Calla Hales’s Real Point (And Why It’s Still Wrong)

Here is a tweet from Calla Hales, the director of an abortion clinic, criticizing North Carolina’s proposed “born alive” bill:

Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review quoted the tweet and added a comment, interpreting the original tweet:

I think Hales was making a different argument. She was not using the North Carolina law to make a point about the nature of legal personhood. Rather, she was making a version of the claim that pro-lifers don’t care about the inherent dignity of humans at early stages of development so much as we want to control women’s bodies. If we really valued infants (including the unborn) as persons, we would treat them as persons under all areas of law, allowing them to be added to a will, among other things. To write into law that an infant born during a botched abortion is a “legal person for all purposes” while maintaining a law on the books that infants younger than 30 days cannot be added to a will is hypocritical.

There are problems with this argument, too. First, the factual claim about North Carolina law may not be true. After looking through North Carolina’s laws, I was not able to find a provision that appears to prevent infants under 30 days old from being added to wills. I was, however, able to find a provision allowing infants to inherit via intestate (i.e. without a will) succession as long as they were born within 10 months of the death of the deceased. N.C.G.S. § 29-9. I also found a provision that generally allows such persons to inherit even when the deceased had a will, but didn’t write them in. N.C.G.S. § 31-5.5.

Second, even if it is true that North Carolina doesn’t allow infants under 30 days old to be added to wills, that doesn’t demonstrate hypocrisy on the part of pro-life people. It is entirely reasonable for pro-life people not to know about a relatively obscure area of law. Abortion is a more important issue. Failing to protect the right to life of unborn persons is worse than preventing infants under 30 days old from being added to wills. Although, I’m not sure many pro-life people would support the latter policy anyway.

In any case, Hales wasn’t arguing that infants under 30 days old can’t be considered “legal persons” because of a law preventing them from being added to wills.  She was pointing out what she considered to be an inconsistency between the pro-life position and that law.


This Comically Bad Op-Ed

I’m taking a break from studying and writing final exams to share this gem with the world. When I saw that Michael Mukasey had written an op-ed about how feminists are like jihadis for not liking “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” I knew I had to read it. Mukasey is a former federal judge and Attorney General. He really hates terrorists. So when he’s comparing feminists to terrorists, you can infer that he isn’t so fond of feminists, either.

In this op-ed, you get one paragraph about the song and contemporary discomfort with it at the beginning, then a bunch of stuff about Sayid Qutb and how he hated the song (and any intermingling between the sexes). And then at the end there’s a paragraph about how Qutb would be happy to see all these feminists carrying on his mission. There is almost no discussion of why some people are less comfortable with the song now. He just acts as if the fact that both Qutb and feminists don’t like this song shows that they are the same.

It’s stupid and I can’t believe it was published anywhere, let alone in the WSJ.

There are some good reasons to criticize the backlash against the song. For the most part, the song’s critics misinterpret it. Twenty-something-year-old listeners read rapeyness into the lyrics because they have been taught that, when it comes to sex, everyone says what they mean and means what they say. We have to watch videos in college about how each sexual act needs to be explicitly and enthusiastically consented to, and that consent can be revoked immediately, at any time. That kind of clarity in communication about sex was just not expected of anyone until very recently. It is something that we have devised in an attempt to make casual sex safer for both men and women.

But it just does not make any sense to compare contemporary critics of the song with Sayid Qutb. Some people nowadays want to encourage more explicit communication about sex so that casual sex is less risky. Qutb, on the other hand, was disgusted by the intermingling of men and women and revolted by the prospect of an unmarried man and woman spending the night together. Qutb and the feminists dislike the song for completely different reasons, and it makes no sense to use this song as a point of comparison between them.

This op-ed epitomizes bad right-wing commentary. It makes superficial comparisons so that less-discerning readers will start to associate the “enemy” of the day with people who are actually evil. It’s like how Dinesh D’Souza wastes so much paper printing his books about how the Democrats are actually the Real Nazis. The WSJ and Mukasey should do better than that.


When I graduated from college I was happy just to be done. And when I got my first job, I was happy just to have a job. It didn’t matter much to me what kinds of opportunities that job would open up for me. I didn’t really care whether the work was interesting. Mostly I just wanted to have something to pay the bills that wasn’t unbearable.

