It ain’t me, babe

29 06 2016

Oh, to be innocent.

Innocence excuses every excess, every error, justifies every act, however unjust.

Think: He started it!

This is bad enough when dealing with small children, and one for which the correct response is usually I don’t care who started it—knock it off!, but in adults, arguing over politics?


It will surprise exactly none of you that I am skeptical of the notion of innocence in politics; in fact, it has no place. There is no political action without complicity: to make demands is to take responsibility, to legislate is to compromise, and to lead is to maneuver.

You can be good, in politics, but you cannot be innocent.

Which is why I’m not much moved by yelps from the likes of Rod Dreher that (almost) anything Christian conservatives do to resist anything queer is justified because, wait for it, the queer folk started it.

This is all over his blog: Well, okay, maybe in the past one or two people were mean, but now, the social justice warriors are all hellbent on attacking us poore wee Christian folk.

I want you to notice something. The Left always accuses the Right of advancing the culture war, even though it is usually the Right playing defense. The pharmacists’ situation is a classic example. Nobody in Washington state had the slightest problem finding RU-486 Plan B. If they couldn’t get it at the Stormans’ pharmacy, there were plenty pharmacies nearby where they could. Conscience exemptions are standard nationwide, and state and national pharmacy professional associations filed amicus briefs supporting the Stormans. Nobody wanted this regulation, except the Jacobins of the Sexual Revolution.

Now, I get that, on many sexual issues, the Right may feel under siege: same-sex marriage is now a constitutional right, trans issues are on the rise, and the death of Scalia (with a likely replacement by a Democratic nominee) means the wide latitude often afforded to mainstream Christianities is likely to be trimmed back.

These are losses.

But that one has lost does not mean that one is innocent—losing hurts, but it neither purifies nor sanctifies—or that playing defense somehow makes you more righteous than those on offense.  The mere fact that one is fighting to advance or fighting to defend is morally meaningless.

What is meaningful is the cause you seek to advance or defend.

Now, Dreher, in advancing his Benedict Option (as a defense against degeneracy), clearly believes his cause is just—boy, does he believe it

You may not be interested in the Jacobins, but the Jacobins are interested in you — and your children. We must fight them every opportunity we get, but we have to know what we’re fighting for, and we have to know how to continue the fight underground if we are ultimately defeated.

Leaving aside the infinitely more important cause of the eternal fate of souls, there is the matter of making sure that there are people alive in the generations to come who can properly bear witness to the past — not just the particularly Christian past, but to Western civilization, the civilization that — I speak symbolically, of course — came from Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. We fight for Christian civilization itself, which includes what emerged from Moscow too. And therefore we must fight against the nihilistic successor civilization of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Brussels. We fight for the Paris of St. Genevieve, not the Paris of Robespierre. Modern civilization has no past, only a future. If our civilization is to have a future, it must be rooted in our past. We must remember our sacred Story.

I believe we will have a future, and I will fight for that future by fighting to keep alive the memory of the past. I won’t stake my life on defending New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Brussels, but I will stake my life on defending Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and Moscow. That’s where the battle is. It’s a battle taking place in every city, town, and village in America. Which side are you on?

—but that it is a defense grants it no more moral urgency than, well, the Jacobin advance.

Dreher, like every other partisan, believes his cause urgent and just, but being knocked off one’s pins doesn’t make the cause more just.

If that were so, then no political victory could be just, and every political loss, a tragedy.

A slaughter of the innocents, indeed.

Whatever we deny or embrace

25 03 2015

Sometimes a girl just wants a beer.

I don’t want to have to be bothered with the bodega owner’s religious beliefs, or the beer company’s political donations; I don’t want to have to run through some kind of checklist of acceptable/unacceptable views before I lay down my 10 bucks for a six-pack.

You see, all that time I spent spewing a not-inconsiderable number of words on the concept of “one law for all”, I was really just covering for my own laziness.

Okay, not entirely true, but if we decide to divvy up our laws and protections based on personal beliefs, then those of us who have strong beliefs (of whatever sort) are gonna end up wasting time trying to make sure we’re not paying for someone else’s loathsome agenda.

I don’t mind searching for fair trade coffee, say, and do try (although sometimes fail: Amazon) to buy products and services from companies which don’t mistreat their workers; connecting labor conditions to the purchase of things labored is a pretty direct relationship, and thus makes sense to me.

