The Pathetic “Theology” of the Denver Statement

Lately, the Nashville Statement, which affirms the traditional view of marriage as a covenantal lifelong union between a man and a woman, effected by God, has drawn condemnation from many sides. The condemnation is unsurprising, given that, in mainstream circles, opposition to same-sex marriage is considered tantamount to denying the humanity of gay people. Indeed, it’s not even surprising that some are condemning this clear statement of historic doctrine from within the church. A clear statement of what motivates Christians to oppose the Nashville Statement can be found point-by-point in the Denver Statement.

Preamble

Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in an exciting, beautiful, liberating, and holy period of historic transition. Western culture has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being by expanding the limits and definitions previously imposed by fundamentalist Christians. By and large, the spirit of our age discerns and delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life that is so much richer and more diverse than we have previously understood it to be. Many deny that God created all human beings for God’s glory, and believe that God’s good purposes for us are limited to those whose personal and physical design is cis-gendered, heterosexual, and socially acceptable expressions of male and female. However, many Christians now understand that binary and backwards thinking excludes a large and important part of God’s beautiful plan for God’s people. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for God’s creatures is clearly inclusive of a variety of identities of gender and expressions of sexuality that have previously been denied by shortsighted and limited thinking, teaching and preaching that has ruined lives and dishonored God.

I find it hard to read it without cringing. “Fundamentalist Christians” have supposedly imposed a narrow-minded view of human nature on western civilization. Supposedly “[m]any deny that God created all human beings for God’s glory.” Support for traditional views of marriage and gender is just “binary and backwards thinking.” Refusing to support gay marriage “excludes a large and important part of God’s beautiful plan for God’s people.”

This paragraph, like much of the rest of the statement, is filled with empty rhetoric and blatant mischaracterizations of the positions espoused by the Nashville Statement. Indeed, the Nashville Statement specifically says that ALL people bear the image of God and can live fruitful lives in his service. And while it might sound nice to assert that same-sex unions are a beautiful part of God’s plan, assertions without scriptural support are worthless. When you’re arguing that the millennia-old doctrines of the church should be revised, you need something more than inane slogans.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that God has created humanity out of love and for the purpose of love.

WE DENY that God intends marriage as a gift only to be enjoyed by those who happen to be heterosexual, cis-gendered and fertile.

No disagreement on the affirmation, but the denial misses the point. The question is not whether marriage is for some people and not others. The question is what marriage is. Plus, how can you possibly infer from the Nashville Statement that infertile people shouldn’t be allowed to marry? Either the people who wrote the Denver Statement have very poor reading comprehension or they are deliberately mischaracterizing the Nashville Statement. Not a good look.

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God created us as sexual beings in endless variety.

WE DENY that the only type of sexual expression that can be considered holy is between a cis-gendered, heterosexual, married couple who waited to have sex until they were married. But if you fit in that group, good for you, we have no problem with your lifestyle choices.

Not much to say about this except that it seems to leave the door open to polyamorous relationships. I wouldn’t be surprised if these people supported such relationships, to be frank, because I think they have a strong commitment to denying any and all normative views of human sexuality in favor of an “anything goes as long as there’s consent” mentality.

Article 3

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in God’s male & female image, and that all human beings share this image of God in common but express it differently in body and spirit.

WE DENY that we as human beings can fully conceive of the glory of God’s image or rightfully believe our language can define its limits. Therefore, we deny those who do not conform to society’s gender norms are outside of some kind of “divine plan”.

Here, the statement attempts to hide its radical revision of long-standing doctrines under the guise of epistemic humility. Who are we to make normative claims about human nature? After all, we’re limited beings. This is a stupid argument. Refusal to take a positive stance on human nature is itself a positive stance on human nature. In effect, the Denver Statement is saying that we ought to adopt their ill-defined, amorphous concept of human nature instead of the one we’ve had for thousands of years. They feign intellectual humility, but their hubris is obvious. We, unlike all the patriarchs of Israel, the church fathers, and all the saints, are humble and enlightened enough to acknowledge that we shouldn’t make normative claims about human nature.

