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.

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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.

Cake, Again

A while back, I wrote about the Colorado baker being sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Since then, the Court has granted cert in the case. Very exciting, especially with the addition of Neil Gorsuch to the bench.

Today, I have a somewhat different opinion about the case, which I got from a Twitter exchange with Ole Miss lawprof Chris Green.

I’m still not convinced that the state is required to make an exemption for the baker by the Free Exercise Clause. But Green’s claim that the Privileges or Immunities Clause protects against unjustified occupational restrictions is interesting to me. Unfortunately, the Privileges or Immunities Clause is dead, at least for now (see The Slaughterhouse Cases).

How Not to Argue

I got into a Facebook argument with a stranger about gender dysphoria and its classification as a psychological disorder. His rhetorical strategies were, to say the least, not good.

I began by arguing that there are normal and abnormal ways to be, hoping that he would agree with me on that one point (as any sane person would) and then we could determine which ways of being should be considered normal and which abnormal. His response:

ken1

(Note: homosexuality came up because he earlier mentioned that it used to be included in the DSM, and part of the argument was about whether the inclusion of gender dysphoria in the DSM implies that gender dysphoria is a psychological disorder.)

My response:

davis1

Reasonable question, right? Apparently my interlocutor didn’t think so.

ken2

He dodges the question and appeals to his own authority(?). I add the question mark because he’s not really an authority on anything. “I suffer from depression and I’ve taken a handful of undergraduate level courses in psychology, so you should listen to what I have to say.” No thank you. Please give me reasons.

This is pretty much the entirety of what takes place in this discussion. I continue asking for him to give me reasons for his beliefs, explaining why having reasons for what you’re trying to argue is important. He keeps on trying to convince me to give a crap about his being a depressed psych major. Alas, we both fail.

TL;DR Appealing to your own authority is a stupid way to argue, especially if you’re not a real authority on anything. Majoring in something in undergrad is insufficient to make you an authority on something, and if you think that your undergraduate degree obliges other people to take you seriously, then nobody will.

Stupid Words You Shouldn’t Use: Capitalism

I recently finished reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. When I was about halfway through, I told a friend that Solzhenitsyn’s descriptions of the Gulag’s forced labor camps served as a thorough indictment of the Soviet regime and its communist ideology. It was truly corrupt at every imaginable level. He then asked me if I thought that the reliance of the southern antebellum economy on slavery served as a similar indictment of capitalism. And I said no.

“Capitalism” has distasteful connotations. We instinctively assume that anyone in favor of capitalism is on the side of soulless corporations and unscrupulous financiers. The way the word is put together (“capital” plus “ism”) makes it seem like it should refer to an ideology which values the accumulation of capital above all else, which is pretty much how Marx described it. So it shouldn’t surprise us that this is the working definition of “capitalism” for dumb Marxists on Twitter and elsewhere. It’s instinctive because the word itself is misleading, and it’s also a good straw man.

A much more accurate term to describe the ideology behind free market economies is “liberalism.” (This term has its own baggage, as the “liberals” of today tend to favor greater government involvement in the economy, unlike the OG liberals such as Adam Smith.) The whole point of free markets is that individuals get to make their own choices. That’s it. I dispose of my labor and my property as I see fit, and no one can force me to do anything. Of course, if I want to last long in the world, I’ll probably need to make some cooperative arrangements with others, but no one will force me to enter such arrangements.

How does slavery fit into this? Simply put, it doesn’t. Which is why it frustrates me to no end when Marxist fools try to link slavery with “capitalism.” If each individual person has the right to dispose of his labor as he sees fit, then no other person can enslave him. Slavery can occur only when government either fails to secure fundamental rights or actively deprives people of these rights. In the case of the southern states, the government was on the side of the slaveholders. The laws and the slaveholders teamed up to deprive the slave of his rights.

The other reason I dislike the use of the term “capitalism” is because it shifts the focus away from the most important feature of free market systems, i.e., that they are free. It’s certainly nice that free markets have resulted in astounding prosperity and economic growth over the past two centuries. But the main reason that we ought to prefer free markets to other systems is because other systems rely on coercion and theft. No one should be able to force you to dispose of your labor or your property in ways that you do not want to. You do not belong to the state or to the collective or to the guy with the biggest gun. You and your possessions are yours.

Of course, “capitalist” countries aren’t always successful at keeping their markets and their people free. That’s not a result of the “capitalist” ideology, though. It’s because people have an incentive to cheat the system if they can get away with it. If there is no rule of law and I can enslave people without being punished, then getting a bunch of slaves can make me a lot of money. But problems of this sort are far, far worse in non-capitalist countries than in capitalist ones. They are not peculiar to liberalism; indeed, liberalism has been the most successful way we’ve devised to solve them.