The University of California at Berkeley, the place where woke happened decades before everywhere else, recently woke up to the fact that its law school carried a name of a racist. What was formerly the John Boalt Law School is now merely The Law Building. A researcher recently unearthed documentary evidence that Boalt helped father anti-Chinese legislation in the late 1800s, legislation described as the “first immigration ban to target a group of people based on their race or nationality.”

I have some awareness of the anti-Chinese bigotry that was common in the West at that time, assisted by some pop culture references. In the movie Tombstone, the Earps are greeted by County Sheriff John Behan, who shares that “besides sheriff, I’m also the tax collector, captain of the fire brigade, and chairman of the non-partisan Anti-Chinese League.” Apparently, that last little datum was based on historical truth. The HBO series Deadwood depicted a “Chinatown.” While most of what the series showed regarding the Chinese was fiction, the bigotry wasn’t. For the truth about Deadwood’s Chinese, look here.

I haven’t read enough to quibble with Berkeley’s decision, but “de-naming” in the broader contemporary context is a phenomenon worth exploring. Ranging all over the wild-lands of Internet political squabbling, I’ve encountered more than a few folk who dismiss the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all sorts of historical wisdom generated during the earlier part of this nation’s history, simply because the “great men” of that era were white European slaveowners. That not all were, that some were vehement abolitionists, or that the words they wrote stand tall on their own is of no consequence. The products of that period in history are all “fruit of the poisonous tree.” And, indeed, the New York Times is engaged in a systemic effort dubbed “The 1619 Project:”

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

There is much to criticize in that effort to “reframe,” but I’m going to, instead, dust off Saul Alinsky’s Fourth Rule for Radicals:

Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.

Today’s Left has decided that ideas should be judged by their provenance as much as or more than the ideas themselves. Thus, we are to dismiss the principles of limited government assembled by James Madison et al, because they were “old white European slaveowners.”

Great, lets have at it.

You know what other political policies were fathered by racists?

The minimum wage.

Gun control.

Drug prohibition.

Abortion rights.

By progressive rules, none of these ideas should be supported, because they are “fruit of the poisonous tree.” In fact, someone who supports them should be deemed racist merely by association, according to their playbook.

Jump ahead to post-slavery America, and consider some of the progressive leaders most revered by today’s angry, “woke” scolds. Woodrow Wilson, perhaps the most transformative progressive in US history, was a raging racist. So was LBJ, the inventor of the “Great Society.” FDR, a Democratic icon, put over a hundred thousand Americans in concentration camps, merely because they were of Japanese heritage. By the “fruit of the poisonous tree” standard, all of their policies should be shunned.

If you’re a progressive, does this make sense to you? Or does it sound childish, simplistic, and contrary to any sense of logic or reason?

If the latter, congratulations, you’re an adult capable of rational thought. Now, learn the lesson and stop using this stupid line of argument in arguing against the nation’s core principles. Argue them, if you still feel so inclined, on their merits or your perception of a lack thereof, not because they were written by “old white slaveowners.”

And, while you’re at it, stop judging people by the color of their skin, or their gender, or any of the countless other identity markers you fixate on at the expense of their actual thoughts and actions. Or assuming their motives thusly. Or presuming anything about how they think, until you’ve gotten to hear those thoughts, and had a chance to weigh them on their quality rather than their provenance.

If you insist on clinging to the poisonous tree argument, then I’ll insist you reject the policies you typically embrace. That’s fair, right?

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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