One of the curiosities of the reign of Barack Obama is that while he has vastly increased the power of the state domestically, when it comes to the world outside, to national security, he has gravely weakened the United States, both physically, in terms of its military strength, and psychologically, in terms of that diffuse but indisputably potent resource, prestige. ISIS rages, Russia buzzes our warships and reconnaissance planes, China militarizes the South China Sea. We do . . . nothing.
Donald Trump's 'traction' is largely due to conservative inaction. I leave aside for the moment that other source of Trumpian traction: the abominations of the Obama administration.
Conservatives are long on talk but short on action. Donald Trump, an alpha male with the billions to be beholden to no one, whose style of self-presentation is reminiscent of il Duce, has populist appeal because he looks to be someone who might finally get at least one thing done, say, stem the invasion of illegals from the south. And stop talking about it.
What have conservatives accomplished since the days of Ronald Reagan?
Here is a severely practical consideration: there is no way Trump can beat Hillary. He has alienated too many groups, women and Hispanics to name two. Add to that the fact that large numbers of conservatives will stay home, and Hillary is in like Flynn. Mark my words.
Let's hope that Trump does not get the Republican nomination. But if he gets it, you must vote for him. For the alternative is far worse. Politics is a practical business. It is not about maintaining your ideological purity, but about getting something accomplished in murky and complex circumstances. It is always about the lesser or least of evils. Trump would be bad, but Hillary worse.
While the 'bow-tie brigade' at National Review and the rest of the conservatives are so right about so much, they are too concerned with being respectable members of the establishment to know how to fight against the Alinskyite left. Hence their measured statements, their pious invocation of the Constitution, their refusal to give as good as they get. They don't realize that politics is not a gentlemanly debate, but war conducted by other means.
Some lefty scribblers, effete and epicene, have their knickers in a knot worrying about the nativist and xenophobic 'backlash' post-Paris and post-San Bernardino. Even worse, however, is Attorney General Loretta Lynch's disgracing of herself along these lines:
Lynch addressed the Muslim Advocate’s tenth-anniversary dinner and declared that she is concerned about an “incredibly disturbing rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric . . . that fear is my greatest fear.” Her greatest fear is — not terrorism — but a nonexistent Islamophobic backlash? ISIS has demonstrated that it can bring down passenger jets, strike the heart of a great Western capitol with urban assault teams, and inspire horrible carnage in California. We also know that ISIS has pledged to keep attacking the U.S. and possesses chemical weapons. Yet it’s politically incorrect speech that strikes fear into the heart of our attorney general.
To put it in the form of an understatement: Lefties are not very good at threat assessment. I should think that the 'frontlash' is far worse than any backlash that is likely to occur.
What struck me was Bernie Sanders' generous political self-immolation vis-à-vis Mrs. Clinton. He handed her the nomination by agreeing with her about the e-mail server (non)-issue. And the crowd loved it. (Is there a lesson here for Republicans?)
Here is my take on Sanders. He is basically a decent man who, though personally ambitious as every successful politician must be, nevertheless puts the good of the country, as he sees it, above his own personal ambitions. He is deeply rooted in principles that he honestly believes are correct. For him climate change, economic inequality, women's 'reproductive rights' and the rest are the real issues. And so he nobly took the high road to his own political marginalization by agreeing with Hillary that the e-mail server business is but a distraction from these real issues. After all, he could have justifiably attacked her on this very serious matter to bolster support for his nomination. He didn't.
If you're a 'progressive,' why vote for him when she is as much of a socialist and toes the politically correct line on guns to boot? (Nice pun, eh?)
Of course, there is another angle. Perhaps Bernie was playing the sycophant in hopes of a slot in the Hillary admin. But I don't think so. I really think he is a high-minded fellow with foolish and deleterious ideas. I could be wrong about the high-minded part.
By the way, we shouldn't be too harsh on our politicians. They are in the arena. They stand there, out in the open, under their own names, not hiding behind pseudonyms, exposed to the slings and arrows of a vast commentariat. They have courage. For this they deserve some respect. Even Hillary. Even Obama. Even the worst of them. For our worst are better than [you fill in the blank].
UPDATE (15 October): Daniel Henninger of WSJ agrees with me. He's a smart guy!
UPDATE (16 October): And Krauthammer too! Another smart guy. Nice tidbit:
The other three candidates hardly registered. Lincoln Chafee, currently polling at 0.3 points (minus-10 Celsius), played Ross Perot’s 1992 running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, who opened his vice presidential debate with: “Who am I? Why am I here?”
If a coalition of what some leftists call knuckle-draggers (including rednecks, bigoted white working stiffs, those who "cling to their guns and Bibles," in the derisive words of Obama) were to slaughter flag burners, the leftists would howl in protest, pointing out (rightly) that flag burning counts as protected speech in these United States. They would not 'blame the victims' for having provoked or incited the knuckle-draggers. They would insist that flag burning is protected speech and take the reasonable view that murdering people for their (benighted) views is far, far worse than the desecration perpetrated by the protesters.
Mirabile dictu, however, lefties pull a 180 when it comes to the celebration of free speech practiced by people like Pamela Geller. Suddenly people who are exercising free speech rights are castigated for doing so, and warned about inciting violence.
What we have here is a classic double standard. One standard of evaluation is applied to flag burners, who tend to be on the Left, and a very different one is applied to Muhammad mockers, who tend to be conservatives. This double standard is particularly offensive, even more offensive that the usual lefty double standard, because flag burning and cartooning are very different.
Ought flag burning come under the rubric of protected speech? Logically prior question: Is it speech at all? What if I make some such rude gesture in your face as 'giving you the finger.' Is that speech? If it is, I would like to know what proposition it expresses. 'Fuck you!' does not express a proposition. Likewise for the corresponding gesture with the middle finger. And if some punk burns a flag, I would like to know what proposition the punk is expressing. The Founders were interested in protecting reasoned dissent, but the typical act of flag burning by the typical leftist punk does not rise to that level. To have reasoned or unreasoned dissent there has to be some proposition that one is dissenting from and some counter-proposition that one is advancing, and one's performance has to make more or less clear what those propositions are. Without going any further into this issue, let me just express my skepticism at arguments that try to subsume gestures and physical actions under speech.
Cartooning is very different. Cartoons have propositional content. The above cartoon expresses various propositions. It expresses the proposition that Muhammad is a war-like individual who is willing to put to the sword someone who merely draws his image. It also expresses the cartoonist's opinion that such a vile and backward view ought to be opposed.
If you fart, do you express a proposition? No doubt you ex-press foul gases from your gastrointestinal tract. Could it be that the stupidity of contemporary liberals derives from an incapacity to distinguish these two types of expression? Speech worth protecting is not gassing-off.
Finally, there is the irony that we conservatives are the new liberals. It is we who defend toleration and free speech, classical concerns of old-time liberals, while the 'liberals' of the present day have degenerated to the level of fascists of the Left.
What would be left of the Left were they made bereft of their double standards? There are so many of them. We need a list.
The Obama quote is that they “cling to guns or [not “and”] religion [not “Bibles”]”. As for the cartoon, it doesn’t express the proposition you relate in the body of the post. It, or something very close to it, is clearly the idea that the cartoonist has in mind, but that isn’t in the cartoon itself. If, however, one is allowed to draw the inference we all do from the cartoon, then it’s not obvious to me that one is also allowed to fill in the obvious connotations of one giving the middle finger or saying “F*** you!” or from the burning of the flag.
Dennis is right to correct my faulty quotation of Obama. See this short video clip. But while I did not reproduce Obama's words verbatim, I did convey their sense. After all, with 'religion' he was certainly not referring to Islam! Besides, 'cling to guns' and 'cling to Bibles' makes clear sense; it is less clear how one could 'cling' to religion. So you could say I was charitably presenting Obama's idea in better linguistic dress than he himself presented it. But Dennis is right: I should have checked the quotation.
Can a cartoon, by itself, express a proposition? No. So Dennis is technically correct. I almost made that point myself but thought it ill-advised to muddy my point with a technicality. Cartoons, in this respect, are like sentences. No sentence, even if in the indicative mood, by itself expresses a proposition. 'Peter smokes,' for example, is a declarative sentence. But it does not express a proposition unless it is assertively uttered by someone in a definite context that makes clear who the referent of 'Peter' is.
It is interesting to note that a mere tokening of the sentence type is not enough. Suppose I am teaching English. I utter the sentence 'Peter smokes' merely as an example of a declarative sentence. I have produced a token of the type, but I have not expressed a proposition.
