14 November 2004

Missing the point?

For readers' convenience, I've created an index of the Kevin letters so you can see the full progress of the dialogue


Thanks for dropping in again to comment. It seems that I didn't make my point clear in that post.

I think you read me as implying that the states that went for Bush did so because they were tainted by the evil legacy of slavery, which I agree would have been an arrogant claim. But my post was motivated by me wanting to refute that reading of the maps, which is why it centered around the Mark Kleiman piece that I quoted.

Kleiman observes that when Americans uncomfortable with liberalism assert that liberals are quick to use the government to impose their moral principles on other people, they are right, as demonstrated by how in the 1960s liberals dismantled Jim Crow. Most liberals have a hard time seeing this because they think of conservatives as the only ones who are quick to impose moral principles through government. (Abortion, sodomy laws, drug laws, censorship, et cetera.) I connected that to the maps which show a strong correlation between slave states and states which awarded their electoral votes to Bush, the Republican candidate, in the ’04 election: they are states which experienced a particularly vigorous imposition of liberal moral principles in the aftermath of the Civil War. Thus many folks in those states have a hard time trusting liberals to leave them alone.

But I have to say that if my guess is right that you read me as claiming that the evil taint of slavery remained in the former slave states and territories then I am astonished by your response. There are so many pointed ways that you could have responded to that claim.

Had you said, “you lefties are always trying to blame the South for the sins of the past,” I'd have apologized for having inadvertantly implied that; we should live for the present, first. Had you said “if there's some evil lurking in the soil where I live because of the slavery of 150 years ago, then I'm sure there's evil in the soil where you live because of the endless massacres of Native Americans at that same time,” I'd have admitted that the South has no special monopoly on evil, nor does my beloved lefty town of San Francisco have any special claim to virtue. Had you said, “you lefties are always talking about the racism in the South when you should be cleaning up the racism in your own backyard,” I'd have said amen brother, because the left is and the left should.

But no, you leapt to the defense of slavery!

I think that it is the pinnacle of arrogance to claim moral superiority in the area of slavery. The north used people in their factories to produced goods. Those people were practically owned by the factory owners. They could not leave their jobs, they were in debt.
[emphasis mine]

I'm sorry, Kevin, but I think that in the area of slavery there's a lot of moral superiority to claim. Yes, the factory workers of the 19th century North were often trapped by their debts, as were many of the workers of the West. But they were not considered anyone's private property. They had no "owners" who could beat them, murder them, sell the members of their families away from them at will. Yes, I know that most slaves of the South were not treated nearly so badly as that, but some were, and all slaves lived with the threat that these things were permitted ... even protected ... by law.

It is absurd to say that the wage slavery of the North was indistinguishable from the slavery of the South. In the North there was injustice, there were people deprived of essential liberties, there was racism which was arguably worse in some ways than in the South. But in the area of slavery, as you say, I don't think there's any arrogance at all in saying the South had a unique moral problem.

I dearly hope that I am somehow misreading what seem to be some very strange moral arguments I hear you making. Workers deprived of some important liberties by their debts are not equivalent to slaves deprived of their most basic liberties by the law of the land. Obnoxious Brits writing letters are not equivalent to Al Qaeada terrorists. And terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda Saudis certainly do not justify the torture at Abu Graib in Iraq.

Tell me that you are not a defender of torture and slavery. Tell me that you don't think that writing rude letters marks lefty Brits as terrorists in need of being killed.

Please, Kevin. Please.


Kevin said...


I get your point exactly. It is the same debate that has been going on since our country was founded. People everywhere have interest that may or may not be the same as the federal government. I don't fault you for making a false coorelation between the past and the future, but I do find it a bit disconcerting that people may actually believe that. Since I've lived in the South and I've lived in California, I find the South much more pleasant(mainly because of less paperwork, but take it or leave it). I believe that we are a country of hope, no matter who would have won the election, there is always hope.

My point about the factory workers and slavery was not to point out moral equivalency and certainly not a defense of slavery, but to point out the hypocrisy in the debate. The North is not always correct in this matter, especially since they made the 2/3 law to entice the Southern states into the Union.

Nobody is advocating killing the misguided British (and other)letter writers and more that anyone really believes that there are Christian Jihadist in Iowa. But don't you think that accusing the President of lying as you did or claiming that U.S. Soldiers are war criminals as been claimed on other blogs. Do you think that it helps anyone? Debate is good, but name calling is not so good.

I would say that I'm not a defender of torture and slavery, that is sort of an insult. I'm a defender of the Constitution. I am a defender of the American people. You see, Jonathan, it is a long road from San Fransisco to boots-on-the-ground. I trust the boots-on-the-ground much more than ivory tower idealism.

Kevin said...


I think that if you read my answer to your Abu Garib charge, I think you will see that I don't advocate toture. I advocate morals, values and responsibility. You can't have rights without responsibility, when you cast off those responsibiities, it becomes easier to cast off those rights.

Here is what I actually said about Abu Garib:

"Well there is no doubt that torture is bad, but so is terrorism. I don't fall into that the enemy combatants in Gitmo are being tortured. Where would you get that? I also think that we took a big hit with the Abu Garib prison scandal. I think that this reinforces what the terrorists have been saying about our society being immoral. If you will follow this line of reasoning out, then what other things about our society also reinforce this misconception that the terrorists have? Could abortion, gay marriage, drugs, pornography, pop music, and violence on T.V. and cinema also reinforce this notion?

You see, our military is a micrcosm of our society as a whole. I have led young men into dangerous situations. These young men do not have the moral grounding to do all that we ask them. It then becomes my job to babysit them and train them in the areas of hygiene, cleaning their rooms, taking care of their gear, and why it is wrong to steal, fight, and drink, in addition to the normal military subjects.

