The Devastating Consequences of a Bad Assumption: The South’s Moral Justification of Slavery

I am a big fan of the historical novels of James Michener.  A Michener novel takes a location such as Hawaii, South Africa, or Israel and tells the story of this location from pre-history to modern times tracing the lineage of a few families and telling snapshot stories through the different time periods.  Frequently Michener will intermix real

john c calhoun

John C. Calhoun

historical characters with his fictional characters.  These novels tell wonderful stories while educating the reader on how the location evolved into what it is today.

I am currently reading Chesapeake, which focuses on Maryland by the  Chesapeake Bay.  I just finished reading a fictional debate between John C. Calhoun and a fictional Quaker abolitionist family.  John C. Calhoun was a former vice-president and a long-time senator from South Carolina.  Along with Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Henry Clay of Kentucky, Calhoun was one of a triumvirate of senators who dominated the first half of the nineteenth century.  He is typically ranked as one of the most influential American legislators of all-time.  He is best known as the primary spokesman in support of slavery.

I have long understood why pre-Civil-War southerners believed that slavery was vital to the functioning of their economy.  I also knew that many southerners also believed that their support of slavery was morally righteous, that slavery was good.  I never understood how they could possibly think that, until I read Michener.  While this debate is fictional, I have researched enough to believe that it fairly represents the attitudes of the time and can therefore be enlightening.

In this fictional debate, John C. Calhoun begins with the following statement, “I think we can start best by agreeing that the Negro is an inferior human being, destined to serve the white man in a secondary capacity.”  Calhoun starts his argument with the key assumption that blacks are inferior and are not capable of reasoning.  All of his arguments morally justifying slavery are based upon this assumption.   He thought that  black slaves in the south were much happier than free blacks in the north who worked in factories in horrible conditions.

Calhoun’s entire outlook on the world was built on this assumption.  If evidence pointed to his  assumption as being false, he refused to believe it.  When he was asked how if Negroes were inferior that Frederick Douglas could write so brilliantly, he said that white men must have really written the book.

This horrendous assumption that blacks were subhuman resulted in centuries of enslavement.  The Nazi’s assumption that Jews were subhuman resulted in the holocaust.  Other bad assumptions are less overtly evil, but may be no less devastating.  The alluring appeal of communism where everybody works for the public good instead of for the selfish reasons encouraged by capitalism resulted in Stalin murdering over 20 million people (New York Times), Mao murdering over 45 million people (Washington Post), and countless other people living in poverty and oppression.  Despite all of this, many people today, who may in every other aspect be wonderful people, still believe in the inherent goodness of communism.

In earlier posts I highlighted the top ten bad assumptions:

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 1 – If we disagree, you are either mean or stupid.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 2 – The intended effect is the only effect.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 3 – America should not favor Americans.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 4 – Government helps people. Business exploits people.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 5 – The way to peace is to be so nice that nobody will want to attack us.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 6 – Every problem has a good solution.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 7 – Judge a policy based on its benefits.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 8 –The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 9 – People making more cause other people to make less.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 10 – Welfare is charity.

These bad assumptions are prevalent in current politics and these also cause otherwise good people to promote policies with devastating consequences.  Alternatively, these people would say that my bad assumptions are the problem.  Either way, we must fight to resist our comfort zones and to constantly re-examine the assumptions that form the basis of our beliefs.  We should each endeavor to not be the twenty first century version of John C. Calhoun.

Trump’s attack on Freedom of the Press — Really??

Whenever President Trump criticizes the press, whether in tweet or in a statement, I see a chorus of commentators rising to condemn him for his attack on freedom of the press.  I would grant that it is fair to argue that Trump’s statements may be inappropriate, obnoxious, counter-productive, distracting or unpresidential, but is it an attack on freedom of the press?  

Freedom of the press is the right of the press to say pretty much anything it wants.  For the government to attack freedom of the press, it must attempt to stop someone from publishing or it must punish someone for their publications by throwing them in jail or taking some other harsh measure.  Hurting their feelings doesn’t count.  Just as the press has the constitutional right to criticize the president, the president has the constitutional right to criticize the press.

This reminds me of a story that my parents used to tell about me when I was a little boy.  I have no memory of this, but I trust my parents that this is true.  I had been in a fight, and my father asked me who started the fight.  I said, “He did.  He hit me back!”  The press is whining because the president hit them back.

In short, these statements that Trump is attacking the freedom of the press are flat out ridiculous.  This should be obvious whether you love Trump or whether you hate Trump.  Will the media ever realize when they make such absurd statements, they lose credibility for whatever valid criticisms they might make?  I doubt it.

 

A Thought on the Travel Ban

The Supreme Court by a unanimous vote has let the Trump travel ban stand for everybody who has not had a prior relationship in the United States.  They will take up the case again in October.  Based on this initial ruling, it seems extremely likely that the travel ban will be upheld.

