Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Two Worlds Collide or "How do I know that I'm not sitting at a table full of racists?"

Two of my favorite bloggers have a diavlog on bloggingheadstv and don't get along! What am I to do?

The diavlog comes after they both attend a Liberty Fund conference in which panels discussed libertarian and co-founder of National Review, Frank Meyer (1909-1972). Meyer apparently supported states rights not to desegregate schools back in the day. The other panelists creeped Althouse out:
I am struck -- you may think it is absurd for me to be suddenly struck by this -- but I am struck by how deeply and seriously libertarians and conservatives believe in their ideas. I'm used to the way lefties and liberals take themselves seriously and how deeply they believe. Me, I find true believers strange and -- if they have power -- frightening. And my first reaction is to doubt that they really do truly believe.

One of the reasons 9/11 had such a big impact on me is that it was such a profound demonstration of the fact that these people are serious. They really believe.

I need to be more vigilant.
Now, this is before the diavlog--and Goldberg responds:
We will be chatting for bloggingheads in the near future, so I will ask her about all of this soon. But I will say here I find this — to put it in as civil terms as I can — odd. I would note that Ann really believes some things too. Moreover, so do those people in Madison, Wisconsin — which is, I might add without fear of contradiction, far from an oasis of empiricism, realism and philosophical skepticism. But more importantly, the notion that stong conviction — AKA belief — is scary in and of itself can be the source of as much pain and illiberalism as certitude itself. Indeed, it is itself a kind of certitude I find particularly unredeeming. Anyway, more soon, I am sure.
So, I finally got to watch the diavlog a few days ago, and am finally posting on it. I thought they both made good points, but if I have to choose sides, I'll choose Jonah's. In the diavlog he repeatedly says that no one at the conference was defending Meyer's views of racial politics, and that in fact, they all think he was wrong. Here's more, writes Jonah:
But what bothers me is the assumption that conservatives need liberals to tell us about how to be racially "enlightened." It seems to me — and this is just my theory — that because a roomful of people who were not trying to persuade any audience or play to any constituency didn't perform the usual liberal rituals about how terrible Jim Crow was, Ann interpretated this as a lack of commitment. Morevoer, she thought the people in the room were woefully out of touch with racial reality and therefore need moral tutoring from a liberal who really understands these things. Maybe at a similar conference full of liberals there would be much gnashing of teeth and teary-eyed condemnations about the legacy of Jim Crow. But, if that's the case, mightn't that be a sign of how liberals embrace liberalism to feel good about themselves and morally superior to others? There's a certain Sorkinesque aesthetic to liberalism, full of self-congratulation and righteous grandstanding, that assumes the world needs liberals to tell everyone else what's right and wrong.
This rings entirely true in my world. Jonah further writes:
Conservatives were, broadly speaking and with more exceptions than the conventional narrative allows, on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. That goes for National Review, too, by the way. But the left has used this fact to put the mark of Cain on conservatives ever since. It's amazing to me how eager liberals are to say that intellectual history matters when it's inconvenient conservative intellectual history. But whenever you try to to turn the subject to liberal intellectual history, all you get back is eye-rolling. One small example: Recently, I wrote that liberals had a long love affair with Fidel Castro. This is simply factually true. And yet, I was deluged by liberal readers and lefty bloggers whining about how either that never really happened or that was old news, hardly applicable to liberals today. Well, liberal and leftwing fawning and excuse-making for Castro is far more recent than conservative support for Jim Crow, thank you very much.
Althouse, of course, gives a lengthy response, parsing his. Here's part of it:
But it's not just a matter of wanting people to acknowlege that race discrimination is bad. I (almost) always assumed that everyone would say: Of course, it is. We all know that. As I wrote in that earlier post, I see something wrong with the style of thinking that entails latching onto ideas as ideas. I have a problem with the fundamentalists and ideologues who don't keep track of how their ideas affect the real world and who don't maintain the empathy and the flexibility to adjust and correct their thinking in response to what they see. I kept trying to ask why people were finding the ideas of Frank S. Meyer so enthralling. One theory is that they actually like where the ideas would take a person, but no one wanted to talk about that. I'm willing to believe you don't want to go where he went. Another theory is, you just like the ideas as ideas, and if you concede that, you have the other problem, that you're an ideologue, and I find that dangerous.
Well, the whole conversation was too abstract for her. But wait! Another panelist at the conference has weighed in at Reason magazine!
Some of my tablemates at dinner told her that I had provoked a spirited debate (lasting perhaps and hour and a half) about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I had asserted that state-sanctioned racial segregation was so egregious a violation of the rights of black citizens that it was absolutely necessary for the federal government to intervene to smash it. The whole political point of libertarianism is to strictly limit the power of the state over individuals. Mandating racial segregation via state power (as was done in the Southern states) is precisely the kind of state tyranny that libertarians detest. In any case, I think she found my view of the Civil Rights Act agreeable. During the discussion in the hospitality suite, absolutely no one defended state-sanctioned segregation and all agreed that Federal intervention was necessary to outlaw state-enforced Jim Crow segregation.

Once the topic had been broached over dinner, I turned to another tablemate who is a fervent Catholic intellectual to discuss some bioethical stuff. We had brought up transhumanism during one of the sessions earlier in the day. The two of us were having a perfectly civil conversation about the moral status of embryos. Anyway next thing I know, Ann Althouse is shouting at two of our dinner companions demanding that they prove to her (Althouse) that they are not racists! She kept asking over and over, "How do I know that I'm not sitting at a table full of racists?" This was completely bizarre! It should go without saying, but I will say it: No one at the conference could even remotely be accused of being racist.

I think she was upset that they didn't disavow private-sanctioned discrimination, not that they supported it either as far as I can tell.

By now, reader, you are surely asleep, but not me! This is a grand soap opera in my life, a fascinating reality show of blogosphere intellectuals.

Importantly, I've learned a lot, and I have new questions about states' rights and gay marriage. Should we allow some states to vote down gay marriage or civil unions, while others allow it? Is it a civil right? Is it a right at all? If it is, shouldn't it be federally protected? How do we define what's a right and what's not?

What? Read the what? The Consti-what?

Isn't there anything on television that will help me with these questions?

There are all kinds of philosophical and moral questions about whether we should allow gay marriage, but what about the legal ones? I don't even know how to ask them.

Update: This is news to me! From Radley Balko:
I think the tremendous downside that stemmed from Heart of Atlanta and like cases that forced private businesses to desegregate is that we're now faced with an interpretation of the Commerce Clause that gives the federal government far too much power over local affairs, from telling cancer patients they can't smoke marijuana to ease the bite of chemo, to stopping hospitals from being built in order to protect some obscure, endangered, cave-dwelling insect. (I actually think the south could have been desegregated by way of the 13th Amendment -- but that's another discussion entirely).
Huh. Can't comment on that. But this sounds sensible:
Discussing these types of issues is the very reason groups like Liberty Fund sponsor events like the one Althouse and Bailey attended in the first place. But it's supposed to be just that -- a discussion. Invitees are selected to provide for an interesting, provocative debate. It means you may possibly encounter ideas that are foreign to you, or that you disagree with.

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