Here. According to Peter Schweizer, only about 10% of what the Clinton Foundation takes in in donations goes to the people in need. But since Bill and Hillary are known by all to be ethically above reproach, Schweizer must be lying.
It is not always right to say what one has a right to say.
Thus one of my aphorisms. It is worth unpacking, however, especially in the light of the incident at Garland, Texas.
First of all, the following is not a logical contradiction: You have a right to say X but you ought not say X. For you may have a legal right, but no moral right, or what you have a legal right to say may be highly imprudent to say. In fact, it may be so imprudent that moral and not merely prudential considerations become relevant.
So while Pamela Geller & Co. undoubtedly had the legal right to express themselves by hosting a cartoon fest in mockery of Muhammad, it is at least a legitimate question, one whose answer is not obvious, whether their doing so was morally acceptable.
On the one side are those who say that it was not morally acceptable given the high likelihood that violence would erupt. Indeed, that is what happened. Luckily, however, the Muslim savages1 were shot dead, and only one non-savage was wounded. But it might have been worse, much worse. Innocent passersby might have been caught in the cross-fire; the shooter who dispatched the Islamist fanatics might not have been such a good shot and a long melee may have ensued; the Islamists might have shown up with heavier armament and killed all the cartoonists; they might have laid waste to the entire neighborhood, etc. We know from bitter world-wide experience what the barbarians of Islam are capable of. Do you recall, for example, the Taliban's destruction of the ancient Buddhist statuary?
On the other side are those who insist that we must not engage in what they call 'self-censorship.' We must not limit or curtail the free exercise of our liberties in the face of savages who behead people because of a difference in political and theological views.
So what is the correct view?
Suppose that Muslim reaction to the mockery and defamation of their prophet was just as nonviolent as Christian reaction to the mockery and defamation of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Then I would condemn as immoral the mockery and defamation of Muhammad. I would invoke my aphorism above. There are things that one is legally entitled to say and do that one must not, morally speaking, say or do.
Example. There is no law against private drunkenness, nor should there be; but it is immoral to get drunk to the point of damaging the body. The same goes for gluttonous eating. Closer in, we cannot and ought not have laws regulating all the inter-personal exchanges in which people are likely to mock, insult, and generally show a lack of respect for one another. And yet it is in general surely wrong to treat people with a lack of respect even if the lack of respect remains on the verbal plane. If you don't accept these examples, provide your own. If you say that there are no examples, then you are morally and probably also intellectually obtuse and not in a position to profit from a discussion like this.
So if the Muslim and Christian reactions to mockery and defamation were both physically nonviolent, then, invoking my aphorism above, I would condemn the activities of Geller and Co. at Garland, Texas, and relevantly similar activities. But of course the reactions are not the same! Muslims are absurdly sensitive about their prophet and react in unspeakably barbaric ways to slights, real and imagined. Every Muslim? Of course not. (Don't be stupid.)
So I say we ought to defend Pamela Geller and her group.
My reason, again, is not that that I consider it morally acceptable to mock religious figures. After all, I condemned the Charlie Hebdo outfit and took serious issue with the misguided folk who marched around with Je Suis Charlie signs. Perpetually adolescent porno-punks should not be celebrated, but denounced. That the Islamo-head-chopper-offers are morally much worse than the porno-punks who make an idol of the free expression of their morally and intellectually vacuous narcissistic selves does not justify the celebration of the latter.
The reason to defend Geller is because, in the present circumstances in which militant Muslims and their leftist enablers attack the the values of the West -- which are not just Western values, but universal values -- including such values as free expression and toleration, the deadly threat from the Islamist barbarians justifies our taking extreme measure in defense of values whose implementation will prove beneficial for everyone, including Muslims and their benighted leftist fellow-travellers.
1. If you understand the English language, then you understand that 'Muslim savages' does not imply that all Muslims are savages any more than 'rude New Yorker' implies that all New Yorkers are rude.
Why shouldn't the state have and exercise the power to override the conscience of the individual? Suppose I am in the bumper sticker and T-shirt business. You come to my shop and order a thousand Fuck Obama! bumper stickers and a thousand Hillary Sucks! T-shirts. I explain to you that to do as you request would be to violate my longstanding commitment to civility and that you should take your business elsewhere.
Question: Should the power of the state be used to force me to serve this particular customer? If not, why not? Am I not discriminating against him on the basis of his creed, which includes a commitment to the absolute right of free speech? Am I not interfering with his exercise of this absolute right?
Starbuck's CEO, Howard Schultz, wants his baristas to write "Race Together" on coffee cups to facilitate a conversation about race between baristas and customers and presumably also among customers.
Now this is profoundly stupid — assuming it is not just a cynical try at boosting sales. I'll be charitable and assume the former.
Anyone who has been paying attention will have noticed that we agree on less and less, and not for a lack of 'conversations' about the issues that divide us. The notion that more talk will help is foolish when what we need is less conversational engagement and more agreement to avoid divisive issues, together with the resolve to interact as well as we can on the common ground that remains — such as love of coffee.
In 1967, Benjamin Netanyahu skipped his high school graduation in Pennsylvania to head off to Israel to help in the Six Day War. That same year Obama moved with his mother to Indonesia.
When Obama suggested that Israel return to the pre-1967 borders, described by Ambassador Eban, no right-winger, as “Auschwitz borders,” it was personal for Netanyahu. Like many Israeli teens, he had put his life on hold and risked it protecting those borders.
In the seventies, Obama was part of the Choom Gang and Netanyahu was sneaking up on Sabena Flight 571 dressed as an airline technician. Inside were four terrorists who had already separated Jewish passengers and taken them hostage. Two hijackers were killed. Netanyahu took a bullet in the arm.
The Prime Minister of Israel defended the operation in plain language. “When blackmail like this succeeds, it only leads to more blackmail,” she said.
Netanyahu’s speech in Congress was part of that same clash of worldviews. His high school teacher remembered him saying that his fellow students were living superficially and that there was “more to life than adolescent issues.” He came to Congress to cut through the issues of an administration that has never learned to get beyond its adolescence.
Obama’s people had taunted him with by calling him “chickens__t.” They had encouraged a boycott of his speech and accused him of insulting Obama. They had thrown out every possible distraction to the argument he came to make. Unable to argue with his facts, they played Mean Girls politics instead.
Benjamin Netanyahu had left high school behind to go to war. Now he was up against overgrown boys and girls who had never grown beyond high school. But even back then he had been, as a fellow student had described him, “The lone voice in the wilderness in support of the conservative line.”
“We were all against the war in Vietnam because we were kids,” she said. The kids are still against the war. Against all the wars; unless it’s their own wars. Netanyahu grew up fast. They never did.
Netanyahu could have played their game, but instead he began by thanking Obama. His message was not about personal attacks, but about the real threat that Iran poses to his country, to the region and to the world. He made that case decisively and effectively as few other leaders could.
He did it using plain language and obvious facts.
Netanyahu reminded Congress that the attempt to stop North Korea from going nuclear using inspectors failed. The deal would not mean a denuclearized Iran. “Not a single nuclear facility would be demolished,” he warned. And secret facilities would continue working outside the inspections regime.
He quoted the former head of IAEA’s inspections as saying, “If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.”
And Netanyahu reminded everyone that Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program would be backed by ongoing development of its intercontinental ballistic missile program that would not be touched under the deal.
He warned that the deal would leave Iran with a clear path to a nuclear endgame that would allow it to “make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal” in “a matter of weeks”.
Iran’s mission is to export Jihad around the world, he cautioned. It’s a terrorist state that has murdered Americans. While Obama claims to have Iran under control, it has seized control of an American ally in Yemen and is expanding its influence from Iraq to Syria.
Its newly moderate government “hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists.” It’s just as bad as ISIS, except that ISIS isn’t close to getting a nuclear bomb.
“America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad,” he said. It was the type of clarity that he had brought to the difficult questions of life as a teenager. It is a clarity that still evades Obama today.
When the otherwise distinguished Robert Paul Wolff over at The Philosopher's Stone plays the stoned philosopher and quits the reservation of Good Sense, I call him 'Howlin' Wolff.' Hear him howl:
I need to say this. If anyone wants to call me a self-hating Jew, so be it.
Israel is far and away the militarily most powerful nation in the entire Middle East. It has a large, fully functional nuclear arsenal with appropriate delivery systems, and a well-trained army with a large Ready Reserve. If Israel wants to start a war with Iran, let it put its own young men and women at risk, instead of adopting a belligerant [sic] stance and inviting the United States to shed our blood and spend our treasure making good on Israel's threats.