Those young men and women in Abu Garib are the products of the society that Senator Kerry would have us live in. No concern for duty, only concerned for rights. You can only have your rights, when you are willing to take responsibility, until that time they are meaningless words on a piece of paper."


Anonymous said...

Would you please explain further why you think “Those young men and women in Abu Garib are the products of the society that Senator Kerry would have us live in. No concern for duty, only concerned for rights.”?

Specifically I'd like more clarification on

1) Kerry's specific positions on duty and rights

2) How do the actions of the young men and women at Abu Garib have anything to do with rights? What kinds of rights are those people executing? Or at least what kinds of rights do they think they are executing? Are you talking about the rights of the American people as a whole or are you talking about the rights of said soldiers?

3) Exactly what kind of society are you saying that we would have if we had a Kerry administration instead of a Bush administration? Those soldiers weren't concerned with human rights, societal rights, or even personal rights. They were power-hungry and war-crazed versions of the proverbial school yard bully. They admitted that what they had done was wrong. They admitted *knowing* that what they had done was wrong before, during, and after the deed, and they did it anyway. Everyone seems to agree that the soldiers were not upholding their duty, but if you believe that the military is a microcosm of society (and personally I don't), this is a microcosm of a society led by the Bush administration, not a non-existent Kerry administration. I find it incredibly insulting when you say "Those young men and women in Abu Garib are the products of the society that Senator Kerry would have us live in."

4) Please make a stronger connection for me between rights and duty. Because I think the difference between a right and a privilege is that a right is something that a human being is granted inherently (which is not to say that these rights aren’t denied) while a privilege is something that one must earn through duty and action.

Having read through my response, it occurs to me that the rights you are referring to might not be the rights of the soldiers but the rights of the prisoners. Is that what you are referring to? And if it is, are you saying that our duty is more important than their rights? How can unsanctioned torture be considered duty? For that matter, how can sanctioned torture be considered duty? Just what do you think our duty is? Isn’t it our duty as ethical and moral humans to insist on the rights of other humans be they friend or enemy? And before you tell me that I am just another pie-in-the-sky San Franciscan with a head only for ideals and no practicality, I hope you will believe me when I say that I know that there are humans out there who will not be reasoned with through talking. I know that there are people who’ve been raised by the sword and can’t participate in any sort of dialogue through means besides violence--people beyond all attempts at rehabilitation. And it’s still not right to torture them. There’s an old slogan “Fighting for Peace is like Fucking for Virginity”. I think it’s simple and true. I am an idealist. And I think that leading by example is the best way to get others to follow.


Kevin said...


Where do these soldiers come from? Do they come from a special place, where soldiers are raised and trained from birth to death? They come from all over the United States and other countries in the world. Of course they are a microcosm of society. They go to the same schools, listen to the same music, and watch the same TV shows (I know you have a TV, but humor me)as the folks protesting the war. They joined the military for any number of reasons, but they all have the same mission.

I would say that many issues that Liberals and Democrats have taken as rights are priviledges. I guess the question you may ask is where our rights come from. I would say that it comes from the Constitution. The rights of a U.S. citizen come from the Constitution. I would say that unless that right is spelled out in the Constitution it is not a right. but a priviledge.

The issue becomes cloudy, when the democrats ring in other rights (your right they are not rights). Some examples could be illegal alien rights, abortion rights, the rights of the unborn, convict rights, etc.... So forgive me if I fell into the jingoism of our age.

So your rights, spelled out in the Constitution are yours to keep. But you mean to tell me that you don't understand duty. Do you not understand that those rights are fleeting, unless your willing to defend them? If you don't understand, then what are we doing?

I don't agee with your assertion that you can't fight for peace. Peace is just as violent as war. They are two sides of the same coin, but they are not opposites, they work hand in hand. I grant you that some things could have been done better, but I say that we were absolutely right to use force in Iraq. But in the end, I believe in the sword and the pen, both are tools in the toolbox.

Anonymous said...

That wasn't Jonathan, that was me--Thread.

Jonathan Korman said...

"The rights of a U.S. citizen come from the Constitution. I would say that unless that right is spelled out in the Constitution it is not a right"

Amendment IXThe enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Kevin said...


An here is the danger of liberal activist judges. Look at IX and then look at X and you see where those rights are vested. The states or the people!


Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

This exactly why the Constitution needs to interpreted strictly by the courts. Not judges making laws, just interpreting them.


Jonathan Korman said...

The two articles taken together make a counterpoint between rights and powers. They say that people have unenumerated rights (IX), but the federal government does not have unenumerated powers (X).The constitution limits what the government can do; it does not limit the ways in which citizens are protected. If someone claims that the federal government has the power to demand that every citizen recite Jabberwocky every day, you can say "hey that isn't on the list of government powers in the Constitution, so the feds can't do that ... though the states may," and you would be right under Article X. On the other hand, if someone claims that they have a protected right to refuse to eat beets, you cannot deny that right simply by saying, "hey that isn't on the list of citizens' rights in the Constituion, so you cannot claim any protection for that," because of Article IX.

The Constitution has no explicit provision for how unenumerated rights become enumerated: in practice in the US the judiciary, legislature, all executive all have produced newly enumerated rights. When the judiciary does so, they build an argument that the right is implicit in existing law; the most famous example being the Brandeis Court's finding of a right to privacy.

I have written before about the reasons for my discomfort when folks on the right complain about "judicial activism."

Kevin said...


Who do you think ought to determine those inate rights? Should the people make that decision or should one or two people? That is where the problem lies and I suspect that is one component of the moral values picture. The other components such as ownership and work ethic were equally important.

You could argue that the illness of the Chief Justice was good timing for the President. I suspect that this one what people were looking at when they said moral values. The importance in keeping some balance in the Supreme Court.