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that the glorious variety of gender and sexual expression is a reflection of God’s original creation design and are aspects of human flourishing.


WE DENY that such variations are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

Not much to unpack here. Just an unsupported assertion.

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that the biological capacity for human beings to reproduce is a glorious wonder and that humanity continues to discover the gender and sexual diversity with which God has created humans.  

WE DENY that gender is always linked with biological sex characteristics, and we deny that those whose bodies contain physical or psychological realities outside of the “norm” need curing or reparation.

The thing is that there’s no reason why this logic shouldn’t extend beyond sexual orientation and gender identity. What about people with genetic defects? Do they not need “curing” or “reparation”? Should we consider all variations to be normal so that deviation from the norm is logically impossible? After all, norms exclude. Progressives both inside and outside the church are making war on the very concept of normality for this reason.

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that the bearing of God’s image occurs in every glorious genital and chromosomal variation found in the human race.

WE DENY that any variation in the human body exempts one from living a joyful and full life.

Dear people who wrote the Denver Statement: You’re not special. We all believe this. Although I’d drop the “glorious.”

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that there is no longer male or female but all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

WE DENY any self-conception that presumes one is capable of knowing God’s holy purposes for other people, and that such self-conceptions can be consistent with the Gospel of grace, love, and mercy as demonstrated in holy scripture.

Yes, it seems very wise to take the Apostle Paul out of context to imply that sex and gender are no longer meaningful concepts. And also, I may not know what God’s plans are for other people, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make any claims whatsoever about the moral status of choices they might make. Killing, lying, and stealing are bad. Saying so is not me being arrogant or presuming that can know God’s purposes. It’s just me making a moral claim, much as the Denver Statement is making a moral claim here.

Article 8

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is outside the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that anything puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

Agree 100 percent with the affirmation. The grace of God extends to people of all kinds who struggle with the brokenness of the world in all conceivable ways. But your denial suggests that the Nashville Statement says that people can be put outside the hope of the gospel. Which makes me really angry at you, because that’s obviously not what the historic Christian doctrines teach. Anyone can be saved, not because people aren’t actually so bad, but because the saving power of Christ is greater than any other power that exists.

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that sin distorts all aspects of human life.

WE DENY that  human beings can escape sin by simply upholding a particular doctrine or lifestyle.

Again, I tell you: You are not special. This is the teaching of the Nashville Statement.

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and while we believe in the full inclusion of all people into the body of Christ (here we stand we can do no other), we cannot bind the conscience of other Christians.

WE DENY that it is sinful to approve of queer identities and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

We’re free to hope for “full inclusion of all people into the body of Christ,” but not everyone gets to be part of the church. The church has to punish people living in habitual sin. If you think that opposing same-sex marriage and rejecting prevailing views on gender identity is sinful, then you need to sanction the people who are doing so.

Article 11

WE AFFIRM our duty to love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another.

WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s image-bearers.

Article 12

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for this day.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is something that must be supplemented by works, piety or doctrine.  

I’m happy that we actually agree on a fair number of points, but I’m disheartened because the inclusion of such points indicates that the Denver Statement drafters don’t think that we agree on them.

Article 13

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake prejudice and see such prejudice as our own and not as God’s.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-righteous assertions of absolute knowledge of God’s will.

Holy crap. Apparently adherence to millennia-old doctrines about marriage and sex constitutes “self-righteous assertions of absolute knowledge of God’s will.” What a straw man. No one claims to have absolute knowledge of God’s will. The Nashville Statement makes a relatively modest claim that has extensive historical precedent and philosophical support in addition to scriptural support.

Article 14

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person; this is a supreme treasure.

WE DENY that God is a boy and has actual arms.

So the affirmation is pretty similar to the one from the Nashville Statement, except that it excises the need for repentance and trust in Christ. This change raised my eyebrow. I don’t even know what to make of the denial. They’re probably trying to make some point about taking scripture too literally. Who knows.

Article 15 (this one is just ours)

WE AFFRIM [sic] that the church has often been indistinguishable from the dominant culture in the ways in which it has sanctified oppression and bigotry towards historically marginalized and demonized people groups, of which the LGBTQ+ community is one.

