I hadn’t written anything about the controvery created by a piece of reporting at Grantland earlier this week, but then I heard this take on it from the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis and decided I needed to write something.
Bill Simmons, Grantland’s editor, published a long piece a few days ago that explained and apologized for what happened with an investigative piece that ended up outing its subject as transgender (to one of her investors while she was still alive and then, when the piece was published, to the whole world after she had killed herself).
Lewis, in this short video clip, takes issue with Simmons’ apology because he feels that the backlash against the Grantland piece was PC thuggery and damages people’s ability to do good investigative reporting.
What’s interesting — and terrible — about Lewis’ commentary is that he absolutely fails to consider the depth of Simmons’ mea culpa, lampooning what I take to be the most important point that Simmons makes.
But that speaks to our collective ignorance about the issues facing the transgender community in general, as well as our biggest mistake: not educating ourselves on that front before seriously considering whether to run the piece ….
Whether you believe we were right or wrong, let’s at least agree that we made an indefensible mistake not to solicit input from ANYONE in the trans community.
What Simmons recognizes — albeit so very, very late — is that no one on his staff stopped for even a moment to think about things from the perspective of a member of a community that is radically misunderstood, marginalized, and persecuted.
Lewis bemoans and ridicules the notion that a reporter or an editorial staff ought to consider things from the perspective of the Other, making clear that he completely missed the central lesson of the whole Grantland controversy.
Can you do investigative journalism and follow a story’s unexpected twists and turns? You bet. Is it possible to also take into account how your reporting might impact people who are unlike you in some important respect? I would certainly hope so.
The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis goes out on a limb in this brief video clip and decries those on the Left who lamented the death of Hugo Chavez this week. These are people, he says, who remind him why he could never switch teams and become a liberal rather than the stout-hearted conservative that he is. And the reason, of course, is that Chavez was an authoritarian dictator and we should all be glad that he's gone.
Of course, then Bill Scher brings up the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and how some on the Right lamented it. And Lewis, who admits that he had a “nuanced position” on Mubarak’s loss of power in Egypt, opens up and explains the real issue:
Mubarak was a bad guy … but he was our bad guy.
He might have been a corrupt dictator who abused the rights of his people, but he did what we wanted him to do. And Chavez? Well, he also might have been a corrupt dictator who abused the rights of his people. But he didn’t do what we wanted him to do.
So what Lewis initially dresses up as some sort of pro-democracy or pro-civil rights stance that maps perfectly onto his ideological position on the American political spectrum — he could never be like one of the empty-headed Lefty socialist types, who condone authoritarianism as long as it waves a red flag — is, in fact, nothing more than the classic “I like what’s good for me.”
In other words, there’s nothing pure in the stance that Lewis takes here and his decrying the people on the Left who had anything good to say about Chavez is disingenuous.
Why? Because the only thing that was wrong with Chavez was that he wasn’t good for the U.S.
Lewis doesn’t actually have an anti-authoritarian dictator position; he has a position against dictators who aren’t in America’s pocket.
In this Bloggingheads diavlog, which came on the heels of Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape,” Michael Brendan Dougherty and Zack Beauchamp discuss abortion.
In this particular clip, Dougherty attempts to make an argument about why exceptions for rape are problematic. He begins by recognizing what a difficult position he’s in, as someone who opposes abortion in all cases but who also doesn’t believe in a right to life. His argument against abortion, generally, is based on the notion of parental responsibility. In other words, he wants to claim that parents have a responsibility to care for fetuses they conceive.
But the rapist, he argues, is an unfit parent — and thus shouldn’t be involved in the lives of the child or the mother — and the woman didn’t make a conscious choice to conceive a child (or even to have sex, which might result in conception).
So, what’s the basis for her duties to the child? He has no answer to this question … so instead he argues that the fetus “has some moral worth that precludes the possibility of ending its life deliberately.”
Thus, Dougherty is allowed to side-step a defense of an incredibly odious position (one that he recognizes as such, incidentally) so that they can instead debate the moral worth of fetuses generally for the better part of an hour. Dougherty ought to have been honest and made clear that his argument about the impermissibility of abortion in all cases simply does not hold in the case of rape, and that as a result he needed to make a different argument about the inherent moral worth of fetuses (which holds even in cases of rape, where parental responsibility fails).
But this wouldn’t have gone any better for Dougherty because he doesn’t really have an explanation for why a fetus — from the moment of conception (or, as he later argues, even before conception) — has “some moral worth that precludes the possibility of ending its life deliberately.” His argument, such as it is, relies on the idea that a fetus is a human life and, presumably, all human life has “some moral worth.” On what basis? That is it human life.
