Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tolerating Intolerance

There have been a few events of recent days that make me fear for the Republic (Indivisible, and with Liberty and Justice for all). Below are Three Strikes against Tolerance that don't bode well for our growth in social and emotional maturity.

Strike One: Run 'em out on a rail...
In Des Moines, Iowa, passed a law in October which effectively bars anyone convicted of a sexually related offense with a minor from ever living within the city limits.

I'm curious - what's your first reaction to this? Mine was admittedly mixed.

I don't have much of a soft spot in my heart for child abusers and child sex offenders. I deeply believe that the breech of trust that is inherent in a child/adult relationship is one of the most heinous acts of evil humans can commit. To take a being of infinite potential and trust and shatter that promise is one of the saddest acts in this universe.

But I don't have a soft spot in my head, either, and having read some history, it wasn't hard to recognize a pattern that has been seen again and again - the stirring of deep fears and latent bigotry to begin the slippery slope that has lead to concentration camps and genocides.

"Oh, puullleeeeze! These perverts are the creepiest of the creeps! We don't want them anywhere near our children. Who cares what happens to them?"

There are a few things wrong with this. As with anytime we use a simple broad brush to paint a portrait of a group of humans, the idea that "all sex offenders are created equally loathesome" lacks the grey gradation of real life complexity.
  • Are all the Catholic priests that couldn't resist using children as their sexual outlet because their religion forces them to act against the nature God gave them equivalent with the father who raped his daughter's from the time they were five till the time they ran away from home to live as street prostitutes? (Ok, maybe they are - let me try a different one...)

  • Is the seventeen year old who had sex with his seventeen year old girlfriend, but was convicted of Sex With A Minor because her father pressed charges, equivalent to the emotionally dead pathological serial child rapist?

They are with this law - neither one can live in Des Moines. Police have actually gone house to house to round up the registered sex offenders (the one's who did their time, some as much as 20 years ago without a single conviction since). They have been told to get out of town or be arrested. Some, with nowhere to go and no resources to move, have just turned themselves into the police and are now being held in jail.

And now that Des Moines has such a law, the unicorporated counties around Des Moines are passing similar "NIMBY" laws (because the ones who can make it out of Des Moines will be going there next). And the counties around these counties are starting to discuss the same, in a domino effect that has no limit.

Where do you want to go today? If any of you ever in your life had sex with someone under 18 (even as a randy teen yourself), it better not be Iowa. (And that's Today. Tomorrow, I'm not sure what's left. France?)


There is a recently published book by this name by James W. Loewen. I first found Dr. Loewen with his book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong, an interesting read that attempts to take the "embarrassing blend of bland optimism, blind nationalism, and plain misinformation" found in our nations history texts and identify the most blatant misstatements and ommissions.

In his latest book, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, Dr. Loewen researches and documents the age-long and little discussed existence of towns and suburbs whose citizens and governments practice not so hidden racism to keep their communities "pure" of non-white residents.
When I began this research, I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois (my home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, I have found more than 440 in Illinois and thousands across the United States.

After reading a couple of articles on this in the WSJ and elsewhere (here and here),
I went through my Kubler-Ross "Shock, Denial, Anger..." grief cycle (hoping I would never find my way through the spectrum to Acceptance).

O. M. G. !!! In this day and age, to see blatant, overt, condoned racism so widespread and prevalent. Strike Two for Tolerance.

Strike Three: Because we just hate you...

Today's papers in Texas displayed the celebration of the victory for the forces for Good Marriage over Evil. Proposition 2 on the Texas ballot outlaws "any legal status identical or similar to marriage" for anyone other that "one man and one woman."

Created by a disturbingly large majority of lawmakers, and passed by a disturbingly large majority of voters, the law's intent was to prohibit "them gay people" from getting married.


The muddle of our common law conjoins a religious ceremony with a host of "implied" legal relationships (appointment of guardians and arrangement of rights relating to hospital visitation, medical power of attorney, community property, and the entitlement to proceeds of life insurance policies to name a few). When people get married, these legal rights and obligations are automatically granted by the state.

"Marriage" itself is a loosely defined term - is it the civil license or the religious ceremony? Performed by who? Can any so called "church" leader perform a legal marriage? If my girlfriend and I rub blue mud in our navels while chanting "I bind with thee" three times according to the precepts of the Church of The Holy Slime, can we get a marriage license? Is proof that such a ceremony occurs sufficient to have the implicit legal rights granted?

"Man" and "Woman" are also not well defined. What is a "Man?" Merely a person with external genitalia? Must that external genitalia be capable of impregnating a Woman? Must a "Woman" be capable of bearing children? Many poor couples who can do neither one nor the other will be further saddened to hear that perhaps they can't be legally married, either.

Or if not physical, is it a genetic definition? If a person born with an X and Y chromosome has a sex change operation, is that person a Man or a Woman under this law? If a person is born with two X and one Y (it happens), are they a Man or Woman under this law?

With such ill-defined terms, does this law really mean anything??

This poorly written, ill-defined constitutional amendment exists for one reason only - to go out of the way to humiliate, intimidate, and discriminate against a group of people that are once again painted with the broad brush of bigotry and intolerance.

You're Out!!

It is only fitting that we use the remarkably over-simplified and intolerant "Three Strikes and You're Out" law as our sentencing guideline for our collective behavior. To paraphrase the prevailing opinion...
I don't care if you didn't realize this was your third strike. I don't care if each offense in and of itself may have not been a big deal to you. I don't care if there may be a case a mistaken identify and that it wasn't you specifically that committed these crimes against Tolerance.
I don't care. You don't look just like me, you don't talk just like me, you act in a way I don't choose to comprehend, and you frighten me because I don't understand you.

We don't want to see your kind around here.

Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. - H.L. Mencken


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