Reparations for slavery?
In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama discussed reparations for slavery. I couldn't have disagreed more strongly with him at that time, but now I favor some form of reparations, especially for certain groups, with compensation that goes far beyond typical proposals. Why the sea change of opinion?
The short answer: I learned something.
The long answer: From late 2008 to early 2010, I spent months on and off researching and writing a book, From Bailout to Bliss, that presented some of my ideas on how to kick-start our economy. However, the subtitle of that book could have been “How Obama and Other Liberals are Wrong About Almost Everything.”
Who could argue with that? Well, I could. I began writing the book thinking that liberals were ignorant, stupid, unethical, or some combination thereof. Like many conservatives, I had no doubt that I was correct factually and morally. However, in 2009 and 2010, I added topics that conservatives would surely denounce unless they figuratively woke up, as I did.
It wouldn't be accurate to call my ideological metamorphosis flip-flopping, which implies an insincere change often motivated by political or otherwise Machiavellian expediency. Instead, I changed opinions with scant evidence to support them into convictions with a firmer foundation of unassailable facts. Some of those facts led me onto morally higher ground. The vantage point of that higher ground is breathtakingly obvious now, but the little I learned in school other than science was not a sufficient antidote to the preconceptions that were largely a product of my environment. Once that new information gelled in my brain, arguing with liberals became much more difficult for a simple reason: I was now one of them, not in every way on every issue, but on enough to make me rue the day I fell for conservatism.
However, my change of heart and mind did not solely result from thinking about what I found while researching and writing my book. I also had the good fortune to meet a remarkable man, Blan Dickerson, who expressed a liberal opinion on Facebook yet was so smart and persuasive that when I read what he wrote, he immediately changed my mind on a big issue that liberals and conservatives often debate. At least one conservative attacked his positions, but I defended and praised him because after considering what he said and the brilliant way he said it, I knew he was correct and that my prior position was less accurate than my new viewpoint—one that I'd arrived at with his help.
I keep an open mind and truly listen to others, considering their opinions, but I wasn't always that way. In 2005 and 2006, when I sided with Republicans, I argued with my most rabidly conservative friend, who loathed George W. Bush. Our spirited debates ended my political apathy, but in searching for evidence to prove her wrong, I instead found reason to agree with her. Incidentally, I've since persuaded her that much of what she and other conservatives believe isn't factually and ethically tenable.
Like many others, I fell into certain beliefs without much careful consideration or research. When I did that and changed my opinion, in every case but one I sided with liberals, including on matters in which my opinions seemed cast in stone. For example, I am now selling my Sea-doo, Ski-doo, and shed to help a deported person reenter the United States, something I never would have considered a few years ago when my knowledge of that topic was as deep as a bumper sticker. That article synopsizes why my opinion changed. I praised Obama's commendable Executive Order on Immigration, but I once would have opposed it. To see how some of my other opinions changed, read my group of articles on siding with liberals, doing the right thing, and helping people survive the economic crisis.
While changing hearts and minds is possible, few people are willing to spend even half the time I did digging for the truth. Of the ones who bother to research topics, most look only for evidence to bolster their opinions and slam their opponents. We need to rethink our positions, yet too many people are not willing to think.
The answer to this problem is to embrace policies that thinking people on both sides would enthusiastically welcome. I introduced a solution to one of America's most vexing problems and have others that would make virtually everyone happy. I'll later introduce these proposals in my blog and pending books. In doing that, I won't attack people who disagree with me because there is a good chance I once strongly agreed with them.
Politically-motivated attacks tend to be mean-spirited distortions, such as when in discussing reparations, partisans suggested I thought that Native Americans “should have been grateful for their subjugation by whites.” I never said that because I never believed that. Every ethical historian acknowledges that subjugation was one of the most abominable acts in history, and I strongly condemned it in writing (in one of my books and websites) long before I learned of my Native American ancestry. You could spend the rest of your life searching and likely never find anyone who did a better job of explaining why that subjugation was wrong. For them to allege that I thought Native Americans “should have been grateful for their subjugation by whites” is as loony as saying Colonel Sanders didn't think people should eat chicken.
There is a world of difference between being grateful for opportunities and grateful for subjugation, as my position was smeared. Everyone should be grateful for the opportunities afforded to them as U.S. citizens.
One of the ironies of that smear was that people who profess to care so much about injustice were so willing to use an unjust smear to make their point. Another irony is what inspired them to attack: an article I wrote critical of Shirley Sherrod. The nation quickly went from not knowing her to demonizing her, and then just as quickly turning her into a saint. While I am now much more in tune with Sherrod's opinions, when I wrote the article I questioned whether she were as perfect as she was made to seem once the pendulum of opinion rebounded from one extreme to the other. People who smeared me evidently think that only those who agree with them can become better people or should be applauded for that, because they smeared me for things I no longer believed or never believed, said, or did. If that is fair (and it obviously isn't), it should be (but obviously isn't) fair to smear Sherrod for who she once was.
Shirley Sherrod deserves enormous respect and praise for overcoming racism—if not totally, then more than just about anyone else. Most of us just stagnate and cling to beliefs that we don't have the courage or intelligence to question. Sherrod is different. She is clearly a great person who did something few of us would have the guts to do. She isn't perfect, but then, who is? Not me. You? Put any life under a microscope and you'll find imperfections.
The media tried to paint Albert Einstein and other Nobel Prize-winning scientists as sex maniacs, but that did nothing to diminish their contributions to the world. Partisans tried the same tactic with me, evidently not knowing that sex is part of medicine and that geniuses are often especially fond of sex. Furthermore, researchers found evidence that sex enhances brainpower. Thus, belittling sex is as silly as belittling food. Both are just essential parts of life that adults can handle in an adult-like manner. Had anyone tried to shame Einstein for his interest in sex, he would have rightly questioned their intelligence.
“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.”
— Albert Einstein
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
— Albert Einstein
“Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.”
— Albert Einstein
“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”
— Abraham Lincoln
This reminds me of something stressed by one of my psychology professors, who said that society imposes rigid boundaries for what behavior is acceptable, and applies tremendous pressure trying to force people to conform to the behavioral expectations. Some of the most brilliant and productive outside-the-box thinkers led unconventional lives. One of the side effects of forcing people to think inside the box is that by lopping off outside-the-box behavior, potentially great outside-the-box ideas are lost, too.
“Conformity breeds mediocrity.”
— author unknown
One of the hazards of writing as much as I do (several books and dozens of websites) is that some of what I wrote in the past does not reflect my current opinions. Everyone will change their opinions as they grow as people and make up for their educational deficiencies.
“Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
Now that I am increasingly liberal, I strongly disagree with some of my old opinions. I will later explain those ideological revisions and update my past writings. I read extensively and continually reevaluate my opinions, and am willing to admit when I am wrong—unlike one of my former allies, who seems intent on repeatedly manifesting his cavalier approach to evaluating evidence. I strive to be correct not just factually, but in a moral sense, too. I think that liberals are more finely attuned to past injustices that have not been adequately atoned for.
The world looks remarkably different—and better—when it is viewed from the standpoint of others by stepping into their shoes. I began to do that in 2001 when I proposed an instant cure for racism, but it took years of additional contemplation and exposure to some remarkable people (such as Blan Dickerson), before I finally saw the light and had an epiphany that changed how I think. Thanks to everyone who helped me become a better person.