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Archive for August, 2017

I read a rather extraordinary piece in the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It is called “Don’t bother trying to understand those on the ‘other side'”, and is written by a University of Toronto philosophy professor named Mark Kingwell.

Professor Kingwell writes:

“There is a moral baseline that Nazism is indefensible; we ought likewise to recognize that most people can’t actually be reasoned with.” I was with him about the Nazis, but that is quite a left turn in the next sentence.

More:
“The utopia of a rational public sphere is an illusion, and efforts to unearth it – in the form of core American values, Canadian tolerance or some other political chimera – fool’s errands. What we need, instead, is what social scientists call scaffolding.”

In simple forms, scaffolding means things such as air-traffic control, highway roundabouts, exit signage, and queuing conventions – small mechanisms that allow humans to co-ordinate action when their individual interests might otherwise generate chaos. … Why don’t we acknowledge that political belief is also an aspect of human behaviour in need of external control? ”

Professor Kingwell would do well to re-introduce himself to the recent work of Jonathan Haidt at New York University on Moral Foundations Theory. Haidt theorizes that there are several moral values people share – liberals and conservatives agree that fairness and compassion are important. Conservatives also value loyalty, authority and sanctity. So when a liberal makes an assertion based on fairness or compassion, a conservative often can understand from where the liberal is coming. But when a conservative tries to balance those ideas, liberals can’t understand why those other values even matter.

Mr. Kingwell, rather than make further attempts to understand the other (ie. conservative) side, instead seeks to proscribe certain kinds of speech:
“Curbs on speech and strict rules of engagement – no interruptions, no slogans, no talking points – may be the right answer here. We already, in this country, ban hateful speech. Let’s go farther and insist on discourse rules, limits on public outrage and aggressively regulated social media. We could even ban media panel discussions.”

The sheer impossibility of enforcing such rules makes this suggestion sound silly. What exactly is the penalty for interrupting anyway? There are people on the fringes of each side that don’t listen to reason. But I disagree with Professor Kingwell when he says:
“Classical liberals argue that bad speech should be met with more and better speech, that the marketplace of ideas will short bad stocks and return investment on good ones. Alas, not so.”
On the contrary, I say that most people, given a compelling message and messenger, will take opposing arguments into account. As an anonymous blogger (due to job concerns), I don’t make personal attacks. I think if you do, you should name yourself. I’m sure Professor Kingwell means well, but I found his prescription unconvincing.

He’s not completely wrong, though in that, there are things more than rational arguments sometimes. I have found people are much more receptive to a message if the person making it has led by example. This leads me to another a much more useful Globe and Mail article entitled “I was a neo-Nazi. I know the cure for hate” by Tony McAleer. In short, the answer was compassion. I think Mr. McAleer raises a strong point. He speaks that one of the reasons he joined one of those groups is because it was the first place he felt connected and appreciated by others.  It wasn’t hate that attracted him; it was acceptance.  It mirrored a recent article by a sixty-something Catholic priest in Virginia’s Arlington Diocese speaking with regret of his time with white supremacists in his (pre-seminary) early twenties. It also mirrors the reason a lot of young men of any race join street gangs. One thing I noticed about the Charlottesville marchers – a lot of them were very young. Attack their gross ideology, sure, but don’t write them off as unworthy of salvaging. Many of them are working out personal issues of which hate is a symptom, not a cause. If you want to organize large, peaceful counter-demonstrations, fine.  But I don’t see screaming and violence doing much to help. It is more productive to talk in a manner as to separate the young and impressionable from the hard-core racists. Simply calling those young people – not their actions, but them – “evil” is counterproductive. That isolation and disdain from others is what helped create them in the first place. More isolation and disdain isn’t likely to fix them. Compassion may though.  That’s one of those universal values conservatives and liberals actually agree on.

– 1TF

P.S.  Professor Kingwell raised a point I thought he was dead right on, namely his calling out those who “deliberately misinterpret” what their opponent is saying. I share his exasperation with that, if not his prescription for it.  I hope I have accurately reflected his position on these matters. If not, it’s not deliberate.

 

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I’m going to do something I didn’t expect to when I first learned of this story. I’m going to defend ESPN’s decision regarding sportscaster Robert Lee.

For those who aren’t aware, the story goes that sportscaster Robert Lee had been assigned to work September 2nd’s William & Mary at University of Virginia football game. After the recent troubles in Charlottesville, the powers that be called Mr. Lee in and raised the idea of moving him to another game. The reason was because Mr. Lee, an Asian-American, happens to have the same first and last name as Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a decision to take down General Lee’s statue, along with General Stonewall Jackson’s, that was the focus of the protests.

At first glance, the whole thing is ridiculous. It’s highly unlikely anyone would care one way or the other that Mr. Lee, an Asian-American whom no reasonable person would confuse for the general.

But look at it from ESPN’s view for a second. You’ve got a young sportscaster calling a second-rate matchup; it’s probably not that strange to switch young talent from one game to another. You have a very small chance of the sportscaster’s name causing any problem, but last week’s fighting indicates there were at least a few unhinged people hanging around Charlottesville, so the odds are small, but not miniscule. If perchance, lightning strikes and something happens to Mr. Lee, you’ll be blamed and sued. It may seem ludicrous to think anything might happen, but if it does, then everyone will forget how small the odds were and focus only that it happened. If it’s a 1,000 to 1 shot, but it happens, then in retrospect armchair quarterbacks will think it was a far better shot to happen; more importantly, some judge or jury will likely agree. Many of the same people laughing at you for making the switch will then blame you for not having done so.

A more likely scenario is that there is a bit of commentary about some guy named Robert Lee covering a game in Charlottesville shortly after the protests. That’s more innocuous, but it takes away from the game itself.

Finally, the game you’re switching him to, Pittsburgh hosting Bo Pellini’s Youngstown State, is arguably a better game anyway. It’s at least comparable. So there’s little upside to keeping him in Charlottesville, but potentially (highly unlikely, but potentially) a huge downside to keeping him there.

Now, I don’t think they had to move him, or even should have. I think the odds are really, really small of it causing more than a raised eyebrow. But it’s not indefensible. ESPN’s a private business, trying to protect its bottom line; it’s understandable that it would want to reduce its exposure to a distraction or an embarrassing situation or worse.

One postscript – This decision never should have seen the light of day. I’m curious why someone would leak it.

– 1TF

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