Just What Is Fairness, Anyway? (Part III)

Last time, I gave a little first-person insight into the mind of a hard-core progressive.  On the subject of class distinctions and wealth distribution, the progressive honestly believes that the difficulty of the work should define the magnitude of the financial compensation, not the market demand…that the only institution capable of remaining impartial enough to make sound decisions about charitable endeavors is the government, and that the wealthy literally had to have achieved their high station through crooked or unfair means since those in their employ only see a tiny fraction of that wealth.

Now for a change of pace, let’s look at the more moderate face of liberalism.  We’ll call guest #2 Claire.  Claire grew up in a family with a mother who was a part of the movement to support the Equal Rights Amendment – a home with no cable television (but an antenna, which they used every week to watch mainly the mainstream network news programs and PBS).  Her parents were loosely observant Catholics and very attentive to her education and her civility.  She is well-mannered and level-headed on the whole, but certainly a product of the media and her liberal surroundings.  Actually, apart from her generous nature, her defining virtue is her respect for others – especially authorities.  I’m actually going to be merging several conversations here…I’ve had many discussions with her on various political issues, from private vs. public sector responsibilities to spirituality, but I think a few highlights will give you a good picture of the center-left Democrat.


CLAIRE: It’s funny to me…the Republicans used to be all about social justice – they led the abolitionist marches, they fought for woman’s suffrage, they were the first to establish the department of veteran’s affairs.  So why didn’t they get on board with the civil rights movement?  Why were they behind in the 60s and 70s?  Why aren’t they feminists?  What changed?

ME: Nothing changed.  The Republicans were about social justice in the 1850s and they still are.  Simply because they disagree with the methods employed by today’s left wing does not mean they aren’t fighting for fairness.

CLAIRE: (interrupting) But you can’t deny that it was the left pushing the equal rights amendment, the civil rights movement, the freedom of choice for women, an end to wage disparities…

ME: I think the key thing that caused the conservatives of this country to turn away from what is currently described in the media narrative as the front for social justice is the methods.  Recall that in the 1950s, it was REPUBLICANS marching on Selma and Atlanta.  It was REPUBLICANS being shot in the streets by DIXIECRAT officials.  It was REPUBLICANS fighting against Jim Crow.  Rosa Parks…was a REPUBLICAN.  The right wing of our government shied away the moment the rhetoric became less about changing the system gradually through proper channels and more about forcing rapid, big-government solutions down our throats.  We stepped away from the civil rights movement and did not back the equal rights amendment because such things were GIGANTIC overreaches on the part of the government.  We disliked Affirmative Action because we didn’t think government had any right to counter racism with institutional racism of a different kind.  We resisted the ERA because there were provisions in it that would require us to hand over too many of our rights.  We fought abortion and birth control because we honestly believed those things would lead to a degradation of the status of women and an unleashing of all of the worst behavior in men…and we were RIGHT.

CLAIRE: That isn’t what you’ll hear in the South these days.  They don’t talk about wanting equal rights for women and minorities but wanting to do it gradually and in ways that don’t trample on liberties…there is real hatred down there.  There are towns where, if it was legal, they would still make blacks use a different water fountain or bathroom.

ME: Well, there, a funny thing happened after the Dixiecrats got shouted down by the progressive movement within the Democratic party.  Southern racists and evangelicals who had always voted for democrats in the past had no party to turn to.  They started voting for Republicans because the party that was resisting rapid change was the party that in their mind, was less despicable.  So yes, the conservative movement nowadays has an element of old southern hatred.  Ignoring it won’t do us any favors.  But what the media has done to the rest of conservatism because of this fringe group (and all polling data suggests that racially bigoted attitudes are in the vast minority even in the southern states now) is inexcusable, and only explained by an evident desire to write a new progressive narrative and change history.  I strongly urge you to read what was actually written by conservative intellectuals about the ERA or the civil rights movement or birth control or abortion.

(Claire was not convinced by polling data in re: Southern attitudes…I think she might have been more convinced if she’d been talking to someone from the South…or had ever been down there)


ME: I find myself sympathetic to the tea party on economic issues, although I think some of their goals are so far from attainable that it seems a little crazy to mainstream conservatives…which does our entire movement no go.  I just think it’s shameful what the media has done to try to discredit them.

CLAIRE: I know the groups are different in different places, but they’re doing it to themselves.  They dress up like Colonials and talk about revolution and say some rather hateful things when given the chance to gain the podium.  I don’t for a second believe that our institutions are really so bad off that we need to hit the reset button, and I think it would catastrophic if we just cut funding in the sudden and painful way they want.

ME: Well let me ask you think?  Does the media spend any time talking about the fringe loonies that show up at Occupy protests?  Or do they try to paint the movement as spawning from reasonable frustration?  Because they focused on the fringe loonies at the Tea Party rallies and portrayed them as anarchists, racists, rednecks…why are though no documentaries on the antisemitic, anti-American things that the nutter-butters at Zuccoti park are saying?  And for that matter…if the media is so ready to draw parallels between OWS and the Tea Party, why is one treated with respect and the other with fear and loathing?