But beyond that direct economic relationship, I’m a raving pluralist, and thus neither want nor expect that everyone and every company which produces anything I could possible buy, use, or otherwise enjoy would line up with my own beliefs.

More than that, I think it would be bad if we only ever consorted with our own kind on every last thing.

How dull. How constricting. How small.

I do notice the expressed political or religious views of authors and actors and musicians, and yeah, it does affect my view of them—and I don’t like that. (I have yet to write the Play to End All Plays, but if I could get Brian Dennehy or Danny Aiello to star, I would be a fool to turn them down just because they’re conservative.) I don’t know these people, will never know these people, so if I’m watching a movie or listening to a song, why should their personal views have anything to do with my enjoyment of their performance?

Such tribalism is only human, I guess, but I don’t have to feed it; getting past tribalism is human, too.

Which is where one-law-for-all comes into play: it’s good for pluralism. When we enter the public sphere, each of us is by law equal to the other, which means that by law each can go where and do whatever anyone else can do*. It is a basic kind of justice.

(*Yes, there are some exceptions to this—“employees only” and “you must be this tall. . .” and all that—but the general rule stands.)

It is—horribly—clear that not everyone is treated equally and that injustice is a daily part of life. Still, that we are all to be equal under the law promises, if only in the breach, that each of us deserves to be a part of public life, that however different we may be from one another, we belong.

All right, I’m getting tired, my thoughts are wandering, and this argument is falling apart even as I make it, so lemme just jump to the end: having different laws for different groups disrupts that basic equality and obscures the basic standard of justice. Instead of being free to move about the country, one has to worry about getting/determining who to shut out.

And the second end: if we instantiate the lines we draw around ourselves, those lines come to matter more than anything else—more than the beer, the books, or the movies we could enjoy, more than ease of moving through our towns and our cities, more than the experience of being in the world.

I don’t want society to be a mush; I want us to be able to differ. And the best way to do that is to make sure that, whatever our differences, we are, by law, treated the same.

5 am, looking for food for her kids

19 11 2013

I haven’t said much about the OBAMA-DOOM-CARE APOCALYPSE because, well, I don’t have much to say.

Yeah, I believe the reports that the launch of the website was a huge cock-up, and that Obama has taken hits on both the cock-up and the you-can-keep-it mantra, but I don’t know how much any of this matters, at least at this point. I’m with Bernstein on this: the much-ado is much too soon.

(And honestly, who was surprised by the problems? Romneycare had issues in its roll-out in Massachusetts, but anyone who’s ever worked for an institution of substantial size knows exactly what’s involved in introducing a “new! improved!” software program, and it ain’t pretty. This is not an excuse, but it does mean the ACA’s site problems should also not be a surprise.)

I’m a single-payer kinda gal for simplicity’s & justice’s sake; the kludge necessitated by the ACA is a turn-off. But I also don’t think a single-payer plan could have made it through Congress (tho’ it would have been nice had there been a bigger push for a public option), and generally believe that the ACA is better, much better, than nothing.

The problems need to be fixed, but as important as those fixes are for the president’s legacy and for Democratic electoral success, even more important is that millions and millions and millions of Americans will soon have access to health care.

That’s who those fixes are really for: those millions and millions and millions of Americans who’ve gone without.

A crappy website for a program is an embarrassment; that program will only become a failure if its site’s crappiness keeps millions and millions and millions of people from seeing doctors, nurses, therapists, and getting the help they need.

Don’t want to be a richer man, pt II

29 08 2013

Back to unpacking that hastily stuffed post:

2. Losing status is not an injustice. It’s not fun, and it may feel unfair, but the loss of status in and of itself is not unfair.

Status can be earned or unearned, related to deeds, to relationships, to kinship, something taken or something granted. It almost certainly is culturally dependent—what earns you status in one culture may earn you contempt in another—and, depending upon that culture, may be related to justice or not. In cultures in which people think they deserve their status, they are likely more likely to believe that changes in the culture which lead to changes (loss) in status are unfair.

This could be seen as the aims of the civil rights movement in the US were absorbed into society and instantiated in governmental and corporate policy. As a result, those who had formerly only to compete with one another for position were instead forced to compete with those who had been kept out of the game.

