‘Greeks called people “barbarians”, so how can anyone act like Apartheid was a big deal?’

Walter Williams’ recent column on comparative slavery is intellectually dishonest in general, but his misquotation of abolitionist Frederick Douglass is either an especially egregious example of that, or he’s never bothered to even glance at it in context.

Williams accurately quotes from this sentence in a speech by Douglass examining whether the original U.S. Constitution was pro- or anti-slavery:

[The three-fifths compromise] is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation.

But as Douglass continues, it becomes clear he in no way endorses such accounting and would have preferred enslaved people not be counted at all: Continue reading ‘Greeks called people “barbarians”, so how can anyone act like Apartheid was a big deal?’

Racism is a grandfathered in to American society

This criticism doesn’t mean that all white people are the devil, that malice or active racism are necessary. A hermit frontiersman in the 1800s might have had no opinion on slavery or even been against it morally.

But the act of doing nothing is tacit support of the status quo.

An auto union worker in the 1940s and ’50s may have thought segregation was wrong, but if they felt that opposition to anti-lynching bills in the Senate were equally important as economic policy, then their tacit support for a dehumanizing system of oppression is based on racism because it says that mobs torturing and murdering a man, woman, or child with impunity isn’t so important if that person is black.

In the same way, if you say that regularly stopping and frisking black and Latino people without any reasonable suspicion is just one of many issues, it’s because you think it’s unlikely to affect you or people like yourself, so you don’t care that much.

Malice is not required; apathy is more than sufficient.

Continue reading Racism is a grandfathered in to American society

Meat isn’t murder, but it will be one day

The final entry in my friend’s initial question/topic of discussion series involves humans and domesticated animals.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the meat and dairy industry but I have way too many things to say about that.

That’s quite an open-ended prompt, although we talked about it in more detail in person over a lunch that included tacos with pig meat.

I expect proceeding generations to view my own meat consumption and use of animal products in the same way we now view the behavior of Nazis and¬†slavers,¬†and yet I don’t think this will change anything.

Continue reading Meat isn’t murder, but it will be one day

Us and Them

I was walking through a parking lot the other day and spotted a suburban with a Nimitz football sticker in the wildshield. My first impulse was to find a rock and smash the window in.

I didn’t of course–find one–and wouldn’t have smashed anything if I had. I mean really. I’m reasonable, and I walked to my car and drove away peaceably like a reasonable person.

I haven’t gone to school at Bonham Junior High since 2002, I went to Permian with people from and even had friends from Nimitz, and where a person went to junior high hasn’t even been a meaningful thought to cross my mind in at least four years. Yet somehow those three years of conditioning have stayed with me in some form or another.

I had a friend in college who claimed he didn’t ascribe to any artificial division between people. Geographical, national, racial, whatever. Maybe he was telling the truth, well-traveled and easy going fellow that he was. Yeah, I’ll take it at face value. But if so, he’s denying himself one of the fundamental aspects, and I say joys, of the human experience.

Nimitz is a small thing, and no less or more artificial a boundary than a lot of the ones we draw between ourselves and others. But in another way, the lines are as absolute as anything gets.

“We’re playing Nimitz, and we hate those guys.”

For all our individuality, our diverse backgrounds, and adolescent sub-cliques, what we have in common is that aren’t Nimitz, and we hate those guys. What is Bonham? Owls? Blue and gray? Who can really get excited about that? We’re familiar with ourselves, and there’s not much great or special about us, but what we’re unfamiliar with, all sort of things can be attributed to them, and we aren’t THEM. We’re US.

It’s crude, but I really do think you can trace at least one strain of identity through sports loyalties. Odessa High vs. Permian. Odessa vs. Midland. West Texas vs. East Texas. Texas against all other states. The South vs. the North and West Coast. America versus the world. When our alien overlords arrive and want to play a game of basketball, humanity will hate them, too.

It’s nice to belong, to know who you are because of who you’re not. Obviously there’s more of a draw to this as an insecure 14-year-old than a hopefully mature 40-year-old, but there’s still a lot of a draw at forty. When you’re part of a group, you don’t have to succeed or contribute anything to be a success.

“America is the greatest country on earth.”

The vast majority of people who say that have never been to more than a handful of other countries, if any. Luxemborg may be a wonderful place. I don’t know. I’ve never been. But America is number one. We can’t hear you above all the freedom.

And there are those on the Left who say patriotism is irrational and ignorant. That’s probably true, but if their chests don’t swell with pride seeing an American flag raised, if something doesn’t stir in them to hear the Star Spangled Banner or God Bless America or America the Beautiful, they’re missing out on their humanity because that “something” that stirs is wonderful.

And so long as it remains private or at least doesn’t come at the detriment of someone else, who can complain?

Marxism ceased to be relevant about the time I was getting potty trained, so correct me if I’m misunderstanding something here. When Karl Marx called for workers of the world to unite, he expected them to choose class differences as their identity. If so, he was incredibly foolish in his understanding of masses of people.

In the American South, who did poor white trash have more in common with just before the Civil War, slaves or their white masters? Economically, they were closer to the slaves. Economically, they, and the slaves, would be better off if slavery didn’t exist in the South, and all labor was free and competitive. Oh, but their human interests, their human interests lay with the fact that they were white and the poorest, dumbest, ugliest, most worthless white man in the South was worth more than any black person was or could ever be. Worth more than all of them put together. The poorest white was still white, and that made him like the richest plantation owner, if only in his own mind. That is a mighty consolation prize for having to scrape around in the mud. That’s US being winners, and THEM being losers. If your situation as a loser is better than as a winner, that’s poor consolation for winning.