I just wanted to focus on one key argument made by the courts in overturning the travel ban.  They stated while the current ban is not on its face a Muslim ban that President Trump called for a Muslim ban during his campaign, so the current ban is really a disguised Muslim ban.  Whether you are a supporter or opponent of this ban, I think it is important to contemplate the repercussions of this argument if it was withheld.

Basically, what the lower courts are saying is that if at any time a president stated a desire to do something unconstitutional, but after receiving good advice instead make what a constitutional proposal, the new proposal should be deemed unconstitutional because he or she really wanted to do something unconstitutional.  In short, once the president stated something improperly, the president could never change his or her mind and do something properly.

This ridiculous logic could be taken further.  If you ever considered taking an illegal tax deduction, but changed it to make it legal, then you could go to jail because you really wanted to do something illegal.

I would hope that even an opponent of the travel ban can see the absurdity of this position.  Even the four liberal judges appear to have rejected this argument.    It will be very interesting to see the full, final ruling in the next Supreme Court session.

Hate Crimes are Worse.

The recent horrible story of four black Chicago youths torturing a mentally challenged white teenager focused our attention on hate crimes.  First, was this a hate cnonazirime?  Obviously it was.  Second, should we have hate crime laws in the first place?

The logic against hate crime laws is that a crime is a crime. If a person is beat up, the person is not more beat up because of the motive.  The legal system should punish the action, not the intention.  Therefore, we should not have hate crime laws.  This link from Victor Davis Hanson, “Time to Scrap Hate Crime Laws“, reflects this position.

I have two arguments against this.  First, the legal system routinely includes intent in determining the severity of the crime.  First degree, premeditated, murder results in much harder sentences than manslaughter.Second, hate crimes have many more victims than the person directly affected.

For example, one person is beat up because the assailant doesn’t like him.  The victims here are the person assaulted along with friends and family who care about this person. Another assailant beats up a person because he is black or gay or Jewish or part of any other hated group.  Here we have additional victims:  the entire community of the hated group.  The criminal is terrorizing an entire community, sending a message that I attacked this person today and it might be you tomorrow.

Due to this terror, a hate crime is worse even if superficially the damage is the same. Therefore, it is proper for our legal system to have harsher penalties for hate crimes.

Steve Bannon: White Supremacist or Smear Victim

President Elect recently named Steve Bannon, a top executive on his campaign and the former chairman of the Breitbart website to be a senior adviser.  Following this appointment, there was an explosion from the left saying that Bannon was a white supremacist and just like David Duke of the KKK.    bannon

If true, this would be quite serious.  I decided to take a closer look at the charges.  Here is the key article by Media Matters making this accusation.

A White Nationalist Who Hates Jews Will Be Trump’s Right-Hand Man In The White House

Media Matters both that Steve Bannon is a white supremacist and compared him to David Duke.  This is one of the worst if not the worst thing you can say about a person.  To make a charge like this, one should be able to substantiate it.  So let’s look at the evidence in this article.

First, there is not a single direct, verifiable quote from Steve Bannon where he said anything racist or antisemitic.  The closest thing here is that his ex-wife said he doesn’t want his kids to go to school with Jews.  If he said this, it would certainly be an antisemitic comment.  We don’t know, however, that he actually said it.  His ex-wife claimed he said this as part of a divorce.  It is highly common for spouses to slander one another in the heat of a divorce.  I personally know several instances where a spouse said very vicious things about a friend during a divorce that I know not to be true.

Media matters then says that Breitbart.com is white supremacist and antisemitic.  They specifically point to David Horowitz calling someone a renegade Jew.  They don’t mention that David Horowitz is Jewish.  Horowitz says that he has known Bannon for many years and he doesn’t have an antisemitic bone in his body.  Here is a link to Horowitz’s comments on this:

Horowitz: Anti-Bannon Hysteria More Evidence the Left Has Lost Touch with the American People – Breitbart

If Bannon was antisemitic, you would think that there would be antisemitic and anti-Israel articles on the Breitbart site.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  Breitbart has been a champion for Israel and has highlighted the fight against antisemitism.  Here is a link by the head of the Zionist Organization of America describing How Bannon has been a champion for Jews and for Israel.

Bannon and Breitbart: Friends of Israel, not anti-Semites

While Media Matters shows very flimsy evidence about Bannon being antisemitic, it shows no evidence at all on Bannon being anti-black or a white supremacist other than other people calling him that.  Think about it.  Media Matters could have cited any article ever published in the history of the website. Breitbart has probably published tens of thousands of articles.  With all of these articles to choose from, the best they could come up with was one Jew calling another Jew renegade.  They compare Bannon to David Duke.  I bet that googling David Duke would find thousands upon thousands of extremely racist comments.  With Steve Bannon and Breitbart, they could not come up with a single racist comment.