But then something happened. I started studying for the LSAT and found out that I would likely score very high. And then I actually took the LSAT and applied to law school. I got into Harvard. And then I went.

This little taste of success and prestige in the law school application process has made me hungry for more. Now I’m not content with being a student at Harvard Law; I need to be a top student. It’s not enough for me to get a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm in New York; I need to get a job with one of the most selective firms. It’s not enough to clerk for a federal judge; I need to clerk for a Supreme Court Justice.

In short, I’ve gotten greedy.

Instead of being content with the amazing opportunities that I know I will have as a Harvard Law graduate, I am focusing exclusively on the opportunities that I might have if I graduate magna cum laude, make law review, and get stellar recommendations from my professors. And to some extent, that’s spoiling my experience. I’m not able to just enjoy the fact that I’m here, that I have this incredible opportunity to learn law at such an elite institution.

If you had told me when I was a senior in college that I would be studying at Harvard Law school, I would be pleasantly surprised. I started considering law school a little bit before I graduated, but I had assumed that I wouldn’t be able to get into the highest-ranked schools. Because of that, I wasn’t even sure I would end up going to law school. I was worried I wouldn’t get into a program good enough to justify the exorbitant cost.

Now I tend to take it for granted that I’m here. The novelty has worn off. And I find myself feeling ungrateful because I worry that the most elite and prestigious outcomes will end up being out of my reach.

My first final exam is tomorrow. I’ve been studying hard. But I’ve also been trying to refocus myself on why I’m here. I’m here to become a lawyer. I want to do my best on exams, but it’s not like this whole thing is a fruitless endeavor if I’m a typical HLS student rather than an exceptional one. Typical HLS grads get great jobs and become great lawyers. The fact that they don’t have Latin honors on their diploma is immaterial.

In fact, the reason I want the best grades and the honors is not because they will open up opportunities that I want. It’s mostly a matter of my pride. I want the grades because they will help me to prove how great I am to myself and to the world. That’s a stupid reason to want good grades.

So I’ve been praying that God will give me humility and contentment with whatever grades I might end up getting. I want to be grateful for the opportunities I have instead of grasping at vain honors.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
-Ecclesiastes  4:6


This open letter from a widow whose husband recently killed himself hits close to home. (If you can’t get past the paywall, I’m also attaching it as a PDF here.) He was an attorney, and that’s what I’m trying to become right now. The letter is titled “Big Law Killed My Husband,” and I’m expecting to work in Big Law for a while after law school. She says that he lacked “self-compassion,” and I’ve found that the same is true of me.

What struck me most about the letter, though, is the part about why she thinks he did it: “Simply put, he would rather die than live with the consequences of people thinking he was a failure.”

This man believed, first, that failure was worse than death. And second, that the only way to avoid failure was to die. Both of these are lies from hell.

I can tell that I’m wired similarly to the way this man was. I am predisposed to believe these same lies that he believed. I pray that God won’t let me.

Rest and Procrastination

One of my problems is that I can’t easily tell the difference between rest and procrastination. Yesterday I wanted to get work done on an assignment, but I did not. I was tired and really did not feel like working on it. At the end of the day I felt somewhat disappointed in myself. My will was too weak to overcome the desire to be idle.

Fortunately for me, I have a fiancee who is wiser than I am. She interpreted things differently. According to her, I was tired, and I needed to rest. It’s not that my will was overcome by laziness; it’s that I was just too tired to get anything done anyway, and the best thing for me to do was to take a break.

I tend to mischaracterize rest as procrastination. I assume that, with enough will power, I can do anything that I set my mind to. But I have limitations besides a lack of will power. I have limited physical energy, emotional energy, and creativity. And if those limitations are stopping me from getting things done, then trying to force it is unlikely to help. Stepping back and letting myself recharge is all I can do.

I’m sure it’s possible to go the other way, too. People might think that they’re just resting when, in reality, they’re putting things off because they don’t feel like working. It’s not always easy to draw the line between rest, which is absolutely necessary, and procrastination, which is best avoided. In fact, where the line should be drawn probably varies significantly among different persons and different circumstances.

So it requires wisdom to tell the difference. And it also often requires an outside perspective. One of the reasons we can’t do life without the help of others is because we often fail to see what’s really going on. I interpreted my lack of progress on the assignment as a sign of laziness or weakness of will. But there were other interpretations available that I could not see without help.