WE DENY any ideology, theological or otherwise, that results in the further marginalization, rejection, dehumanization, and overall suffering of LGBTQ+ individuals.

If you remove the ideologically laden language, then I wholeheartedly agree with this final statement, and I think that signatories of the Nashville Statement would, as well. The church should teach that God’s sovereign grace can save anyone from anything. However, refusing to affirm same-sex unions and the new gender theory is not oppression or bigotry. I do not need to affirm everything about a person in order to love that person as myself, just as I do not need to affirm everything about myself. Indeed, there are parts of me that I wish Christ would destroy now, and that I expect him to destroy in the hereafter when my body is resurrected and glorified. Whatever corruption exists in my body or soul, I bear the image of God. This goes for everyone.

I find it extremely disheartening that Christian advocates for same-sex marriage and the new gender ideology have adopted wholesale the strategy of the broader culture. They use the same rhetorical tropes and tactics, laying it on thick with talk of “marginalization” and “oppression,” suggesting that anyone who disagrees with them is just being bigoted. Ironically, the Denver Statement decries the church’s failure to oppose the dominant culture when that culture is oppressive to certain groups, but fails to recognize that it is little more than a Huffington Post article with some Christian jargon sprinkled in. Love is not the only thing that is supposed to distinguish the church from the world. We’re also supposed to be holy.

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Racism: an Individual or Structural Problem?

Obviously, it’s both, to some degree. But I’ve been thinking lately about which way of looking at the problem is more helpful. Is racism fundamentally individual or institutional? I lean towards saying that individual racism is the cause of institutional racism, and that structural remedies can only do so much before they start doing more harm than good. After all, institutions are created by people, and not the other way around.

The post-WWII housing market was heavily segregated, in large part as a direct result of government action. Without government support, the rapid suburbanization of America could not have taken place.  Developers created suburbs with the help of the government and then intentionally excluded African-American home-buyers. This is an obvious example of institutionalized racism. However, this racism had its roots in individual attitudes and prejudices. Developers believed that allowing black people to live in a suburb would lower property values because of aggregate individual racist beliefs.

In large part, this turned out to be true, which is why we ended up with the phenomenon of “white flight.” Even when the government started to prohibit people from engaging in housing discrimination, neighborhoods didn’t integrate. When black families started to move into suburbs in any significant numbers, white families moved away in droves. The racist preferences of a critical mass of individuals prevented the structural remedy from being effective.

The lesson to learn from this is that even a neutral system can result in racist results if enough of the people participating in that system harbor racist attitudes.

So we’re confronted with a problem. How can we eliminate racism if removing structural biases doesn’t suffice? The problem is made virtually intractable if by “we” we mean the State. There just isn’t a way for the government to modify individual attitudes and preferences that doesn’t effectively amount to government indoctrination. That’s a very dangerous road to go down. The State can introduce structural biases with the aim of counteracting individual biases (like affirmative action), but this can sometimes breed racial resentment or reinforce racial stereotypes, exacerbating the root problem.

I think this is why some conservatives tend to be more skeptical of government attempts to eliminate racism. The problem is too complex for the government to solve, because racism isn’t just about warped institutions, it’s about warped souls. The government can reform institutions, but it cannot reform souls. The solution to the root causes of racial injustice has to lie outside the state.

On the other hand, progressives tend to emphasize the structural nature of racial injustice. I think they do so because this implies that racism is really not that hard of a problem to solve. All you have to do is dismantle the oppressive systems. You are made racist not by your individual prejudices, but by your opposition to dismantling the oppressive system. This way of thinking is a product of misguided Rousseauian optimism, the belief that, in the absence of society’s corrupting influence, we are naturally good. Such optimism regarding human nature, along with the scapegoating of “society” that tends to accompany it, is far more popular than it ought to be.

