Black-and-White and Grey All Over the Red, White, and Blue

A few weeks ago I flew into Palm Beach International airport and caught a ride with the driver of a private car whom my grandmother calls every time she flies down to the West Palm area. Cindy is a sweet and amiable single mom, who immediately started informing me about the research she had done that resulted in her deciding to not let her 11-year-old son attend a birthday party where the kids would be seeing Scary Movie 4. That made sense: The film is rated PG-13. Then we launched into one of those discussions that reminded me of the wide range of mentalities in our country.

Cindy told me about the discussion she'd had the day before with my father -- who is an immigration attorney -- about the issues over migration to the USA. Cindy's opposition to further immigration stemmed mainly from the principle that we have laws and those who break them are criminals and should be punished. That, of course, sounds right. We are a society of laws, as the anti-immigration folks like to say.

But problems often arise from our mental approaches to our law.

"I see things in black and white," Cindy told me.

That's fine, I said. But that's not how our laws work. Our laws do not see things in black and white -- at least not on a large scale. Our laws form a complicated, nuanced, breathing document. If our law were not complex and detailed, why would we have highly-selective schools that provide study in law alone? Why then a bar to which our lawyers must earn admittance?

Undocumented immigrants are not criminals. They have violated civil law, not criminal law. And I'm not debating semantics here. Language has played a monumental importance in our laws since the writing of Genesis in which God uses words to create the universe. Legislators (in theory), lawyers, and judges spend lifetimes debating specific diction. In the service of justice and its application we must take care with specifics.

A civil infraction differs greatly from a criminal one. We don't have two simple categories of "law-abiding people" and "criminals" (read: "good guys" and "bad guys"). Our laws aren't that black and white because our world is not that black and white. (I say that despite the dichotomous Cold War mentality that has arisen since the hawkish mobilization of our minds after 9.11.01.)

Cindy also referred to legal provisions that allow for admission to this country as "loopholes", as if any acknowledgement of detail or gray area were a trick or manipulation. Her perspective reminded me of reactions to the presidential debates during the 2004 election. Opponents of Sen. Kerry criticized him for seeming to smart, too detailed, and too good at debate. They felt he was attempting to manipulate them; they thought him slick and dishonest because he focused on nuances and would not admit a black-and-white solution to every problem.

Part of George W. Bush's charm has been an adherence to vastly oversimplified, black-and-white opinions. He's a straight-talker, shoots from the hip, sticks to his guns, and other such cowboy clich├ęs. That's comforting to many people. Our natural fears often lead us to crave a clear, stable, understandable world. It gives us a feeling of control and power. That's nice. It's also not real.

The real trickster in the 2004 debates was Pres. Bush who presented an oversimplified front to complex issues in a way that comforted those who, like Cindy, "see things in black and white". In doing so he masked the truth about such complicated issues as the war on terror and the economy. He manipulated those who trusted him. A simple version of the truth often has the same effect as a lie.

That's why we must do as Cindy did when looking into Scary Movie 4 and as she agreed to do by the end of the immigration phase of our conversation: We must recognize that we live in a grey universe. And when deciding our opinions and our public policy we must research; we mush hound for detail and nuance; and we must think. That will lead us to the truth. Governing from the gut sounds easy, but dealing with the consequences of such action isn't.


Blogger Mickey J. Ellis said...

Well said. Brilliant, even. And when thinking comes into vogue, this kind of thinking could bring a momenumental shift in all affairs; societal, cultural, governmental, spiritual.

However, I believe the reason the Status Quo will be hard to shake is the very reason Cindy thinks in black and white. I believe the reason Cindy and most lower income people think in black and white is because they are encouraged by our governmental system not to think.

Knowledge is power.

Teachers are the among the most underpaid of all professions in America. Yet, colleges are more and more becoming out of reach for middle class and lower income students. The fantasy of winning lotto has replaced the importance of higher learning...much to the benefit of the Status Quo.

Who of those among us who actually use their brains, weather lower income or upper, cannot give credit to a teacher somewhere along the way who inspired thinking.

And who of those of us in lower income groups who have been inspired by such teachers have been able to make it into college without the the benefit of part time jobs, grants or scholarships.

A Bush may be able to get into Yale via connections, but connections belong to the connected. Education is a way of connecting the have and the have nots. That connection has been eroding for years. The serf and King realm is being realized again through the use of the ignorance of the less educated and the expertise of the politically wealthy who see their existence safe in the current Status Quo.

Creative thinking, creative education must replace the static school system that produces millions of non-thinking or "black and white" thinking Americans who in turn look for a simple or "black and white" answers to complex problems.

Thats not going to happen if schools continue to dumb down and the uneducated people continue to be seduced into black and white answers that do not work.

Knowledge Is Power. The Pen Is Mightier than the Sword. But to know that, one must have an education that works. Separate knowledge from the people and the people have no real power to change anything, let alone their patterns of thinking.

1:04 AM, May 23, 2006  
Anonymous David Goren said...

Regarding your civil/criminal dichotomy for "illegals" (can a person's mere existance in a particular location be "illegal"?), present law actually criminalizes as a misdemeanor or minor criminal offense an improper entry into the U.S. The penalty for such a criminal act can be up to 6 months imprisonment. See 8 USC 1325.

The House proposes to not only convert that misdemeanor to a felony or serious criminal offense but also to felonize any person's mere "presence" in violation of our immigration laws even after a legal entry. The penalty is increased from 6 months to "one year and a day". See H.R. 4437 Section 203. If such a convict is later able to legalize his or her status in the U.S. such a "felony" conviction may blemish them forever; limiting employment, the right to vote or even the obtaining of citizenship.

The House Bill also criminalizes "assisting" an illegal to remain in the U.S., including providing food, clothing, and shelter. Watch out you churches and human rights groups, (and attorneys ?)!

Perhaps this battle between the House Bill and the Senate's more comprehensive immigration reform Bill is a test of our democratic system. House Republicans have whipped up the hysterical fears of the majority against the immigrant hordes while the Senators have rationally provided protections for our minorities.

Will Hysteria or Reason prevail?

9:02 AM, May 28, 2006  

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