Saturday, April 27, 2013

Part II: The Dialogue Continues Into Personal Responsibility

This post is a continuation of the prior dialogue. The conversation veered into issues of personal responsibility. You will see that, regardless of which side you take, there is a clear distinction between the two viewpoints. As a conservative, I do not separate my values from my politics. I do not believe policy should be made on the basis of what "feels good." The institution of "welfare" undoubtedly felt good, yet, as noted below, resulted in the destruction of the black family. We "feel" bad that gays can't marry, so we'll change a definition that has existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Government agencies that are meant to protect us (the FBI, Homeland Security and the military) have purged their training manuals of any references to radical Islam or jihad, so as not to hurt the "feelings" of Muslims in this country. When policy is based upon feelings, rather than truth and logic and common sense, one should not expect a positive outcome. A final note: I agreed in advance to give the reader the last word.

TU: Do you think trial and appellate judges are more persuaded by logical and consistent arguments or illogical and inconsistent arguments? Logic and consistency form the essence of persuasive writing and debating. As to why liberals do not care about logic and consistency, see the January 18 post.

R: I agree in a court logic and consistency should and do prevail. But human beings do not operate on logic and consistency alone. As a matter of fact, they often behave illogically and inconsistently and emotionally. So people vote and behave in significant part on feelings and emotionality and the gut intuitive sense of what is in their best interest, or what makes them feel more secure, or what makes them feel better. Your appeal to individual initiative, responsibility and hard work is laudable. But taken to its logical conclusion creates a very stressful situation in life that many people do not want and cannot handle. The truth is that many of our fellow citizens are not as capable or intelligent or as motivated or emotionally strong as we would hope.

The Reader continues: So just as the far left cannot impose a collective, communist, radical agenda on most of the people; strict conservatives cannot impose a strict individualist and conservative socially agenda on most people. The majority of people are somewhere in the middle. It means they don't want any overly socialistic and regulated society. At the same time, they don't want an overly competitive society in which it is stressful and in which there is an absence of a reasonable level of security, especially in old age and with regard to healthcare. I think conservatives miss the point that most people do not want to face a life of ruin or bankruptcy, due to a fear of serious illness or death within the family. It can be worse than the loss of some freedoms and choice. If Republicans don't speak to those needs it should not be a surprise to see electoral defeat, despite logic and consistency.

TU: I think that every social scientist now agrees that welfare led to the destruction of the black family unit in this country. Previously, the black family unit was strong. Look at the outcome: kids without fathers drop out of school more, are more likely to get lower paying jobs, are more likely to end up in jail, and more likely to have kids of their own at a young age and outside of marriage. As Larry Elder says, it is a liberal elitist attitude that essentially treats others (be it Blacks, Hispanics, the disabled, whatever) as being unable to take care of themselves. With all due respect, your family is a perfect example of what I mean. Both you and your wife work hard. All three of your adult kids have significant disabilities, yet all of them also work hard. It is a testament to the values that you and your wife instilled in them. Yet, you do not believe other people are capable of taking care of themselves.

TU continues: Respectfully, I agree with Elder that it is a paternalistic, elitist attitude. That does not mean I would get rid of every single social program. It does mean an extreme rethinking so that we do not create the wrong incentives in people - and that's what most of these programs do. I am not mean spirited. Rather, I have learned from 35 years of dealing with injured people that it is far healthier for them to return to the work force than to be home collecting benefits. They feel better about themselves, feel better mentally, and are productive members of society. Conservative values are better values. You and your family live those values. You just do not believe living like that is good for anyone else. Again, see my 1/18 post.

R: I agree on rethinking incentives. But the policies you advocate need consensus. That means an uplifting, inclusive message and tone, so people will vote for and support your ideas. No matter what Larry Elder says there are people less fortunate, sick, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, etc. I work with them daily. Yes, there are fakers and lazy people. Yes, the welfare incentives have been horrible. Still, the black middle class is rising dramatically, and we have a black president. Corrections need to be made, but conservatives need to get elected to implement their policies. They need an uplifting, inclusive message. People need to be won over, not browbeaten.

TU: I do not need a "consensus" to know the right way to live. I know that you do not either. I also know, without consensus, that it is the best way for others to live. Consensus will never determine my values. That does not mean, however, that we do not need articulate Republican candidates to explain why conservative policies are better. Better for the individual and better for society as a whole. I do not know, however, that you believe conservative values are best for society. Obviously, there are some who need assistance. But the big picture is that we need to restore conservative values to our homes and our schools. It sounds like your comments still consider conservatives as the "other," not ones that you identify with. In other words, I cannot tell if you would argue for a return to the conservative values that you and I live by.

