Essay #3: Immune Systems, the “Patriot Act”, Social Justice

Your immune system is your body’s defense mechanism for infections. It protects you against foreign invaders and keeps your body healthy and functioning. Sometimes, however, your immune system can overreact to threats (e.g. peanut allergy induced anaphylaxis) or mistake your cells for infectious cells and destroy them (e.g. autoimmune diseases). Your immune system can turn against you and can destroy you from within.

On September 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked 4 planes and flew them into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers, killing 2,977 Americans, wounding over 25,000 and causing billions of dollars of property and infrastructure damage. The attack shook the nation’s soul as 24-hour news coverage delivered footage of the event in real time to every single American. The patriotism and connectedness that followed was of a magnitude that was new to most and would never again be reached in the years that followed.

Mixed into the cocktail of emotions along with pride and patriotism were fear and paranoia. We saw hate crimes committed against Muslim and South Asian citizens, which was embarrassing and sad. Our government, never one to be outdone in the injustice department, decided to violate every citizens’ fourth amendment rights for the foreseeable future with the USA PATRIOT Act (I am ashamed to say that is in fact an acronym). Our fear allowed us to sit by as our government passed this bill and stripped us of our privacy liberties indefinitely. Our immune response to the terror attacks was attacking non-guilty individuals and destroying vital systems within our body.

Social Justice refers to an ideology that aims to create policies and structures to correct the inequalities across intersectional lines generated by present and past systems. We can compare social justice movements to immune system responses. We seek out prejudice (the infection) by examining glaring inequalities of outcome and attempt to eradicate them.

Not every social justice proponent seems to be operating in the within the same framework, however. As a result, social justice sometimes manifests in efforts that are regressive and unhelpful. We can view this, also, as an immune system turning against us. A few examples:

  • At Evergreen State College in Oregon, student activist groups decided to end the tradition of A Day of Absence (a day in which African American students stayed off campus to illustrate what life would look like without them), and replace it witha non-consensual day of absence for Caucasian students. Professor (at the time) Bret Weinstein spoke out against the enforced day of absence and sparked a student revolt that included students patrolling campus with baseball bats allegedly looking for him.
  • If one takes a closer look at the current BLM protests, one will find numerous examples of protestors referring to Caucasians as “colonizer” or “gentrifier” and demanding they give up their homes/property to rectify historic injustices perpetrated on Black people by white Europeans and Americans. While the movement does not officially demand this (although one could see this as a close relative of the version of “reparations” BLM does include in their demands), it is said often enough to assume that a significant portion of the movement feels this way. In Seattle’s recent Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP, previously known as CHAZ), an organizer can be seen on video “challenging” Caucasian participants to give $10 to African American participants while they reside in the protest zone. The organizer goes on to explain in no uncertain terms, that this is an exercise to test the Caucasian participants’ willingness to give up “power, wealth, and capital” in the future
  • Affirmative action, which can probably be referred to now as one of the legacy systems of social justice, has shown weaknesses in its design as we see a wave of outrage among the Asian-American community as their students are turned away from top universities despite impeccable academic resumes. This system designed to provide greater opportunities for racial minorities to succeed in applying to the nations top colleges has taken on a sour taste as it punishes a minority community that has been quite successful at producing incredible academic talent.

It is important to recognize how our efforts to eradicate problems can sometimes cause more damage than the problem itself. After 9/11, we as the citizenry should have demanded a strict expiry date for the USA PATRIOT act (among other regulations). During these social justice movements, we should try our best to equalize opportunity among all people to achieve prosperity and happiness but stop ourselves before we begin to punish people or seize things from them based on the color of their skin.

P.S. I am embarrassed to say, but I had a tough time writing that one paragraph about the immune system. I thought I knew how immune systems work because I watched Magic School Bus when I was young, and Mrs. Frizzle explained it to me. It turns out she gave a heavily simplified lesson on the immune system and I had to do a bit of research to make sure I wasn’t saying anything incorrect.

P.P.S. If you found the Evergreen State example particularly disturbing, I would greatly encourage you to dive a little deeper into it. There is a documentary on YouTube about it that contains interviews of the people who witnessed the event and footage of the student uprising. The footage is quite troubling, and it bears a great resemblance to the uglier side of the protests that are going on right now.

P.P.P.S. I feel the need to include the disclaimer that I believe there is an incredible amount of positivity in the BLM protests, and I believe a great deal of good may come out of them. However, I will not ignore the more regressive and anarchist sentiments that exist quite brazenly in these demonstrations and you should not either. It is a corruption that is polluting the message/mission of BLM.

P.P.P.P.S I wrote this essay before the protests sparked by the shooting of Jacob Blake. I think a lot of people had a chance to witness the harmful side of the BLM demonstrations, but I decided not rewrite it to include anything from this recent round of protests, because I want people to understand that this is not new or unique.

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