This circular reasoning is so painful to watch … but I suppose it’s the best that Dougherty can do, given that — without turning to religion — there’s really no other way to defend the grotesque idea that rape survivors ought to be compelled to carry to term the fetuses that might result from the terrible crime of rape.
This clip is almost a month old — it comes from a Bloggingheads diavlog about the Chick-Fil-A controversy — but I just got to it the other day and I’m still sort of amazed by the way it concludes.
"Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not being gay is a choice," says Daniel Foster of the National Review Online, and then he proceeds to simply assume that it’s a choice or a behavior such that people can simply choose not to be — or act — gay.
For Foster, this is the central reason why the struggle for gay and lesbian equality shouldn’t be compared to the civil rights struggle: Being black isn’t a behavior, but being gay apparently might be. The presupposition here is that gays and lesbians are making a behavioral choice and they could simply choose to have a nice, traditional marriage instead. This is fairly preposterous … but, of course, Foster is only playing a hypothetical game here so he won’t get himself into trouble.
Now, if we don’t leave aside the “debate” about whether someone is born gay or not, as Foster has asked us to do to play his freshman year philosophy game, then Foster is simply arguing that gays and lesbians are making a choice to act on their sexual orientation when they might choose not to do so. They might be born gay, but they don’t have to behave that way … so why should they be rewarded by society with marriage equality?
Now, I’m not sure if I have a choice in the matter, but I find this line of argumentation pretty offensive.
So … this popped up in iTunes yesterday — since I suscribe to the Bloggingheads podcasr feed so I can listen to their always-interesting shows during my commute to work and back — and I thought to myself, “I’m not sure I’ll even be able to listen to this.”
On The Posner Show, E.J. and Maggie debate gay marriage. Maggie argues that sex can’t be separated from reproduction. E.J. believes gay marriage is the result of changing attitudes toward marriage in general, not a cause of that change. What is the purpose of civil marriage, and is it compatible with gay marriage? Maggie explains why she thinks gay marriage could negatively affect marriage as an institution. Finally, they discuss whether children need a mother and a father.
You can click on the links in the description above to listen to the shorter clips of the various topics they cover if you don’t have the time, patience, or love of punishment that the full hour requires. As for me, I ended up listening to the full hour-long discussion this morning and I came away with one thought:
@ejgraff You are a much, much more patient person than … well … anyone I know.— Ari Kohen (@kohenari) August 24, 2012
It’s really fascinating to listen to what Maggie Gallagher has to say here because it’s an opportunity to hear from someone whose understanding of the world is radically different from pretty much all of the people with whom I choose to spend my time.
Both Glenn Loury and Ann Althouse have gay sons. And, in this clip, both of them argue that we shouldn’t consider opposition to same-sex marriage to be akin to bigotry. Loury goes a few steps farther, in fact, and claims that a charge of bigotry really amounts to demagogic politics and that people who oppose same-sex marriage on religious or cultural grounds are morally serious and ought not to be dismissed out of hand.
But it’s never entirely clear why Loury and Althouse believe that the views these people espouse are so morally serious or why we ought to refrain from referring to their condemnation of homosexuality as bigotry. From listening to them, my sense is that their argument rests on the presumption that religious people are morally serious and, as such, they reflect on the tenets of their faiths before coming to their conclusions about matters like same-sex marriage.
That’s all well and good, if it’s true. But it doesn’t explain why we shouldn’t think of it as bigotry. That someone believes something to be true and arrives at his or her belief in a serious manner doesn’t exempt him or her from being challenged on that belief, especially when that belief might impact the lives of others.
Let’s go a few steps down the religious path and see what happens. After all, I attend a weekly religious service, I associate with many of my co-religionist, and I observe many of the strictures of my religion in my daily life. And my religion, Judaism, is one that seems to explicitly condemn homosexuality; indeed, it’s the Hebrew Bible to which people turn when they’re looking for a religious justification for their opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality more generally (even though the majority of these people don’t pay much attention to any of the other dictates of the Hebrew Bible).
But Jews are divided on the question of same-sex marriage, with most Orthodox authorities opposing it and most Reform authorities supporting it. Conservative authorities are divided, with some in support and some in opposition. The Hebrew Bible says that one should not lie with a man as one lies with a woman … but the Hebrew Bible also says, for example, that the death penalty should be employed as a punishment in hundreds of circumstances (from homicide to children who curse their parents) yet the vast majority of Jewish authorities oppose capital punishment. After much study and debate, religious authorities have found that the text can be read in more ways than one. And that’s why it seems to me that we can take issue with anyone who claims that their religion mandates their opposition to same-sex marriage or their condemnation of homosexuality. The Orthodox, after all, are not agitating for the ability to resume stoning their children.
