GELFAND’S WORLD - The Los Angeles City Council is poised to damage the neighborhood council system severely, and along with it the cause of political freedom for all Los Angeles residents. And they don't even seem to know it. The proposed city ordinance, which in city jargon is referred to as Council File 20-0990 was -- long ago -- introduced and voted on by 7 council members who are no longer present, plus Kevin DeLeon and a few others.
In this proposed ordinance, the city government takes upon itself -- quite literally -- the right to act as the thought police over all members of our neighborhood councils. You think this is an overstatement? Let's look at the language of the ordinance, what it was originally intended to do, and what it is still intended to do.
"WHEREAS, in furtherance of the Charter’s goals for meaningful participation in neighborhood councils, all neighborhood council board and committee members are required to participate in mandatory anti-bias and gender expression and identity training to ensure that neighborhood councils are responsive to, and inclusive of, the City’s diverse population."
The Charter doesn't say this. Some City Council members and a former mayor had been pushing it. Here is what it really means:
If you are not the right kind of liberal, which is to say the kind of liberal that the City Council says you need to be, then the City Council will claim the power to force you to accept retraining in your own thoughts.
And by the way, I've read the City Charter language, and it does not require that every neighborhood council participant think the same way, in spite of the implication in the words quoted above. It's quite the opposite.
But to continue:
This whole thing is reminiscent of the long Cambodian nightmare in its intent, if not exactly in the methodology. It is "retraining," whatever the intended outcome is supposed to be. In this case, it's not to instill communism or Naziism, but a rank sort of pseudo liberalism. Only the underlying attitude is the same, and the attitude is that a government body has the right and the power to force you to change your mind.
As an aside, isn't it ironic that the following people on the City Council voted for this ordinance the first time around :
So the very same people who created a firestorm of protest against their own racism had already voted publicly to do brainwipes on city employees and on neighborhood council participants for their inferred racism.
And interestingly enough, this ordinance would also attempt to take from neighborhood council boards their most fundamental right and duty, which is to represent and communicate the interests of their constituents. Under the new order, such boards would be expected to function according to the established ideology.
It's a matter of principle, stark and true
I'd like to start by stating what I think is a simple truth: The belief that you have the right to force me to think in a particular way is no kind of liberalism whatsoever. It is, at best, authoritarian thinking. It is only a little bit different from right wing authoritarianism: It only differs in the thought patterns that it seeks to force on us. That's why one of my friends commented that a lot of what is supposed to pass for liberalism up at the City Council is more like fascism.
Let's take a look at a couple of additional paragraphs in the proposed ordinance that are included a little further down in the motion.
"(a) Anti-Bias Training. Individuals who volunteer on a neighborhood council board or committee, whether elected or selected, shall complete the implicit bias training developed for City employees in accordance with rules and regulations established by the Department."
This is transparent nonsense. Neighborhood council board members are not city employees, don't get paid for their time, and don't have a bargaining unit to negotiate salaries and benefits. Yet the City Council seems to think it can order us to give our time in order to participate in ideological training. It is not far from the idea of demanding that we show up at a particular church to receive an hour of religious indoctrination.
"(b) Gender Expression and Gender Identity Training. Individuals who volunteer on a neighborhood council board or committee, whether elected or selected, shall complete training developed by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment relative to gender expression and gender identity in accordance with rules and regulations established by the Department."
Also nonsense. The use of the term "volunteer" applies to people who volunteer on Whale Watch cruises or at city parks. It is completely different than the idea of elected representatives, chosen by the voters, who are endowed by the City Charter with their right to hear from and represent the interests of the people of their districts. If the City Council disagrees with the mandates of the Charter, let them seek to amend the Charter.
Let's make a couple of points clear. The first -- and a critically important point -- is that there are two different issues going on here. The first is the idea of an overt act of discrimination by anybody in city government against any minority group member, whether that minority is defined by race, religion, ideology, or gender identity.
Keep that in mind: It is already against the law to discriminate on such basis.
The second is the idea that some sets of thoughts or beliefs, although unknown to the people involved, allegedly could lead to an overt act of discrimination. We are supposed to believe that most of us are wandering around full of racism that we are not even aware of -- maybe so, maybe not -- but that your government then has the right to cleanse you of your bad thoughts, even the unconscious ones.
But our nation, since the founding, has had a policy that we don't prosecute people just for thinking differently. That's what all that stuff about freedom of the press is about. What's the point of having freedom of the press if we can't print things that other people don't like? What's the point about having freedom of speech, for the same reasons? And if the government can read what I write and use it to force me to undergo reeducation (and that, literally, is what we are talking about), then where is my freedom?
To rephrase the question, let's ask whether the City Council has an American flag in their council chambers, or whether any members of the City Council join in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at any other meetings? If so, support for this proposed ordinance would be a profound act of hypocrisy.
There is a fundamental, rock solid principle that argues against this ordinance, and that is your right to freedom of thought, whether we call it religion, or ideology, or the simple love of freedom, or even conservatism. Personally, I just call it liberalism and leave it at that. But remember that liberalism was the ideology which told people the following back when times were different: "You don't have to be a racist and treat people badly just because your neighbors and coworkers and your boss expect you to be a racist and to act like a racist. You have the freedom to adopt your own thoughts."
It was important back then, and I think it is still important. We have to defend freedom of thought and freedom of conscience.
Of course the proponents of this ordinance will come right back by asking, "How can you defend racism? Why aren't you willing to do something about it? It's wrong."
I would respond to this very simply. Yes, it's wrong, and yes, I oppose it. I will be standing right alongside you in condemning racism and other forms of discrimination. But I do not support your right to punish people for thought crimes, and I do not support your right to force people to attend your training programs to teach them your preferred thought pattern. That is equivalent to punishing somebody for a crime that he might commit sometime in the future, because you think that he might.
No. That's not our way.
By the way, there is a lot more in this ordinance that is badly argued, illogical, unscientific, and frankly antiscientific.
Not the least of the offenses in this act is the implicit bias (forgive me for using their own words, but in this case the words are exactly right) against any ideology or religion that opposes forcing people into psychiatric treatment. Because, after all, that is essentially what implicit-bias training is. It is something less than an ideology, but a lot worse than a legitimate scientific hypothesis, in that it believes that we are controlled by subconscious or unconscious thoughts, that the existence of such thoughts can be identified and measured, and that people can be treated for the existence of their improper thoughts. These are questionable at best, but they do belong to a definable ideology.
By the way, the inventors of this implicit bias imagery aren't terrifically clear about how you are going to be treated effectively for your own warped unconscious (short of electric pulses or hallucinogenic drugs), but they have managed to intimidate local governments and businesses into forcing people into their classes.
One of my colleagues believes that this is just an exercise in ass-covering, in that the city thinks it can defend itself better in discrimination lawsuits if everybody has been "trained" in anti-discrimination. This is not a good argument for wholesale violation of human and political rights.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])