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Archive for June, 2014

Woodpiles–Maybe Not Self Explanatory

with 7 comments

During the last 24 hours, posts appeared on both FB and Twitter that set my head spinning, and after having spent a night trying to figure out my response to the first one, and this morning being unable to shake free of the second, I thought I’d put my meanderings out here.

The problem these posts represent is not a minor thing, and the issue represent isn’t about to go away soon, or quietly.

So here we are.

The first was a tweet from my friend K, who has two young sons and wanted to find something he could read to them at bedtime.  He was looking for something in the vein of Philip Marlowe, because up until then they’d been reading fantasy. 

It was my recommendation that he should try Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels.  He tweeted back that he hadn’t read Stout, but that he had found attitudes to race “disappointing” in older novels, and did he have anything to worry about like that with Wolfe?

The FB post was from my friend L, who said she had a moral dilemma.  She had recently found that a friend of hers was “a bigot.”  He kept his bigotry very well hidden, but now she knew.  Should she retain his friendship, or not?

I expect I’m going to get some flack from some of you, saying that these two things are not the same.

But I’m going to stick with it here.  These things may not be “the same,” but they are very closely related, and they represent a kind of thinking that is–in the long run and the short–a very bad idea.

Let’s take the tweet first.

My reply to K about whether he had anything to worry about in the work of Rex Stout on the subject of race was that I couldn’t remember anything (which means there was probably nothing really outrageous), but that older books were likely to have attitudes that were…older.

This is something that is undeniably true in a way that would be trivial if it wasn’t for the fact that people don’t realize what they’re doing when they do it.

Our attitudes to a lot of things–sex (and gender) as well as race, religion and atheism, I could go on for a week–are not just very different from what they were in this country in, say, 1930, but very different from what they have been anywhere, ever.

In fact, attitudes to these things are very different in the modern industrialized west than they are in any other place on the planet, including the equally modern nations of Asia. 

We may think it is self evident that there is no connection between race and personal character (intelligence, criminality, temperament), but no other society on the planet has ever thought that, and most of them don’t now.

We may think it is right and fair that women should be paid the same as men and that gays should have the right to marry, but no other society on the planet has ever thought that, either. 

Only a very few years ago, a group of Iraqis protesting the American occupation told a report from, I think, the AP, that they didn’t want democracy, because democracy always “comes with the gays.”

I can see an argument welling up–as it has, in some Amerian universities–that if people in other times didn’t share our convictions on race and gender, then we should just stop reading and publishing and teaching them, because our way is better.

The problem with that is that the Western take on race and gender didn’t spring fully formed from our own particular version of Zeus’s forehead.

It is the product of a long and complicated intellectual history that begins with St. Paul and probably isn’t over yet. 

And that history is moving very fast.  Even thirty years ago, this society did not have the same (or even comparable) attitudes on race and gender as it has now.

If you really want only contemporary attitudes towards these things in the books you read, you’re going to have to give up not only Sophocles and Shakespeare,  Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, but at least some Vonnegut, Pynchon, and Alix Kates Schulman.

In 1969, my father was considered a flaming egalitarian radical for asserting the belief that gay people were born gay, and couldn’t help it, and therefore shouldn’t be blamed for it.

The “enlightened” position at that period was that homosexuality was a mental illness, which should be treated.

I’m not saying that we should all go on thinking as if it were 1969.

I am saying that if we refuse to read books from other times and places because they didn’t think the way we do now, we not only impoverish ourselves beyond measure, we lose any sense of WHY we think the way we think now.

We lose, in other words, or ability to articulate the reason why our way is better.

We lose any sense of how we exist in history–and without a sense of how we exist in history, we don’t know who we are, or what we are, or why we are.

And without knowing those things, all we have to say to the overwhelming population of the earth that believes black people are inherently stupid and gay people ought to be executed is “I’m just better and so THERE.”

My friend L’s FB post about what she should do now that she’s found out her friend is a bigot posed a big problem for me right away.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

Define “bigotry,” for instance.  That could be somebody who believes that black people are inherently intellectually inferior to whites and Asians.  It could also mean somebody who has no problem with homosexuality as a life choice but doesn’t think the government should recognize gay marriages.

We define and redefine and redefine again what constitutes “bigotry.”