CLAIRE: There is coverage of the violence in Oakland, the riots in Detroit…it’s not all positive coverage of OWS.

ME: They will matter-of-factly report the news, because they are still required to do so…but what do they say when they report on the Oakland vandalism?  Do they say “angry anarchists attacked the city today, costing the businesses there hundreds of thousands” or do they say “hundreds of out of work youth took to the streets today to protest the unfair conditions that led to their unemployment – dozens of arrests were made as the rioters did damage to a number of businesses in the region.”  You have to train yourself to listen for the spin, because it’s in almost every broadcast, and it all seems to lean one way.

(at this point, she muttered something about not being so sure about that…)


(following an appearance by Carl Safina on the Daily Show w/ John Stewart – for those who don’t know, Safina is a big wig with the Blue Ocean Institution and New York Sea Grant and is thus heavily tied to Stony Brook – my place of business)

ME: That was ridiculous.  That appearance discredits Stony Brook and marine science in general.  To get up there on National television and boil the whole Gulf oil disaster down to “Republican-backed deregulation of the oil industry is going to lead to more disasters like this” is despicable.

CLAIRE: Well he was definitely applying some spin…

ME: Some?  Some spin?  It was all spin.

CLAIRE: …but had some good points and it’s his job to raise awareness – we look to scientifically knowledgeable public policy experts to make recommendations and call attention to problems with current law.  Unless you’re going to argue that better safety procedures and regulations wouldn’t have prevented this disaster.

ME: It is, believe it or not, possible to raise awareness without blatantly lying to millions of people.  Nowhere did he mention that there are megatons of much less dangerous to acquire oil and natural gas that we aren’t allowed to drill for because of government – particularly EPA/DOE – OVER-regulation of energy policy.  Conveniently, he leaves out that while we’re abiding by the laws in place, there are energy companies flying under pirate-style international flags avoiding regulations to get oil for China, applying pressure on us to dig deeper than we should to keep up.  Sorry, but you can have good points and they’re worthless if you don’t tell the truth…and I mean the whole truth.  Scientists have a responsibility to be objective, not to be advocates for a cause.

CLAIRE: I agree that in an ideal world, a scientist would be able to be completely free of advocacy…that his word on an impending problem would carry enough weight with those less informed about a given field that action would be taken.  But we don’t live in that world.  There is a threat just as grave from a scientist being too inactive to advocate a position as being overzealous.  Agent Orange, for example, we originally conceived as a useful, completely peaceful herbicide for clearing land and became one of the ugliest chemical weapons in history and the scientist who invented it spent his whole life afterward regretting his mere existence.

ME: But Carl didn’t stop at telling us there was a problem.  He reached way beyond his field of expertise and started making claims form his position of authority on marine conservation SCIENCE to talk about energy POLICY, about which he has no credentials at all that should give him that authority role.  Carl Safina is no more an expert on regulatory policy than you or I.  In fact, based on his one-sided rhetoric, someone like me might conclude that he knows jack-squat about energy policy or government regulation beyond what his buddies all say.

CLAIRE: Fair enough…I don’t think Safina is a bad guy…I think he cares deeply about raising the public profile of these issues and attention focused on them and sometimes he goes overboard in that regard. (you see…she appeals to authority here…she wants to see the good in people and that is admirable, but it blinds her to the danger of appealing to authority without question)

ME: The road to hell is paved with good intentions…Safina no doubt means well, but we can’t tolerate a man just because his intentions are good if what he’s actually doing is endangering the credibility of scientists…or worse…endangering the economy by making calls to authority he does not possess.

Incidentally…when the first climategate broke, her instinctual reaction was to note that we all have e-mails that, if read at face value, sound bad and to emphasize that even if there was some bad acting going on, it wasn’t the majority of the field.  She trusts the authority of the literature too.


CAIN (on allegations of misconduct)

ME: Cain just doesn’t like the kind of guy to do what Ms. Bialek claims he did…and there is ample evidence to suggest that she’s lying or exaggerating her claims.

CLAIRE: Multiple claims have come forward though…usually when you get a cluster of reports, there’s something to it.

ME: If I see hard evidence to that fact, I’ll be the first to reject Cain, but a cluster of accustations is no more convincing than a single accusation to me…especially when most of them are anonymous or backed by lawyers with a political ax to grind.  We don’t try and convict people without the removal of all reasonable doubt.

(Claire went on to suggest that although Bialek may have been exaggerating, there’s a good chance Cain was a bit too friendly with the ladies and some women didn’t know how to handle it properly).

PERRY (on his position on the death penalty and creationism)

CLAIRE: Oh God…you cannot like Perry.  That would be a big problem for me.  Based on what he’s said, he sounds very anti-science to me.  Seemed to be suggesting that he believed in creationism in the literal sense of the word…that he didn’t buy into global warming theory at all, despite having no background in the science…and don’t even get me started on his record with capital punishment.