Let me warm up with a bit of pedantry. 'Self-hating Jew' seems not quite the right expression. After all, a Jew who hates himself needn't hate himself because he is a Jew. He might hate himself, not in respect of his Jewishness, but in respect of some other attribute, say, that of being white. I recommend 'Jew-hating Jew.' On whether Wolff is one or not I have no opinion. You may also draw your own conclusions from Wolff's having penned Autobiography of an Ex-White Man.
But it is entirely typical of a delusional leftist to engage in the sort of Orwellian reversal expressed in the paragraph quoted above.
According to Wolff, Israel threatens Iran, and not the other way around. And it is Israel's "stance" that is "belligerent," not Iran's.
Israel is militarily supreme in the Middle East. It has nuclear war-making capacity. Iran doesn't, at least not yet. But so what?
I detect the typical leftist confusion of weapon and wielder, as if weapons themselves are the problem, not the character of their wielders. That, in tandem with some such silly equivalentism as that all actors are morally equivalent and that if one actor has nukes, then it is not fair that the others not have them. Should the U. N. provide them all around to 'level the playing field'?
I could go on, but my readers do not need their noses rubbed in the obvious.
Besides, some notions are beneath refutation. Their mere exposure suffices to refute them.
War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Less liberty is more liberty. Defense is attack. Concern for one's survival in a situation in which one's adversaries have threatened one with nuclear annihilation is belligerence. The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am not now and never have been a Jew either ethnically or religiously, nor an Israeli, nor do I have any intention of becoming the two of these three that it would be possible for me to become.
Lately liberalism has gone from psychodrama to farce.
Take Barack Obama. He has gone from mild displeasure with Israel to downright antipathy. Suddenly we are in a surreal world where off-the-record slurs from the administration against Benjamin Netanyahu as a coward and chickensh-t have gone to full-fledged attacks from John Kerry and Susan Rice, to efforts of former Obama political operatives to defeat the Israeli prime minister at the polls, to concessions to Iran and to indifference about the attacks on Jews in Paris. Who would have believed that Iranian leaders who just ordered bombing runs on a mock U.S. carrier could be treated with more deference than the prime minister of Israel? What started out six years as pressure on Israel to dismantle so-called settlements has ended up with a full-fledged vendetta against a foreign head of state.
If you love something, would you want fundamentally to transform it?
A man meets a woman, gets to know her, and they decide to get married. On the eve of the nuptials, he announces to her that she is on the brink of a fundamental transformation. Would you say that he loved her or rather some idea of what he could make her into?
Now take a gander at this minute-and-a-half video clip.
Why the furiously intemperate ranting over Rudy's remarks? After all, the distinguished former mayor of New York City merely articulated what vast numbers of us have suspected or believed for years. Giuliani had the temerity to speak truth to power and this enraged the Left. (Lefties think they alone own dissent and the right to speak truth to power.) Fred Siegel:
The ranting has obscured the reasons why so many Americans take Giuliani’s remarks to heart. Starting with his June 2009 speech in Cairo, when he apologized for American actions in the Middle East, Obama has consistently given credence to Islamic grievances against America while showing reluctance to confront Islamic terrorism. In 2009, after Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 American soldiers and wounded 40 others at Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” the administration labeled the killings workplace violence. In recent months, the pace of evasions has quickened. Obama was the only major Western leader absent from the massive Paris march held in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings. Worse yet, Obama referred to the killings in a Jewish supermarket in Paris as “random” acts of violence.
But this was only the beginning of a string of curious comments and loopy locutions made by the president or his spokespeople in the weeks that followed. While ISIS rampaged across the Middle East, the president told a Washington prayer breakfast that Christians shouldn’t get on their “high horse,” because they were guilty of the Crusades, among other crimes. Not only were the Crusades many centuries past, but they were also a complicated matter in which both sides behaved barbarically.
But that is to understate the matter. Both Siegel and Giuliani failed to mention a crucial fact, namely, the Crusades were defensive wars, wars in response to Muslim aggression and conquest.
It's a funny world. NBC anchor Brian Williams lied about a matter of no significance, in an excess of boyish braggadocio, though in doing so he injured his credibility and, more importantly, that of his employer, NBC. We demand truth of our journalists and so Williams' suspension is as justified as the Schadenfreude at his come-down is not.
Journalists are expected to tell the truth. President Obama, however, lies regularly and reliably about matters of great significance and gets away with it. Part of it is that politicians are expected to lie. Obama does not disappoint, taking mendacity to unheard-of levels. There is a brazenness about it that has one admiring his cojones if nothing else. Another part of it is that politicians are not subject to the discipline of the market in the way news anchors are. Loss of credibility reduces viewership which reduces profits. That's the real bottom line, not the expectation of truthfulness.
(By the way, that is not a slam against capitalism but against our greedy fallen nature which was greedy and fallen long before the rise of capitalism. Capitalism is no more the source of greed than socialism is the source of envy.)
Obama is a master of mendacity in the multiplicity of its modes. There is, for example, bullshitting, which is not the same as lying. Obama as Bullshitter explains, with a little help from Professor Harry Frankfurt.
In reaction to the murderous attack by Muslim terrorists on Charbonnier and Co. at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, many have jumped on the "I am Charlie" bandwagon. It is quite understandable. But perhaps a little thought should be given to the question whether one ought to endorse a political pornographer who publishes stuff like the following. Might there be something called toleration extremism? Might it be that while one has a legal right to publish almost anything, one has a moral obligation to exercise restraint? Why do we value freedom of speech? Is it valuable as an end in itself or only as a means to valuable ends? Is it reasonable to maintain that any and all public self-expression is a good just in virtue of its being self-expression? I hope to say something about these questions in the next few days. Meanwhile, please think a bit before trumpeting your identity or rather solidarity with 'Charlie.'
My point in posting the following, needless to say, is not to mock the Christian Trinity but to raise in a graphic manner some very serious questions that require careful thought.
There is a sleazy singer who calls herself 'Madonna.' That moniker is offensive to many. But we in the West are tolerant, perhaps excessively so, and we tolerate the singer, her name, and her antics. Muslims need to understand the premium we place on toleration if they want to live among us.
A San Juan Capistrano councilman named his dog 'Muhammad' and mentioned the fact in public. Certain Muslim groups took offense and demanded an apology. The councilman should stand firm. One owes no apology to the hypersensitive and inappropriately sensitive. We must exercise our free speech rights if we want to keep them. Use 'em or lose 'em.
The notion that dogs are 'unclean' is a silly one. So if some Muslims are offended by some guy's naming his dog 'Muhammad,' their being offended is not something we should validate. Their being offended is their problem.
Am I saying that we should act in ways that we know are offensive to others? Of course not. We should be kind to our fellow mortals whenever possible. But sometimes principles are at stake and they must be defended. Truth and principle trump feelings. Free speech is one such principle. I exercised it when I wrote that the notion that dogs are 'unclean' is a silly one.
Some will be offended by that. I say their being offended is their problem. What I said is true. They are free to explain why dogs are 'unclean' and I wish them the best of luck. But equally, I am free to label them fools.
With some people being conciliatory is a mistake. They interpret your conciliation and willingness to compromise as weakness. These people need to be opposed vigorously. For the councilman to apologize would be foolish.
Ferguson is of course just one instance. But it is emblematic. As usual, Victor Davis Hanson gets it right:
In the Ferguson disaster, the law was the greatest casualty. Civilization cannot long work if youths strong-arm shop owners and take what they want. Or walk down the middle of highways high on illicit drugs. Or attack police officers and seek to grab their weapons. Or fail to obey an officer’s command to halt. Or deliberately give false testimonies to authorities. Or riot, burn, and loot. Or, in the more abstract sense, simply ignore the legal findings of a grand jury; or, in critical legal theory fashion, seek to dismiss the authority of the law because it is not deemed useful to some preconceived theory of social justice. Do that and society crumbles.
In our cynicism we accept, to avoid further unrest, that no government agency will in six months prosecute the looters and burners, or charge with perjury those who brazenly lied in their depositions to authorities, or charge the companion of Michael Brown with an accessory role in strong-arm robbery, or charge the stepfather of Michael Brown for using a bullhorn to incite a crowd to riot and loot and burn. We accept that because legality is becoming an abstraction, as it is in most parts of the world outside the U.S. where politics makes the law fluid and transient.
