I recently got a note from home – a letter to the editor in a small town in Michigan. I’m not usually so easily trolled, but I feel this warranted a response. Ultimately the guy asks “what happened to the land of the free and home of the brave?” I answer: it is growing up. And he is looking rather childish. I guess I got hooked this time because it came from home (both nationally and familial-y). Sorry if it makes me look foolish (for responding to a fool) or pedantic. At least the letter appears legit, even if it is from 2010.
Here’s what I received. Seen it?
Well, folks, I have to say – besides getting the reported “national attention” in the email, this letter does get my attention. But mostly for how wrongheaded I feel it is. Put simply, it uses poor arguments of straw men and skewed examples to present false opposites that are *supposed* to lead one to agree with the author…but don’t, when you think about. Also, it fails to recognize the changing (for the much better, if you ask me) society we are creating for ourselves.
The question Mr. Huber starts with, of whether America is now focused on special interests and created double standards, is a good one. Many of us would immediately answer “yes.” But what does this really tell us? Nothing. Because each of us will have different ways of interpreting what the assertion means. Simply put, very often your special interest is my public good. The important question is: how do we tell the difference and *mutually* agree on a political and policy way forward?!
As you can guess, I think Mr. Huber gets it very wrong and misses this important point.
His first example of lying is a straw man and Mr. Huber’s examples give a false dichotomy. Everyone will agree that Congressmen lie all the time. Its a time-honored tradition. But a campaign promise is entirely different than presenting false information at a Congressional hearing or on your taxes (both examples of criminal lying). So, what is the actual point Mr. Huber would like us to understand?
Disliking others based on race is, by definition, racist. No matter if you are black, white, yellow, brown or whatever. What Mr. Huber probably means to say is “when white people disparage black people publicly they are criminally accused of prejudice, yet blacks may not be.” What is missing from Mr. Huber’s point of view are several facts Firstly, it is a crime for anyone to attack another, and doubly so if it is simply because of their race. Secondly, there is a history of white people violently attacking black people for a couple centuries. Heard of slavery? The civil rights movement? Etc.? And so, as a nation-based community we have decided that as policy we will do a little more to protect those who have been wronged, who have been weakened in our community of these united states, and who (we’ve agreed, through law and policy) deserve a real and true apology. That is: 1) we say “we’re sorry” 2) we say we’ll not do it any more and 3) we do our best to make it better. Giving a slight advantage to blacks, Asians, Hispanics, etc. when weighing their claims in court is how our community makes #3 come true. Mr. Huber misses this entirely. Additionally, statistically speaking, as far as I know whites are much more likely to act violently against minorities…and especially when whites are in positions of authority. Mr. Huber should more deeply ponder why minority communities have such outrage when a white policeman shoots a minority person, especially youth.
Again: the point is how do we act in public, including through policy and law, and therefore define our society. In this case, we carefully weigh free speech (anyone can say anything they like, as long as it doesn’t urge immediate and direct harm). Yet, when certain groups have a long-established habit of doing exactly that…urging violent harm…we agree to afford the victims greater protection, even if this seems to limit the previous-attackers free speech.
The next example, contrasting homosexuality with God in classrooms, is laughable. The point is public discourse. As a free and open society, we have constantly increased the definitions of who is included. When the U.S. constituional documents (not just the 1879 Constitution, but also the earlier Articles of Confederation) were originally written, women, blacks and non-land holders were not included. Over time, we…as a society, a community, a country…decided that was not right. It was a moral shortfall. We changed our minds, and legally changed, which led to societal and personal changes, over time. Clearly, the legal and societal transformation required formerly acceptable behavior to radically change. Private property (slaves!) had to be given away. It is laughable to ask today: “what of those people’s property rights!?” Some day people will understand that, likewise, having the Christian God in the classroom is equally laughable – because it has the appearance of establishing a State Religion. Something the Founding Fathers (and we today!) feel is a Very Bad Idea because of all the abuses it led to in England and across Europe. Of course, as this (educational) transition occurs, people are asking “why no god in the classroom? we had it before…?” Yet neglecting to understand from the rest of the community’s perspective, who have been wondering 1) “why *your* god in the classroom…?” and 2) “why *any* god in the classroom…?” And therefore, we as a community, a society, a country, have decided that public support of religious activities should be curtailed. As for homosexuality, if the example wasn’t clear enough above, this is simply the most recent expansion of our understanding of freedom. Just as it was wrong to exclude blacks, women, and non-land holders, we’ve decided it is uncivilized to keep people out of civil society…dare I say “civilization”?….just because of whom they love.