In other words, Jews have options (and I presume that Christians and Muslims do too). Despite the injunction against homosexuality in Leviticus, there is no need for a Jew to join a congregation that condemns homosexuality or even makes gays and lesbians feel in any way unwelcome. And so, as a Jew, I gravitate toward congregations that are welcoming to gays and lesbians and toward rabbis who speak out in favor of equal rights and equal treatment.
Religions aren’t monolithic; if people really are involved in deep spiritual reflection on the matter of homosexuality, then they will surely be able to find an interpretation of their religious texts that allows for the kind of evolution that President Obama described. This doesn’t mean I’m not serious about practicing Judaism; it means I’m serious about finding a way to reconcile my belief in the teachings of Judaism with my belief that people should be treated equally. But, obviously, one must actually have both of these beliefs.
What do we call someone who either fails to consider the alternative teaching of his or her religion or rejects that teaching because it doesn’t lead to continued condemnation of gays and lesbians, someone — in other words — who doesn’t actually have both a religious belief and a belief in equality?
With apologies to Loury and Althouse, I think I have to call it bigotry.
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.
This report by Matthew Lee about Shavendra Silva, a Sri Lankan war criminal who has now become an advisor on peacekeeping to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is worth your six minutes this morning.
There has been very little press on Silva — or the massacres in Sri Lanka in 2009, really — but, as Lee argues, this move into the UN peacekeeping apparatus by a war criminal who is specifically named in a UN report brings the idea of impunity to a whole new level.
In this short clip, Shadi Hamid and Gregory Gause agree that it’s not anyone’s place to tell Islamists to respect women’s rights. I suspect that this point about women’s rights will be regarded as off-putting by a whole bunch of people. It came across that way to me.
That said, this point is part of a larger discussion about the difference between democracy and liberalism, in which the Hamid and Gause do a nice job of highlighting a point I frequently raise in my classes. Simply put, democracy is a great good but democracy by itself certainly doesn’t guarantee a liberal outcome. The distinction between liberalism and democracy is a big, important one and it comes up all the time when I talk about human rights because, if we care a whole lot about human rights then we might be concerned about illiberal democratic outcomes.
Relatedly, as a piece in The Economist pointed out just last week, “Of the seven countries that impose the death penalty for homosexuality, all are Muslim. Even when gays do not face execution, persecution is endemic.” I’m someone who’d like to see substantial liberalization on this issue and a host of others — both in Islamic societies and also here in the U.S. — and so I worry about the effect of democracy in the absence of liberalism.
Hamid and Gause seem content to approve of democracy, irrespective of what the people democratically choose. For me, the story is a whole lot more complex. I want to argue that choosing one’s own government is a human right, but I’m opposed to seeing that right put to use to then squelch others’ rights. This won’t be particularly surprising to anyone who has read my first book or who reads this blog: I’m a political liberal who believes that we ought to work at every opportunity to minimize human suffering by expanding respect for the idea of human rights.
So I’m in the somewhat precarious position of wanting people to be able to vote, but also wanting to push — at least to some extent — liberalism on them (in effect constraining their choices). What I mean is that I’m not going to argue that you can’t vote for the things you want; I’m simply going to try to get you to change your mind about what you want. This is a form of imperialism, I suppose, but I’ll hope that it’s seen as a soft one.
Richard Rorty, who never really seemed to shy away from ethnocentrism in arguing for changing the hearts of those who abuse human rights and those who don’t do anything about such abuse, puts it this way:
The right way to take the slogan ‘We have obligations to human beings simply as such’ is as a means of reminding ourselves to keep trying to expand our sense of ‘us’ as far as we can. That slogan urges us to extrapolate further in the direction set by certain events in the past – the inclusion among ‘us’ of the family in the next cave, then of the tribe across the river, then of the tribal confederation beyond the mountains, then of the unbelievers beyond the seas (and, perhaps last of all, of the menials who, all this time, have been doing our dirty work). This is a process which we should try to keep going. We should stay on the lookout for marginalized people – people who we still instinctively think of as ‘they’ rather than ‘us.’ We should try to notice our similarities with them. The right way to construe the slogan is as urging us to create a more expansive sense of solidarity than we presently have. The wrong way is to think of it as urging us to recognize such a solidarity, as something that exists antecedently to our recognition of it. For then we leave ourselves open to the pointlessly skeptical question ‘Is this solidarity real?’
This is the way I tend to think about human rights, at least when I think about it theoretically rather than thinking about international law and organizations. And it’s undoubtedly because I think of human rights in this way that I raise the issue about liberalism and democracy. It’s not sufficient, to my mind, to say that democracy is a great good and then not to think about the effects of all that voting on individuals and groups, especially those that have traditionally been targeted for abuse.
If you have any interest whatsoever in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I recommend watching the entirety of this Bloggingheads episode.