The word will have a new meaning and new parameters tomorrow, and everybody will pretend that they had been thinking the new way all along.

Then we’ll find ourselves running around trying to explain people we like saying things we don’t.

Think of Joe Biden, saying during the first Obama Presidential campaign that he made a good candidate because he didn’t “sound black.”

Was that “bigotry?” Is it still “bigotry” is you acknowledge that it was also true–or is acknowledging a fact now also an act of “bigotry,” so that we must all pretend that most Americans aren’t disposed against people who sound “ghetto,” or who talk like country singers or even Chris Christie?

My response to L’s post was to say that I don’t judge people by what they think, but by what they do.  Abraham Lincoln had a lot of racialist attitudes common to his time, but he also signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 

I also said that I don’t choose my friends for their politics, and that is also true.

When we accuse people of “racism” and “bigotry,” we too often accuse them of a thought crime that rests on no firm objective foundation, requires psychic abilities none of us have, and serves to turn what ought to be an open conversation about things that matter to us into a form of witch-hunting hysteria where no one is permanently safe.

It try not to judge people by what they think, but by what they do.  I don’t care if you think all Latinos are crazy illegal immigrants, as long as you hire them because they’re the best candidate, pay them the same wage as everybody else in their position, and respect them while they are working for you.

You’ll be a better human being like that than you would be if you thought all the right thoughts and treated your Latino workers like…excrement.

And reading older books from other times with other attitudes helps you to get to the point where you know how to behave decently–something you really can’t do if you believe that everybody who doesn’t think just like you is either evil or stupid or worthless.

Or if you think that there’s no argument in the world that says the things you thing are right and just and proper, aren’t.

I should probably stop blithering now and go off and do something serious.

K should give a shot to Stout.  There’s nothing much about race in the books that I remember, and Stout is an interesting writer and a classic one in the mystery field.

And the boys will love Archie Goodwin.

 

Written by janeh

June 6th, 2014 at 8:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Death in Flyover Country

with 8 comments

I am having one of those weirdly amorphous days when things aren’t so much going wrong as just petering out.

Work went, but that was about all you could say about it.  I tried four times to throw a girl in a white dress in front of a speeding green Chevy without actually killing her off–or killing off the driver–and all I got was a green Chevy mess in a ditch on one try and a tangle of rain-soaked confusion in the other.  This was obviously not what I was looking for, so I’ve put it aside to get back to tomorrow.

With work not going anywhere, I find myself fretting about things that could not be changed or fixed, and that I don’t think it would be a good idea to try.

The unchangeable and unfixable this morning has to do with what I think of as the natural history of start ups.

Somebody gets a great idea to produce a product or service that nobody has thought of before.  He goes to work, founds the business, builds the business, and then gets hugely successful. 

At that point, a large conglomerate comes along, offers to buy him out for a gazillion dollars–and the guy takes the money and runs.

Before we go haring off in the direction of Big Evil Corporations, I want to note here that I find nothing at all wrong with this sequence.  Businesses are hard to start and hard to run, and if you start one as a young person you’re likely to find yourself facing that conglomerate’s offer at about the time other people retire.

There’s nothing magic about “entrepreneurship” that makes it unlikely that you’re going to want to chuck the work when you’re sixty five–or, better yet, fifty. 

And that is particularly true in this particular time and place, where getting bigger and more successful as a business inevitably lands you with increased regulations and mandates. 

There is a problem, however, for your customers.  Almost always, when such a new business emerges as successful, it’s because it’s addressing a demand that nobody else is addressing.

In other words, there’s something out there that at least some people want that nobody else thinks it worthwhile to supply, and you’re supplying it.

Whatever this thing is is almost always a minority taste–it doesn’t tap into the most profitable demographic, say, or it appeals to a relatively small segment of the population.

What happens next, of course, is that this large conglomerate takes a look at this business of yours it’s bought and starts to smooth out the edges, make the thing more palatable to a larger public, make it more like everything else…

…and, in no time at all, the business you founded is no longer supplying the need you identified. 

It is also nowhere near as successful as the conglomerate projected it would be, because it’s now just like everything else, and there’s a lot of competition for the attention of people who want things that are just like everything else.