It’s become common in recent years for people to promote a new definition of racism that assumes the primacy of structural bias over individual bias. Supposedly, racism is about power, and not about prejudice. Thus, black people cannot be racist against white people, and all white people are necessarily racist against black people. This redefinition of “racism” is a clever move by the progressives, as it pushes us toward state-centered solutions to racism even though they won’t work. As such, we should resist this definitional change. The solution to racism isn’t the destruction of all of our liberal institutions any more than the cure for cancer is suicide. But we can’t continue to affirm this simple truth unless we recognize that racism infects souls before it infects institutions.

Book Review: “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice”

One of my former professors, who has recently made criminal justice reform one of his main research areas, recommended that I read this book, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, by William Stuntz. It’s a must-read if you care about criminal justice reform. Whereas it’s become popular to claim that our problems with mass incarceration are rooted in the war on drugs, Stuntz demonstrates unequivocally that the problems in the system go much deeper and much farther back. A combination of misaligned incentives between the many actors involved in the system, the Supreme Court’s ill-advised decisions tightening procedural requirements, and increasingly broad and rigid criminal statutes all combined to produce the nightmare we have today, in which our incarceration rate dwarfs that of any other liberal democratic nation in the world.

Stuntz provides a lot of helpful economic analysis. One of the main takeaways from the book is that the way costs are distributed in the criminal justice system encourages incarceration rather than crime prevention. Localities pay for their own police forces, while states pay for prisons. It is thus more cost-effective for local prosecutors to punish crime than to prevent it, as their counties do not bear the cost of punishment. Stuntz’s solution is to shift some of the costs of policing to the state, as well as to shift some of the costs of prison maintenance to localities. This way, localities have more of an incentive to prioritize prevention than punishment.

After all, there is an inverse relationship between the number of police officers active in a county and the number of incarcerations, which is at least a proxy for violent crime. Having more police around will make neighborhoods safer while also reducing the need to incarcerate such large swaths of our population. Arguably, increasing the presence of police in areas that most need policing will help to improve the quality of policing, as well. Strong police presence deters crime and gives officers less reason to fear for their lives (which is the most common defense offered by officers who kill innocent people).

Perhaps the most eye-opening part of the book for me was Stuntz’s discussion of the Supreme Court’s rulings on criminal procedure, such as Mapp v. Ohio, Miranda v. Arizona, and Gideon v. Wainwright. In effect, Stuntz argues, these rulings did little to secure the substantive rights of prisoners as a result of their misplaced emphasis on procedures. The Court’s rulings made conducting trials prohibitively expensive and less accurate in most cases, leading to the rise of plea bargaining in most or all cases. By tightening procedural requirements, the Court incentivized the abuse of plea bargaining that’s partially responsible for our overcrowded prisons. Moreover, the tightening of procedural requirements by the Court helps guilty and innocent alike, simultaneously making it harder to distinguish between the two, which is one of the most important functions of the justice system.

The shift away from trials and toward plea bargains was facilitated by the increasing codification of the criminal law. As Stuntz shows, criminal law used to be primarily judge- and jury-made. Locally selected juries had broad power to acquit defendants for just about any reason. This gave localities more control over the dispensation of justice in their communities. The vagueness inherent in unwritten common law gave room for communities to decide for themselves how to deal with crimes.

Nowadays, our criminal law is mostly found in statutes. Crimes are far more precisely defined, giving juries and judges less leeway in deciding who is to be punished and who is to be let go. Moreover, codification has made it possible for individuals guilty of only one criminal act to be charged with many crimes, each carrying its own sentence. The result is that criminal defendants have more incentive to accept plea bargains, even if the bargain includes a potentially excessive term. For a relatively minor criminal act, one might be put in jail for years and years as a result of the multiplication of criminal charges.

Stuntz doesn’t seem particularly optimistic about the possibility of reform. He suggests, however, that it’s possible. Reading the book has made me want to be a part of such reforms. I’m not sure what kind of involvement that might be.

Posted in Law

Arpaio and the Offensiveness of Forgiveness

Like many people, I am unhappy that Trump decided to pardon Joe Arpaio. He flagrantly disregarded the law and brutalized people during his time as Maricopa County Sheriff, and he will suffer no legal consequences for doing so.