I am blessed to have people in my life who show me grace even when I am not disposed to receive it. Hopefully I start to internalize that grace and stop viewing myself in a harsher light than is helpful.

Week 1 of Law School is Over

I have finished my first week of law school. Technically, I guess you could say that this first week of classes was really my second week of law school, because the week before class started we had orientation.

So far I’m having a good time. Orientation was way too much for me, but I coped by not going to some of the events. Moving in has been somewhat of a hassle, but I’d say that my apartment is basically livable now that I have a table, a futon, a shelf, and a bed. Classes have been fun. I’ve enjoyed the reading, the amount of which has been reasonable, and the content of which has been appropriately challenging.

Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of how I’ve spent my time so far:

Tuesday, August 28

Drive up to Massachusetts with my parents. We stay with my Aunt at her house.

Wednesday, August 29

First day of orientation at HLS. I check in pretty early. There is breakfast. I eat a frittata. After eating, I have to wait an uncomfortably long time before the actual programming starts. Hanging out with 560 people I have never met is tough. I want to get to the part where the activities are planned and I don’t need to figure out what to do with myself in a room full of strangers.

After about an hour, I go to my Section 2 (the first-year class at HLS is divided into 7 sections of about 80 students each) classroom and there are introductions. Our BSAs tell us what BSAs are (the Board of Student Advisors consists of upper-level J.D. students who serve as guides for first-years in general, while also acting as Teaching Assistants for our Legal Research & Writing course). Eventually we all file out of the room and the building and go to hear Dean John Manning speak in Sanders Theatre (which is utterly beautiful).

Dean Manning says that law school is not like being chased by a bear. He also instructs us not to compare our insides to other people’s outsides and assures us that everyone is nervous when they start at HLS, but that the feeling will go away as we discover that we do, in fact, belong here. The speech was funny and memorable.

After this, we walk back to Wasserstein Hall, where most of our orientation programming was. Susan Davies (my professor for Legislation and Regulation) and David Singleton give talks about what it means to be a student here at HLS. Professor Davies focuses on how we don’t need to compete with each other, because we’re already “at the top of the heap.” Mr. Singleton admonishes us not to “write people off,” especially with respect to politics. (The theme of treating others charitably even if you disagree with their politics was persistent throughout orientation, which I thought was great.)

We meet our Faculty Leader, Prof. Jim Greiner. He sorts us randomly into groups and has each group come up with a Harry Potter-themed name (he loves Harry Potter). Then he makes us build towers out of index cards. I certainly did not expect law school orientation to include tower-building, but it did.

We round out the day with a group photo and dinner. I sit with Prof. Greiner for part of it, but don’t have a lot to say. When I get back to my Aunt’s house I am exhausted.

Thursday, August 30

We start with breakfast. It’s not as good as yesterday’s.

We’re in our section classroom. A woman comes in and introduces herself. It becomes clear that this is going to be a kind of “social justice” training. But there’s no sense of ideological indoctrination here. No claims like “all white people are racist.” Instead, we focus on how our brains unavoidably rely on implicit biases to function (i.e. we have to “fill in the blanks” when information is incomplete). The woman encourages each of us to consider what our own blindspots might be and how they might affect others, and to assume the best about others when their actions negatively affect us.

Then, more time with our Faculty Leader, Prof. Greiner. We discuss a case that he had us read beforehand, called Lassiter v. Department of Social Services.

Suddenly, Justice Kagan is here, speaking with the Dean. I don’t make it into the main room where the event is taking place. Instead I’m stuck in an overflow room watching via projector. But that’s okay.

I leave campus after this rather than doing the fun thing that’s on the schedule, because I’m tired, and then I go to the beach with my family. There are huge seagulls that no longer fear humans and have no qualms about stealing your food right out from under your nose. We eat delicious ice cream.

Friday, August 31

Friday starts with breakfast. Once again, there are frittatas, and I eat one. Then there’s a long panel about all the resources available to students at HLS. It’s good to know there are people looking out for us.