Bannon and the Breitbart website are very right wing.  I would expect my progressive friends would strongly dislike Bannon’s politics.  I would also hope they would also be fair and realize that the white supremacist and David Duke comments are not justified.

The Muppets’ Frog Prince – A Forgotten Treasure

When I was four, I loved to play with toy trucks.  At fifty six, I will confess that I have lost my fascination with miniature vehicles.  Now I would much rather go contra dancing.  At four I had never heard of contra dancing, but if I had, I aTaminellam pretty confident I would have had no interest in it.  For the most part, my interests at fifty six are quite different from my interests at four.  There are two exceptions, two interests I have loved all of my life.

The first is jigsaw puzzles.  I have been told that as a baby the relatives used to gather around and watch me do wooden puzzles.  I have no memory of that.  I do, however, remember my first real jigsaw puzzle.  My mother was putting together a puzzle and I remember helping her with it.  After that she bought me a puzzle of my own.  I have been doing jigsaw puzzles ever since then.  My foremost jigsaw accomplishment is a 5000 piece puzzle of Neuschwanstein Castle that I subsequently glued.  It now hangs in our dining room.  Nowadays I happily do jigsaw puzzles on my iPad.

Melora and RobinThe second is the Muppets.  I remember my father introducing me to the Muppets when I was little.  They made me laugh and smile then and they make me laugh and smile now.  I loved the Muppet Show, especially Miss Piggy.  Long before the Muppet Show, however, in 1971 when I was 11, the Muppets had a TV special called the Frog Prince.  I think it is the best thing they ever did.  It has delightful music, a charming story, and is extremely funny.

Kermit is not the frog prince.  He is the narrator who befriends a little frog named Robin who claims he is Sir Robin the Brave but he has been enchanted by the evil witchsweetums Taminella (pictured above).  We learn thatTaminella is now living in the palace as she has convinced the doltish king that she is his sister.  The beautiful Princess Melora is not fooled but Taminella has enchanted her so nobody can understand what Melora says.

Here are some examples of  dialog that made me laugh at 11 and makes me laugh at 56.

Kermit: You’re crazy; you can’t swim!
Robin: But if I go back on my word it will be… unprincely.
Kermit: And if you drown it’ll be unfrogly.

King Rupert the Second: I’m sorry, but if you’re really my sister, I’m afraid I need proof.
Taminella: Well, all right, good King Rupert the Second. What was the name of your father?
King Rupert the Second: King Rupert the First!
Taminella: So was mine!
King Rupert the Second: Sister!
Taminella: Brother!

Fortunately, the Muppets Frog Prince is available in full at this YouTube link.

If you love the Muppets like I do, take 50 minutes out of your life and watch this video.  Enjoy!

The Transgender Bathroom Debate: A Conflict of Rights

Now that the gay marriage issue has been effectively settled, whether transgender people should be able to choose the bathroom and locker room of choice is the debate du jour. This issue took center stage when North Carolina passed a law stating a person must use the bathroom that corresponds to the birth gender.  This law was passed to override a new Charlotte law that said anybody could  choose a bathroom based on their sexual identity.  While this is not the most important issue of our time,  for some people this will significantly affect their lives, so it should not be dismissed as silly or irrelevant.

13TRANSGENDER-master768

For the purposes of this discussion, I will focus more on the locker room situation than the bathroom situation.  While the same issues all apply for bathrooms, the effect of being in a closed stall in a common room is far less than the effect of sharing a shower with someone of the opposite gender.

What is the right and wrong of requiring that people be required to use the bathroom of their physical gender?  Some people firmly believe that transsexuals are sick and evil.  Others believe that those who oppose mix-gender locker rooms are homophobic and evil.  I reject both of these views.  I think of this as a case of competing rights:

  • A locker room or bathroom can be a hazardous and traumatic place for a transgender person.  The transgender person is a target for ridicule and bullying.  I would think that any reasonable person would not want to subject anybody to this unnecessarily.   The transgender person might also feel that he or she should have an inherent right to use whichever facility he or she chooses.  This right is much more debatable and a good person can take either side of this issue.  It also is unnecessary for this discussion.  The reasonable fear of bullying should be sufficient to establish that the viewpoint of the transsexual is valid.
  • A person should be able to use a locker room without being gawked at or exposed to a person of the opposite gender.  In particular, a fourteen year old girl should be able to take a shower after physical education class without having a boy walk into the shower with her.

