On Clarence Thomas, George Takei and ‘dignity’

It would be the simplest thing in the world for me to pass along George Takei’s comments about Clarence Thomas and call the one-time actor and gay-rights advocate a racist or bigot. Given the standards by which Takei’s fellow leftists judge everyone to the right of center, it would be justified.

George and Brad Takei in Los Angeles, March 2015. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

George and Brad Takei in Los Angeles, March 2015. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

But the most overtly vile part of Takei’s comment — that Thomas is “a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court” because of something the longtime associate justice wrote in his dissent in the recent gay-marriage case — is superficial compared to what Takei’s words tell us about the “progressive” mindset.

First, let’s take a look at what Thomas wrote that sent Takei into orbit. Responding to the majority opinion’s rhetoric that a chief end of marriage is the fulfillment of “human dignity,” Thomas wrote that, on the contrary, a human’s dignity is inherent and God-given:

“That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built. The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”

As Thomas wrote, the self-evident truths that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, are in fact the foundation upon which this Nation was built, as we will rightly celebrate once again this weekend. We have fallen far short of observing these truths in practice — notably during the periods of slavery and internment — but we come closest to the mark when we remember government exists to secure liberty, not create it; to preserve rights, not bestow them.

In no sense was Thomas excusing slavery or internment (the former ensnared Thomas’ ancestors, the latter Takei’s family) or denying that those practices inflicted real harm on people. In fact, the only way I can see that one might take offense at his words is if one rejects the idea dignity is inherent in all humans regardless of the horrors imposed on them. Ironically, such a belief may undermine the constitutional case for same-sex marriage, by leaving it up to men and their majorities to decide if gays and lesbians (or any other group) is worthy of dignity. After all, if dignity may be granted, it may also be taken away; the Constitution exists to help ensure the existence of rights is not so fickle.

But that’s not the “progressive” attitude toward government. Having discarded (for the most part) the notion of a Creator, the left must find another source for the endowment of rights. So they turn to government. Unlike a divine Creator, a government of men does not remain fixed — certainly not with a “living Constitution” that does not mean the same thing today as it did a year ago, or will mean 50 years from now. That may explain why the left’s description of these rights is ever narrower: The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion, but all you really have is a smaller “freedom of worship.” You have the freedom of speech, unless you speak out against the climate-change consensus, in which case you should be charged with “crimes against humanity.”

Second, and more telling, is Takei’s apparent belief that the concept of inherent dignity is some kind of “white” thing that “real” black people (and presumably other minorities) should not embrace. Otherwise, why would Thomas have to wear “blackface” to voice them? This is a dangerous mindset that suggests this country did not only mistreat an entire race of people for decades upon decades, a fact no one denies, but also is based in largest part on a premise which that race and others fundamentally cannot accept. If Takei wants to disavow the concept of inherent human dignity, he has that right. But why would he assume all black Americans should do the same, and that someone who did not is not authentically black?

Unfortunately, Thomas is not the only conservative minority to face such bigotry. Just ask, to name a few: Herman Cain, Allen West, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Benjamin Carson and Bobby Jindal — who is currently the target of a series of stories questioning, as one put it, how much “Indian (is) left in” him. Like Takei’s comment on Thomas, the basis for these attacks will be the seriously wrong-headed notion that authentic minorities may only adhere to certain beliefs.

With the GOP’s 2016 field likely to include two senators of Cuban descent (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio), one of Indian descent (Jindal) and one African-American (Carson), compared to an all-white field on the Democratic side, we can probably expect our friends on the left to make more bigoted comments like Takei’s in the months ahead.

UPDATE: Takei has issued an apology for his choice of words, though it doesn’t really address the broader points I raised here.

Reader Comments 0

95 comments
MrSnarky
MrSnarky

If Jim Crow and other laws did not deprive black people of their dignity, why were they so insistent on changing them?


Since Takei has spent time in a concentration camp he would know about being deprived of dignity.  How many of the wingnut posters calling him a racist can say that?  Zero.