Turning to the killings of mass murders and unborn children, this one is a bit tougher for me to argue about because I have strong feelings about both. Still, Mr. Huber’s arguments remain poorly formed and therefore lack seriousness. One wonders what conclusion he would prefer because he does not state what his (essentially moral, not political) position is. Is it that we should never kill? In which case, we can only wonder what he proposes to do with all the unkilled criminals and orphans. Would he simply put or lock them away, ultimately at great cost to us all? Or would he prefer that they all be killed and save us all the cost? Or perhaps he would kill some and not others? But then, he is skewered on his own double standard. All I can truly say here is that these are not simple or easy questions. As a society we are still attempting to figure out how to live with our very lofty ideals. We feel killing is wrong, yet how do we punish a killer? We also know that some people are sentenced to death unfairly; how do we deal with an innocent who is killed by…all of us? Because that is what happens when we execute someone. Turning specifically to abortion, as humans and as citizens, we have increased our understanding of how life works. We have thereafter laid down policy on how to use that understanding. It may be sloppy. It may be wrong. The point is, we did it because 1) we recognized our knowledge had increased and we should do something about it and 2) we recognized the personal and societal costs of not using that knowledge. I can’t say I agree with the policy wholeheartedly, but I do entirely agree that we should make use of increased knowledge to increase personal and societal well being.
I have no idea what Mr. Huber is referring to by comparing burning and re-writing books. Generally, book burnings were to deny knowledge of a certain sort. Meanwhile, editing is an age old tradition. Perhaps Mr. Huber feels that when particularly public books (say school text books) are edited, they are re-written with some sort of decrease in truth. However, without examples he is merely attempting an emotional appeal which falls entirely flat. After all, no one would complain that history textbooks were re-written to explain new archeology findings. So, what sort of re-write are we even talking about?!
Equivocation is Mr. Huber’s strong suit apparently, and nowhere more obvious than simply re-labeling socialism and communism as progressivism. To my eyes, and as someone who has made something of a lifetime in the last bastion of supposed communism on the planet (China), I can only say: I thought we got rid of the threat by 1) proving better standards of living for more people for longer periods and 2) by attempting to live up to our lofty ideals. I thought that was progressivism. And if its wrong, I would like Mr. Huber to explain why we should not live up to those ideals.
As for closing borders, it is fateful that Mr. Huber’s letter came my way on the same day headlines report that President Obama spends more on immigration enforcement than on a bunch of other agencies…combined! (http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/01/08/immigration_enforcement_18_billion_spent_more_than_all_other_federal_law.html) So, the joke seems to be on Mr. Huber. Again.
And speaking of headlines, could he provide some back up to the claim that peaceful protestors of President Obama’s policies were labelled (and jailed?) as terrorists?
By now the main thrust of my arguments is clear. Why go on at length? After all, if Mr. Huber doesn’t understand why we shouldn’t put Christian scenes in public spaces from the examples above…he never will. If he wants to go on and discuss smut and a Free Press (and its impact on broadcast and Internet policy), he is going to have to do better than attempt to get emotional agreement. Likewise, animal and fetal rights. Perhaps most hilariously, he must stop paradoxically asserting things like “American is the land of the hand out” and at the same time presidents hand nothing out when there is a disaster. Finally, Mr. Huber is out of touch with current policy. Who does he believe is being threatened? Whose taxes raised? And why was that a bad thing? Perhaps he may well feel threatened, but so what? Does that make him right? If so, just let me say: I feel threatened by Mr. Hubers arguments! Kidding aside, I feel that just as the slave owners who lost their private property rights felt threatened, so does Mr. Huber.
So, when Mr. Huber asks “what has happened to the land of the free and home of the brave?” I answer: it is growing up. And he is looking rather childish.