Thursday, November 12, 2009

In The Comments

Dance and Andrew Stevens, and to a lesser extent FLG, have transitioned my post on gay marriage into a broader discussion of the progress of justice. Andrew's positions are so similar to mine on most issues that I'll just second them, except on Brown v. Board. I think something like the Civil Rights Act would've happened without it.

Dance, as always, asks insightful questions:
Are Americans different from the rest of the world?

Yes, for a variety of reasons. Americans are unified by adherence to a set of ideals, which we may debate the exact meaning of but broadly agree upon, liberty, freedom, equality, etc. This is in start contrast to most countries, which are nation-states. When it really comes down to it. The French are French by blood. Germans are Germans by blood. Italians, Czech, Chinese, Japanese, etc. To the extent that the United States does have a ethnic dynamic, it's the historical power of the WASP. But the important part is that Americanism is primarily about adherence to certain ideals, not ethnicity. These ideals certainly arose from a WASP culture. Protestant work-ethic. Judeo-Christian values. The cultural and social values even if the ones that aren't codified in law are important. But you don't have to be a WASP to abide by them. There's a certain practicality to the whole thing that I think is key. Think Poor Richard's Almanack. That brings me to the next point.

And, why is democracy more important to you than justice?

Actually, justice is more important to me than democracy, but it's sorta convoluted or, if one was being kind, nuanced. I wholeheartedly believe there is a universal, permanent form of justice. Problem is its form is difficult to discern. For a variety of historical, cultural, and social reasons I believe the collective judgment American people are the best way to discern it. I'm extremely skeptical of judges trying to interpret the "evolving standards of decency" etc. It presumes some sort of philosopher-king-esque role that I find hubristic and unbecoming. Further, I fear the consequences of ceding the interpretation of morals and ethics for society to a small, elite subset consisting entirely of lawyers. So, my belief that the American people are the best way to discern justice over the long-term leads me to value keeping that role with them over many particular, but temporary things I view as injustice.

This does not mean they always get it right. See: Japanese Internment. But I must say that the society recognizes that it was an grave injustice and has cognizant of that in much of the War on Terror debate. We learned from that mistake.

To return to the gay marriage issue specifically, Andrew writes:
I have no doubt that the gay marriage thing will eventually win and I'm willing to wait the twenty or thirty years it might take to get there in a proper and orderly fashion. (Easy for me to say, I know.)

I'd argue that the vast majority of gay people will live in a liberal state, New York, California, Massachusetts, Illinois, etc, that already have or will legalize it soon. Gays in Texas will probably have to wait longer or move to a more liberal state. To me, and I'd second Andrew's point about easy for me to say, this is an acceptable price to pay in current injustice to ensure that the American people, who ultimately are our only hope as a nation because the power derives from them, are the final arbiters of our morals and ethics.

I hope that makes sense.

7 comments:

Andrew Stevens said...

You might be right about Brown, but I see where Dance is coming from. I hadn't really thought through that the Civil Rights Act could have enforced desegregation on the South even absent a court decision. The fact is that the catalyst for everything that happened in civil rights was World War II, not Brown or Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, and that lends itself to your point. (Baseball was desegregated in 1947, the military in 1948, etc.).

dance said...

Okay, I buy that. I mean, it's not that I agree, but it's a coherent mostly complete explanation of your stance on gay marriage. And I'm a lot more willing to accept "eventually the true understanding of American ideals will be absorbed by everyone in the nation" than in "fundamental decency of the American people will overcome fear, greed, and self-interest."

It's not so much that I believe Brown was the only method, as that I wanted a rationale for how desegregation would have happened without it. I mean, if someone wants to claim Supreme Court decisions aren't necessary, a speculative counterfactual to support such a claim really isn't that much to demand (FLG's just lucky Andrew came along with WWII).

FLG said...

"if someone wants to claim Supreme Court decisions aren't necessary"

Just to be clear. I'm saying Supreme Court decisions aren't necessary for social progress, and are in fact an inferior and tremendously flawed means.

"(FLG's just lucky Andrew came along with WWII.)"

Yes. But the question with counterfactuals is not whether they are speculative because they all are, but whether they are reasonable. I think mine is reasonable. Well, of course I do because I think it is actually correct, but nevertheless...

dance said...

But yours didn't exist. It's not a counterfactual unless you present a reasonable chain of events that could have happened. You don't get to just skip that step by tossing out great big assumptions. :-) In my view. When I'm reading, and feeling like I have the time and knowledge and energy and itch to call people on stuff.

Andrew Stevens said...

There's no question in my mind that what started the whole civil rights movement was World War II. Most of the able-bodied men in the country, black and white, served in the military. At the beginning of the war, blacks were marginalized into support roles, but they were then given the opportunity to have all-black combat units. The extraordinary success of many of these (particularly the Tuskegee Airmen) created quite a pressure to give blacks civil rights.

Moreover, World War II galvanized blacks to demand civil rights. Many blacks discovered that racial discrimination wasn't nearly so bad in Great Britain and France. And, of course, there was the G.I. Bill, which created a large number of college-educated blacks (who then discovered that whites still received better paying jobs).

The Supreme Court was still a little ahead of the curve in 1954, but the curve was coming, Supreme Court or no. The Tuskegee Airmen proved that blacks could perform even the most difficult combat assignments as well as whites and Jackie Robinson had proven blacks could play baseball as well as whites. To an American, what else is there?

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