Then comes the highlight of orientation, “TALK,” hosted by HLS Student Government. Three current students give “The Moth”-style talks about their lives. One person speaks about growing up poor in Hawai’i, as well as about being transgender. Another details his childhood as a cult member, and how he eventually left. A third talks about helping to write the Harvard Law School Parody, a yearly musical that makes fun of the law school. I especially enjoy the story about the cult.

After TALK, we go to lunch with our BSAs. Mine is named Gabi. We go to a Japanese restaurant and I have ramen. A classmate of mine talks in detail about his work as a film producer, which is very interesting. After lunch, we have more time with Prof. Greiner.

At some point during the day, I’m informed that my apartment is ready. So my parents drive into Cambridge to pick me up and move all my belongings into the apartment. In order to do this, I skip the LAWn Party, but that’s okay. I am very tired.

After moving things from the car to the apartment, we go back to my Aunt’s house for dinner. Two of my cousins are there, along with my cousin’s wife and two children. The kids are very cute, and we have a lot of fun with them. Later at night we go to pick up Michelle at South Station. She is coming in on a bus.

Saturday, September 1

Today is the day that our lease starts. Fortunately, we moved things into the apartment already. But we had stuff delivered to my Aunt that also need to be moved. We load up the car with boxed furniture.

In our new neighborhood, Allston, almost everyone’s lease starts on September 1, as there are lots of students. Everyone moves on September 1. People often leave things they don’t want on the street for people to take (for this reason, September 1 is referred to as “Allston Christmas”). Despite the craziness, we are able to stop the car long enough to unload before my mom and Michelle drive off to buy things for the apartment. My dad and I build furniture.

Eventually, my mom and Michelle come back. We clean the apartment (because for some reason it hadn’t been cleaned before). When it gets later, we head back to my Aunt’s house so we can go get some dinner. We take my Aunt and Uncle out for Sichuan food.

Sunday, September 2

We do not go to church today. We don’t know where to go, and even if we did, we have a lot to do. My parents drop me and Michelle off at the apartment before starting their journey back to Virginia. The apartment is still in need of serious cleaning before it’s ready for me to spend the night there. So we do that.

Michelle and I clean and clean. Eventually, it’s time for Michelle to leave, too. She gets a Lyft to South Station so she can catch her bus back to New York.

Monday, September 3

Today is labor day. I need to read for class on Tuesday. But besides that, I have very little to do. I speak to my brother for the first time in months, as he has been out of the country and very busy. The Xfinity guy comes in the afternoon and now I have WiFi.

Tuesday, September 4

Law school is actually happening! And it’s happening right away. My first class starts at 8:10 a.m. It is Criminal Law, with Prof. Ronald Sullivan. I have a good impression.

In between classes, I 1) pay for my MBTA semester pass (I got a student discount through the school), 2) go to the Copy Center to pick up course materials, and 3) cancel my Planet Fitness membership (the day before, I transferred my membership from my old location in Brooklyn to one in Cambridge just so I could cancel it). I don’t eat lunch, but I’m not hungry for it anyway.

Civil Procedure is with Prof. Greiner. It’s also an interesting class. I like learning about procedural things that most people find overly technical and boring, so this class will likely be a good fit for me. We discuss how the Court has interpreted 18 U.S.C. §1331 to confer jurisdiction in a far narrower set of cases than Article III of the U.S. Constitution, even though they use the same language to describe the jurisdiction being conferred.

After class I check my email and discover that I now have a locker. I put things inside. Then I go home and call the electric company to set up our account for billing. I have to read for Civil Procedure the next morning and Contracts the following afternoon. I eat something simple that my mom bought for me.

Wednesday, September 5

The day before, I was notified via email that I am having dinner with Dean Manning on Wednesday, and also that I am to dress business casual for this dinner. So on Wednesday I dress business casual. I also bring all of my books to school so that I can keep them in my locker, as I expect to do most of my studying at school.

I take the bus to school. Before going to campus, I stop by the Harvard Square subway station and buy a month-long bus pass, as I won’t receive my student bus pass until the end of September. Then I stop by my locker, leaving the books I don’t need and taking the ones I do. Afterwards, I go to a coffee shop where some people with a Christian organization are having a casual meet-and-greet thing. It is very hot and I am sweaty, so I drink an iced tea. Then I go to class.

Today I have an extra Civil Procedure class because we are doing extra classes in order to make up for future classes that will probably be cancelled. We talk about diversity jurisdiction and how the Court has interpreted 28 U.S.C. §1332 to confer jurisdiction only when there is complete diversity between parties.