This post isn’t primarily about Arpaio, though, but about the feeling of indignation many people feel at his pardon. I feel this indignation as well. As I was sitting in church on Sunday, it occurred to me that this feeling is a good illustration of the utter offensiveness of the Gospel.

I often hear people ask how a loving God can send people to Hell. But the following question is just as concerning: How can a just God forgive people who have committed great evils?

I want history’s Hitlers, Maos, and Stalins to burn in Hell. I don’t want to share the new earth with them. As far as I’m concerned, they don’t belong there. And yet, under God’s standards, I’m equally deserving of condemnation. If God can forgive me, then God can forgive anybody, can he not?

Something about forgiveness as such violates our sense of justice. When the offense is small, we are willing to let things slide, sometimes. But for a grave offense, we cannot tolerate forgiveness. Things need to be made right, somehow. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Evil acts must be punished, not ignored or rewarded.

And it feels like unconditional forgiveness is the same as ignoring evil acts.

But since I am powerless before God, and I am obviously grateful for his forgiveness, I don’t have much choice but to trust his exercise of his rightful power. God’s justice is not bound by my ideas about justice. He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. As an undeserving recipient of God’s mercy, I have no right to complain when he forgives people who I consider less deserving than myself. And from some other vantage point, God’s choice to forgive me is just as offensive as Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio.

Don’t Defend Trump

I’ve seen people try to, and it doesn’t work.

Just in case there’s any confusion, this was after Trump walked back the statement he gave on Monday by saying that many of the participants in the Unite the Right rally were “fine people.” Bold, yes. Truthful, no. Any fine person with an ounce of sense would have bolted the moment the anti-Semitic chants started.

For those who do not know, “Alt-right” is a term coined by Richard Spencer. You know, the guy who throws up Nazi salutes, won’t condemn Adolf Hitler, and wants to get rid of the Jews. The alt-right is Spencer’s movement. Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist, bragged about making Breitbart a platform for the alt-right. Trump knows who these people are. He just doesn’t want to condemn them because he’s a vile human being.

Sean means here that Trump rightly placed some of the blame for the violence on Antifa (the “alt-left,” as Trump called them). He loves it whenever the left gets unhinged. Unfortunately, he’s also a hack who doesn’t care about the truth unless it serves his agenda.

A common trend you’ll notice with these people is that they sold their souls to the Trump cause long ago, so it’s not too surprising that they’re fighting to the death to defend his utterly indefensible conduct. Unfortunately, these people still have some credibility, and I’m sure that there are many decent Americans who point to Jerry Falwell and think, “look, a good Christian man who thinks Trump said nothing wrong!” Not good. Not good at all.

A Missed Opportunity

When neo-Nazis decide to hold a rally, it’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their position on the political spectrum, do not support it. For one thing, the Nazis were our enemies in World War II. They killed Americans in battle. For another, overt racism is generally regarded by Americans as the evil that it is. Nazism isn’t popular. Just because you can dredge up a couple hundred angry white guys doesn’t mean you have a “movement” in any meaningful sense. It just means that you have a couple hundred angry white guys.

What happened in Charlottesville was despicable. It’s not surprising to me that Americans from across the political spectrum condemned the rally, as well as the violence that it occasioned. Indeed, I think the widespread condemnation is really good evidence that I’m right to think that America’s population is 99.99 percent against Nazism. What’s frustrating for me is that our response to this could have been one of national unity. We basically all agree that the people who went to this rally are the scum of America. Why not call attention to that? Why not emphasize that the left and right in America can be unified against race-based hatred?

Instead, what I’ve seen on Twitter is a bunch of people on the left criticizing people on the right for failing to condemn the white supremacists (even though they were condemning the white supremacists). And then when it became impossible to ignore the fact that basically every mainstream conservative figure had, in fact, condemned the rally in the strongest possible terms, people questioned their sincerity without grounds:

The political divide in our country is so deep that we can’t even unite in our opposition to Nazism. Even when our political foes do and say exactly what we do and say, we can’t give them any credit. Disgraceful.