To switch up the metaphor: white men could no longer count on always being first in line for jobs, promotions, college admissions, and sundry other social goods. They lost status.

That they did so, however, was not unjust. American society was formed out of the ungainly mess of egalitarianism, white supremacy, patriarchy, justice, toleration, conformity, segregation, integration, settlement, escapism, hard work, and luck, and as the polity shifted away from over supremacism in terms of both race and sex, the sense of “who was best (for the position, say)” shifted.

The liberationist in me would say Not damned nearly enough, but I do recognize the shift has occurred, and in a direction which has benefitted me and, I would argue, society as a whole: I think it is better to live in a society in which the placement of one’s reproductive organs  does not determine one’s prospects in that society, or where  people”will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

(I know that’s an overused phrase and not even his best one, but on the 50th anniversary of the speech, it seemed apropos.)

Now, I admit that I’m overloading “status” somewhat, leaving “justice” untouched. No, I don’t think justice exists outside of culture, but one of the enduring fictions of American culture is that, supremacism notwithstanding, justice bears some relationship to deeds, and that everyone deserves a fair shot at a decent life. The definition of justice didn’t change so much as did the “everyone” who deserved the fair shot: the pool of who were to be considered in matters of justice got a whole lot more crowded.

With the expansion of “everyone” to include almost every citizen, the status which had accrued to white male citizens simply for being white male citizens was necessarily lessened—not because status was taken away in an absolute sense, but, because it was granted to so many other people, meant relatively less.

To bring in yet another analogy: it’s not that white men got kicked out of the pool but that they had to share it. And yeah, if you’re used to having the joint to yourself, having to share it is a loss.

But it is not unjust.

Give me the gun

4 08 2013

Yet another article about yet another shitty government official and in the comments, the usual:

Yeah, we should totally give up our guns to these tyrants!

Okay, yeah, comments (often a cesspool, not representative, blah blah), but this sentiment is so commonly expressed in the comments that someone less obsessed with gun regs/rights (take yer pick) is likely simply to skip past them.

I, for example, usually skip past.

But today a new thought hit: Guns are a simple answer to a tough problem.

I’m a good-government type of gal, but any leftist who isn’t at least skeptical of governmental power isn’t doing it right. I like big, messy, pluralist, complicated societies, and the only way to live well in a big, messy, pluralist, complicated societies is to establish some kind of rule of law to navigate those messes and complications.  And if that law is to have a chance at approaching justice, good government is required.

But it’s also manifestly the case that government isn’t always good, that law falls short of justice, and sometimes you really do have to defend yourself by any means necessary.

Thus, while it’s easy for me to roll my eyes at so-called gun-nuts, there is some small part of me that gets some small part of their agenda. There’s a lot I don’t get and a lot I don’t agree with, but the notion that the government is not always to be trusted. . . ?

Anyway, trying to wrest good government out of bad is hard, hard work, rarely straightforward, and almost always takes too long. And even if you think you’ll fail, you have to believe enough in the worth of good government to try.

Not everyone believes this, of course, which is why some prefer the quick recourse to weaponry. But there may be others who are driven less by animus against the government (or the big messy society which requires it) than a frustration that the Right and the Good are just so goddamned obvious and just as goddamned obviously never to be achieved by standard operating procedures, that the best way to the Right and the Good is to blow a hole through those SOPs.

Thus, the gun: It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s done.


h/t: Brad DeLong

Na na na na, hey hey-a, good bye

26 06 2013

I have sympathy for people who lose political contests. I know what it’s like to be on the losing end—it hurts—so on those occasions in which my side wins, I don’t much feel like grinding down ordinary folk on the losing side. (Leaders and sundy celebri-pols are another matter. . . .)

But on the DOMA case, my reaction is pretty much We won you lost; good! (And to the leaders and sundry celebri-pols rending their garments over the decision, my reaction is: We won, you lost, fuck you.)

The winning or losing of elections is not in and of itself a matter of justice: it’s a sorting mechanism for governance which can may lead to (un)just legislation, but any justice is located in the fairness of the contest itself, not the outcome. If you lose, it sucks, but it’s not unfair; as such graciousness is called for.

And if you win, that’s great, but it’s not a triumph of justice; as such, graciousness is called for.