Robert Wright has done a series of really interesting interviews with members of the Israeli Left over the past couple of months and, with each one presenting a different solution or solutions, all of them taken together nicely highlight the myriad ways in which Israelis are themselves sharply divided over the politics of occupation.
While the Israeli government seems committed to what I regard as an incredibly foolhardy and costly enterprise, then, it’s good to hear these voices from Israel discussing human rights and moral obligation.
In this recent Bloggingheads diavlog, Glenn Greenwald and Katha Pollitt debate whether or not the disgruntled Left ought to embrace Ron Paul. Not at all surprisingly given their columns on Paul, Greenwald and Pollitt come to this question from different angles, though they both seem to have moderated their positions a fair amount from what they wrote in the recent past. Also not surprisingly, given all that I’ve written here about Ron Paul, I’m ultimately going to position myself firmly on the side of Team Pollitt.
Most interesting, for me, is the way that Greenwald seems to tap dance around the issue that Pollitt keeps hammering home, namely that there are a lot of things that Ron Paul believes that are considered to be absolutely terrible by a whole lot of people on the Left. Greenwald continually emphasizes that those things are indeed terrible … but that it’s also really interesting that Paul is bringing to this election cycle important issues like ending the disastrous war on drugs or the horrific results of American imperialism.
There’s a moment — probably 35 minutes into the discussion — when Greenwald, I think, reveals what’s actually at stake behind all of his talk about Ron Paul. Paul believes a bunch of things that are anathema to progressives. But so do the Democrats, Greenwald tells Pollitt, and Paul’s campaign should serve to ensure that people know it. If they know it, perhaps they’ll demand an end to those things or they’ll vote differently or something. This is the part that’s not really clear … especially because Greenwald repeatedly says he isn’t suggesting that anyone on the Left ought to actually vote for Ron Paul.
At bottom, Greenwald just wants us to have the conversation about imperialism, the war on drugs, and our loss of civil liberties that he thinks we can only have as a result of Ron Paul candidacy. All of the other politicians embrace these things. And then, once we’ve had the conversation, something will happen. Perhaps a new candidate will emerge out of thin air. This one will be perfect and incorruptible, will always do exactly what (s)he promises, and will always fight the good fight on every issue important to every single person who identifies with the Left in America.
Or, what is more likely, we’ll have an election between Obama and Romney, and a whole bunch of people who voted for Obama in 2008 will decide to stay home in 2012. And then maybe we’ll be so lucky as to have President Romney, at which time the Left will be so glad we had this important conversation because that’s the guy who’s certain to close corporate loopholes, restrict money in politics, bail people out of debt, more fully embrace the LGBTQ community, help make life in America better for people of color, and put an immediate end to our (mis)adventures in the Middle East. Right?
As Pollitt points out, and I’ve stressed a number of times (here, here, and here, for example), the real world of politics is one that’s messy; it’s one that offers the lesser of two evils much more often than it offers the best possible candidate. Many people on the Right are incredibly unexcited about Mitt Romney, but he probably seems a whole lot better to them than Obama so they’ll end up voting for Romney. Many people on the Left are incredibly disappointed with Obama, but Greenwald seems to want them to disregard the idea that he remains the lesser of two evils on a whole host of issues that matter a great deal to people on the Left.
Stay home, then, and don’t vote. It’s very much your option. And perhaps you’ll feel better about yourself for having chosen no one in a contest whose rules didn’t suit you. Or perhaps you’ll just feel better for having stuck to your guns (or, in this case, your abhorrence of guns). But don’t forget that, in doing so, you’re sticking to some guns and disregarding others.
One housekeeping note: The whole diavlog between Greenwald and Pollitt is about an hour. If you can’t spare all of that time, I recommend the first 10-15 minutes and then the last 10-15 minutes. There are some technical issues with the sound (notably on Greenwald’s end), but they can be overcome if you don’t mind turning up the volume on your computer or headphones a bit higher than you otherwise might like to do.
This sure seems like a super-creepy nine minutes right here.
Maybe I’m not hearing them correctly but in this recent Bloggingheads diavlog it sure sounds like Ann Althouse and Glenn Loury worry about Herman Cain and how he’s being smeared in the media, suggest that the accusations of sexual harassment and assault are pretty thin, and wonder whether his behavior is just some behavior that’s somehow “ethnic” and thus misunderstood. They follow all of this up by seemingly tilting at windmills, suggesting that some unnamed people out there don’t like the idea of a black conservative. Oh — and then despite professing how much they like Cain, they both agree that there’s no way Cain ought to be President because he has absolutely no experience. At bottom, then, it seems like they just want to be sure that no one out there thinks there’s any such thing as sexual harassment.