BTW...I love how the rightists try and shift the focus of this topic from Judge Clarence's awful remarks to whether of not Mr. Sulu is a racist.  Nice try and thanks for playing.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MrSnarky "If Jim Crow and other laws did not deprive black people of their dignity, why were they so insistent on changing them?"

Because those laws deprived them of their rights.

Juanx
Juanx

I forgive Mr. Takei for reacting to Judge Thomas' broad brush at attempting to align an explanation to slavery that as a Tea Party judge he does not have a need to address very often. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

Kyle and the supporters of his and Justice Thomas’ comments keep misusing the concept of dignity of every human being in place of dignity of member of a society, which the issue of gay marriage is about. The people in North Korea have the former dignity, but are being denied much of the dignity of people in free countries. Jews in concentration camps could not be deprived of the inherent human dignity, but were deprived of all the dignity of people in civilized societies. Gay people cannot be denied their human being dignity, but people like Thomas want to deny them the dignity of a marriage union bestowed to other members of the society.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

Look at you! The Great Crusader against inflammatory rhetoric!


LOLLLL stop it.

lvg
lvg

I would love to see Thomas and Kyle define exactly what  the "pursuit of happiness" means as one of the inalienable rights? Does that mean the government has no right to interfere in what goes on between consenting adults in the bedroom? Does that mean SCOTUS correctly overturned Texas and Georgia's anti- sodomy laws in 2003? 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Takei's comments were disgraceful


To pretend as much of this comes from the left as we see on the right isn't accurate either. 


Id bet a good percentage of those on the right still believe Obama is a Muslim.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Shorter Takei apologists:  Hateful, racist statements are OK if you disagree with another's opinion (and are a leftist).

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Thomas is an angry old fellow who wants others to join him in his misery.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Given the standards by which Takei’s fellow leftists judge everyone to the right of center

It's going to be tough to read past something as broad-brushed as this^^, particularly when it's a piece apparently intended to condemn bigotry.

MHSmith
MHSmith

Had Justice Thomas - who just happens to be Catholic - used a different theological view than relying on his natural proclivity toward his catholic theological training to describe what was inherent to God's creation of man he might have expressed it as the “inherent inalienable attributes” or simply inalienable attributes, which is my theological view.



Genesis 1:26,27 


And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.


So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.




What did God bestow on mankind when he created him; male and female created he them, Kyle?  


God bestowed his “attributes”, "his image", upon us(humanity) at creation, not his “dignity”. 


A good article to read in follow-up to the above



The Image of God and Human Dignity


God’s rep


In the first article in this series, we looked at how the term “image of God” was used in the ancient near east, noting that it was a royal term that described humanity as the official representative and regent of God in this world. This leads to the biblical teaching of human dominion over nature, but at the same time limits that dominion to acting as God’s steward in the world and taking care of it appropriately as His possession.[1]


Since in Genesis 1, the description of humanity focuses entirely on the image of God, it follows that this is the most essential element of what it means to be human. But this in turn has implications well beyond dominion and stewardship. In particular, it provides the only real foundation for  human dignity [inalienable attributes] and human rights.


https://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/15270-the-image-of-god-and-human-dignity#_ftn1



Therefore Kyle, our rights and our attributes are inalienable. 


MHSmith
MHSmith

On the claim of homosexuals that for government not to revise the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples undercuts their dignity (inalienable attributes) Justice Thomas is right. 


No part of anyone's God bestowed inherent inalienable attributes would be taken from them if government had not revised the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.


Though I do ask myself from time to time Kyle, why did God bothered creating man and woman if his idea or definition of marriage would ever included same sex couples.  It would have been much simpler to create just one sex.


Obliviously God hasn't changed his divine prerogative on the necessity of a Adam and a Eve since creation. I mean, he hasn't  revised his definition of marriage from the time he performed the first wedding, between a man and a woman

taylor48
taylor48

I notice that you said nothing about Takei's apology. I think that it shows his true character that he apologized for his words and stated that they were not appropriate (and not the "sorry if I offended anyone). His family was forced into an internment camp during World War II, so he has a very personal understanding of how the government can take away the dignity of its citizens.

