Saturday, May 13, 2006

A rejoinder to a reply to my "Concluding thoughts on protests," which were apparently well short of conclusive

Tim Robbins (Mystic River; Twister; Bull Durham) leaves a comment here, and so I respond. As always, his comment quoted, indented, and mine, not so much.

"Nothing in this post reflects your usual opinions of equality of opportunity or your usual love of the way America was built. … Any time that any group of people, especially a government, tries to take away equality or freedom we should do anything in our power to stop them."
First, the government, as I understand it, isn’t trying to take away anything. They are in favor of the status quo. Immigrants want something to be granted them. This in itself doesn’t render judgment either way on whether granting them what they want is good or ill, but it should be kept straight that these people are coming here and demanding something.

It seems like national integrity demands some line of demarcation between citizens and non-citizens. Obviously, Mexicans living in Mexico are not Americans. A love of some pure abstract notion of equality of opportunity or freedom is antithetical to a love of actual freedom and equality, as we must experience it in this world. We must temper our pure ideas of the good with our practical intuitions of the possible.

Perfect, theoretical ideas of equality are all well and good--for theoretical people. Actual people, however, require institutions and traditions to mediate between liberty and fraternity, between equality and security. Any of these principles in their pure state cannot coexist with the others. They are as matter to anti-matter amongst themselves, annihilating each other when coming into contact.
"What really suprises me is that you have a problem with protesting in the first place. "
Well...surprise! I do. I despise political activism so much, it takes all my willpower just to go vote. Also, I’m Catholic, and just about as pro-life as you can be, but when the pro-life protestors set up on campus, I felt like getting an abortion. Stay outta my face, dude, I can think about this stuff on my own.
"Not only is protesting hugely American, you are wrong in your assertion that protests lead to some darker side of human nature… Firstly, there is the example of our country itself."
In philosophy, you can either be entirely consistent or you can be entirely right. I choose the former, here. As a conservative, I note that there have been successful, beneficial revolutions. However, during each of these revolutions, I hold my breath. Only after 50 or 100 or 150 years can we exhale and be sure that we have not, in our revolutionary fervor and haste, destroyed that which we meant to achieve. Revolutions are grave things, not desirable in themselves, not praiseworthy in themselves. Only the gravest ends sanctify the revolutionary means, and, even then, with a trembling hand.
"If you look at how the immigrant protests were conducted they were done in the same calm, collected manner. "
I haven’t paid attention to the protests—or any news at all for the past three weeks. But, despising protests, I still render judgment. Ah, the joys of blogging.
"You can't even fall back on the conservative argument that things that exist do so for a reason, because they have suceeded. Because our country is based on protests, and based on a revolution. Protests and a revolution are our the things that have existed, they are the things that have done the best and shown themselves to be superior."
Again, our country is good, not because it was founded by a revolution, but despite this. It was a tragedy that we had to be driven to revolution, as the mothers and lovers of those whose blood refreshed the tree of liberty would attest. Yes a tragedy—but, thankfully (I exhale with relief) a tragedy that birthed a blessing.

And, it must also be mentioned, that the conservative argument for preserving our venerable traditions is not anything so vulgar and simplistic as a blanket demand that everything be preserved, that everything that has happened in history is therefore good. Such a view is known as “historicism,” and historicism is the death of conservatism. For the historicist, whatever has happened throughout history has happened for a reason—history is rational for the historicist (c.f. Hegel, the prime expositor of historicism). But because history is rational in this way, the historicist cannot condemn anything that history has given him. Historicism is a form of relativism—they do not believe in supra-historical objective truth. The real is rational and the rational is real, for the historicist. Hegel referred to history as a “slaughter-bench”—a place of horrible deeds, but deeds that nevertheless pushed history progressively forward, and so were a net positive.

That this is not conservatism is evident. If conservatives thought that any historical occurence was swell, then we would have no grounds for condemning anything. As soon as an event happens it is history, and so it would be consecrated and uncondemnable--at least on the sickly view you put in the mouth of conservatism. But conservatives are very vocal about condemning certain historical events--for example, the sixties counterculture and such.

The conservative is not a historicist (or at least most, including myself, aren't). He does not accept everything that history has handed him. Yes, tradition receives a strong presumption of innocence and inherent worth—the reformer has the burden of evidence that reform is, indeed, necessary. Nevertheless, reform is vital to conservatism. Burke famously wrote in his Reflections: “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Controlled change is necessary to conservatism. It is how this change takes place that is the key. For the conservative, it takes place slowly, in the form of percolations through the public consciousness, of slowly changing attitudes.

Maybe the protests are a legitimate form of such. I would, however, prefer a slower form of change. Change is a vestment which fits itself to the body politic—if the body politic is convulsed with violent motions, the vestment is rent apart before it can properly conform. Quick change will lead to discontent—an anti-immigrant backlash, xenophobia and isolationism. It will be self-defeating. Attitudes cannot change overnight and cannot be the result of legislation.