R: In the beginning we were talking about gay marriage as a public policy issue. I did not think we were talking about our individual beliefs or values with respect to gay marriage. They are two different things. As a matter of public policy I believe that it is the right thing to do now. My values versus the values that I wish to impose on other people are sometimes two different things. I think you would agree that a fervently evangelical Christian or an Orthodox Jew have very strong values that are legitimate and mostly worthy of praise. But you would not agree that those values should always be imposed on the larger population. One can be fervently religious and still believe in the separation of church and state, and respect that others think differently. You said you don't need consensus to determine your values, but I thought we were talking about public policy.

The Reader continues: So it seems that we have been talking about apples and oranges to some extent. I don't see that having values means being inflexible with regard to those values. I don't mean moral relativism. I mean just taking into account that sometimes core values compete with one another. I can basically believe in the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility without also being opposed to upholding the value of taking care of fellow human beings. It is clear that certain people need help. From a purely libertarian point of view there would be no taxes except for public security. That means all help would have to come from charity. If there's not enough money for charity, too bad. So the government started to step in. Yes, it can go too far the other way. Yes, there is corruption and faking and waste in all social programs. There's also corruption and waste in our most sacred programs, such as the military. So I agree with you that the social programs need to be rethought and reconstructed to minimize fraud and abuse and to maximize incentives. I really did think we were talking about public policy and that is why my themes were centered so much around political dynamics and political consensus.

A Dialogue on Gay Marriage, Part I

Recently, a friend, who is also a reader of the blog, had a dinner conversation with me about gay marriage. What follows is our subsequent email exchange concerning that topic. I had expressed my concern about changing the definition of a (the?) fundamental institution of society. I indicated that I did not feel people were thinking of all the possible consequences. I also expressed my concern about the way the left uses language and changes the meanings of terms to suit their politically correct purposes. As I have noted previously, "gay marriage" has since become "marriage equality." "Abortion," as we know, is "a woman's right to choose." I said it made me uneasy to change the meaning of words; as in "1984" when the government said "War is Peace."

I was not arguing on behalf of polygamy because I believe in it. Rather, I was using it as a tool to highlight what I felt were inconsistencies in the reader's argument. Ultimately, the reader acknowledged the inconsistency, but, as noted in my 1/18/13 blog post, logic and consistency are not big issues for the left. In any event, it is easy to pick up on where the arguments left off at the dinner and where the email exchange continued from there. Finally, I have broken up the dialogue into two different posts, as Part II delves into other subjects, based upon a discussion of the issues of logic and consistency.

The Truth-Uncensored (TU): If the government has no business in marriage, can I safely assume you are okay with polygamy? It is a serious question. Why do you or the government get to define marriage as only being between two people? What if 3, 4, or 5 or more people love each other and want to make a commitment? How does it hurt anyone else? What's it the government's business?

Reader (R): You're right in terms of logic but the big and crucial difference is there is no political constituency for polygamy whereas there is for gay marriage. It is the politics that is driving the issue and I just don't see the equivalence between gay marriage and polygamy or even more taboo scenarios (e.g. beastiality, incest, etc.) that are sometimes brought up in the slippery slope argument. I think conservatives have every right to be against gay marriage and speak out against it and vote against it. I just think it's not a winning issue and I personally don't feel it is so offensive or detrimental an issue to warrant the kind of political capital that is being spent on this issue in light of the apparent changing political climate, and increasing acceptance of the idea of the fairness of allowing gay marriage. Regarding polygamy, there's virtually no constituency, no movement, and no foreseeable effort on the horizon to promote it. The gay marriage issue has political wind at its back, whereas it is hard to imagine polygamy ever having the same. Not a perfect answer but I think it lays out some of the issues that I see.

TU: There are a much smaller number of people that would want polygamy. But so what? Gays are a very small minority compared to heterosexuals. I used all the arguments you used to support gay marriage to argue for polygamy. Now, you are saying it comes down to politics. I know you don't believe "equal rights" should be based upon politics. So please tell me YOUR opinion on polygamy, and answer the questions I asked. And your bottom line: thumbs up or down on polygamy?

R: I don't think polygamy is marriage. I also think the states will decide the gay marriage issue which makes it a political issue in the broadest sense. You are right that eventually other issues like polygamy will be tested in the courts...The issue seems to me to be that conservatives want the federal government to define marriage and block states from allowing it. I don't see states or movements promoting polygamy. So, no, I don't think polygamy is in the same category. If a court rules in favor of polygamy as marriage then that would be a new factor.