I want to stress, again, that I don’t see anything wrong with this series of events.  I don’t think the conglomerate is a Big Evil Corporation enforcing conformity on the American public, or harrassing quirky new businesses until they have to run for cover.

Nor do I think the resulting (temporary) homogenization is some kind of public menance that ought to be constrained by government power.

There is often another stage in this series of events, the one in which the entrepreneur, having waited out the three or five or ten year period in which he promised not to start a competing business–starts a competing business.

And the whole cycle starts all over again.

At the moment, the particular example of this cycle that has me annoyed concerns a television cable channel that used to be called CourtTv.

CourtTV had a very simple premise–provide real-time life footage (and later replay the recordings) of real trials in real courtrooms.

Some of these trials were famous and important, but a lot of them were not. 

They were just the day to day stuff of (almost always criminal) courtrooms.  I have no idea who chose the trials to broadcast, but whoever it was had a good sense of what might make a trial interesting to the general public.

It was on CourtTv that I first heard about the woman who had hit a man with her car while she was drunk–and with a suspended license for a previous DUI. 

The man she hit flew up into the air and came down on her windshield, with his head smashing right through it.  He was still alive, and instead of stopping and calling the police, she drove the car and the man home, parked it in her garage, and spent the next several days getting high as a kite on everything imaginable while drifting out to the garage to apologize to the (still living) guy with the head through her windshield.

The man did die eventually, of course.  And the first time I heard about this woman, CourtTv was broadcasting her trial for murder.

The CourtTv case that affected me the most and stayed with me the longest was a lot less bizarre.  In fact, it was entirely too commonplace.

It concerned a young woman in her twenties who had gone out one night, alone, to a two-for-one Tequila Sunrise happy hour at a local bar.  She drank about seven of these things, and then she got into her car and started to drive home.

By then, it was getting dark, and she was in no condition anyway.  She ran a stop sign at a deserted intersection a mile or two away, and ending up t-boning a car coming through from the other direction, instantly killing all four of the teen-agers inside it.

Unlike the the woman on trial for carrying the body around in her windshield for days, it was impossible to make fun of this person.  She was completely and utterly distraught, so much so that she kept pulling her hair over her face as if it were a curtain.

There is a lot of stuff in the law about how a defendant is supposed to be able to assist in her own defense.  This young woman couldn’t assist in her own lunch.  Long before the inevitable verdict had been pronounced, she was just plain gone. 

Of course, I have no way of knowing if she was gone because she was wracked with guilt over what she had done, or because she was devastated to see that her life was over.

Still, I’ll never forget her.  And my instinct says it was the guilt.

There is no longer anything called CourtTv.  It changed its name a few years back, having been taken over by one of the large media companies, and is now TruTv.

When the change happened, there was a lot of fanfare about how the name indicated even more, even better CourtTv–with a slogan that was something like “not reality, actuality.”

What we got instead, of course, was yet another cable channel that seems to be dedicated to nothing but “reality” shows, most of them indescribably boring, and compliation shows like World’s Dumbest Criminals and World’s Smartest Inventions.

I loved watching real trial on CourtTv, but I’m under no illusion that anybody owed me the service.

And sometimes, if a case is making enough noise, we get the old format back–TruTv did broadcast the Casey Anthony trial, for instance.

I’ve been wondering over the last couple of days if this case in Wisconsin will merit a return to broadcasting trials.

For those of you who live on Pluto and haven’t heard any of this: sometime in the past week, police in a small town in Wisconsin arrested two twelve-year-old girls after they lured a mutual friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times. 

According to the girls, they did this in order to meet a person they’d met online, who wanted them to kill somebody as a kind of introduction.

The somebody turned out to be a fictional character with no real life counterpart, the protagonist in a series of very popular web horror stories.

And nobody was entirely sure where the girls got the idea that you had to kill somebody to meet him, since that isn’t part of his character, or why they thought he lived in a nearby national park.

The stabbed girl was in critical condition but still alive last time I checked the news.

The whole incident reaches well beyond the bizarre into the surreal.

And the prosecutor in Wisconsin has charged to girls as adults.

To restate something I actually managed to say on Twitter yesterday:  I’ve met chihuahuas with stronger holds on reality.

I think the likeliest outcome here is that somebody with a cooler head and more common sense will talk the prosecutor down from the trying-them-as-adults thing. 