Nor can a government maintain legitimacy when it presides over lawlessness. The president of the United States on over 20 occasions insisted that it would be illegal, dictatorial, and unconstitutional to contravene federal immigration law — at least when to do so was politically inexpedient. When it was not, he did just that. Now we enter the Orwellian world of a videotaped president repeatedly warning that what he would soon do would be in fact illegal. Has a U.S. president ever so frequently and fervently warned the country about the likes of himself?
David P. Goldman talks sense about Ferguson and the liberal-left threat to civil society and the rule of law:
The argument of what now might be termed a “criminals’ rights movement” is that the police should not have the right to use force against felons whose crimes do not reach a certain threshold. What that threshold might be seems clear from the repeated characterization of Brown as an “unarmed black teenager.” Unless violent felons use deadly weapons, it appears, the police should not be allowed to use force.
To restate the “civil rights” argument in a clearer way: Young black men are disproportionately imprisoned. One in three black men have gone to prison at some time in their life. According to the ACLU, one in fifteen black men are incarcerated, vs. one in 106 white men. That by itself is proof of racism; the fact that these individuals were individually prosecuted for individual crimes has no bearing on the matter. All that matters is the outcome. Because the behavior of young black men is not likely to change, what must change is the way that society recognizes crime itself. The answer is to remove stigma of crime attached to certain behavior, for example, physical altercations, petty theft, and drug-dealing on a certain scale. The former civil rights movement no longer focuses its attention on supposedly ameliorative social spending, for example, preschool programs for minority children, although these remain somewhere down the list in the litany of demands. What energizes and motivates the movement is the demand that society redefine deviancy to exclude certain classes of violent as well as non-violent felonies.
The logic of the criminals’ rights movement is as clear as it is crazy: Because the outcome of the criminal justice system disproportionately penalizes African-Americans, the solution is to decriminalize behavior that all civilized countries have suppressed and punished since the dawn of history. Because felonious behavior is so widespread and the causes of it so intractable, the criminals’ rights movement insists, society “cannot afford to recognize” criminal behavior below a certain threshold.
If America were to accept this logic, civil society would come to an end. The state would abandon its monopoly of violence to street rule. Large parts of America would come to resemble the gang-ruled, lawless streets of Central America, where violent pathology has overwhelmed the state’s capacity to control it, creating in turn a nightmare for America’s enforcement of its own immigration law.
I have been asked my opinion. But before opining it would be better to wait until we know or at least have a clearer idea of what exactly transpired between Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black male, and the white police officer Darren Wilson. We know that Brown is dead and that the officer hit him with five or so rounds. (And we know that it was the shooting that caused the death.)
And we know that prior to the shooting, Brown stole some tobacco products (cigarillos in one account, Swisher Sweet cigars in another) from a convenience store, roughing up the proprietor on the way out.
The theft is not something that Wilson could have known about prior to the shooting, and even if he did know about it, that would not justify his use of deadly force against the shoplifter. Obviously.
So those are the main facts as I understand the case. I need to know more to say more, except for two comments:
1. Al Sharpton's claim that the release of the store video was a 'smear' of Brown is absurd on the face of it. One cannot smear someone with facts. To smear is to slander. It is to damage, or attempt to damage, a person's reputation by making false accusations. Sharpton is employing the often effective leftist tactic of linguistic hijacking. A semantic vehicle with a clear meaning is 'hijacked' and piloted to some leftist destination. The truth about a person can be damaging to his reputation. But if you cannot distinguish between damaging truths and damaging falsehoods, then you are as willfully stupid as the race hustler Sharpton.
2. The governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, called for "a vigorous prosecution" in the case and to "do everything we can to achieve justice for [Brown's] family." These statements sink to a Sharptonian level of (willful?) stupidity. For one thing, Wilson cannot be prosecuted for the killing of Brown until it has been determined that Wilson should be charged in the killing of Brown.
That Wilson killed Brown is a fact. But that he should be charged with a crime in the killing is a separate question. Only after a charge has been lodged can the judicial process begin with prosecution and defense.
Second, talk of achieving justice for Brown's family not only presupposes that Wilson has been indicted, it begs the question of his guilt: it assumes he is guilty of a crime. More fundamentally, talk of achieving justice for one party alone makes no sense. The aim of criminal proceeding is to arrive at a just outcome for both parties.
Suppose Wilson is indicted and tried. Either he is found guilty or found not guilty of the charge or charges brought against him. If he is found guilty, and is in fact guilty, then there is justice for both the perpetrator and the victim and his family If he is found not guilty, and he is in fact not guilty, then the same: there is justice for both the perpetrator and the victim and his family. Therefore, to speak of achieving justice for one of the parties alone makes no sense.
People don't understand this because they think that the victim or his family must be somehow compensated for his or their loss. But that is not the purpose of a criminal trial. It is too bad that the young black man died, but the purpose of a criminal trial is not to assuage the pain of such a loss. The purpose is simply to determine whether a person charged with a crime is guilty of it.
I was actually impressed by Obama's speech last night. The greatness of the office he occupies, together with the external pressure of events and advisors, has resulted in a non-vacuous speech and wise decision, a two-fold decision: to launch air strikes against the advancing terrorist ISIS (or ISIL) forces and to drop supplies to the beleagured religious minorities under dire existential threat, the Christians and the Yazidi.
My posting of the graphic to the left indicates that I am a skeptic about global warming (GW). To be precise, I am skeptical about some, not all, of the claims made by the GW activists. See below for some necessary distinctions. Skepticism is good. Doubt is the engine of inquiry and a key partner in the pursuit of truth.
A skeptic is a doubter, not a denier. To doubt or inquire or question whether such-and-such is the case is not to deny that it is the case. It is a cheap rhetorical trick of GW alarmists when they speak of GW denial and posture as if it is in the ball park of Holocaust denial.
What can a philosopher say about global warming? The first thing he can and ought to say is that, although not all questions are empirical, at the heart of the global warming debate are a set of empirical questions. These are not questions for philosophers qua philosophers, let alone for political ideologues. For the resolution of these questions we must turn to reputable climatologists whose roster does not sport such names as 'Al Gore,' 'Barbra Streisand,' or 'Ann Coulter.' Unfortunately, the global warming question is one that is readily 'ideologized' and the ideological gas bags of both the Right and the Left have a lot to answer for in this regard.
I have not investigated the matter with any thoroughness, and I have no firm opinion. It is difficult to form an opinion because it is difficult to know whom to trust: reputable scientists have their ideological biases too, and if they work in universities, the leftish climate in these hotbeds of political correctness is some reason to be skeptical of anything they say.
For example, let's say scientist X teaches at Cal Berkeley and is a registered Democrat. One would have some reason to question his credibility. He may well tilt toward socialism and away from capitalism and be tempted to beat down capitalism with the cudgel of global warming. Equally, a climatologist on the payroll of the American Enterprise Institute would be suspect. I am not suggesting that objectivity is impossible to attain; I am making the simple point that it is difficult to attain and that scientists have worldview biases like everyone else. And like everyone else, they are swayed by such less-than-noble motives as the desire to advance their careers and be accepted by their peers. And who funds global warming research? What are their biases? And who gets the grants? And what conclusions do you need to aim at to get funded? It can't be a bad idea to "follow the money" as the saying goes.
Off the top of my head I think we ought to distinguish among the following questions:
1. Is global warming (GW) occurring?
2. If yes to (1), is it naturally irreversible, or is it likely to reverse itself on its own?
3. If GW is occurring, and will not reverse itself on its own, to what extent is it anthropogenic, i.e., caused by human activity?
(3) is the crucial empirical question. It is obviously distinct from (1) and (2). If there is naturally irreversible global warming, this is not to say that it is caused by human activity. It may or may not be. One has to be aware of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Suppose there is a close correlation between global warming and man-made carbon emissions. It doesn't straightaway follow that the the human activity causes the warming. But again, this is not a question that can be settled a priori; it is a question for climatologists.
4. If anthropogenic, is global warming caused by humans to a degree that warrants action, assuming that action can be taken to stop it?
5. If GW is caused by humans to an extent that it warrants action, what sorts of action would be needed to stop the warming process?
6. How much curtailment of economic growth would we be willing to accept to stop global warming?
The first three of these six questions are empirical and are reserved for climatologists. They are very difficult questions to answer. And it is worth pointing out that climatology, while an empirical science, falls short of truly strict science. This useful article lists the following five characteristics of science in the strict and eminent sense:
1. Clearly defined terminology. 2. Quantifiability. 3. Highly controlled conditions. "A scientifically rigorous study maintains direct control over as many of the factors that influence the outcome as possible. The experiment is then performed with such precision that any other person in the world, using identical materials and methods, should achieve the exact same result." 4. Reproducibility. "A rigorous science is able to reproduce the same result over and over again. Multiple researchers on different continents, cities, or even planets should find the exact same results if they precisely duplicated the experimental conditions." 5. Predictability and Testability. "A rigorous science is able to make testable predictions."