Even the criticism of Trump’s weak statement on the rally has been mostly bipartisan, with many highly visible conservative figures calling attention to his failure to explicitly condemn white supremacy:

You’d think that, since people on the left and right are saying the same thing, they would stop being at each other’s throats for just a second, but we’re incapable of doing that. God help us.

Equality: a Poor Substitute for Justice

Equality does not matter. Without further context, the mere fact of equality or inequality has zero moral implications. What actually matters is justice. When people talk about the importance of equality, they’re trying to talk about justice, but they’re doing so imprecisely.

It is obvious that different people should be treated differently. A high-achieving student should be given admission to a prestigious college, while a mediocre student should not. To treat the two students equally would, in fact, be unjust. Give to each what he is owed. Through her achievements, the high-achieving student has demonstrated that she is owed something which the mediocre student is not.

There are many ways in which you can be owed something. Personal merit is one of these ways. Another way is by being wronged. If someone steals from you, then they owe you what they stole from you. You can also be owed something by entering into and fulfilling your side of a voluntary exchange with another person. I work for my employer, and as a result, they owe me my salary.

Certain people would have us believe that unequal outcomes between groups are prima facie evidence of injustice. These people are relying on our failure to properly distinguish equality and justice to further their political agenda. A good example of this is the so-called wage gap. We are told that the average woman makes 77 cents per hour for every dollar per hour the average man makes, the implication being that we’re a misogynistic society that values female labor less than male labor. In reality, this gap is more reasonably explained by how women, on average, are less motivated in their career choices by salary than are men, on average, as well as by how women, on average, are more agreeable and therefore less likely to ask for increased pay than are men, on average.

The same people who hold up the “wage gap” as an example of systemic misogyny point to underrepresentation of certain groups in certain sectors of society as further evidence that we are evil. Google engineers are mostly men. This must be because Google hates women. African-Americans are underrepresented at elite undergraduate universities.* White supremacy. We don’t even question the inference, because we don’t understand the difference between inequality and injustice.

And yet, when other inequalities crop up that don’t fit the narrative of the oppressive patriarchy, we ignore them. Far more men than women are incarcerated. Women now earn a majority of academic degrees. The NBA is disproportionately African-American. Does the justice system discriminate against men? Do universities favor women? Is the NBA racist against white people? No, no, and no.

If your goal is really equality, then you should be just as concerned about the inequalities in the last paragraph as you are about the “wage gap” and Google’s sex ratio. But the absurdity of casting the examples I just gave as examples of injustice should lead you to instead reject the goal of equality and put justice in its place. Sometimes, outcomes will be unequal, but if these outcomes are the result of just processes, then there’s no reason to worry about them.

*I recognize that, to a significant degree, this is a result of past injustices. Jim Crow, racist housing policies, and the refusal of local governments to protect blacks from racial violence have had an enduring effect on African-Americans, and I believe that justice demands a remedy. My point, though, is that it is these injustices that are relevant to deciding who is owed what, and not the fact that African-Americans are underrepresented in colleges. Even if they were overrepresented, they would be owed something because of the gross injustices perpetrated against them.

Highlight of My Day

It’s early, but I doubt the day will get better than this. I commented on a Simple Justice post on affirmative action. Scott (author of the blog) responded as I would expect him to (basically, “I don’t care what you think and neither does anyone else”). But then this other guy, Miles, comes in.

I clicked on your link and read your post on this issue. Two thing, one of which SHG alluded to and another based on reading your comment here and your post.

First: you are taken with yourself as a pundit, as if your values are somehow inherently important enough that merely saying “I believe” is a good enough reason for anyone to care or agree with you. Who are you that anyone gives a damn what you believe?

Second: When I read your comment, I was prepared to forgive you for being shallow. It was just a comment, so how deep could one expect you to get? But now that I’ve read your post, you are shallow. That’s fine, as most people lack the capacity for deep thought, but for crying out loud, man, keep it to yourself and don’t broadcast it to the internet.

I guess I’m a self-absorbed, shallow fool. This is the post he’s talking about, by the way. Funnily enough, he doesn’t give me an argument for why my thinking is shallow. He just expects me to take his word for it. And for that reason, I don’t care what Miles has to say, much as he doesn’t care about what I have to say. Everybody wins.