There is certainly something very awful going on here, but I don’t think it’s a Bad Seed kind of thing.

On the other hand, I’d be hard pressed to tell you what I think it was.

This is the kind of thing I think we ought to have an answer to, but we don’t.

In the meantime, if CourtTv was still in its original incarnation, I’d know for sure I’d get to see any trial that came out of this case.  Now, I’m not sure.

And yes, that has me annoyed.

 

 

Written by janeh

June 5th, 2014 at 8:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Panic Now

with 4 comments

I was wandering around on City Journal this morning when I found this:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/when-automation-comes-for-the-professional-class/

It’s not anything that hasn’t been said on this blog before, or even anything I haven’t responded to before.  It’s distinct only that it comes from the American Conservative, while observations of this kind here tend to come from people on the left.

The observation is, in my opinion, both true and of no particular  importance, and it goes as follows.

We’re getting really really good at designing software that can substitute for human beings at all kinds of tasks.

These tasks include not only the typical targets of automation–work of brute force, or work done by people (like fast food cashiers) who cannot be assumed to hold even the simple skill level required to make change for your five–but increasingly jobs considered to be “middle class.”  These include, as the article states, the basic grunt work of research in law firms and the kind of “journalism” that results in newspaper pieces that read “The Red Sox beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium last night 3-2.”

I said at the beginning of this post that I think these things are true–these things are actually happening, and will probably accelerate, and take over more and more of what we now think of as “middle class” or (as the article put it) “middle skills” jobs.

I will give this article one point against the liberal expositions of the same thing: it doesn’t engage in the kind of frenzied panic and commands to freak out now that are a staple of progressive articles (and FB posts, and…) about this kind of thing.

I see this as a plus because I, myself, am not panicking, and it’s not because I think it’s impossible that my own work will be taken over by computers.

Okay–not impossible, but probably unlikely. There are many different kinds of books in this world, and the kind of thing I like to read is unlikely ever to be written by a computer, unless we advance to the point something like Data.

I can see an economy where certain kinds of best sellers are generated by formula and computer, thereby choking off traditional publication for riskier kinds of books.

But I don’t have to look deep into the future or posit the existence of supercomputers to see my way into that future.  It’s happening now.  Most of the major publishers have been taken over by large media conglomerates who expect returns on investment in the range of 17%.   Books never did return much more on investment than 4-6%.

The result is a shrinking traditional marketplace, bookstores failing right and left, dropped authors without number, and the distinct feeling that publishing as we know it has come to an end.

And yet, here I am, not panicking, and it really, really, really isn’t because I have a gazillion dollars in the bank.  I don’t.

Why I’m not panicking, is, I think, the result of a number of things.

The first is that I never, ever expected that I was likely–never mind entitled–to live in a world of safety and security. 

For whatever reason, I always did assume, from the beginning, that life would always be a risk, that there would be no place to rest, not even in “retirement.”

Of course, I’ve also never been interested in retirement, so there’s that.

But the sudden appearance of this particular risk doesn’t hit me as hard as it hits other people because it just didn’t surprise me.  I’ve always expected it to be, to quote Roseanne Roseannadanna, “always something.”

That, however, is a matter of temperament, and temperament (if you believe Steven Pinker) is mostly a matter of genetics.  So let me chalk that one up to luck.

I have other reasons not to be panicking, and those come down to common sense.

In the first place, these things have happened before.  The proverbial buggy whip makers lost their livelihoods, as did the hand weavers and seamstresses who fueled the original Luddite movement. 

It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t a holocaust of people starving in the streets, even though “social programs” were virtually nonexistant and “poor relief” was poor without leading to much relief.

For all the fear and panic, people did eventually find other means of livelihood and life went on.  We are not poorer because the machines came into do the brute work once done by hand.  The end result was not less available employment but more.

In the second place, I know that an economy requires buyers as well as sellers.  The fantasy that Big Evil Corporation X will take over all the jobs, reduce them to wages that don’t allow a person to eat, and then triumphantly march away with all the money is delusional.

And it’s delusional on more than one front.  The world so described, for instance, would be one in which the stockholders and upper management of Big Evil Corporation X  would have nobody to sell their product to, and therefore no way to make money.

