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Apr 3 2010

Namecalling and Political Dialogue

C.M. Phippen

A disturbing phenomenon seems to be creeping into the national political dialogue with increasing frequency, and in the process undermining intelligent debate. My personal experience is that more and more liberals, outspoken about their opinions, shut down completely when presented with evidence contrary to what they’ve always believed. It’s as though they’ve never been aware that intelligence existed on the other side of the political spectrum. This phenomenon has been noticed, and written about, by Gerard Alexander in the Washington Post back in February 2010 in an article entitled, Why are liberals so condescending?

I don’t expect that we’ll all agree with each other all the time, and I don’t think absolute agreement would be good for our republic. The interplay of different thoughts and ideas, founded upon our Constitution, is healthy. The founders didn’t all agree all the time, and from their debates and conversations emerged the most stable, prosperous, opportunity-granting nation the world has ever seen. Not bad.

That is why the direction in which we’re moving is so disturbing; if we don’t actually listen to each other and acknowledge the good intentions and ideas coming from those who disagree with us, it’s over.

One of the most consistent ways this intolerance is manifest is in statements such as, “Don’t quote Fox News or The Heritage Foundation.” Didn’t President Obama just try claiming that a centerpiece of his health care reform originated from Heritage? And didn’t the Heritage president have to come out and tell him to stop misrepresenting their work? This is beside the point of course, but apparently a Democrat president finds their work legitimate enough to claim he’s incorporating their ideas into his legislation when it suits his purposes.

I seldom use Fox news as a source; not because they don’t present the facts accurately most of the time, but simply to avoid outright dismissal of the truth by those who are convinced that not slanting to the left means favoring the right. I even had somebody once say, “I won’t use the NY Times or MSNBC if you don’t use Fox News or the Wall Street Journal.”

My response was, “Go ahead and use any source you want. I’ll even avoid the ones you want me to avoid, and I can still make my case.”

I was recently told that since some particular research was cited and published by a conservative think tank, it was a total waste to even read. Of course, this deep-thinking liberal hadn’t even done the requisite research necessary to discover that though it was published by a conservative source, it was a compilation of 20 years of research by various organizations – liberal, conservative, nonpartisan – and was quite comprehensive. When that was pointed out to him, he had absolutely nothing to respond. See, he couldn’t counter the information; he could only dismiss the source.

Truth is not relative and its legitimacy is not dependent on its source. The last refuge of those without truth or knowledge on their side is a dismissal of facts simply based on who’s uttering them, even when faced with overwhelming evidence of their soundness.

Why the fear? If the source is illegitimate, no problem countering the untruths it generates; on the other hand, facing truths one would rather not can be quite painful.

I was recently personally attacked by a liberal newspaper reporter who, instead of responding to well-reasoned comments based on recognized news sources (and sources much more prestigious than his paper), commented that I should get back to the kitchen and bake cookies for the PTA, and then went on to denigrate what he assumed was my religion. What? (Incidentally, his hate-filled, religiously-bigoted diatribe proved his complete ignorance about the religion he attempted to denigrate. The only thing he got right is his assumption about what my religion is.)

Not once did he attempt to prove false a single point or counter a single argument, but I was told, “It’s cute that you try to have an opinion,” and “Watching Fox News doesn’t make you a pundit.” Again, huh? (By the way, I try to read at least as many liberal sources as conservative – I’m not afraid of what they may teach me.)

Personal attacks, namecalling, and denigration come from a place of fear, ignorance, and hate. Let’s not go there, rather let’s work together as Americans who sometimes agree, sometimes disagree, but always seek after truth no matter how uncomfortable it may be.


Mar 17 2010

Freedom and War

C.M. Phippen

Quite a few Americans, on the left and on the right, oppose US entanglements in other countries unless we have been attacked. For the most part I would agree, but I have to ask if it’s ever permissible to enter another country and enforce our moral code when the opposing country’s conduct is so egregious and their citizens are so victimized that we feel it is the only right thing to do?

In his writing, John Stuart Mill pointed out that the British, for at least a half-century, “have spent annual sums equal to the revenue of a small kingdom in blockading the Africa coast, for a cause in which we not only had no interest, but which was contrary to our pecuniary interest.” He was here, of course, talking about Great Britain’s efforts to abolish the slave trade around the world. Interestingly enough, Mill pointed out that the moral crusade was economically harmful to the British. Most of us would agree that despite that, it was worthwhile.

In 1849, the British entered Brazilian waters and destroyed Brazilian ships that had been used in the slave trade. The Ottoman Empire resisted attempts to pressure it to ban the African slave trade, and when it finally was banned, the British had to threaten that they would start boarding Ottoman ships in the Mediterranean if the Empire didn’t better police the ban. America was responsible for the destruction of the slave trade in the Philippines and the Netherlands was responsible for its end in Indonesia. In Central Asia, the Russians were the cause of its demise, as were the French in their West African colonies and in the Caribbean, and Germans in their East African colonies.

Outside of the Western world, the fight to abolish the slave trade endured for over a century, often at great cost to the countries that insisted upon its end. Reports from government officials as they tried to convince leaders of slave nations that the concept of slavery itself was immoral, always seemed to include a defense from the offending country regarding their customs and an explanation that their customs, as well as their people, differed from those in the Western world.

In 1841, the British representative consul to Zanzibar, Atkins Hamerton, attempted to convince the ruler of that country to end the slave trade. The response he received was that if he were to do so, his subjects would not remain loyal and would appoint another ruler who would allow the trade to continue. He reminded Hamerton that “Arabs were not ‘like the English and other European people who were always reading and writing’ and were unable to understand the anti-slavery viewpoint.” He also pointed out that one of his most important responsibilities was to protect and guarantee for his people their “dearest interest” – the slave trade.

Throughout this century-long struggle, the British patrolled the waters off of Africa in an attempt to halt the trade there. They would would seize and destroy slave ships, pay to resettle rescued slaves, and risk international relationships with countries that didn’t agree with them. The cost was high, but the moral mission was seen as a greater good.

I ask again, is it ever permissible to use military resources and personnel in order to “enforce” freedom, and a better way of life for others?

Much of the history is taken from Thomas Sowell’s book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, pp. 111-132.