If you want to read Takei's apology, it's pinned to the top of his FB page.

bu2
bu2

@Kyle_Wingfield @taylor48 

He's making excuses for and apologizes for his choice of words, not for his content.  Basically he's just apologizing for getting angry.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@taylor48 The blog was posted the morning of July 3. It says July 6 on the post because that's when it was last updated -- with the link to the apology. The original time stamp shows up on my landing page: http://kylewingfield.blog.ajc.com/author/kylewingfield/

Otherwise, it would have been pretty difficult for people to have commented on it back on July 3 ...

MarkVV
MarkVV

George Takei called Justice Clarence Thomas an insulting name, for which he apologized. But apart from that, George Takei was right and Justice Thomas and Kyle are wrong.

What Justice Thomas has done in the quoted statement is one of the oldest tricks in the book of fallacy arguments – to define very narrowly a subject, and then misapply this meaning in the circumstances under dispute.

“The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away,” declares Thomas. Of course it can. Let’s consult the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Here are the first two listed definitions of DIGNITY:

1. the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed;

2a. high rank, office, or position;

When the government awards a Congressional Gold Medal or any other high award, does it not bestow a state of being honored on the recipient?When it names an ambassador or any other representative, doesn’t it bestow and high rank, office or position on that person?

Justice Thomas and Kyle would, of course, argue that what they meant was the inner dignity of a human being, independent of any action of any agency – the aforementioned narrowing of the definition. But that was not what George Takei talked about, and what was at issue in the Supreme Court consideration of gay marriage. The dignity, which was argued, was not the ethereal dignity of every human being – nobody was asking for the government to bestow such a dignity on gay people, like any human being they possess it already –but the very real dignity of the marriage union of a gay couple. When two people of any gender get a sanction by the government of their union in marriage, the government, acting on behalf of the people, does indeed bestow on them the dignity of the marital status. Why do Thomas and Winfield deny that there is such a dignity?

And finally, when Justice Thomas and Mr. Winfield, in the safety of the Court chambers or journalist’s office pontificate sanctimoniously about dignity “inherent in all humans regardless of the horrors imposed on,” one must wonder what a slave being chained and sold as merchandise, or a Jew submitted by the government to the horrors of a concentration camp, just to take two examples, would have thought about the value of his or her inherent dignity in relation to what the government “bestowed” on them. What is the difference between taking away dignity – which Thomas claims the government cannot do, and inflicting indignity, which it clearly can?

drewK
drewK

Ya finally drank the Koolaid Kyle...

cc423
cc423

I love how conservatives bash liberals all day long, but when they bash back, conservatives turn out to have such thin skin. I never realized what a bunch of little girls you right wingers are. Whiny little girls who can take no criticism. Showing your true colors little people...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@cc423 I don't think either side has a monopoly on "bash(ing)" the other.

bu2
bu2

@cc423 

Kyle was just pointing out the hypocrisy.

MrSnarky
MrSnarky

I wonder how Judge Clarence's ancestors, who were bought, sold, chained, raped, and killed under the protections of established government laws and policy would view his intellectually specious arguments.  Would they be comforted by the notion that "The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved"?


I doubt it.  My guess is they would be saddened and outraged by his peddling such intellectual claptrap from such a lofty position and using it in an argument which would deprive others of equal treatment before the law.



HarryJames
HarryJames

The opinion of a washed up has been that basically never was. 

MrSnarky
MrSnarky

So when the government supports policies of slavery and lynching, this does not strip people of dignity?  Seeing your children sold off the highest bidder and being powerless to stop it is not humiliating and dehumanizing?  Does a person who has been killed because of their race still have dignity?


Kyle, your's and Judge Clarence's understanding of dignity and humanity renders it meaningless.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MrSnarky "Kyle, your's and Judge Clarence's understanding of dignity and humanity renders it meaningless."