ME: I didn’t say I liked Perry…just mentioned that he seemed to be catching fire of late…I haven’t fully appraised him yet (this was a while back).  But I must say that what he said about creationism doesn’t strike me as necessarily his denying evolution entirely…it sounds like he wanted to make a place in his campaign for people who believed either of those theories.  Of course, I’d be pretty uncomfortable with a creationist President…but I prefer not to leap to conclusions.  As for capital punishment, Perry had basically no discretion when it came to death row inmates and no authority to rewrite Texas law.  Those he does seem rather proud of that record.  I’m on the fence about capital punishment, and believe there are good times to use it (serial killers and the like), but he does seem a bit “Texas sized” with his ego on that front.  And oh BTW, you know my position on global warming (I believe we’re having an effect too minor to require massive international economic decapitation over)…I think it’s a bit presumptuous to call someone “anti-science” just because they disagree with scientists on any particular issue.

CLAIRE: It would be one thing if he had an intelligent defense of any of his positions, but everything he says seems to lack any depth at all.

ME: It may well be that he’s just not a very adept communicator, which would be excellent grounds for avoiding him as a nominee…let’s hold off on the name-calling though until we know me, OK?

BACHMANN (regarding whether minor gaffes like incorrectly identifying in which state the battles of Lexington and Concord occurred)

CLAIRE: I’m sorry, but I don’t think Bachmann is qualified to be President…some of the things she’s said have really made her appear unprepared and historically limited.  In (insert home town), we expect our leaders to have a firm command of U.S. History, World History, Philosophy, and Science…we want them to know their basic facts because if they don’t, what will make them qualified to govern us going forward.

ME: I agree that a President needs to have a CONCEPTUAL grasp of history.  The exact location of the battles of Lexington and Concord is not a concept…it’s minutia.  When you eliminate all people from the running for the office who are missing a few factoids from their history files, you’ll have no one left except history professors – most of whom will not know enough about what is CURRENTLY happening to govern wisely – especially on matters of science, economics and agriculture.  This is how we end up with people like Obama in office…we eliminate people over silly things like where Lexington and Concord happened and are left with the smoothest talkers…not the people with the best current ideas.

CLAIRE: But that is such a CENTRAL factoid that it suggests that Bachmann doesn’t understand some of the basic conceptual foundations of the revolution.  How can we trust that she has a complete enough historical foundation that her ideas will be well informed when she’s getting really basic things like that wrong?

ME: So…rather than analyze a candidate’s current ideas and decide whether they make sense to you…you’d rather assume that they can’t be good because their grasp of history is missing a few key factoids?  What if I ran for President?  Would I be unqualified to contribute simply because I didn’t know that Long Island was twice the size of Puerto Rico?

CLAIRE: Yes…sorry, but I would consider that a bad sign for you as a candidate.  There are gaps in your knowledge of geography that could be pretty costly for you as the leader of the free world.

ME: Not that I’m arguing that I’d be a good President – I don’t think I have the people skills for that job – but I don’t think even our most effective Presidents ever had to make a decision that required intricate knowledge of precisely how wide Laos is.  They have a swarming hive of advisers presenting them with alternatives and their judgment is what’s important…not their Jeopardy-style trivial knowledge.

CLAIRE: I don’t think either of us actually know what a President does on a typical day…but I do believe that the mistakes made during Vietnam and Iraq came down to a lack of so-called trivial knowledge about the geography, political ideologies and economic situation on the ground in Iraq and Vietnam.  A better leadership could have averted cost and lives and netted a positive outcome if our Presidents had all of those facts.

(she did have a point here)

ME: Fair enough…I still think that given the choice between the person who is ideologically aimed toward something I believe will work and is a little short on trivial knowledge and the person who is a master of knowledge but is ideologically akin to Obama…I’ll go with the supposedly less qualified leader.  Of course…Obama himself is often factless in his rhetorical narrative, especially when it comes to the private sector and how best to spur economic recovery…(at which point the subject veered off elsewhere…LOL)

This is how an outstanding person can be a liberal…they call to authority, worship academia (without realizing that this is what they’re doing) – and thus are pulled toward the liberal bias thereof, and grow up in a world narrated by the mainstream media almost exclusively, yielding only one real point of view as viable in their minds…they wind up seeing big business as something like a gang of individuals and government as the true authority on the economy.  They trust scientists to be agenda-free and motivated by virtue but make no allowances for the possibility that those scientists might be tragically wrong or for the reality that most entrepreneurs intend nothing but the best as well.  Basically…bias and agenda, in their eyes, doesn’t come from traditionally respected institutions (government, media, academia)…it comes from everywhere else.

If you believe that…you almost have to be in favor of bigger government and conservative ideas about more freedom and less regulation have to seem scary and inherently unfair despite the process being nominally fair.

Next time…we’ll talk to a social liberal on issues like gay rights and abortion and see how fairness gets defined in that arena.

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