I don’t eat lunch.

I have Contracts class. We discuss why contracts should be enforced at all and in particular cases.

There’s a lot of time in between the end of Contracts and dinner with Dean Manning. I go to the library and figure out how to print things. I also prepare for my classes on Thursday.

Dinner with Dean Manning is fun. Once again, he gives a good speech, telling us about the dark side of the history of Harvard Law School. Prof. Sullivan admonishes us to do justice. Food is good. The classmates sitting at my table are excited to hear that I’m engaged, and I’m excited to tell them about it.

Thursday, September 6

Today I leave the apartment later, because my classes don’t begin until 9:30 a.m. Traffic is worse, and the bus ride is less pleasant, than the previous days.

Legislation and Regulation with Professor Davies is fun. She has a lot of energy and speaks quickly. We discuss different approaches to statutory construction and begin discussing Yates v. U.S., in which the Supreme Court determined that a fish is not a tangible object. After Leg Reg, I have Contracts again. And after Contracts, I have Legal Research and Writing.

And after that, there’s an event put on by the Office of Public Interest Advising. Jason Wu, an HLS alumnus and director of GLAD, speaks to us about being a public interest lawyer. He tells his story of transitioning out of Biglaw, his parents’ subsequently disowning him, and his eventual reconciliation with them. Dean Manning also offers some remarks. And Judge Barron, who used to be a professor at HLS, tells us why all the reasons we might not go into public interest work are perhaps not as compelling as we might think.

Then there’s a big party. I go to it, but very quickly wish I hadn’t. I get a free drink, though, and I stay until I’ve finished the drink. Then I go to the library to print and scan some documents for financial aid. Then I go home.

Friday, September 7

It’s the last day of my first week of class. All I have is Leg Reg. We discuss Yates (the one where the fish isn’t a tangible object) and then TVA v. Hill (in which the Supreme Court decides that the Endangered Species Act means what it says, even when following it will have serious financial consequences). I go home pretty much right after class.

My mattress has arrived. (Up until this point I have been sleeping on an air mattress.) I manage to get it into my apartment and unpack it. It expands on my bed frame. I do some reading and stuff.

Later in the evening I go back to school for the Harvard Law School Christian Fellowship’s first meeting of the year. Professor Okediji speaks about the history of the fellowship. Larry Wee, a partner at Paul, Weiss, admonishes us not to be glued to our phone screens, to support one another, and to remember that if Christ is for us, no one can be against us (not even our CivPro professors).

After the meeting I go home and talk to Michelle. It has been a long week.

Saturday, September 8

I make coffee and eat some breakfast. Last night, our side table arrived. I build it while also doing laundry at the laundromat around the corner. I write a blog post about the past ten days.


It’s axiomatic that transition results in loss. When change happens, you gain the new and lose the old. I’m staring down a number of huge changes. This is my last week at my first ever full-time job. Next week, I’ll move to a new city to start law school. And to top it all off, I’m getting married at the end of the year.

I’m happy about these changes. I’m happy about where my life is going. But I haven’t given myself much time to think about what I’m giving up. I knew that I would miss New York and all my friends here, of course. I knew that I would miss my church, which was instrumental in my recovery from depression. But there are other losses that I hadn’t even considered, losses that it has only now occurred to me that I have to mourn.

My brother Donovan just finished an internship with MK2MK, an organization with which I’ve worked in the past. In fact, I did the very same internship program as him four years ago. I love MK2MK. But I’m not sure what opportunities I’ll have to be involved with it going forward. Seeing some pictures from Donovan’s internship has made me nostalgic. Four years ago, I thought I wanted to work for MK2MK full-time, mentoring young Christians and traveling around the world. Eighteen year old me would not have guessed that, after graduating college, I would work for two years in a bland office job before heading off to law school.

For a while, my involvement with MK2MK defined me. After my internship, it took months before I felt like I could be at home anywhere else. In fact, the depression that characterized my second year of college was largely a result of feeling like I could not belong anywhere except with this group, which I had come to view as my tribe. I still count people from MK2MK among my closest friends, but it is no longer part of my life in the way that it once was, and it probably never will be.