But some laws are unfair, and as such, graciousness doesn’t apply. The Defense of Marriage Act was manifestly unfair, preventing same-sex couples full coverage under the law and thus equal protection of those same laws. DOMA actively disfavored a minority of citizens just because a majority thought they were icky.

(Yes, I know SSM opponents say that’s not at all the case, but I don’t believe it.)

DOMA was unjust. Those who supported it supported injustice. Whatever else they think DOMA stood for, it stood for injustice.

Thus, my ungracious response to DOMA defenders: You lost. You deserved to lose. And you deserve no sympathy for the loss.

You put the load right on me

27 03 2013

I don’t believe in rights.

No, no, that’s not, mm, right. I don’t believe in natural rights, inalienable rights, rights granted by the Creator. . . you know Imma ’bout to tag-team this off to Bentham, don’t you?

Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts.

Rights are, instead, rhetorical artifacts, crafted out of history and philosophy and given heft in political culture. They haven’t always existed; they may not always exist. But, for now, we act as if they do, and grant them such privileged status in our theories of liberty (another rhetorical artifact) that a claim of right serves to silence alternate claims of expedience and desire.

(Or, y’know, start a fight  if one’s rights claim is countered with another. Then Mill is invoked: The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people, i.e., my right to swing my arms ends at your nose. And when that doesn’t work, well, that’s another post.)

Where was I? Ah, yes: the durability and privileged status granted to rights.

Which brings me to Prop 8 and DOMA and Constitutional rights and democracy.

I’m not a Constitutional scholar, nor even a dedicated Court-watcher (more of a Court-peeper, actually), so I have nothing to say regarding the juridical strength and weaknesses of the petitioners arguments before the Court. I do find issues of Constitutional interpretation interesting, mainly because I find issues of interpretation interesting (and will blow a gasket at Scalia’s claims regarding originalism), but, today, I don’t have anything to say on what the justices may or ought to say about the Constituion vis-a-vis same-sex marriage.

This doesn’t mean I have nothing to say, of course. (D’oh!) Let’s talk politics! Yay! More specifically, let’s talk about the politics of rights-claims versus majoritarianism, and which is the better way to cement a political victory.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg has famously argued that Roe v. Wade was decided too broadly, that more and more states were moving to relax their abortion laws, and that by creating a federal right to abortion, the Court simultaneously energized the anti-abortion opposition and imperiled reproductive rights.

It is a plausible interpretation of events. I am not at all sure, however, that it is the correct one.

Which, roughly, brings us to the question: When ought claims be treated as preferences and run through majoritarian processes, and when ought they be treated as rights and granted (near) absolute status, safe from majority preferences?

I don’t know that there’s any good answer to this. On the one hand, I prize liberty, for which rights are a if not the crucial component, but I also prize representative democracy, in which majorities may legitimately impose their preferences on minorities. Turn everything into a right, and the collective may do nothing; disregard rights, and majorities become tyrannies.

It is demonstrably the case that majorities (or the fervent sub-majority among them) can get irritated when they are prevented from imposing their views on others, and, sometimes, may so strongly react against such prevention that the backlash may be worse than and last longer than would have the original situation.

So what’s a minority to do?

The Ginsberg approach argues in favor of the slog: get in and chip away, chip away, chip away, until the mountain pressing down upon you crumbles away. Once it’s gone, it’s damned well gone.

There’s a lot to recommend to this approach, and, on the whole, I favor it.

But that doesn’t mean one can’t or shouldn’t occasionally stick some dynamite into that mountain, yell FIRE IN THE HOLE! and blow that sucker to smithereens. Sometimes justice—oh, yeah, justice!—demands the weight removed in all due haste.

Sometimes justice says to hell with the backlash.

Justice, too, sits alongside and occasionally jostles rights and liberties in a democratic society. Minorities must have justice, but so, too, must majorities; is there any way to determine ahead of time who must carry the weight?

No, there isn’t. You go with what you’ve got, and if you lose in one arena, you try for the win in the other. If you think you’re right, if you believe your claim is a matter of liberty and justice for all, then you fight in every way possible.

That’s politics.

And a right to marry? I honestly don’t know if there is a right to marry, for anyone. But it seems that if that right is granted to some, then—liberty and justice for all—it should be granted to all.


h/t for that fantastic Michael Bérubé link—go ahead, click on it!—to Scott Lemieux, LGM