Race and Policing in an Era of Moral Equivalence

The employment of the therapeutic technique in the service of the coercive state is nicely exemplified in the attempt to draw a moral equivalence between the killing of five police officers in Dallas and the shooting of black suspects by police who claim that their own lives were threatened.

None of the  Hunger Games movies are likely to make any 100 best all-time films lists, but the series does have some important things to say about our increasingly Orwellian society. Even though they are set in the future, the films do a particularly good job of capturing the therapeutic-emotional nature of contemporary society. The society of Panem is a police state which uses gladiatorial-like games to entertain and distract the populace. But unlike ancient gladiators, the young men and women of Panem get to talk about their feelings on government-controlled television, and the mass audience gets to emote along with them.

The people of Panem seem to have lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong, but they have not lost their ability to feel. In a way, the two are connected. The diminishment of the moral sense in our own society was preceded and, arguably, caused by an increasing obsession with subjective emotional states.

“How do you feel about that?” asks the therapist. And the client knows that whatever he feels is okay. In the therapist’s office, the emphasis is on self-acceptance and non-judgmentalism. He or she is not going to censure you, the client, because from the therapeutic standpoint there are no unacceptable feelings. Unfortunately, at some point in the last fifty years, the whole society morphed into one big therapists’ office. The rules that governed the counseling relationship became the rules for the whole society. Political correctness, for example, is basically an attempt to enforce the nonjudgmental principle on society at large. 

This emphasis on subjective states is corrosive of morality because morality is ultimately based on objective realities, not feelings. With the advent of the therapeutic society, however, reality was made to play second fiddle to the self and its desires. Duty to the self took precedence over every other duty. Psychologist Paul Vitz put his finger on the problem in his 1977 book, Psychology as Religion: the Cult of Self-Worship.

At the same time, this emphasis on the near-divinity of the individual self did create a sort of rough equality between selves on the level of moral judgment. Since each self is considered to be the final arbiter of its own actions, a bargain had to be struck. And the bargain was “I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me.”

Thus was born the era of moral equivalence. Moral equivalence says that there are two sides to every story, and it doesn’t matter if one side is far more plausible than the other. Both deserve equal respect. As long as you feel strongly about your side, no one can gainsay you. In a therapeutic society, strength of feelings always outweighs strength of evidence.

Which brings us to the current controversy over race and policing. The employment of the therapeutic technique in the service of the coercive state is nicely exemplified in the attempt to draw a moral equivalence between the killing of five police officers in Dallas and the shooting of black suspects by police who claim that their own lives were threatened. That’s basically what President Obama did at the memorial service for the five slain officers. In a service meant to honor the murdered officers, Obama managed to honor two black victims of police shootings and to more or less exonerate Black Lives Matter of any and all responsibility for the numerous recent attacks on police across the country. True to the tenets of moral equivalency, Obama insisted that “None of us is entirely innocent. No institution is entirely immune. And that includes our police departments. We know this.” As Daniel Greenfield put it in a recent article:

It was a defense of #BlackLivesMatter at a memorial for their victims. Obama’s spin was that he was calling for unity when in reality he was pushing the divisive agenda of the hate group whose rhetoric helped lead to the killings.

Of course, not everyone saw it that way. Much of the media looked upon Obama’s eulogy as an act of national healing. Typical were these comments by Dahleen Glanton in The Chicago Tribune:

In the aftermath of an emotionally charged week, a deeply divided America stood at the edge of a cliff…So on Tuesday, he [Obama] reached out and took us gently by the hand. And in a firm yet soothing voice, President Barack Obama attempted to talk America down from the ledge.

As the Nation’s comforter-in-chief, Obama tried to convince us that Americans are not as divided as they seem.

The next day, the “comforter-in-chief” convened a meeting at the White House which included leaders of Black Live Matter, police chiefs, the governor of Louisiana, the mayor of St. Paul, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Al Sharpton. By all accounts, the four-and-a-half-hour meeting resembled a 1970s encounter group. Participants shared their feelings, their pain, their anger, and their guilt.

But the touchy-feely therapeutic nature of such meetings only serves to disguise their coercive intent. Anyone who has ever been involved in an encounter group, sensitivity training, or a college orientation program knows that they can be used for purposes of indoctrination, and also to gain compliance and control.

Obama used his “orientation” session to lend legitimacy to anti-police movements. The invitation of Black Lives Matter constitutes an implicit endorsement—an endorsement which the other participants feel pressured to cooperate in, lest they appear insensitive. The very composition of the meeting is meant to imply a moral equivalence between all parties. What, for example, was Al Sharpton doing there? He has a history of racial incitement, and there is an old video recording of him calling for the vigilante execution of cops. Were the assembled police chiefs also guilty of making a career out of inciting race hatred and violence? If not, why put them in a situation where their voice carries no more weight than that of Al Sharpton or Black Lives Matter agitators?—where the only qualification for participation is that one has strong feelings about the matter?

A few days before the meeting, Black Lives Matter protesters were among a crowd of hundreds who threw fireworks, rocks, bricks, and glass bottles at police in St. Paul, Minnesota. Twenty-one police were injured, some seriously. It may be that some participants at the White House meeting felt a sense of healing. But it’s hard to avoid the impression that the real purpose of the encounter group-like setting was to further Obama’s own agenda of empowering radical groups like Black Lives Matter while inhibiting police from carrying out their law enforcement duties.

Like the leaders of Panem, the present administration has learned to use our culture’s therapeutic zeitgeist to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of the nation. These efforts to undercut the police come at a time when we can least afford it. The murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday and the massacre two days before of over 80 people by a Muslim truck driver in Nice, France underscore the importance of those who protect and serve. We can expect such attacks to increase. The police are the front line in the fight against domestic terrorism.

And, as I wrote in a previous piece, we are now seeing the formation of a coalition between Islamists, radical leftists, and radical black organizations that will likely result in more terror attacks on our soil. The police and the FBI already know that they are supposed to tread lightly in the Muslim community. Now they are being pressured not to look too closely into possible criminal activities in the black community. That policy doesn’t make anyone safer—not whites, not blacks, not Muslims. We can no longer afford to hamstring law enforcement with politically correct rules of engagement that leave them reluctant to do their job. We cannot afford to waste their valuable time in sensitivity sessions and political Kabuki theater while the world burns down around us.

About William Kilpatrick 47 Articles
William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Psychological Seduction, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong and, most recently, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Professor Kilpatrick’s articles on cultural and educational topics have appeared in First Things, Policy Review, American Enterprise, American Educator, The Los Angeles Times, and various scholarly journals. His articles on Islam have appeared in Aleteia, National Catholic Register, Investor’s Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, and other publications. Professor Kilpatrick’s work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com.