Actually, you have it exactly backward. It is an understanding of dignity and humanity that depends on their conferral by government that renders the terms meaningless.

Would you say people who live in North Korea have no dignity or humanity? That, when the day comes that the oppressive regime over them goes away but before some more democratic regime is installed, they won't have the same claim to rights as other humans, because the old regime had taken away their dignity and humanity? I hope not. But that is the understanding of the terms you are advocating, however unintentionally.

It is a different understanding of dignity and humanity -- that they exist independent of government, which itself exists to secure the God-given rights that flow from them, even though it has failed at that task many times through history -- that guided the creation of this nation, and it is the one to which Justice Thomas referred.

MrSnarky
MrSnarky

@Kyle_Wingfield @MrSnarky Kyle, Of course all people are children of God and have inherent humanity.


However you deny reality when you say that when government allowing people to be killed, abused or subject to exploitation by other persons (whether a by slave master or agents of a totalitarian regime) does not deprive exploited person of dignity.  Only someone who has never suffered such indignities would make such assertions.

Mandingo
Mandingo

Kyle , it seems like you and uncle Tom are confusing dignity with self respect and pride. Jim Crows laws, colored only signs, whites only signs, separate but unequal school systems etc, etc were legalized efforts to keep black people " in their place".  Those laws  along with others written demanding a black person give up their seat on a bus so a white person could sit down certainly took the dignity away from a lot of people. Government can not take your pride or self respect but it can take your dignity. Did you ever read anything in school about the Dred Scott decision that the Supreme Court made ????? Kyle you are not in black face , but you certainly come across as a clown in this article you wrote.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Mandingo "Kyle , it seems like you and uncle Tom are confusing dignity with self respect and pride."

Your racial slur notwithstanding, I'm approving and responding to your comment because I think you have it exactly backward.

Dignity in the classical conception of it -- the one to which Thomas referred -- is something much deeper, more innate and immutable than "self respect" or "pride." One can easily imagine that a slave would have felt no pride or self respect under the brutal regime of slavery. But to believe that slavery stripped one of one's God-given claim to rights as a human is to believe that an ex-slave had no claim on such rights.

No one, least of all Thomas, is arguing that everything was just fine for slaves. What he is arguing is that dignity is something we have independent of government -- government cannot give us dignity or take it away, because we have it regardless of how badly we are treated.

The problem with Takei's comment -- and with his poor excuse for an apology -- was that he didn't respond to Thomas's argument as Thomas made it, but as Takei chose to misinterpret it. On top of that were the disgusting words he used, the only part of his statement for which he's apologized. But as I said in the OP, that's just the superficial aspect of what he got wrong.


MarkVV
MarkVV

@Kyle_Wingfield @Mandingo 

“But to believe that slavery stripped one of one's God-given claim to rights as a human is to believe that an ex-slave had no claim on such rights.”

If that is the dignity Thomas was talking about, then his comment was totally irrelevant in the context of gay marriage.

Robtown
Robtown

Wingnuts are the victims here... got it.

DeborahinAthens
DeborahinAthens

So, it is Thomas' belief, and yours, Kyle that you can have dignified slaves, and as long as they are dignified in their enslaved state, all is good. Riiiight.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

God help us if leftists ever get to decide what our rights are.

lvg
lvg

@LilBarryBailout After 2003 SCOTUS decision the leftists and Justice Kennedy made it legal and Constitutionally protected  for you to have consensual sex with another man and overturned Georgia's anti-sodomy law. 
So you cons can now have a greater right to the pursuit of happiness with other male sex partners  which right is given to you by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  . So enjoy your new found rights due to those leftists you despise . Happy Fourth!

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@lvg @LilBarryBailout

I don't doubt that leftists would grant us full rights to have sex with whoever we want and to snuff out the lives of any unwanted children that might result.

Lots of other rights would be severely curtailed or eliminated.  Speech, religion, free press, the keeping and bearing of arms, association with unapproved groups...they're all under attack by leftists as we speak.

