Man's inhumanity to man is with us always. It begins when you take individual human beings and place them into boxes, and then slap labels onto those boxes, by which it is made easier to hate them.
People should be engaged on-the-level, one at a time. No box, no label, should confer a special grace or sin on any individual person. Take any box into which you have thrown a group of people, apply any label to it, and within you will find both saints and sinners.
It is the relentless process of commercial marketing that has placed individuals into boxes, given them labels, the better to sell them products and ideas. And once assigned a label, once placed into a box and provided with a list of "attributes" those in the box should conform to -- many do conform, buy the "right" things, think the "right" thoughts. So the process is validated, reinforced, and perpetuated.
Our political process dismisses the individual in favor of boxes and labels. Instead of an on-the-level, personal appeal, the political class employs appeals to labels, assuming that everyone within the box so labeled will conform to the behaviors assigned to them. We have just been through a presidential election where these assumptions did not run to plan.
Instead of thinking about it, Senator Ray Lesniak and some of his Senate colleagues appear to be doubling-down. Lesniak has come up with something called "The Pledge to Stand Up for the Other." The idea behind this pledge is that we all inhabit boxes in which we interact exclusively with "people like us."
The pledge states: "While interacting with members of my own (box) faith, ethnic, or gender community, or with others, if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the other and challenge bigotry in any form."
Now take Ray Lesniak for instance. He was raised Roman Catholic and told the New York Times some years back that he was an "evangelical Christian," and yet his voting record doesn't really fit the box that most would place him in. For Ray Lesniak, as well as for the rest of us, the artificial boxes of faith, ethnicity, and "gender community" have less meaning than do those differences of ideas.
Lesniak is being too easy on himself and allowing a loophole to hate Trump supporters while admonishing his fellow Evangelicals to embrace same-sex marriage.
The pledge's "background" statement reads: "Racial bigotry, religious persecution, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any other form of hatred cannot be wiped out unless each and every one of us confronts it within ourselves, our own circles of family, friends and others that we interact with. Silence is seen as consent. It takes courage to stand up for the other. It is important to prevent bigoted speech coming from public officials, but it is even more critical to focus on our own individual responsibility to prevent bigotry we may see around us. By taking this pledge, each one us can make a profound difference in the world."
The language used here is worrisome. "Wiping out" a belief system because it is deemed "hateful" is at the root of the aforementioned "Islamophobia" and Lesniak himself is widely read enough to know that the NSDAP (National Socialist Party) painted itself the victim of hate before launching the Holocaust and a World War. We would direct Senator Lesniak to read some of Dr. Goebbels' pronouncements on the hatefulness of the Poles towards their German minority and the Reich Minister of Propaganda's stated goal to "wipe out" said hatred.
It should be of even more concern that Lesniak's pledge conflates "silence" with "consent," demanding proactive speech. This is a very fascist prescription. Will Lesniak adopt the North Korean model -- jailing those who don't express the "right" point of view with sufficient vigor?
Finally, who is this Ray Lesniak to even suggest such a pledge? Has he lived his life as a model to others? He most certainly has not. Time and time again, he has adopted the morals of the legal profession, wantonly confusing "legal" with "ethical." As Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, told the New York Times: "He (Lesniak) was really the first legislator to put all three together -- power, politics and pay-to-play."
Lesniak vigorously practiced pay to play until it was outlawed -- as if it takes a law to tell a man what is right and what is wrong. By that rule, Senator Lesniak would have vigorously supported slavery in the 1850's. It shouldn't take a law to make a man behave. Those things come from within.
The pledge reminds us of a line from that 1960's anthem by Barry McGuire: "Hate your next door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace." That line is all about something called "virtue signaling" -- "the expression or promotion of viewpoints that are especially valued within a social group, especially when this is done primarily to enhance the social standing of the speaker." Wikipedia has an entry on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue_signalling
Lesniak's "Pledge to Stand Up for the Other" is all about making Lesniak appear morally superior without him actually having to do anything uncomfortable or meaningful. It is a pure example of virtue signaling.
If Senator Lesniak wanted to do something to really foster dialogue, he would reach out to those he truly dislikes and then try to understand them. How about a confab with some right-wing Trump supporters, just to get to know them, just to acknowledge that they are fellow human beings? We doubt we'll see that in real life, from Senator Lesniak, although they have done it in the movies:
We'll end on this note. While an exercise in virtue signaling designed to allow those who take the pledge to go right back to hating their neighbor the moment after they sign it, it does at least raise the question of how we can better love those we disagree with. Yes, "love" is a strong word, so maybe let's just start with acknowledging our common humanity. That's going to take hard work, and a lot more than this pledge.