At some point, if rich people want to stay rich, something would have to give.

The only other alternative would be for Big Evil Corporation X to reduce itself to artisan status–to make one product at a time, custom, for only the richest customers.

But although that would always be possible, we’ve been there before.  Rich people weren’t richer then.  They were poorer.  And there were a lot fewer of them.

The next thing is that, given history, what should happen next is that the people released from the drudge work by computers should start to find other things to do and other ways to make a living.

This doesn’t mean that everybody who tries will succeed–in fact, under the best of conditions, most people won’t.

But little by little, day by day, week by week, year by year, a new work landscape will emerge out of the changing conditions of the old.

I’ll admit that it’s likely to take longer this time than it did the last, because we’ve put up a lot of barriers not only to people starting new businesses but growing to the point where they can challenge existing large firms.

And we’re made even worse off because both the Democrats and the Republicans collaborate in this attempt to protect large corporations from competition–the Republicans by simply doing it and the Democrats by promoting “solutions” that actually make things worse (any company with over 50 employees must…).

Even so, the change will happen and the new landscape will emerge, and it’s beyond my comprehension what people think they can do that would make it work otherwise.

Reality is what it is.  It can’t be denied.

And if traditional publishing becomes a set of conglomerates producing computer-generated novels, I’ll write my own, publish them myself as e books, and see where I can go from there.

Written by janeh

June 4th, 2014 at 11:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Romantics

with 4 comments

I have been in a very odd mood lately–odd enough so that, when I finished Real Work (meaning writing) this morning, I put on Beethoven’s 9th in the background.

I am not usually a person who is interested in listening to Beethoven in the morning, and if I start writing at 4, eight o’clock is still first thing in the morning. 

But there I was, and there was Beethoven, and I was worrying about a man named Charles Grandison Finney.

This is going to be one of those posts that practically none of you will read to the end, and fewer of you will commment on, unless you’re all hijacking the blog.

If I was the kind of person who spent her time worrying about how many hits the blog got, this post wouldn’t be here.

But I am myself, and things like Charles Grandison Finney are what tend to end up on my mind from time to time.

So, a few preliminaries.

I am reading, at the moment, a book called The Life of the Mind in America, by Perry Miller. 

Miller was an academic historian, mostly active in the 40s and 50s, who wrote mostly about American intellectual history from the Colonial period to the Civil War.  I’ve reported here on his books about the intellectual development of Colonial New England.

This book–The Life of the Mind in America–begins just after the Revolution during the Second Great Awakening, and it is the Second Great Awakening that brought me to Charles Grandison Finney, since he was probably the most prominent figure in the entire period.

For those of you who know little or nothing about American history and aren’t in the position of not being able to care less:  the Great Awakenings were popular religious movements in the territory now known as the United States.

I put it that way because the First Great Awakening occured before the country became a country.

And the first Great Awakening was a very strange thing, on many levels.

For one, it was lead by Jonathan Edwards, New England’s premiere Calvinist theologian, and not the sort of person you’d expect to throw in his lot with huge, emotionally-charged revivalist meetings in meadows and fields–but there he was.

The customary explanation for how and why the Awakenings happened is to say that they were a revolt against the Enlightenment–not only against Deism and its offshoots, but against the supremacy of reason over feeling in all walks of life, and especially in religion.

And this, too, makes Edwards’s participation in the First Great Awakening very surprising,

What may be less surprising is that the First Great Awakening ended badly.  It was preached–at least on Edwards’s end–in a thoroughly Calvinist manner, stressing the irredeemably evil nature of human beings and the impossibility of earning grace in any way. 

It ended up with two people dead of suicide, convinced that there was nothing in store for them, ever, but Hell.

 All revolts against the Enlightenment are essentially revolts of emotion against (cold, unfeeling) reason, and Miller spends a fair amount of time drawing the connections between American religious revivalism and the Romantic movement in Europe–Byron and Shelley and those sorts of people.

But what struck me about the Second Great Awakening, the one that got going around the turn of the 19th century and that sort of disintegrated in the run up to the Civil War, consists of these two things.

1) It was a revolt against Calvinism as much as (if not more) a revolt against “reason” AND

2) It was the first major revolt of the “rude Westerners” (flyover country!) against the educated Eastern elite (coastal elites!).