These characteristics set the bar for strict science very high, and rightly so. Is climate science science according to these criteria? No, it falls short on #s 3 and 4. At the hardest hard core of the hard sciences lies the physics of meso-phenomena. Climatology does not come close to this level of 'hardness.' So don't be bamboozled: don't imagine that the prestige of physics transfers undiminished onto climatology. It is pretty speculative stuff and much of it is ideologically infected.
Our first three questions are empirical.But the last three are not, being questions of public policy. So although the core issues are empirical, philosophers have some role to play: they can help in the formulation and clarification of the various questions; they can help with the normative questions that arise in conjunction with (4)-(5), and they can examine the cogency of the arguments given on either side. Last but not least, they can drive home the importance of being clear about the distinction between empirical and conceptual questions.
It occurred to me this morning that there is an ominous parallel between Putin's occupation of the Ukraine and Hitler's of the Sudetenland, and on a similar pretext, namely, the protecting of ethnic Russians/Germans. The Sudetenland was the German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia whose annexation by Hitler in 1938 was part of the run-up to the Second World War. But I'm no historian. So let me ascend from these grimy speluncar details into the aether of philosophy.
George Santayana is repeatedly quoted as saying that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Although this may be true individually, I cannot see that it is true collectively. I have learned from my mistakes, and I don't repeat them. But a collection of individuals, with its ever-changing membership, is not an individual. Collectively, whether we remember the past or not we are condemned to repeat it. That is how I would go Santayana one better. Or to put it in less ringing terms:
Collectively, knowledge of the past does little to prevent the recurrence of old mistakes.
One reason for this is that there is no consensus as to what the lessons of history are. What did we Americans learn from Viet Nam? That we should avoid all foreign entanglements? That when we engage militarily we should do so decisively and with overwhelming force and resolve? (E.g, that we should have suppressed dissent at home and used a few tactical nukes against the Viet Cong?) What is the lesson to be learned? What is the mistake to be avoided? Paleocons, neocons (the descendants of old-time liberals) and leftists don't agree on questions like these.
One cannot learn a lesson the content of which is up for grabs.
What did we learn from Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That the wholesale slaughter of noncombatants is sometimes justified and may (as it actually has) usher in a long period of world peace? (There hasn't been a world war in going on 70 years). That this is a case in which the end justified the means? No adherent of just war doctrine would agree that that is the lesson.
Another reason why knowledge of the past is of little help in the present is that, even if there is agreement on some general lesson -- e.g., don't appease dictators -- there is bound to be disagreement as to whether or not the lesson applies in particular circumstances. Is Obama an appeaser? Is Putin a dictator? Is the Ukraine sufficiently like the Sudetenland to justify an action-guiding comparison? Et cetera ad nauseam.
A few days ago I was blissfully unaware of Duck Diversity Dynasty, the reality show on the Arts and Entertainment channel. I still haven't watched even one episode, nor am I particularly inclined to; the antics of rednecks are not my thing. I have gathered, however, that the series falls more on the entertainment end of the Arts and Entertainment spectrum. One of the characters whose reality is depicted, Phil Robertson, shown on the left, has made comments on homosexuality that have drawn attention, to put it mildly. I won't rehearse the details of a brouhaha about which my astute readers can be expected to be familiar. I will simply make a few comments bearing upon the contretemps that strike me as important.
1. To have the homosexual disposition or inclination or proclivity is one thing; to exercise it in homosexual sex acts such as anal intercourse is quite another. You may be born with the proclivity, and stuck with it, but you are free to exercise it or not. The proclivity may be part of 'who you are,' ingredient in your very identity, but the practices are freely engaged in. Acts done or left undone are contingent and thus no part of anyone's identity. Moral criticism of homosexual practices is not criticism of anyone for who he is.
2. It follows that rejection of homosexual sex acts as immoral is consistent with acceptance of homosexuals as people. In a trite phrase, one can hate the sin but love the sinner. The sinful and the immoral, however, are not quite the same, though I cannot expatiate on the distinction at the moment.
It is therefore very bad journalism to describe Robertson's comments as 'anti-gay' for that elides the distinction I just drew. Opposition to homosexual practices is not opposition to homosexuals.
And of course there is nothing 'homophobic' about Robertson's comments. I don't reckon that the good old boy pictured above has any irrational fear of homosexuals. 'Homophobic' is a coinage of leftists to prevent one of those famous 'conversations' that they otherwise call for. It is a question-begging epithet and semantic bludgeon meant to close down debate by the branding of their opponents as suffering from a mental defect. This is why only a foolish conservative acquiesces in the use of this made-up word. Language matters. One of the first rules for successful prosecution of the Kulturkampf is to never let the enemy distort the terms of the debate. Insist on standard English, and always slap them down when they engage in their notorious 'framing.' As for 'gay,' that too is a word we ought not surrender. Use the neutral 'homosexual.' Same with 'queer.' 'Queer' is a good old word. Nominalists think abstracta are queer entities. There is no implication that the analysis of such is in any way proctological.
3. Whether or not Phil Robertson and people like him can cogently defend their opposition to homosexual practices, they have a right to hold and express their opinions in public fora, and a right to be tolerated by those who oppose their views. To tolerate is not approve of, let alone endorse; it is to put up with, to allow, to refrain from interfering with the promulgation of distasteful ideas. Without widespread toleration it is hard to see how a nation as diverse and pluralistic as the USA can remain even minimally united.
4. There are solid arguments based in theology and philosophy for rejecting as immoral homosexual practices. And they are available to Robertson and Co. should they decide to lay down their shotguns long enough to swot them up. These arguments won't convince those on the the other side, but then no argument, no matter how well-articulated and reasonable, no matter how consistent with known empirical fact and free of logical error, convinces those on the other side of any 'hot button' issue.
5. As a corollary to (4), note that arguments against homosexuality needn't presupose the truth of any religion. They can be purely philosophical. The same goes for abortion. If I argue against late-term abortion on the the ground that it is sufficiently like infanticide to inherit the moral wrongness of infanticide, then I argue in a way that makes no use of any religious premise.
6. The A & E Network has every right to fire Robertson and Co. By the same token, a baker or a florist has every right to refuse service to a same-sex couple planning a same -sex 'marriage' and it is simply wrong for government at any level to force the baker or the florist to violate his conscience.
7. In the interests of comity, homosexuals and their practices ought to be tolerated. Whether or not the practices are immoral, they ought to be legally permissible as long as they are between consenting adults. But this right to be tolerated does not translate into a right to be approved or applauded or celebrated or a right to impose their views on others, or a right to change the culture to their liking. In particular, it does not translate into a right to have their 'marriages' legally recognized.
8. Given the obvious distinction made in (1) above, the following sort of argument is invalid. "Tom didn't choose to be homosexual; he was born that way, so his practice of homosexuality via anal intercourse is morally acceptable." That sort of argument obviously proves too much. Pedophiles, sadomasochists, necrophiliacs, and so on down the list of sexual perversions are most of them born with their proclivity, but that fact does not justify their engaging in the corresponding practices.
One cannot insure against an event the probability of which is 1. It violates the very concept of insurance.
I have a homeowner's policy for which I pay about $400 a year. It insures against various adverse events such as fire. Suppose I didn't have the policy and my house catches fire. Do you think I could call up an insurer and buy a policy to cover that preexisting condition? Not for $400. He might, however, sell me a policy on the spot for the replacement value of the house.
Or suppose I am on my deathbed enjoying (if that's the word) my last sunset. Do you think I could buy a $500,000 term life policy for, say, $2 K per annum?
Do you understand the concept of insurance? Do you see how this relevant to ObamaCare? If not, read this.
Some object to the popular 'Obamacare' label given that the official title of the law is 'Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act' or, as commonly truncated, 'Affordable Care Act.' But there is a good reason to favor the popular moniker: it is descriptive where the other two labels are evaluative, expressing as they do a pro attitude toward the bill.
Will the law really protect patients? That is an evaluative judgment based on projections many regard as flimsy. Will the law really make health care affordable? And for whom? Will care mandated for all be readily available and of high quality?