I cannot stress enough that my views on history and tradition are not equivalent to “whatever has happened is therefore good.” This would be self-contradictory, for good revolutions have happened and bad revolutions have happened—which one of these, then, is good by virtue of history? They can't both be. I recently wrote a lengthy paper for a political thought class attempting to rescue conservatism (specifically as developed by Burke) from the charge of historicism. If anyone wants to read this I can email them a copy—beware, though, it 15 pages of dull stuff.

Also, and my fault on this, we shouldn’t compare protests exactly with revolution. I mentioned revolution because the observation from Marx struck me at the moment and because it seemed somewhat related to (although not identical with) the underlying dislike I have for protests (or at least the part of my dislike that isn’t arational). Also, blogs are a continual work of eclecticism—or at least mine is, and I like connecting disparate thoughts.

Although, still, I’m glad that I did, because it leads this conversation into much more interesting territory…
"And to say that violence is always a bad thing? That is completely out of your usual train of thought."
Violence is always a bad thing. It is a horrible thing, a thing which should not be sought, a thing which should be viewed with disgust and revulsion like some maggot-ridden hellspawn. There are very few things on this world worse than violence. Nevertheless, there still are those very few things, and, against them, violence must be wielded.

Wielded, though, with trepidation and ultimate anxiety. When we kill, we become killers--that is a tautology. “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” –Friedrich Nietzsche.

I support the mission in Iraq. But it is terrible, terrible beyond words and tears, that people younger than me must take lives with their hands and bear that red mark on their conscience. The Jefferson quote on fertilizing the tree of liberty with blood--well, my opinion on that is summed up in my allusion to it earlier. The tree of liberty would be a terrible tree if it only grew on the blood of the innocent—an evil, vampiric tree, whose roots starve for death and suffering.

I would not prostrate myself before that tree.

The necessity of violence should not inure us to its inherent evilness. It deforms the soul of those who wield it, even those who wield it out of necessity—think Frodo, twisted and tortured by the evil ring he had no choice but to bear, ultimately unable to even part with it of his own free will.
"Rationality can only remain a quiet thing when it exists in a society that is free and fair."
Then rationality can never exist. There is no society, ever, that will match up to your abstract, Platonic ideas of freedom and fairness. That is an impossibility—freedom and equality are opposite ends of a rigid pole. The attempt to realize both, to bring them together, snaps the pole in two. Factor in security and fraternity, and these numerous competing principles ensure that society will always be an imperfect, unfair creature to some. It is the place of rationality to quiet us, to console us, to keep us in our rooms and meditate on what needs to be changed, that we might act with serene confidence and assurance in the work of our hands.
"I have a number of immigrant friends who have worked twice as hard as any American I know just to survive and I have never heard them complain about it."
Ah! So it is possible. They should rein in their impetuous comrades. Such silent sufferance, such will in the face of adversity—that is America. Grabbing bootstraps and such. That convinces me. Indeed, that is what had convinced me of the rightness of easing restriction on immigration--before the impudent, restive segments of the immigrant population manifested, and they began demanding. I take not kindly to such arrogance to a country I love, to a country that moves slowly, but that is all the more lovely because it moves slowly. Justice is a weighty inertial matter—it is right that realizing it takes a slow swing.
"Nothing about being born in this country makes us deserve to have more opportunity, there should be equality of opportunity for everyone."
Correct! We should send welfare checks to people in Africa! Stop building roads in Kansas, and instead begin building them in Mongolia! Why should we privilege our citizens over others? Bigotry, I say! Why should some people be American citizens and others not? But not only should we ensure equality of opportunity for everyone around the globe, we should equal out the distribution of jellybeans and rainbows and satin-covered bears!
"Not only is this morally right, but it will be economically better for everyone in the long run."
Oh, quite right. I totally agree on the economics. Immigration is a net positive. Globalization=hell yes. But for me this is not about immigration. It’s about protest. Which, y’know, I despise.


In summary, I'd say my dislike of protests can be summed up in these points:

1. Change should be slow. Attitudes must change, not merely laws. If laws change before attitudes, we are likely to see racial animosity, xenophobia, anti-globalization sentiments, isolationism, increased anti-immigrant sentiments, etc. By demanding change now, immigrants hurt their own cause. We saw this in the gay marriage debate--when courts began acting counter to common sentiments, it provoked a backlash, and now we have an anti-gay marriage amendment here in Kansas.

2. Pure ideas of equality and liberty are not realizable. We must have borders, we must treat some differently, we must allow traditions that seem to hamper the perfect realization of any one principle. By doing this, by inhibiting the perfect manifestation of one pure principle, we allow the imperfect manifestation of many principles--this is the only way that liberty, equality, fraternity, diversity and security can coexist.

3. Large aggregations of people bearing the same ideas of the perfect and impelled with a passion for their cause are not the most rational entities. We should encourage quiet room sitting at every chance we get.

