such counterarguments did not come. Rather, what came in response surprised most observers. A faculty member in Hawaiian Studies wrote a letter to the selfsame publication accessed earlier, building, if one can call it that, a case not against the nature of the word “haole,” but against the student, a Caucasian male from Louisiana, who had the temerity to even suggest he was victimized because of his race. The teacher expounded that the student in question’s forefathers had permanently afflicted “her” homeland with racism, disease and all manner of oppression. In her words he was a haole, and ought resign himself to his negative treatment by reason of this. If he found such status difficult to bear, the faculty member advised him to take one of the many flights off the island and “go back to Louisiana.” Little is further known of the student who was involved in this case, though within three years, the lady teacher of Hawaiian Studies was awarded a full professorship by the university.
There are two noteworthy errors exhibited by the reasoning of the faculty member in this case. Of course, both are predictably caused by the faulty dichotomous worldview cited earlier.
First, the zeal with which students of this school of thought compartmentalize individuals into oppressor and oppressed camps allows for a generalization always tempting for the sociologist and liberation theologian alike. Namely, the assumption that since the student in question “belonged” to a historically privileged class, he must have ontologically enjoyed his lineage’s perks and savored its depredations. It is most ironic that this blanket perspective on race and culture is usually perpetrated by those who supposedly educate against such stereotype and prejudice. In short, the student in question may be a bad student, perhaps even a deplorable human being as well. Yet, the simple fact remains. He, himself, was not guilty of the crimes the professor cited. In a departure from ex post facto law, he was not guilty now from something he did legally then. Rather, he was guilty now for something someone else did a century before. It would appear that the teacher had loftier ambitions than professorship, assuming Yahweh’s capacity of punishing the sons for the sins of the fathers.
Second, the professor’s implied approval and sanctioning of the ills visited upon the student logically extended from a stilted worldview on the plight of the oppressed. Name-calling, ostracizing, and physical beatings were “expected” repercussions by those from oppressed groups, even if the oppression occurred to someone else a century before. It is almost pitiable, this lack of exposure to Augustinian lessons on the free will. What is at work here however, is something more than blithe ignorance of medieval philosophy.
In allowing “the oppressed” to bend, if not break moral standards of behavior, the professor, and the apologists for the Ft. Hood shooter write a common chapter with a shared pen. They write, “some people, because of the group they belong to, cannot be blamed for acts of malevolence.” As the evidence has yielded, only one man has his bloody prints on the murder weapon in Texas. Instead of excusing such behavior, which is the ultimate wish of such prevarication, a most condescending patronizing emanates. Who do societies claim are not responsible for their actions? The answers are obvious, children and lunatics. By asserting that certain segments of the population should be absolved of their freely chosen acts of mayhem, those who write this narrative do “the oppressed” a greater disservice than overt oppression: the rendering of convenient calibanization of human beings for the cause.
José Maria J. Yulo is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He received his doctoral degree in the philosophy of education from the University of San Francisco and teaches philosophy and western civilization at the Academy of Art University.