Everybody wants affordable and readily available health care of high quality for the greatest number possible. The question is how best to attain this end. The 'Affordable Care Act' label begs the question as to whether or not Obama's bill will achieve the desired end. 'Obamacare' does not. It is, if not all that descriptive, at least evaluatively neutral.
If Obama's proposal were referred to as "Socialized Medicine Health Care Act' or 'Another Step Toward the Nanny State Act,' people would protest the negative evaluations embedded in the titles. Titles of bills ought to be neutral.
Proponents of a consumption tax sometimes refer to it as a fair tax. Same problem. 'Fair' is an evaluative term while 'consumption' is not. 'Consumption tax' conveys the idea that taxes should be collected at the consuming end rather than at the income-producing end. 'Fair tax' fails to convey that idea, but what is worse, it begs the question as to what a fair tax would look like. It is a label that invites the conflation of distinct questions: What is a consumption tax? Is it good? Answer the first and it remains an open question what the answer to the second is.
What is fairness? What is justice? Is justice fairness? These are questions that need to be addressed, not questions answers to which ought to be presupposed.
There is no good reason to object to 'Obamacare' -- the word, not the thing.
Long-time reader Tony Hanson perceptively notes a contradiction in the Obama administration's attitude toward their poor minority clients:
As I read about the complexity and nightmares (or as Obama prefers, glitches) of the ACA [Affordable Care Act] marketplace roll out today, I am reminded of your posts on Voter ID. Apparently the condescension of Obama and the Dems is very selective. They think requiring poor minorities to have the wherewithal to accomplish the relatively simple task of securing an ID card is just too difficult a task for them and therefore discriminatory; at the same time the success of the new healthcare law requires them to navigate (using a computer and internet connection mostly) a rather complex system of web sites, information and rules.
And while the Feds will spend millions upon millions to provide them help, it apparently cannot provide a tiny fraction of this amount to help them get IDs (if in fact they really need this help) and thereby secure the integrity of the voting system and democracy itself.
'Selective condescension' is an apt phrase. Blacks and other minorities are thought to be too bereft of basic life skills to secure government-issued photo ID, which is free in many states, but are nonetheless expected to be computer-savvy enough to sign up for ObamaCare. But if this contradiction were pointed out to Obama or the liberals that support him, it wouldn't faze them in the least. For they care about logical consistency as little as they care about truth. For a leftist it's all about power and nothing else. They have no bourgeois scruples about truth or the rule of law. The end justifies the means.
The plain truth of the matter is that Dems oppose photo ID because they want to make polling places safe for voter fraud. This is a harsh allegation but one that is perfectly justified given the utter worthlessness of the 'arguments' brought forth against photo ID. But I have said enough about this depressing topic in ealier posts, some of which are listed below.
If one has demonstrated that one's opponent's arguments are worthless, it is legitimate to psychologize him. For motives abound where reasons are nonexistent.
There are two ways to become richer. One is to provide more goods and services; that's economic growth. The other is to snatch someone else's wealth or income; that's the spoils society. In a spoils society, economic success increasingly depends on who wins countless distributional contests: not who creates wealth but who controls it. But this can be contentious. Winners celebrate; losers fume.
Of course, the two systems have long coexisted -- and always will. All modern societies chase growth; all redistribute income and wealth. Some shuffling is visible and popular. Until now, that's been the case with America's largest transfer, which is from workers to retirees through Social Security and Medicare. In 2012, this exceeded $1 trillion. Still, for the nation, the relevant question is whether productive behavior (generating economic growth) is losing ground to predatory behavior (grabbing existing wealth and income). There are good reasons to think it is.
Eric Holder's out-of-control Department of (Social) Justice is at it again, this time going after Bobby Jindal's school choice program in Louisiana.
Yet another attack on federalism. This is not a word that wears its meaning on its sleeve, and the average panem et circenses American would be hard-pressed to define it.
Federalism is (i) a form of political organization in which governmental power is divided among a central government and various constituent governing entities such as states, counties, and cities; (ii) subject to the proviso that both the central and the constituent governments retain their separate identities and assigned duties. A government that is not a federation would allow for the central government to create and reorganize constituent governments at will and meddle in their affairs. Federalism is implied by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Federalism would make for less contention because people who support high taxes and liberal schemes could head for states like Massachusetts or California, while the conservatively inclined who support gun rights and capital punishment and border control could gravitate toward states like Texas.
The fact of the matter is that we do not agree on a large number of divisive, passion-inspiring issues (abortion, gun rights, capital punishment, affirmative action, school vouchers, photo ID at polling places, legal and illegal immigration, taxation, wealth redistribution, the purposes and limits, if any, on governmental power . . .) and we will never agree on them. These are not merely academic issues since they directly affect the lives and livelihoods and liberties of people. And they are not easily resolved because they are deeply rooted in fundamental worldview differences. When you violate a man's liberty, or mock his moral sense, or threaten to destroy his way of life, you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it.
I fear that we are coming apart as a nation. We are disagreeing about things we ought not be disagreeing about, such as the need to secure the borders. The rifts are deep and nasty. Polarization and demonization of the opponent are the order of the day. Do you want more of this? Then give government more say in your life. The bigger the government, the more to fight over. Do you want less? Then support limited government and federalism. A return to federalism may be a way to ease the tensions, not that I am sanguine about any solution.
Bobby Bare's 1963 Country and Western crossover hit features the lines, "By day I make the cars, by night I make the bars . . . ." But that was '63, around the time a series of Democrat mayors took control of the city. Since then there have been seven, five of them black, with nary a Republican, and now 50 years later the place is a disaster with the bars outnumbering the cars. Post hoc ergo propter hoc? I don't think so. Liberalism has destroyed the city in five ways as detailed here.
1. Unions crippled the auto industry.
2. Whites were demonized until they left.
3. Out-of-control crime helped drive much of the black middle class out of the city.
4. Reckless government spending bankrupted the city.
I know you've been following this case. I must say I'm impressed by the outcome. Even though I believed that Z's account of the events was consistent and that the prosecution's case was incredibly weak, I was expecting the all-female jury to cave in to the pressure and declare him guilty or, at least, to come back with a lesser charge.
MavPhil: That's what I was expecting: a cave-in by the female jurors and a manslaughter conviction. So I was extremely pleased that justice was done. The state had no case whatsoever as became very clear early on from the testimony of the state's own witnesses. Objectively speaking, it was all over after John Good's cross-examination by the magnificent Mark O'Mara. He impressed the hell out of me: calm, clear, respectful, logical, thorough, low-keyed, bluster-free. A patient, relentless, digger for the truth. Good was impressive as well. That segment of the trial made me very proud of our system.
Zimmerman should not have been charged in the first place, and initially he wasn't. It was only after the race-baiters got wind of the story that local law enforcement buckled under national pressure. Among the race-baiters was our very own hopelessly inept president, Barack Obama, with his irresponsible remark to the effect that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin. Here again we have Obama meddling in a local matter just as he did before about four summers ago in the Henry Gates affair.
So was the trial about race or not?
Objectively, the case had nothing to do with race. Objectively, the case was about the use of deadly force to repel an attack of deadly force. A very fit young man physically assaults an obese, out-of-shape older man. The older guy ends up on the ground with the younger guy on top of him doing the 'pound and ground,' slamming the older man's head into the pavement and telling him that tonight he will die. Now is it legally permissible to use deadly force in a situation like this, a situation in which one is about to be killed or suffer grave bodily harm? Yes, the law allows the use of deadly force in such a situation. Note that we are not talking about morality here, but about legality. Whatever one's moral intuitions or moral theories, there is a hard fact about what the law permits, and that is not in dispute. The only question is whether on that particular evening George Zimmerman was indeed fighting for his life.
The defense team made a very strong case that he was on the bottom fighting for his life against the strapping youth who thought of him as a "creepy-ass cracker." The defense didn't have to make that strong case; all it had to do was show that the above was a likely scenario in order to raise a reasonable doubt about Zimmerman's guilt. In a criminal proceeding the probative standard is set very high, and rightly so. The accused is presumed innocent and the burden of proof rests on the prosecution to show that the accused is guilty of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. But the defense succeeded in doing both: it showed that Zimmerman was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and, as O'Mara remarked after the trial, it proved that he was innocent.
So, objectively, the case had nothing to do with race. The racial veneer was superadded by the race-baiters of the Left so that they could use this trial to further their own political agenda. Among the race-baiters are the editors at the New York Times who decided that Zimmerman was a 'white Hispanic.' They would never refer to Obama as a white black even though he is half-white and half-black. They applied the 'white Hispanic' appellation in order to inject race into a non-racial case. If both parties to the dispute were black or both Hispanic we wouldn't have heard about it. Meanwhile, blacks are killing blacks in record numbers in Chicago and other places.