Additionally, not all people who wish to use the locker room of the gender not assigned at birth are not the same.  Note that by definition a trans woman  is someone who is born as a man and identifies as a woman.  A trans man is someone who is born as a woman and identifies as a man.  We can divide these people into four groups:

  1. Some transsexuals have already had sexual reassignment surgery.  The North Carolina law says that people should use the bathroom of birth.  To me, it seems ridiculous to say that a person should not use the locker room that corresponds to their current genitalia.
  2. Some transsexuals look like their gender of choice.  If a trans-woman looks like the woman, it would seem reasonable that she should use a woman’s restroom and would be out of place in a men’s restroom.
  3. Some transsexuals look like their gender of birth.  If a trans-woman has a beard and looks like a trucker, it would seem reasonable that a woman would be very upset to have this person share a shower with her.
  4. Heterosexual men who are not transsexuals will take advantage of these rules to get see naked women and to expose themselves to women.  Does   anybody think that high school boys will not dare each other to claim that today they  identify as a woman and go into the girl’s shower?  Why should a pervert risk getting arrested flashing in a park or peering through a bedroom window when he can safely go into the women’s locker room?

I would think that a reasonable person would say that group 1 should be able to use the locker-room of their current physical gender, that group 4 should not be allowed to use the other gender’s bathroom, and that with groups 2 and 3 we should try to reach a reasonable compromise.  I think it is also fair to say that each case is different.  The transgender person is different and the available accommodations are different.  When we try to impose a draconian solution in either direction, we lose the ability to reasonable.   The Charlotte law was extreme in one direction and the North Carolina law was extreme in the other direction. Think of the zero tolerance policies in sexual harassment that result in a kindergarten boy being arrested for kissing a kindergarten girl.

I personally am not worried about true transgender people using a bathroom, but I think that the concern that it will be abused by straight people is quite real.  I have seen this concern dismissed in the media by two arguments:

  • First, they claim that this hasn’t happened.  While it hasn’t happened in numbers yet, it certainly has happened.  In one reported instance, a Seattle man invaded the woman’s locker room at a public pool.  It hasn’t happened more because until now, there were severe penalties.  Previously a high school boy entering the girl’s shower could get expelled and arrested.  When the penalties go away, the instances will go up.
  • Second, I have heard arguments that  women just need to get over their discomfort and get used to.  The Charlotte Observer compared it to white people needing to get used to sharing restrooms with blacks after desegregation.  This is a value rather than a factual statement so each person needs to evaluate this argument based upon his or her own values.  I do think it is interesting that the same people who complain about the “rape culture” and who claim a man who looks at a woman in a sexual manner is guilty of sexual harassment then claim that women just need to get over their discomfort with sharing a shower with a strange man.

If we accept the proposition that both sides in this argument have reasonable concerns, then, how do we come up with a reasonable solution?

  • First, we don’t make draconian laws in either direction.  We don’t have a law that saying no transgender people can use the bathroom for the non-birth gender.  We also don’t pass laws saying that anybody can use any bathroom they feel like using that day.
  • Second, if you want special accommodations, you should have an official diagnosis. By requiring a diagnosis, you are eliminating most if not all  non transgender people who would try to exploit the situation.This is entirely consistent with the way we handle other accommodations.  I have experience as my son had a diagnosis that was helped by special accommodations made by the school.  For example, he was allowed to pace at the back of the room instead of sitting at his desk.  He also was allowed to take a health course instead of the conventional physical education course.  We greatly appreciated how a team of counselors, teachers, and administrators would meet together with us to device reasonable accommodations that would help his educational experience.

    A transgender person with a diagnosis should receive the same kind of help.  Without this diagnosis, there should be no accommodations.

  • Third, we should look for reasonable accommodations that attempt to respect both the needs of the transgender person and the needs of others.  These accommodations should be decided on a case by case basis.  For example, in some schools it might be easy to designate separate gender neutral bathrooms.  In other schools, this might be cost prohibitive.

For example, here are  a few possible accommodations for a trans-woman who has an official diagnosis and would need to take a shower after physical education class.

  • Don’t require the trans-woman to take physical education.
  • Designate in advance one period where transgender showers will be allowed.  If you are transgender, you must take your PE class that period.  If you don’t want to shower with a transgender person, take your PE class any other period.
  • Have a separate gender neutral facility if one is available.

The key factor is to allow this flexibility.   In May 2016 the Obama administration issued a directive that require school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice based upon the request of the parent or legal guardian (New York Times).  There are three problems with this directive:

  • While requiring a parental request is better than relying on a student request, it is not as good as requiring an actual diagnosis.
  • There is no flexibility to accommodate the rights of others.
  • There is no reasonable legal authority for the administration to issue this directive.  It relies on the Title IX prohibitions against sexual discrimination, but Title IX does not mention trans-sexuality.  There also were no other hearings or comment periods or any of the normal procedures required before any such directive can be imposed.

When we have right versus wrong, we don’t want to compromise.  We shouldn’t compromise with Nazis or terrorists.  When we have competing rights  then we should be able to compromise to find a solution that tries to respect the rights of all.  Let’s compromise and work this out.