22 November 2004

I give up

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


I have lost my faith in the productiveness of our dialogue. Take this most recent round as an example ...

I made a post quoting Mark A.R. Kleiman saying that, contrary to many lefties' protestations to the contrary, Americans are quite right to worry that the left is eager to impose its moral principles on them, as demonstrated by the Civil Rights Movement.

You commented to that post with a scattershot collection of observations. The red states of the '04 elections don't match the slave states, no matter what your lyin' eyes tell you looking at the maps. Government programs don't work because they discourage people from taking responsibity for themselves. The teaching of evolution had nothing to do with the results of the election. Kerry wants to tax the rich, but people don't want to vote for that because they might be rich someday. There's nothing special about slavery in the South because in the North many people were wage slaves, trapped by debt.

You cover a lot of ground, Kevin, and in order to try to clearly address just one of those points, I have to take time to unpack it clearly.

In this case, I responded in three pieces. First, I tried to clarify my own central point that Kleiman's thesis tells us that the South's resistance to liberalism is not a consequence of some Southern moral failure, but rather a direct experience of the heavy hand of the left. Second, I countered your seeming defense of Southern slavery by describing how it was more unjust than wage earners' situation in the North, taking great care to make clear that though slavery was a moral wrong unique to the South, it certainly did not make the North (or West) morally superior to the South across the board. Third, I connected your point about slavery to two other places where you have made statements that seemed morally slippery --- calling UK Guardian readers "terrorists," and saying that the Abu Graib "torture is bad, but so is terrorism" --- and proposed that you should state very plainly that, of course, you didn't mean to speak in support of torture, slavery, or treating British liberals as terrorists.

Take a close look at that post. In the first part, I came to the defense of anti-liberal South, saying they have a good cause for their anti-liberal sensibility. In the second part, I started by stacking up a bunch of facile lefty critiques of the South and shot them down, then took pains to critique your comment in a narrow and specific way. In the third part, I made sure to offer that it was likely my misreading of your writing that led to these disturbing conclusions. Yes, my writing was forceful, but also conciliatory, polite, and grounded in specific things that you said.

You responded by saying, of course I don't believe in those bad things, but then offer no real clarification of what you did mean.

On slavery, you still did not allow me my very narrow and specific claim.

The North is not always correct in this matter
I'm sorry, Kevin, but this is exactly my point. The North is not always correct, true. But in this matter, the North was correct and the South was wrong. In the matter of slavery, the South had a brutal practice that the North did not. I hope that you understand why lefties like me become so very uncomfortable when folks on the right will not simply let it rest when we say "slavery in the South was wrong."

On calling the UK Guardian readers "terrorists," you just flatly deny the connection I made without any explanation.

Nobody is advocating killing the misguided British (and other) letter writers
Well, you said very clearly "These pasty-face English liberals are as much terrorists as those in Al Queda," and also said "We need to continue to kill terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, or anywhere that they assemble." So you can understand my confusion. How do I reconcile these three statements? Are the Guardian readers not terrorists after all? Or are they a special class of terrorists who we should not kill? What are you talking about, here?

And strangely, you follow up that point with this:

accusing the President of lying as you did ... Do you think that it helps anyone? Debate is good, but name calling is not so good.
Eh? Saying that I think the President lied because, gee, he keeps saying things that are not true, that's name-calling. Saying that the Guardian letter-writers are "terrorists" is not name-calling, it's ... debate?

At every turn in our dialogue, you've answered my attempts to clarify key disagreements with comments that are scattered, unclear, and seemingly self-contradictory --- as I've catalogued in this post. Do you see why I find it just too difficult to puzzle out what you mean, Kevin, and respond to it thoughtfully, clearly, and civilly? I had hoped to learn something about where you're coming from in this dialogue, but I emerge only more frustrated and confused from each round.

So I give up. Is there something we're accomplishing here that I don't see? Because I'm feeling like I've wasted your time, for which I apologize.


Anonymous said...

Hey Miniver, just FYI, I could only read the whole text when I clicked on "comments". Clicking on your highlight just shunted me to a second screen that looked like the page I was already on.

Your dialogue is likely what my Thanksgiving will look like... sigh.

- yezida

Mike Sugarbaker said...

The lesson here is that emotion precedes reason... sometimes by a lot.