The Left is raging at the moment. They say young blacks aren't safe anymore. But, were they before this single incident? I haven't heard a single word about the dozens of young blacks who are murdered by other blacks every year. All I hear is a lot of moralizing about poverty, racism and gun legislation from upper-middle class people who live in 95% white communities and have never seen a gun in their lives.
I think it's something else. Maybe it's the realization that they're not so powerful. That their enormous govt.-approved media campaign to portray this as a racially motivated murder of a kid was not enough convince a jury of six women (which, by the way, included a black hispanic lady). That they could not only notice the absence of racist armed vigilantes on the hunt and young harmless children walking home, but also act accordingly. Maybe it's too much for them, even after six years of getting everything they wanted.
MavPhil: I basically agree with you. Let the leftist loons rage. It is music to my ears and blog-fodder for my blog. We conservatives are going to have a lot of fun exposing their contemptible lies and inanities.
The race-baiting, delusional Left is completely out of control in this country as witness the Zimmerman prosecution, the Paula Deen shakedown, and the mindless uproar over the SCOTUS decision to strike down Article Four of the 1965 Voting Act.
Curious how so-called 'progressives' are stuck in the past, as if Jim Crow still exists.
Just minutes before ambling by your place and seeing your link to Brooks, I had run across this riposte. It's worth a look, I think.
This administration has aggressively sought to hollow out all the mediating layers of civil society that stand between the atomized citizen and the Leviathan (those civil associations having been discussed by Tocqueville as by far the most important part of American life). I think Brooks is right that the "solitary naked individual" can easily feel himself alone against the "gigantic and menacing State", but it can go the other way too: the radically atomized individual -- for whom the traditional embedding in civil society, with its web of mutually supportive associations and obligations, no longer exists -- is left with only the State as friend, protector, and provider. This was creepily evident in, e.g., the Obama campaign's horrifying Life of Julia slideshow, in which a faceless female goes from childhood to dotage with, apparently, no human interactions whatsoever, and subsisting entirely upon the blessings that flow from the federal behemoth.
In the article I linked above, the author points out that our natural embedding in civil society is a lever for the totalitarian State to use to compel obedience; Brooks, on the other hand, seems to see civil society and State as almost the same thing, and appears to argue that loyalty to the former should entail obedience to the latter. He speaks of "gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world", but he makes the gradation seem very gentle indeed, if not downright flat.
Response. We agree that disaster looms if the Left gets its way and manages to eliminate the buffering elements of civil society lying between the naked individual and the State. We also agree that the State can wear the monstrous aspect of Leviathan or that of the benevolent nanny whose multiple tits are so many spigots supplying panem et circenses to the increasingly less self-reliant masses. To cite just one example, the Obama administration promotes ever-increasing food stamp dependency to citizens and illegal aliens alike under the mendacious SNAP acronym thereby disincentivizing relief and charitable efforts at the local level while further straining an already strapped Federal treasury. A trifecta of stupidity and corruption, if you will: the infantilizing of the populace who now needs federal help in feeding itself; the fiscal irresponsibilty of adding to the national debt; the assault on the institutions of civil society out of naked lust for ever more centralized power in the hands of the Dems, the left wing party. (Not that the Repubs are conservative.)
I grant that a totalitarian State could make use of familial and other local loyalties as levers to coerce individuals as is argued in the Jacobin piece. But that is not a good argument against those local loyalties and what go with them, namely, respect for well-constituted authority and a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional beliefs and practices. Besides, it is precisely the strength of the institutions of civil society that will serve as a brake on the expansion of federal power.
In general, arguments of the form 'X is ill-advised because X could be misused' are unsound due to probative overkill: they prove to much. Most anything can be misused. Blogger buddy and fellow Arizonan Victor Reppert argued against Arizona Senate Bill 1070 on the ground that cops could use it to harass Hispanics or people who look Hispanic. Here is part of my response:
A certain distrust of law enforcement is reasonable. Skepticism about government and its law enforcement agencies is integral to American conservatism and has been from the founding. But we need to make a simple distinction between a law and its enforcement. A just law can be unjustly applied or enforced, and if it is, that is no argument against the law. If the police cannot be trusted to enforce the 1070 law without abuses, then they cannot be trusted to enforce any law without abuses. Someone who thinks otherwise is probably assuming, falsely, that most cops are anti-Hispanic racists. What a scurrilous assumption!
At this point one must vigorously protest the standard leftist ploy of 'playing the race card,' i.e., the tactic of injecting race into every conceivable issue. The issue before us is illegal immigration, which has nothing to do with race. Those who oppose illegal immigration are opposed to the illegality of the immigrants, not to their race. The illegals happen to be mainly Hispanic, and among the Hispanics, mainly Mexican. But those are contingent facts. If they were mainly Persians, the objection would be the same. Again, the opposition is to the illegality of the illegals, not to their race.
You write, "Brooks, on the other hand, seems to see civil society and State as almost the same thing, and appears to argue that loyalty to the former should entail obedience to the latter." I've read Brooks' piece about four times and I don't get that out of it.
The issue underlying the Snowden case is a very difficult one and may be irresolvable. Perhaps it can be formulated as finding the correct middle position between two extremes. On the one end you have the alienated, deracinated, twentysomething cyberpunk loyal to no one and nothing except some such abstraction as the common good or the good of humanity. On the other end end you have the Blut-und-Boden type who uncritically respects and accepts every form of authority from that of his parents on up though the mediating associations of civil society to the the authority of der Fuehrer himself. At the one extreme, the hyper-autonomy of the rootless individual, full of excessive trust in his own judgment, who presumes to be justified in betraying his country. At the other extreme, the hyper-heteronomy of the nativist, racist, xenophobe who justifies his crimes against humanity by saying that he was following orders and who invokes the outrageous "My country right or wrong."
In between lie the difficult cases. The brother of the Unabomber turned him in, or 'ratted him out' depending on your point of view. I say he did right: familial loyalty is a value but it has limits. I have no firm opinion about the Snowden case or where it lies on the spectrum, but I am inclined to agree with Brooks. It's bloody difficult!
If anyone is interested in my debate with Reppert over AZ SB 1070 from three years ago, it unfolds over three posts accessible from this page.
A president presides over something. To preside over it, however, he must know something about it. But 'President' Obama seems to know little or nothing about what is going on in his government. He puts me in mind of Sgt. Schulz of Hogan's Heroes: "I know nothing!" Check out this clip.
The Gibson Guitar raid, the IRS intimidation of Tea Party groups and the fraudulently obtained warrant naming Fox News reporter James Rosen as an "aider, abettor, co-conspirator" in stealing government secrets are but a few examples of the abuse of power by the Obama administration to intimidate those on its enemies list.
Liberals like to say that the government is us. President Obama recently trotted out the line to quell the fears of gun owners:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
Liberals might want to think about the following.
If the government is us, and the government lies to us about Benghazi or anything else, then we must be lying to ourselves. Right?
If the government is us, and the government uses the IRS to harass certain groups of citizens whose political views the administration opposes, then we must be harassing ourselves.
I could continue in this vein, but you get the drift. "The government is us" is blather. It is on a par with Paul Krugman's silly notion that we owe the national debt to ourselves. (See Left, Right, and Debt.)
It is true that some, but not all, of those who have power over us are elected. But that truth cannot be expressed by the literally false, if not meaningless, 'The government is us.' Anyone who uses this sentence is mendacious or foolish.
The government is not us. It is an entity distinct from most of us, and opposed to many of us, run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry individuals who may have started out with good intentions but who were soon suborned by the power, perquisites, and pelf of high office, people for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the maintenance and extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, who are not part of the government, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.
If you value liberty you must cultivate a healthy skepticism about government. To do so is not anti-government. Certain scumbags of the Left love to slander us by saying that we are anti-government. It is a lie and they know it. They are not so stupid as not to know that to be for limited government is to be for government.
There are two extremes to avoid, the libertarian and the liberal. Libertarians often say that the government can do nothing right, and that the solution is to privatize everything including the National Parks. Both halves of that assertion are patent nonsense. It is equal but opposite nonsense to think that Big Government will solve all our problems. Ronald Reagan had it right: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have." Or something like that.
From a logical point of view, the ‘Government is us’ nonsense appears to be a pars pro toto fallacy: one identifies a proper part (the governing) with the whole of which it is a proper part (the governed).
