This clip, excerpted from a much longer Bloggingheads diavlog with Robert Wright and Ann Althouse, is about three weeks old. I didn’t watch or listen to it when it first came out because I had the sense that Althouse’s take on the Trayvon Martin shooting would really bother me.
Three weeks later, I finally listened to the diavlog in its entirety. And, lo and behold, I was right about how I’d feel.
I’ll discuss my thoughts in what follows, but I should note first that the clip is only ten minutes long; I hope you’ll listen for yourself.
Althouse begins by opposing the entire idea of latching onto an individual case instead of looking at all of the evidence about violence, gun violence, race, and so on. Her claim is that appeals to emotion by focusing on one case has no place in a democracy because it dampens down the prospect for rational discourse about important issues.
From there, she proceeds as follows: She doesn’t understand Wright’s use of emotive language; she wants to know why the national discourse became all about this case rather than all of the others; she alleges that liberals are exploiting Martin’s death; she worries about due process for Zimmerman and bemoans vigilantes in pursuit of the original vigilante; she doesn’t understand why it matters that Zimmerman was carrying a gun and ultimately shot Martin with it; and she moves the remainder of the conversation to a discussion of whether Zimmerman was originally arrested or just detained and to an argument about the benefit of carrying guns.
Ultimately, Althouse does her level best not to actually talk about the Trayvon Martin killing. In no small part, that’s because she has no response at all to Wright’s argument that there’s a problem for society if a person has a concealed weapon, follows someone who hasn’t done anything wrong, ends up killing him, and avoids some sort of punishment. All she can manage is a claim that Wright’s position isn’t fine-grained enough and that there’s more texture that he hasn’t stated. “We should be more cool-headed,” she says at the very end of this clip.
I’d say there’s a big difference between jumping to conclusions about a case and being emotive about it. Wright doesn’t jump to conclusions and the conclusions he reaches here seem, to me at least, to be pretty cool-headed. What he fails to do, I think, is to really push back against Althouse, to ask her directly how she would respond to his central claim about what the shooting and its aftermath say about our society. She intimates that she actually agrees with his claim, but nothing in the rest of the diavlog demonstrates any agreement.
What’s more, Wright could have said a great deal more to dispute Althouse’s opposition to using individual cases to draw attention to a broader societal problem. For Althouse, this is an appeal to emotion that calls to her mind a totalitarian state. But, for me, the Martin case garnered so much attention because it laid bare the problem of the Stand Your Ground law and the problem of racism that persists (sometimes overtly and sometimes under the surface) in this country. Indeed, Althouse even gets away with talking about carrying guns for protection against thugs in her diversionary discussion of the virtues of concealed weapons. But this is precisely the sort of language — about dangerous thugs (who, we can be sure, are young black men) — that led Zimmerman to follow Martin, that led Geraldo Rivera to speak out against the scourge of the hooded sweatshirt, and that many people used to describe Martin in an attempt to allege that Zimmerman had some reason to follow him.
This is language that needs to be continuously challenged.