In my third year of college, The King’s College became my new home. While I had made close friendships during my first two years, I didn’t get that sense of belonging that I so craved until I was preparing to graduate. In the two years since graduating, I continued to consider King’s as my community. I maintained good relationships with professors and a handful of current students, and most of the friends I see regularly are King’s alumni.

With the arrival of each new freshman class, however, it’s become clearer to me that King’s is not really my community anymore. When I graduated, I thought that I would stay involved with the school in such a way that I would barely notice the difference between being a student and being an alumnus. I thought I would get to know all the freshmen and help to shepherd them through their first year at King’s. Somewhat unsurprisingly, that didn’t happen. I am, in fact, an alumnus, not a student. My relationship with the college has therefore had to change.

For whatever reason, I feel as if I am just now really leaving MK2MK and King’s behind. I’m not totally sure why this is. Perhaps it’s because this is my first major transition since moving to New York City to start college five years ago, and it’s causing me to take stock of the past five years. Or maybe it’s because I’m committing myself to a career path that, while relatively flexible, is radically different from what I expected as an intern/student. I don’t know why I’m feeling this sense of loss now when the actual loss seems to be so far in the past. But I am.

In any case, I know what I’m giving up, and I know what I’m getting in return (at least, I think I do). And I’m content with the trade-off.

Bad Nationalism

I wrote an article for Arc Digital about white nationalism.

The gist of the article is that “white” people are not and cannot be a nation, because they do not have the right sorts of things in common. We think of white people as a group solely because of their roughly similar skin color, and not because they actually share any meaningful characteristics.

You can potentially get around this by saying that, by “white” people/culture, the white nationalists are referring to something more specific, like the culture of the antebellum South. Perhaps “Southern whites” constitute a nation by virtue of their shared commitment to preserving antebellum southern values, including chivalry, their particular form of the Christian religion, and white supremacy. This more specific grouping might constitute a nation in some sense, as they do share the right sorts of cultural and religious commitments.

So then the question becomes, not whether a group of people constitute a nation, but whether their nation ought to exist. And it should be easy to see that the nation described above ought not to exist, as one of its core commitments is white supremacy.

Nationalism is supposed to be a shield for a people to protect itself and its culture from harm. That’s why Israel exists: to protect Jews and Jewish culture from harm. Likewise, America exists to secure the liberties of Americans and to preserve our core ideals. This is right and good. We should encourage it.

But some cultures (and by extension some nations) are predicated upon vicious evils. Such is the case with white nationalist movements. They want a white supremacist nation, because their “culture” is white supremacy. If this were not the case, then white nationalists would be content to live in a racially diverse society as long as white people are treated justly. “White culture” is only under attack if you define “white culture” as white supremacy.

My focus in the Arc Digital piece is on what “nationhood” means. But it might be more useful to develop an account of what distinguishes good nations from bad nations. To put it shortly, bad nations are predicated on the oppression of those who do not belong to the nation.

When Good People Hold Abhorrent Views

First this happened:

Then this:

Duplass might have made an error in saying that Ben Shapiro is a good person for left-leaning folks to follow. He should probably have started with some less provocative commentators, preferably ones who haven’t built a career on triggering snowflakes and drinking leftist tears. That said, Ben Shapiro has a lot to say that’s worth listening to. He also says a lot of stuff that’s wrong, even abhorrent, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth engaging.

The attacks on Duplass following his endorsement of Shapiro were based mostly on overblown claims that Shapiro is unashamedly hateful. Shapiro is not hateful. He is a provocateur, which is generally not a particularly helpful thing to be (at least insofar as you’re interested in “reaching across the aisle”). He has also said extremely insensitive things, which he (to my knowledge) has not apologized for. These (and others) are valid reasons to criticize Shapiro as a pundit. But when left-leaning people flip out at the suggestion that Shapiro might be a decent person who is worth listening to on at least some points, they reinforce the increasingly popular perception that the left writ large cannot abide any departures from leftist orthodoxy whatsoever. It is this perception that fuels Shapiro’s career as a pundit.

Much more useful is the approach of Eric Weinstein, below:

I’m not sure how willing Shapiro actually is to “cross the aisle.” Perhaps there are some clips out there of him entertaining the possibility that socialized medicine doesn’t entail enslaving doctors. Or maybe he, at some point, expressed openness to the possibility that black people are more likely than white people to be mistreated by the police. I don’t know. But Weinstein actually knows Shapiro, so there’s probably at least something to his claim in this tweet.