Senator John McCain is for it. Victor Davis Hanson is against it. VDH has the better case, as it seems to me.
The further expenditure of American blood and treasure "to teach locals not to be their tribal selves" (VDH) is a losing proposition. We are in deep trouble domestically, and we are going to teach benighted Middle Eastern tribalists how to live? How has that worked out in the past? And with our trash culture of empty celebrity, an entertainment industry that resembles an open sewer, fiscal irresponsibility, ever-widening political divisions, and a panem-et-circenses populace, we are not exactly role models to anyone any more.
In this fine piece, Marilyn Penn takes Thomas Friedman to task. Her article begins thusly (emphasis added):
In Thomas Friedman’s op ed on the Boston marathon massacre (Bring On the Next Marathon, NYT 4/17), the boldface caption insists “We’re just not afraid anymore.” Perhaps this is true for a traveling journalist who doesn’t use the subway daily or who isn’t forced to spend all his days in the 9/11 city of New York, but for most thinking people who work and live here, there is a great deal to fear. We live in a porous society where criminals roam free yet politicians complain about the “discriminatory” stop and frisk policies of the police, even though they have successfully reduced crime precisely in the neighborhoods that most affect the complaining minorities and their liberal champions. If you ride the subways, you know how many passengers wear enormous back-packs, large enough to conceal an arsenal of weapons. These are allowed to be carried into movie theaters, playgrounds, parks, sports arenas, shopping centers, department stores and restaurants with no security checks whatsoever. On the national front, immigration policies are more concerned with politically correct equality than with the reality of which groups are fomenting most of the terror around the world today. Our northern and southern borders are infiltrated daily by undocumented people slipping in beyond the government’s surveillance or control.
I agree with her entire piece. Read it.
It has been a week since the Boston Marathon bombing. There was a moment of silence today in remembrance of the victims. But let's keep things in perspective. Only three people were killed. I know you are supposed to gush over these relatively minor events and the undoubtedly horrendous suffering of the victims, but most of the gushing is the false and foolish response of feel-good liberals who have no intention of doing what is necessary to protect against the threat of radical Islam. The Patriot's Day event was nothing compared to what could happen. How about half of Manhattan being rendered uninhabitable by dirty bombs?
When that or something similar happens, will you liberals start yammering about how 'unimaginable' it was? Look, I'm imagining it right now. Liberals can imagine the utopian nonsense imagined by John Lennon in his asinine "Imagine." Is their imagination 'selective'? They can imagine the impossible but not the likely. It is worth recalling that Teddy Kennedy's favorite song was Impossible Dream.
What follows is the whole of Victor Davis Hanson's Promiscuous Prudes with a bit of commentary.
More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago last year. Yet Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel still found time to berate the fast food franchise Chick-fil-A for not sharing "Chicago values" -- apparently because its founder does not approve of gay marriage.
[A case of what I call misplaced moral enthusiasm. Emanuel's view is particularly offensive because conservative opposition to gay 'marriage' is principled and rationally argued. It does not derive from bigotry or 'homophobia.']
Two states have legalized marijuana, with more to come. Yet social taboos against tobacco smoking make it nearly impossible to light up a cigarette in public places. Marijuana, like alcohol, causes far greater short-term impairment than does nicotine. But legal cigarette smoking is now seen as a corporate-sponsored, uncool and dirty habit that leads to long-term health costs for society at large -- in a way homegrown, hip and mostly illegal pot smoking apparently does not.
[The church of liberalism must have its demon, and his name is tobacco. (See Cigarettes, Rationality, and Hitchens.) There is also the absurdity, not mentioned by Hanson, that tobacco use is demonized while drinking alcohol is widely accepted. Ask yourself: how many auto accidents have been caused by people under abnd because of the influence of nicotine? More or less than the number of such accidents caused by people under the influence of alcohol? The question answers itself. Now repeat the question substituting 'marijuana' for 'alcohol.' Marijuana use impairs driving skills. Nicotine use enhances concentration and alertness. Liberals have a knee-jerk hatred of corporations. When big corporations market dope will the lefties change their tune?]
Graphic language, nudity and sex are now commonplace in movies and on cable television. At the same time, there is now almost no tolerance for casual and slang banter in the media or the workplace. A boss who calls an employee "honey" might face accusations of fostering a hostile work environment, yet a television producer whose program shows an 18-year-old having sex does not. Many colleges offer courses on lurid themes from masturbation to prostitution, even as campus sexual-harassment suits over hurtful language are at an all-time high.
[There is also the double-standard: you can get away with calling a Jew a 'kike' but not a black 'nigger.' Why is 'nigger' more offensive than 'kike'? Why is 'So-and-so is nigger-rich' more offensive than 'I got a great deal; I jewed him down to $150'? You may recall Jesse Jackson's reference to New York as 'himey town.' But what if someone referred to Detroit as 'nigger town'?
In a blog post on the difference between 'asshole' and 'honkey,' a philosophy professor who wrote a book entitled Assholes starts off, "Here I mean not only 'honkey,' but any pejorative term directed toward a particular group of people ('honkey' and whites; 'wop' and Italians; 'kike' and Jews; 'chink' and Chinese people; 'limeys' and Irish people; 'n—-r' and Afro-Americans).
Notice how the PC prof refuses to write out 'nigger,' but has no qualms about 'wop,' 'kike,' and 'chink.'
As a philosophy teacher he ought to be aware of the distinction between use and mention. He is talking about those words, not applying them to people. Why then is he so squeamish about writing out the word 'nigger'?]
A federal judge in New York recently ruled that the so-called morning-after birth control pill must be made available to all "women" regardless of age or parental consent, and without a prescription. The judge determined that it was unfair for those under 16 to be denied access to such emergency contraceptives. But if vast numbers of girls younger than 16 need after-sex options to prevent unwanted pregnancies, will there be a flood of statutory rape charges lodged against older teenagers who had such consensual relations with younger girls?
Our schizophrenic morality also affects the military. When America was a far more traditional society, few seemed to care that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower carried on an unusual relationship at the front in Normandy with his young female chauffeur, Kay Summersby. As the Third Army chased the Germans across France, Gen. George S. Patton was not discreet about his female liaisons. Contrast that live-and-let-live attitude of a supposedly uptight society with our own hip culture's tabloid interest in Gen. David Petraeus' career-ending affair with Paula Broadwell, or in the private emails of Gen. John Allen.
What explains these contradictions in our wide-open but prudish society?
Decades after the rise of feminism, popular culture still seems confused by it. If women should be able to approach sexuality like men, does it follow that commentary about sex should follow the same gender-neutral rules? Yet wearing provocative or inappropriate clothing is often considered less offensive than remarking upon it. Calling a near-nude Madonna onstage a "hussy" or "tart" would be considered crudity in a way that her mock crucifixion and simulated sex acts are not.
Criminal sexual activity is sometimes not as professionally injurious as politically incorrect thoughts about sex and gender. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer -- found to have hired prostitutes on a number of occasions during his time in office -- was given a CNN news show despite the scandal. But when former Miss California Carrie Prejean was asked in the Miss USA Pageant whether she endorsed gay marriage, she said no -- and thereby earned nearly as much popular condemnation for her candid defense of traditional marriage as Spitzer had for his purchased affairs.
Critics were outraged that talk-show host Rush Limbaugh grossly insulted birth-control activist Sandra Fluke. Amid the attention, Fluke was canonized for her position that federal health-care plans should pay for the contraceptive costs of all women.
Yet in comparison to Fluke's well-publicized victimhood, there has been a veritable news blackout for the trial of the macabre Dr. Kermit Gosnell, charged with killing and mutilating in gruesome fashion seven babies during a long career of conducting sometimes illegal late-term abortions. Had Gosnell's aborted victims been canines instead of humans -- compare the minimal coverage of the Gosnell trial with the widespread media condemnation of dog-killing quarterback Michael Vick -- perhaps the doctor's mayhem likewise would have been front-page news outside of Philadelphia.
Modern society also resorts to empty, symbolic moral action when it cannot deal with real problems. So-called assault weapons account for less than 1 percent of gun deaths in America. But the country whips itself into a frenzy to ban them, apparently to prove that at least it can do something -- without wading into the polarized racial and class controversies of going after illegal urban handguns, the real source of the nation's high gun-related body count.
Not since the late-19th-century juxtaposition of the Wild West with the Victorian East has popular morality been so unbridled and yet so uptight.
In short, we have become a nation of promiscuous prudes.