Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

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

6 Responses to 'What You’re Talking About'

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  1. As an outsider looking on, I do not understand the US hysteria about guns.

    The number of deaths from all causes in the US is about 800 per 100,000.

    The number of deaths from firearms homicide is about
    3.6 per 100,000.

    Homicides do not make the top 10 causes of death. Accidental deaths are the 5th cause of death. You are 10 times as likely to die in an accident then be murdered.

    This does not excuse murder but why such hysteria over firearms?


    2 Jun 14 at 3:27 pm

  2. Yes, I know what you mean. I tend to avoid political arguments because most of the time they are so ridiculous. Once upon a time I used to enjoy reading WIlliam S Buckley because I disagreed with him and his clarity helped me formulate exactly why I disagreed.
    Anyone can knock down a straw man.


    2 Jun 14 at 3:39 pm

  3. As Jane says, there is a lot of confusion over rights.

    Locke invoked “natural rights” which, roughly speaking, boil down to what is needed for a society to function. There is a natural right to walk down the street without being shot or hit over the head or knocked down.

    Some of those natural rights have been written into the US constitution. I’m thinking of things such as freedom of speech and right to a fair trial.

    The right to walk down the street without being shot is not in the Constitution but is enforced by the criminal law which makes murder illegal.

    I see no conflict between a legal right to own firearms and a right to walk down the street without being murdered.


    2 Jun 14 at 5:52 pm

  4. Ah! You’re confused because you’ve mistaken all this (mostly electronic) shouting back and forth with discussion or debate. It’s no such thing. It’s an affirmation of tribal loyalties–a (slightly) intellectualized version of shouting team slogans at sporting events. You don’t get far in the Red Sox bleachers by saying the Yankees have a point.

    I am not entirely convinced that advancing the argument may not require an equal understanding of the other side’s argument. Some positions are just silly or based on untruths. But advancing the argument certainly requires adherence to facts–including the other side’s argument if you advance this as a fact–reason, and, as part of this, clear and consistent vocabulary. Where you do not find these three things, there is no debate or discussion, and I commend to you the wisdom of Lazarus Long:

    “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and annoys the pig.”


    2 Jun 14 at 6:00 pm

  5. And once again, I failed proof-reading. “necessarily requires” in place of “may not require” please. My apologies.


    2 Jun 14 at 6:01 pm

  6. Oh. And “ended up” was an interesting take on the article. It made that point, of course–but it also spent a fair bit of time discussing different liberal and conservative educational philosophies, and pointing out how the left could run conservatives out of departments, but get along well with the utopian strain of libertarianism. Article is from NEW CRITERION and found on aldaily. Recommended.


    3 Jun 14 at 4:29 am

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