I responded as follows:

I’m not as taken with myself as it may seem. I’m attempting to catalog my thoughts online. No one is required to read them. I recognize that I’m not important enough for my opinions to matter. Plus broadcasting my opinions at people who will call me shallow for them is a good way to toughen myself up to prepare myself for the world. So thank you, kind sir.

And then Scott came back!

You’ve won me over. I suggest you consider how you frame your ideas to make them stand alone rather than dependent on you, but your willingness to take a punch is admirable.

Thanks, Scott!

Even if I am an idiot, I’m at least an idiot who isn’t afraid of criticism, and how else am I supposed to stop being an idiot? So I’ll keep vomiting my half-formed, terrible ideas onto this blog for the whole world to see. Keep the criticism coming. You’re only making me stronger.

On Affirmative Action

First of all, shame on the New York Times. Again.

The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

[. . .]

The document does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination because of affirmative action admissions policies. But the phrasing it uses, “intentional race-based discrimination,” cuts to the heart of programs designed to bring more minority students to university campuses. [emphasis mine]

The NYT makes this about anti-white discrimination. The DoJ document only says that affirmative action causes certain groups to fare worse in college admissions than they should. This is true, even more so of East and South Asians than of whites.

Anyway, I’m not here to bash the NYT. I’m here to talk about affirmative action. I think the policy is a bad idea, but that there are more convincing ways to argue for it than others. It depends what justification for the policy is given.

Justification 1: Diversity

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2013), the Court concluded that discrimination in college admissions on the basis of race is acceptable when it secures the educational benefits of having a diverse student body. This is a stupid argument (courtesy of Justice Kennedy, of course). I don’t think there are substantial educational benefits to learning in proximity to people of a different skin color any more than there are substantial educational benefits to being only around people of one’s own race. And even if such benefits did exist, it still wouldn’t justify discrimination. Suppose one could demonstrate that segregated schools uniformly perform better. Does this justify de jure segregation? Of course not! Either discrimination is okay or it isn’t. Guess what? It isn’t.

Justification 2: Accounting for “Privilege”

Don’t be alarmed by the use of scare quotes around “privilege.” I’m not here to tell you that the concept of privilege is bogus. What I will say is that it is usually overstated. Progressives would have you believe that all of society is systematically biased against minorities in subtle, unconscious ways (e.g. the SAT is racist, which is why black test-takers don’t score as well as white test-takers do, on average). As a result, every person who is part of a marginalized group needs a little boost in order for there to truly be equal opportunity.

This, too, is ridiculous. While racism is by no means a thing of the past, the idea that we live in a systematically racist society is nonsense (unless you’re talking about anti-Asian bias in college admissions). Important concepts to progressives like unconscious racial bias have little to no scientific support. I believe that the concept of privilege, if it is to be useful, should pertain to the persisting effects of past overt racial discrimination, rather than to the effects of current unconscious bias (I consider this to be a better explanation of the racial disparity in SAT scores: past discrimination -> poorer economic and educational opportunities -> entrenched poverty -> poor SAT scores). And the appropriate remedies for these two kinds of harm are different.

Justification 3: Rectifying Past Wrongs

I hint at this a little bit at the end of the last section. Obviously, there have been egregious injustices in our history. There still are today,  but they are far rarer than they once were. When discrimination of this sort takes place, justice demands that there be restitution. People should be given what is rightfully theirs. Hence affirmative action?

The difficulty of this approach (which I think is nevertheless the only reasonable one) is that many of the injustices happened long in the past, and the initial victims are long dead. It is often impossible to determine what might constitute an appropriate remedy. There are just a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, if we can conclusively prove that a black family was run off of their land, and if we can trace that family to a currently living family, then that land should be returned to them. But if your father was deprived of an educational opportunity because of his race, to what compensation are you entitled? Should you be let into Harvard just because he should have been? What if you’re not as smart as he is? What if you don’t want to go to Harvard?