I’ve got to be careful here, because there are some singular differences between this period, although weirdly much fewer than you might think.

In both cases, you had a group of people considered by the elites to be vulgar, uneducated and probably stupid.  In both cases, the probably stupid people contained a fairly high proportion of people who were very well educated indeed, but in different places and to different assumptions than the elites who looked down on them.

In the Second Great Awakening, though, there was no pretense on the part of the Rude Westerners that they were advocated in favor of the uneducated against the educated.

If there really were Rude Westerners out there, Finney was adamant that they did not make up the bulk of his audience.  His audience, he was convinced, was comprised of the very best and most civilized and cultivated people in the areas in which he preached.

The other thing–the anti-Calvinism–also has its counterparts in the America of right this minute.

Calvinism maintained that human beings were destined from all eternity for heaven or hell, and that nothing they could do could change their fate.  God had all the power.  Human beings had none.

Finney and his counterparts rejected this absolutely.  They maintained that human beings could determine their own trip to heaven or hell, if they had the will and the stamina to stay the course.

There had always been something distinctly anti-American about predestination, and once it was out in the open, people deserted Calvinist preachers by the score and set themselves off in dozens of dissident sects, of which Joseph Smith and his Mormons were only the most colorful.

And that, too, is like today.  The largest and most well attended Christian churches in this country are not the doctrinally correct, putting out a stern message about the fallenness of man and the inevitability of sin.

They are almost universally megachurches and denominations that stress the idea that God wants you to be happy, that he wants you to be prosperous, that being happy and prosperous requires only that you take your salvation into your own hands and cooperate with God as he tries to do good things for you.

The conventional wisdom these days is that the megachurches thrive because they are “conservative” in theology and politics–but I don’t think so.

There are lots of conservative churches that don’t do the kind of business of, say, Joel Osteen’s operation down in Oklahoma (?).

What is wanted here is almost the polar opposite of conservatism in its classical sense–the feeling that good things await us in the future, that we should be oriented to the future and not to the past, that suffering and failure are the exceptions, not the rule, and should be rejected as coming from the Devil always, and never God.

I think of Sister Louis Bertrand and her constant exhortations to “over it up” to God and to suffer together with Christ, and I think she must be spinning like a top wherever it is she might be now.

I’m being a little flip here.  I do know there’s a lot that’s deeply flawed in the prosperity Gospel, not least of which is the fact that the world is a cussedly contrary place, and bad things do happen to good people through no fault of their own.

But the prosperity Gospel is also very American, and the appeal to hope has always been stronger here than the appeal to guilt.

I’ve always thought that was one of the weaknesses of a lot of progressive initiatives–too many of them (“white privilege,” for instance) depend on instilling a conviction of guilt as a motivator for action.

I don’t think it works very well here, at the moment.  I don’t think it ever has.

In the meantime, I’ve started looking for what I think ought to be easy to find, but isn’t–a professionally done, sympathetic but not sycophantic, biography of Charles Grandison Finney.

There doesn’t seem to be one anywhere.

Written by janeh

June 3rd, 2014 at 10:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

What You’re Talking About

with 6 comments

When I was growing up, my father used to say to me that if I couldn’t make my opponent’s argument as well as I could make my own, I didn’t know what I was talking about.

This was just the kind of thing he would say that would drive me right out of my gourd, and tended to come right after he’d given me a lecture on not despising my uncle because all he wanted was to be happy.

He was really opposed to my despising my uncle because the things that made him happy seemed to me to be–and sometimes even objectively were–rank stupid.

He felt this way even though he also felt that happiness was a tenth-rate ambition, but that’s another story altogether.

I’m bringing this up because of two things.

One is that a friend of mine sent me a link from ALDaily this morning that is about the lack of conservatives in the humanities and social sciences departments of universities.  It ended up being an argument for why it was necessary to have actual conservatives teaching conservative ideas instead of having liberal professors trying to do the same, even when the liberal professors were doing an honest and prinicpled job of trying to present those ideas accurately.

The second thing is a series of incidents on FB, one having to do with gun control and the other having to do with Marco Rubio.

The gun control thing first: a writer posted one of those little sayings-cards asking why your right to own a gun trumps her right to walk down the street without getting shot.