The relationship between myself and Nimitz is not that. I’m not a Bonhamedan anymore, for whatever it really meant that I was then. But at a time when identity was really taking shape, it meant something not to go to school at Nimitz, or Bowie, or Crockett, or Midland Lee. Any real success of my school meant I was, and I enjoyed the illusion of superiority because everyone who went to Bonham was superior to those others schools, including me. And the hostility programmed, intentionally and otherwise, hasn’t, may not ever fully dissipate.

In all the ways I break down my world into US and THEM, surely Bonham and Nimitz are the least significant. I wonder how I’m affected by those divisions that seem more important.

Honesty

We say we value honesty, in ourselves and other people, but hard as it may be, it’s much easier to tell the truth than to hear it. “We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves,” but intellectual dishonesty is as much a problem of perception as deception.

Humans are rational beings, or so I’m told. Occasionally, we gather evidence to come to an unbiased conclusion, check the facts to come to a reasoned answer. More often our reasoned conclusion is the result of irrational prejudices, or at least subjective opinions framing and coloring what information we receive and how we sort it.

In the 19th century, Quakers and Virginians were reading the same Bible so far as I know. Yet somehow they managed to come to completely opposite conclusions about the place of slavery in Christianity. God had created blacks as mentally inferior therefore their natural place was under the control of white masters. A few decades later, the curse of Ham had been replaced by the science of Darwin, now proving objectively that the Negro was naturally biologically inferior. The reasoning changed, but the conclusion remained unchanged.

Today people look at test scores and poverty rates and alternately prove that African-Americans are biologically/culturally inferior to whites or victims of a structurally racist society. “Just look at the evidence!” both sides say. “It’s plain to see.”

That’s a poor example, at least today. That’s not an issue with a 50-50 split anymore, but like writers of The Bell Curve or James Watson, very intelligent people can gather a great deal of evidence and see in it something they already want to.

A better example, or fairer one, is the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights, commonly called “the right to bear arms.” On this subject, you will find Clyde Jr. of Arkansas and Antonin Scalia holding roughly the same views. They support their views with entirely different levels of complexity, but in the end, they support the same thing. Ruth Ginsberg is no less qualified a legal scholar than Scalia, has probably read all the same books, histories, and decisions as he has, but her conclusion is more in line with a pot-smoking hippie.

It bothers me very much to read editorials, most of them written by intelligent people, claiming that the Second Amendment clearly says this or that when the only thing clear about it is that when you read it for yourself, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” comes after a very clear qualifier: “A well-regulated militia being necessary.”

That muddles things. Historical context muddles things. Just to what extent “arms” was supposed to encompass then and now muddles things.

I’m phrasing things in this way because I’m actually sympathetic to the gun rights cause, and that makes me more sensitive to and critical of how they go about things.

I would support a city’s right to restrict gun rights based on my personal libertarian principles of local control and heterogeneous laws. The free market of ideas, competing sociological laboratories, etc., etc. Of course the Supreme Court ruling came on the District of Columbia, so setting that aside, whether gun ownership is a right is not an answer that can be read into the Constitution, and certainly not by the chicken-bone soothsayers running around today.

The only way to answer the question honestly is to surrender all claims of superseding authority and make the most convincing argument you can at a fair level of discourse.

That is, start with the question of whether gun ownership is a natural right. There’s no document, political, religious, or otherwise to answer this question, just your own reason and beliefs, and it’s either a yes or a no. For me, it’s pretty obviously “no” because guns have only existed for the past 500 years or so, and one would think intrinsic rights would be as old as our species. But, gun ownership may be a derivative right of something else, that is the right to self-protection and defense. Whereas in the days of Og bonking Unk on the head with a club entitled Unk to a club or rock of his own, so too a world of guns entitles us to guns for this purpose. This seems sensible enough to me.

The question, as a libertarian, is always where your rights stop and another’s begin. Where is the border between your right to protect yourself and another’s right not to be threatened? That’s an important question, and consulting the Constitution does nothing. A nuclear weapon can’t be acceptable to remain in private ownership just because the founders hadn’t the foresight to prohibit them (and I’ve heard some arch-libertarians sincerely make that argument).

I heard Scalia use as an example that when he was in high school, a fellow classmate complained about reading Shakespeare. The teacher said, “Sir, when you read Shakespeare, he isn’t on trial; you are.” In the same way, the traditions and laws aren’t on trial by contemporary measures; we are.

Well, if we are on trial, the judges are absent. The Founders with a capital “F” aren’t here, and they never really were. Jefferson’s vision of the nation is not more valid than Hamilton’s or Adams’ or Washington’s. When we try to use them to parrot our own opinions and substitute persuasive argument, we may be doing our best to tell the truth, but ultimately we’re lying.

The best way to be an honest person may just be to admit when you’re telling a falsehood. The best way to be intellectually honest, then, may be to admit your biases and work around them as best as you are able, lying as you go, but not compounding the lie with claims of impartiality.

We’re only impartial to things we care nothing for, and rarely does anyone comment at any length about things they care nothing for.