We are more free when conservative and libertarian types, like Our Founding Fathers, are writing the Constitution.

WilJohnson
WilJohnson

Amazing that your would take the time to devote your energy to a Star Trek character. Clarence Thomas has been called an Uncle Tom for a very long time by much smarter people than this minor celebrity.


More amazing is this belief that you seem to share with Thomas that government cannot take away human dignity and humanity because it is God given.  You can't be serious.  Our Constitution and our founders institutionalized slavery with their concept of 3/5 dignity and 3/5 humanity. Who else but government do you suggest did that?


You are right that the government is here to secure and preserve rights. That is exactly what this decision did...secured for a subset of "All" equal protections which had been granted to "Some" for a long time.


Congratulations for also getting in climate change, progressive left bigotry and your lack of understanding of the separation of church and state.  No room for school choice?

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

I'll be watching ABC World News @ 7pm to see if Mr. Takei's remark made it into the news, not holding my breath. If someone on the right made that remark all three TV networks would've done the "we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special announcement" thing. Double standard, alive n' well.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@stogiefogey

If someone on the right made that remark

Someone of George Takai's relative obscurity in current pop culture? It wouldn't be a national news story.


Mustang100
Mustang100

The little cupcake knows exactly what Justice Thomas means. He's just going for some publicity.

MHSmith
MHSmith

I hope the association of the topic at hand caught the eyes of Star Trek fans. The TV show was designed – as most Trekies know - by its' creator, Gene Roddenberry, to deal with the very sensitive subject matters of that time, like racism. 


The lady who played the part of Lt. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, was onto Roddenberry from the very beginning and what Roddenberry was attempting to do through his Star Trek series as the vehicle to resolve real time, real life events and conflicts back in the days of '60s. 

When Nichelle Nichols -Lt. Uhura- confronted Roddenberry and told him she knew what he was up to and what he was attempting to do through his Star Trek series, all he could do is laugh at being disarmed and his plot discovered. 


Well here we are after experiencing warp speed. We haven't travel very far, and though, a great deal of change has occurred in that short period of time, we remain a long way from reaching our final destination light years away,  stardate unknown. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

Rights, which we are “endowed,” are inherent in the humanity. Whether they were imprinted in people by a Creator (one or more of many), or developed by a natural process is a matter of faith and probably will never be settled. It is childish to believe that the Creator chiseled the laws in a stone. Those basic laws were written by people, perhaps by divine intervention. But only a relatively few laws have a direct religious origin. Even if the authors of the Declaration of Independence  included “pursuit of happiness” among the fundamental unalienable rights we are endowed with by the Creator, they might have had hard time to specify the route from the Creator. And how about “freedom of expression?”

But the main point is that no rational people on the left claim that the government is “the source for the endowment of rights,” as Kyle claims.One of the functions of the government is to codify and secure the rights which the people demand, whether that demand has the origin in divine inspiration or natural morality. In Kyle’s misinterpretation “the government” is portrayed as some independent agency, separate from the people and not as what it is, an extension of their power and morality.

gmaye
gmaye

Amazing to me about Thomas how he shut the door on the benefits that he used to get to the front door, affirmative action, programs that gave him a chance to uplift his life, yet he is  against all programs to help any minority,  he is called  Uncle Clarence in the Black community. 


When will people understand over 75% of blacks do not support gay marriage, if every person had the same theory as gays then we would not have any civilization,  no one would be here common sense''''''

slydawg
slydawg

Why do folks like you believe all black Americans who have ever achieved anything at all, including obtaining all these low wage jobs, did so through affirmative action? This narrow-minded perception is held by both liberals and conservatives and it is a complete joke. All affirmative action does is ensure minority groups get a seat at the table, not decision making power. The reality is, white women have benefitted more from this policy than other so called minority group.

Anyway, back to Thomas; Affirmative Action did not educate him, took his tests for him, telekinetically fill out his applications for college or employment, etc. In fact, Thomas played the game by his own rules by becoming the elephant in the room: A black ultra conservative. ...lol... Peep game.