TU: First, a correction. It was always up to the States. It was Bill Clinton who signed DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). Finally, it is the left/gays who want the Federal courts to overturn all state laws banning gay marriage on Constitutional grounds. So now that we are clear on who wants a Federal decision, you have another problem: "I don't think polygamy is marriage." Well, men did have multiple legal wives in various western states for a number of years. And, who are you to define marriage as being limited to two people - you are being inconsistent. I'm not allowed to define marriage but you are.

R: You are right when it comes to consistency. Yes, you have a right to define marriage. I believe, however, that it is a losing issue in the face of gradual change in public opinion. The reason public opinion is changing (in addition to media opinion) is the increasing belief that this is not a terrible thing and not a line in the sand issue. It is a change that an increasing majority (especially young people) can either support or live with. I am no gay marriage activist. I would just as soon they would not make the fuss and be okay with civil unions. There are more important issues. But I don't see this as a bad thing, and I think it does not rise to the level of moral imperative to preserve the definition of marriage. I think the idea and institution of marriage can evolve and is not one of those things that is so sacred and elemental as to be untouchable. I don't see the great harm in modifying or broadening marriage per se.

TU: As you have said you don't believe polygamy is within the definition of marriage, the question is: WHY? Again, you already said that marriage was a right. Therefore, a "right" should not be based upon whether polygamists have the political winds at their backs. So, WHY do you believe polygamy should not be considered within the definition of marriage?

R: I don't think marriage is a right. I think it is a consensus issue. I don't think it is one of those things that cannot evolve. That it is so sacred as to be untouchable. I think that opinion is generally moving in the direction of looking at marriage as being able to encompass gay marriage. I respect the other opinion...I think the analogy with Judaism is somewhat relevant. There are many mitzvot (commandments) in Judaism that you and I and most Jews have not seen as absolute or untouchable. I believe that marriage is something like that. It promotes the idea of two people committing to one another. It lessens the number of single family homes. It takes away a certain amount of stigma. The fact that I don't think polygamy is in the same category means I don't see marriage as a right so much as a consensus idea or convention...I also think that it shouldn't be decided solely in the courts...I think a gay marriage initiative today might fare better than it did a few years ago. So I guess I come down on the side of allowing the people to decide. So, no, I don't think marriage is a right.

TU: I don't think that you have answered my question: why doesn't polygamy fit within the definition of marriage? The reason I ask is this - I don't believe that you are able to give an explanation that is any different from the reasons I gave against gay marriage. So, if marriage is not a "right," what's the harm in providing for "civil unions" other than some gay people will be offended? And what about committed heterosexual couples who never marry? Should they get any of the tax advantages, etc. of married people?

R: I think the difference between polygamy and gay marriage remains the commitment and union of two people. That is something that I can accommodate to, given the increasingly slim but growing majority of people. With polygamy it's just different. Sorry. I know it's an unsatisfying answer.

TU: Actually, it's a very satisfying answer. You are defining marriage as being a union between two people. And you are LIMITING it to only two people. I define marriage as between a man and a woman. No different than you in that you have made your own definition and limitations. So have I.

R: At this point I would not say that other than two should be marriage. But (polygamy) as marriage - I just don't see it. I wouldn't vote for it. But I could see it becoming acceptable. I wouldn't outlaw it either. Just seems like it will be on the fringes for the foreseeable future.

TU: My point in our give and take was to make you have to acknowledge the inconsistency in your positions. I am not allowed to define marriage as being between a man and a woman without being called a bigot (by most of the left and the mainstream media). You, however, are allowed to define marriage as being limited to two people. Please read my blog post of 1/18/13 - "Republicans Vote Their Values, Democrats are Driven by Issues." Then tell me which group you fit into.

R: I grant you the consistency issue, but I still think it's not a matter of consistency. It's a matter of public policy reflecting gradual change in the body politic and cultural norms. I still think the issue is not primarily a legal definition issue. I do see the futility now of looking at it as an equal protection issue because that does certainly open up a can of worms legally. Your viewpoint is legitimate and reasonable, I just don't agree. And I don't think the key is having to be consistent across issues but rather to pick the important issues.

TU: You said marriage is a "consensus" issue. I don't think you really mean that. When the "consensus" was that blacks and whites could not intermarry, I know that neither one of us would ever find that acceptable, notwithstanding that there was a "consensus" at the time. Again, see my earlier post of 1/18/13. Liberals are not big on consistency. That is because they let "issues" trump their values.

R: The primary vehicle for ultimately establishing public policy is voting. Is that not "consensus" in its essence? The Constitution and courts are there, among other reasons, to balance majority tyranny and protect individual rights. But the policies of the government reflect consensus among the people.