I think that, rather than modifying our admissions standards to give certain ethnic groups a leg up, we should give those descended from victims of egregious injustices* compensation in another form: tuition. Why boost people into schools that they might not be qualified for, saddle them with debt, and then send them away with diplomas that may not get them jobs? A much better way to help victimized black Americans accumulate wealth and human capital would be to heavily subsidize their tuition payments, provided that they get in based on the same standards as everyone else. This is just one idea, but I think it’s better than modifying admissions standards for different racial groups.

*Important note: not all black Americans are victims of egregious racial injustices like slavery and Jim Crow, because some black Americans are more recent immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean. Nigerian-American households actually out-earn white American households.

Yes, Real Socialism. No, not Real Conservatism.

Twitter is filled to the brim with asinine opinions (known colloquially as “hot takes”), such as the following:

Is the Trump administration really a representative of “modern conservatism”? Surely not. Trump isn’t a conservative. He’s a right-wing populist authoritarian. Ask any conservative and they’ll tell you this.

(There’s also the important point that the memo didn’t say anything about white people being discriminated against. It was about affirmative action, yes, but Asians suffer far more as a result of affirmative action than white people do. It would be just as reasonable to assume the memo was about discrimination against Asian applicants. This isn’t about white victimhood. It’s about justice.)

One person did tweet an interesting thought on whether the Trump administration should be considered “conservative”, however:

And another person added:

This has made me think: is there a difference between saying “not real socialism” and “not real conservatism”? I think there is, and that I am justified in saying that Trump and the GOP as a whole don’t represent modern conservatism, while also saying that the numerous failed attempts to inaugurate a socialist utopia are representative of real socialism. The reason for this is because the core tenet of socialism inevitably leads to a the authoritarian horrors of the past century, whereas no core tenet of conservatism leads to rent-seeking on behalf of certain ethnic groups.

The core doctrine of socialism is the abolition of private property. Some way or another, “the people” own everything, whether it is via the state as their supposed representative or as a democratic collective. But the only way to abolish private property in a regime where people own property is to confiscate it from them, unless you can convince them to give it up voluntarily—and you can’t. Socialism thus necessarily begins with theft. The assumption socialists make to justify this initial act of theft also justifies all sorts of other human rights violations, which is why socialist regimes have been such terrible human rights violators. The assumption: the infinite good of inaugurating and advancing a socialist utopia far outweighs the finite bad of robbing or even killing a few of these fools who stand in our way.

Once you accept the assumption that all of your actions can be justified so long as they advance the Cause, you have created the ideal conditions for the rise of a totalitarian state. And even if you don’t become a despot, someone will kill you, seize power, and become a despot. It’s what happens when we tell people that it’s okay to steal and kill in order to advance political ends.

Nothing in conservatism, on the other hand, can be reasonably linked to the white victimhood politics of Trumpism. The key attributes of conservatism are skepticism of sweeping change, a strong emphasis on following established procedures, and advocacy of a smaller government. Each of these can potentially be useful for white victimhood politics, but if followed faithfully, they will often conflict with the white victimhood agenda. In contrast, the core tenet of socialism, when taken to its logical conclusion, permits and perhaps even encourages the sorts of atrocities (throw off the chains of bourgeois morality!) committed in every communist country that has ever existed, as long as someone thinks that the atrocities advance the proletarian revolution.

If we’re skeptical of sweeping change, then we should readily say that Trump’s hastily written travel ban was ill-advised. If we care about established procedures, then we should condemn Jeff Sessions’s promotion of civil asset forfeiture. If we want a smaller federal government, then we should fully repeal the ACA. Most of what this administration does flies in the face of conservative principles. And if you read conservative publications, then you know that conservatives are far from happy with it.

This is no surprise; it’s not like we elected him thinking he would govern as a conservative. Those conservatives who voted for him did so while holding their noses, hoping just that he would be better than Hillary. Trump’s rise to power and illiberal policies are not the fault of anything endemic to the conservative philosophy. Rather, our current political climate, combined with the extreme unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, gave him the perfect opportunity to win the presidency. And now he’s doing what we knew he would do.