It wasn’t the gun control that got to me–everybody has limits to their ability to engage the issues of the day, and gun control is mostly off my radar.  I mostly don’t care.

What I do care about is the proper use of the word “rights” when it comes to discussing American political realities, because that word as used in our Constitution is very specific.

The rights in the US Constitution are Lockean–natural and individual, and concerned ONLY with the restraint of government power.

My right to free speech is a right to speak without the government punishing or restraining me.  It is NOT a right to post a political sign on my neighbor’s law without his consent, or to speak without my neighbors or my boss getting angry with me and visiting some consequences on my head.

Rights restrain government, not individuals.  Yes, your company can fire you for advocating against gay marraige–or for advocating for it.

What followed was several demands that I explain this or that argument tendered by “gun advocates,” and I don’t think I ever got it through anybody’s head that I wasn’t a gun advocate. 

That was annoying enough, but the arguments they wanted me to defend were all very weak, and not the actual arguments of open carry/concealed carry laws–they seemed to be mostly the straw man arguments produced by anti-gun advocates trying to illustrate how gun advocates think, or little snippets of some idiot on the net that were usually taken WAY out of context.

It’s fairly unlikely that I could have managed to defend the ACTUAL arguments, never mind the truncated versions that were supposed to represent how “conservatives” “really” think about guns.

The incident about Marco Rubio concerned something I see fairly often–something he advocates (for real) was highlighted in order to show what a jerk he is.

Marco Rubio may very well be a jerk, but he wasn’t being a jerk about this: he’s pushing for a constitutional amendment that would allow the US government to deny social program largess to immigrants.

The quote that was used made it seem as if he was advocating removing government health care benefits only (i.e. Medicaid and the subsidies for ACA health plans), but it didn’t take me long to figure out that he meant all social programs inclusively.

And he was advocating an amendment because SCOTUS had pronounced such denials to immigrants as unConstitutional under the equal protection amendment.

The person who posted the Rubio thing is one of the more fairminded liberals on my friends list–I’ve got a lot of rabid partisans among the liberals and a lot of rabid partisans among the conservatives, too–so I put in that this idea wasn’t exactly new.

Almost all the large welfare states of Europe had similar provisions, and some still do for immigrants who come from outside the EU, not because the European welfare states are full of mean-spirited conservatives, but because prudence dictates some kind of policy if you want your welfare state to survive in the long run.

What followed was a discussion that made it clear that the idea was being assumed–not just by the poster, but by a number of other people making comments–as compleatly without merit because of who had said it.

In other words, people were judging not the ideas, but their (immediate) provenance, with judgment pronounced in advance because of that provenance.

I saw something similar happen on FB during the last Presidential election over the behavior, candidacy and private life of Rick Santorum.

I’ll leave out the thing where numerous people made merciless fun of the way Santorum and his wife responded to the stillbirth of their child–they’d lost a child, for God’s sake.  How they expressed their grief should not be fodder for sarcasm and ridicule.

But one of the things that was notable, to me, about Santorum’s campaign is that he represented the thing we all say we want, but really don’t.

Like Santorum and his politics or not, he was willing to lose the campaign rather than compromise his principles. 

His principles may not be yours–and they most assuredly are not mine–but he is a principled man, and he ought to be given his due on that score if not on any other.

I will say again that conservatives are no better at any of this than liberals are.  I’ve never yet met a pro-life advocate who can thoroughly explain the major pro-choice positions.

And when pro-life advocates do quote pro-choice advocates, they always take quotations out of context or use the stupidest quotes they can find on the net.

And none of this even begins to address the people who respond to some religious statement or the other by saying “that isn’t in the Bible” or “that isn’t in the Koran,” when their very protest proves they haven’t read either.

I’ve got half a mind to draw up a reading list, a sort of pre emptive strike against people who don’t know their opponents’ positions–don’t talk to me about conservatives and affirmative action unless you’ve read Thomas Sowell (the books, NOT the little opinion columns) or about Islamaphobia if you haven’t read Mark Stein’s Lights Out: Islam, Free Speech and the Twilight of the West, or…

Well, you see what I mean.

I have to go do something about lunch now.

Written by janeh

June 2nd, 2014 at 11:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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