The Sharks are Coming for Fat Albert

I grew up with Bill Cosby. I watched iSpy with my parents. I watched Fat Albert on Saturday mornings (“Nah nah nah, gonna have a good time!”) I saw Mother, Jugs, and Speed at an age when technically the theatre should not have let me in without a parent. The first comedy album I owned was To My Brother Russel, Whom I Slept With. Willie Sobel and I had the album memorized in 7th grade and we would recite entire passages, complete with sound effects. I saw Bill perform live at Concord Pavilion, watched The Cosby Show. And when he took to the page and the stage and challenged young men to be better dads, I listened to his advice and resolved to be a father of whom Cos and my own dad would approve.

I was white, male, and Jewish, and Bill Cosby was my role model. He transcended race, creating a post-ethnic space that made it possible for young white men to have black role models who weren’t athletes. Equally important, he became a stepping stone into a world where black voices were not just speaking to blacks, but were speaking to all men. Malcolm X died when I was a toddler; Dr. King died when I was in pre-school. They never meant to me what Cos did. Cos arguably opened the door for Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson, but in some respects, he did the same for  Colin Powell, Thomas Sowell, and Condoleeza Rice. In short, he was proof that the future of America would be integrated and diverse, and that for it to be anything else was foolhardy.

He was an icon. And for that reason, I wanted to believe the best about him. When he admitted in a paternity suit in 1997 that he’d had an affair with Shawn Upshaw of Las Vegas, I believed that it was an isolated transgression in an otherwise ideal marriage with his wife Camille. When questions arose about whether or not he deserved his Doctorate in Education, I believed them to be the jealous sniping of academics trying to score points on each other. And when he stood up and criticized young black men for not being better fathers, I believed it was tough love from a man who had wrestled with his own parenting challenges and won.

I will leave questions of his parenting for his children to answer, but the glow of the rest has faded. The award of his doctorate and possibly his Master’s degree appear less justified than first glance, not only because he never completed an undergraduate degree, but because of an allegedly weak thesis, spotty academic work, his strong-handing of both the university and his doctoral committee, and the fact that he was given academic credit for appearing on “Fat Albert” and “The Electric Company.”  And now it appears that the L’affaire Upshaw may not have been a once-in-a-marriage misstep, but the leading indicator of a long love life lived away from the marriage bed, and allegedly under extremely unsavory circumstances.

I am trying, however, to reserve judgments on each the crimes of which he is accused. Having spent most of my adult life living in a land where a person is guilty until proven innocent, I am enjoying the luxury of sustaining a reasonable doubt about Cosby’s guilt of each accusation until a jury of his peers has had their say. I suspect that not many will join me in that. Cosby has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, and many view his court proceedings as a formality.

That is a shame, not for Cosby, but for us. If we truly believe in our system of justice, it is our obligation to remember and remind ourselves that we are obliged to hold a man innocent until he is proven guilty in a court of law as judged by a jury of his peers. When we stop doing that, we undermine the monopoly our system of justice has on punishment. In a day when a man must live or die by his public reputation, participating in a trial by public opinion is the moral equivalent of vigilantism.

Let us allow justice to be done. And then let us pass our own verdicts.

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Agriculture

It is a mistake to tar our entire modern agriculture and food distribution system with the worst behavior of its meanest participants.

The proper response to the excesses of industrial agriculture is not to destroy it in favor of small scale farms and locovore culture, but to punish the miscreants, remove perverse incentives, and generally to redress the problems in the system.

Fix big ag. With a hammer. And the threat of an alternative.

Finding a Happier Place

We are species built on tribe; yet we live increasingly alone in societies so vast and populous our ancestors would not recognize them; we are a species designed for scarcity and now live with unimaginable plenty; we are a species built on religious ritual to appease our existential angst, and yet we now live in a world where every individual has to create her own meaning from scratch; we are a species built for small-scale monocultural community and now live increasingly in multiracial, multicultural megacities.

Andrew Sullivan: The World Is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable?

Sullivan’s point makes intuitive sense to me, but acknowledging that my prejudices may be motivating my agreement, I want to dive deeper.

Modern enlightened thinking suggests that blaming human nature for our alienation or other ills is bogus, not least because doing so denies our own agency in our own actions. I cannot completely disagree with that: a core tenet of my ethos is that part of our mission on earth is to elevate ourselves beyond our base nature and mere instinct, to act in ways that are subjectively right and good even when those actions are at odds with our own best interests.

At the same time, we would do well to recognize that in wishing to be angels we cannot shed our sheaths of clay. We should never excuse our choices or surrender our wills to our human nature, but neither should we ignore or paper over those aspects of our hard-wiring that vie against our virtues.

You do not defeat an enemy by wishing him away: you do so by recognizing his nature and either defeating him or coming to an acceptable accommodation. To Sullivan’s point, the satisfaction of our material needs and wants has failed to elevate us as a society or as a species. The nearer we get to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the deeper our disaffection.

And so, Sullivan suggests, we need to ask whether part of our problem is that we are forcing ourselves to adjust to an existence for which we are, at a deep sub-conscious level, utterly ill-equipped,  whether therein lies a partial cause for social ills, and whether we can change this or whether we need to search for a mode of living that accommodates – but does not surrender to – our nature.

Clintonistas Revisited

Looking back on the election now from the distance of eighteen months, it should be possible for all of us, regardless of political bent, to admit a few things.

One of those is the essential justifiability of attacks on both candidates.

I won’t go into Mr. Trump: he is doing a more than adequate job proving his detractors right.

As to Secretary Clinton, it is fair to say now that not every attack upon the Democratic candidate was correct or true. Time and reflection should make clear that not every question or charge was baseless, either. She was an imperfect candidate, chosen by her party at least as much for what she represented – a nostalgic hark back to more moderate days and a female contender – as for the principles for which she said she stood.

 

Opening Up the Identity Conversation

Men should have the same right to opine on gender issues as women. Having an identity doesn’t give you total authority over certain issues.

Source: Christian Alejandro Gonzalez, Rejecting the Left’s Conversation-Ending Identitarianism | The American Conservative

Agreed. And first principle.

But let’s open this up:

  1. Atheists and agnostics should have the same right to opine on religious issues as the faithful.
  2. All Americans should have the same right to opine on Veteran’s affairs as those who have served.
  3. All people should have the same right to opine on accessibility issues as do those with disabilities.
  4. People of all ethnic backgrounds – including those of us who find ourselves insensitively lumped into the derogatory catch-all category of “white” – should have the same right to opine on racial issues as do people of color.
  5. People of all sexual preferences – including monogamous heterosexuals – should have the same right to opine on sexuality as those identifying themselves as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, queer, asexual, or polyamorous.
  6. People of any one culture should have the same right to experience and adopt aspects of any other culture as those who are born into or who have hereditary ties to that culture.

The minute you start quashing debate about any of these issues, you have killed democracy and ended the American experiment. That’s a line we cannot afford to cross, even at the cost of causing offense and even hurt feelings.