What I appreciate most about Weinstein’s tweets is that they show how you can criticize someone without denouncing him. There is an important difference between criticism and denunciation. Criticism is directed at a person’s ideas, arguments, behavior, etc., while denunciation is directed at the person himself. There just aren’t many situations in which denunciation serves the common good. People denounce primarily because it helps them to demonstrate their ideological steadfastness and moral purity to sympathetic onlookers, not because it actually advances their ideology by persuading the undecided. Whereas criticism can encourage a person to refine his ideas or change his behavior, denunciation encourages people to double down on whatever it is they got denounced for in the first place.

An example of this going the other way: advocates for abortion rights hold beliefs about the unborn that I find positively repulsive. I believe that there are compelling reasons to regard unborn persons as persons and to respect their right to live, and that a refusal to acknowledge the personhood of the unborn for the sake of convenience is just as morally evil as denying the personhood of any other class of persons for the sake of convenience. But denouncing people who are in serious error about the evil of abortion does nothing except demonstrate the purity of my commitment to the pro-life cause. If I actually want to persuade people that abortion is evil, I need to engage them, not denounce them.

The fact is that decent people believe and do abhorrent things. This is the norm, and it always has been. If you want to get rid of abhorrent beliefs and prevent people from committing abhorrent acts, then you can’t settle for denunciation. You have to do what Weinstein is doing and make a good-faith effort to persuade people that their ideas and actions are wrong. Of course, some people know perfectly well that what they’re doing is wrong. Right knowledge does not lead to right action. But even in such cases, a virtuous friend is more likely to correct that person’s behavior than mass denunciation from strangers on Twitter.

Sometimes I like hearing Ben Shapiro’s takes on current events. He’s smart, and he can articulate conservative ideas pretty well. But the “own the libs” persona he has cultivated, plus his bad takes and insensitivity on issues like race and gender dysphoria, makes him really hard to listen to, at times. If Weinstein’s criticism is effective in improving some of Shapiro’s ideas (and making him less of a flamethrower), then we all win.

Ownage and that RBG Trailer

“[Insert activity here] to own the libs” is one of my favorite internet memes, mostly because it’s just so true to the times. People disregard their own interests, their own beliefs, and basic facts as long as doing so allows them to triumph over people whom they consider to be enemies, whether that’s liberals, conservatives, the swamp, etc.

This type of behavior is especially common on Twitter, where character limits make any kind of deep discussion more difficult. People generally aren’t looking to say something interesting and insightful; they usually just want to “dunk on” people, which is another way of saying to “own” them. However, the phenomenon is not limited to Twitter. Sometimes it makes it into movies (or at least, movie trailers).

Here’s an illustration of attempted ownage and its costs to society (relevant clip begins at 2:14 and ends at 2:24):

In this clip, we have RBG “own”ing a judge by saying that the word “freedom” doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Of course, this simply isn’t true (see the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech”), and people have been criticizing the trailer for the line:

Basically, in an effort to have RBG “own” some white male judge, the screenwriters have her making a false claim about the content of the Constitution. This is not a good move. I echo Adler’s hope that the producers fix that line.

(n.b. Some people have tried to defend the line, saying that “the Constitution” in this context should be interpreted to mean “the unamended Constitution” or “the original Constitution.” But there is no reason that a lawyer arguing a constitutional case before a court would mean “the unamended Constitution” when referring to “the Constitution,” because the unamended Constitution is NOT the Constitution. Not anymore, at least.

You might make the case that the RBG character in the film is making the point that the Constitution need not explicitly mention a thing to protect it, which is all well and good. The problem is that she could easily make that argument without making the false claim that “freedom” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and even if the unamended Constitution didn’t include “freedom,” it did include “liberty,” which kind of undermines the argument above, and also the analogy between “woman” and “freedom” has limited utility, since “woman” is a class of persons and “freedom” is not, etc. Basically there’s no reasonable way to interpret this line that doesn’t make the screenwriters look silly. That’s because the screenwriters specifically chose to sacrifice clarity, and perhaps also truth, so that the line would deliver more ownage to RBG fans.)