4. I despise protests on a level simultaneously both visceral and aesthetic. Protestors are generally unattractive and smelling of an open air fish market. Many are just self-righteous hangers-on, that are only in it for counterculture cachet of being against the Man. It is an open appeal to the government to rush in and save us from our problems, rather than doing it ourselves. (These might apply to the immigration protests in varying degrees--I don't know. As I said, I haven't paid particularly much attention to them. And I've noticed my support for immigration is inversely related to how much I do pay attention to them--so pro-immigration types should pray that the protestors don't march through my particular fied of vision.)


Anonymous Tim Robbins said...

I do like what you've said here. You explained a lot of where your coming from and I can empathize with a lot of your views. I don't have the time now for a full reply, but you can expect one within the week. I'll spend a particular amount of time considering the speed that change should occur at. I agree and disagree with you about change being slow and I'll want to hammer down my reasons for this dichotomy before giving them to you.
And I know that conservatism isn't historicism. What conservatism suggests (in my opinion) is a political survival of the fittest. Things that survive for long times, and occur repetetively probably do so because they are superior in some way. This is not a guarantee, and it definately doesn't mean that because something has happened it must be right.
Also, I would like to read your paper. My email is

7:46 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

Whoa, you seriously read the whole post? My whole strategy was to write so much you gave up half way through and then left with an ambiguously phrased "well, we'll have to agree to disagree."

that's why I interspersed the post with random passages from "Finnegan's Wake" and the odd AC/DC lyric.

(word verification word: "mofni"--yet more proof that blogger is some sort of satanic, semi-sentient entity)

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Tim Robbins said...

Ok, so I'm done with the important part of my finals week and I've been able to start looking at this. I'm still not sure how I'll approach this, we're talking about a lot of different things that relate to immigration and in ms word your post takes up six pages. I could just write my response to each part of what you've said, but I think that would get extremely lengthy and it would probably be more of me disputing a lot of the fine points you've made without considering your argument as one whole idea or presenting one singular argument against it. One other thing, my comment that,

"to say that violence is always a bad thing? That is completely out of your usual train of thought."

should have been worded,

"to say that violence is always worse than the alternative is completely out of your usual train of thought."

I definately do believe that violence is always a bad thing, but sadly, not always the worst option.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

Yeah, respond to whatever. I won't take silence as agreement, nor will I, probably, respond to everything you type.


12:44 PM  
Anonymous Tim Robbins said...

Ok, so I've been thinking about this for a while. A lot of the reason I've spent so much time on it is that as I've been trying to put my views into an argument form and I've realized that really, I don't think that there is anything "wrong" with your view that you dislike protests. I spent a lot of time thinking through the possibility that these protests are a step in creating a more fair situation for the immigrants and what I think looking at it from this vantage, a vantage of trying to make things more fair for the immigrants, and everybody, did was highlight the fact that your being opposed to protests isn't causing a less fair situation for them. You aren't causing the unfair situation and the argument that you're perpetuating it is just too liberal (in today's sense of the word) for me to not cringe at. Nonetheless, I still think the immigrants have been commendable, and it wouldn't be any fun if I just let it drop at that, without an argument, so . . .

The four main points you concluded with . . .

"Change must be slow"

I agree, really.
Change in society is a result of a change in people's views. And those views change through the slow process of education. Given enough facts the majority will always choose the right answer, and gaining those facts is a slow, but thankfully inevitable process. But the protest can help to change people's views too. If they expect to force people to accept a law they don't agree with then you're right, it won't happen. But this is a form of education that increases the number of facts out there, and brings us closer to a point where a majority of people will support immigration. The protests can help change people's attitudes. I also believe protests can help to involve people who already agreed, but didn't realize it was an issue. In this case you aren't talking about forcing people to agree to something against their beliefs and would therefore stand a better chance of surviving against any backlash it recieves from those who do disagree.

This is the dichotomy though, change should be slow because it must reflect a true change in the ideology of the people, but if we can help people learn faster we can speed up the change, and we should always be trying to do this, to educate people. So we should never just accept that it is slow and leave it at that. Actually, I believe that if we accepted it was slow and stopped trying to educate people, then change would stop entirely, or begin again in the opposite direction is has been going for all of history.

"Pure ideas of equality and liberty are not realizable."
Of course perfect equality and liberty are far far away. But I said that because allowing the immigrants to come here would bring us closer to pure equality and liberty we should pursue it. We may never realize pure liberty or equality (although I believe we will, in the far far future), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Every step towards the pure idea is an improvement and loosening borders is a step towards equality of opportunity. And I do believe that perfect liberty and perfect equality can co-exist (and I believe the other three you mentioned are just variations or derivatives of these two). This would be a tangent to get into, especially because I don't know your reasons for believing they can't co-exist, but essentially, if you're familiar with John Locke's "second treatise of government". I believe that what he wrote there is a society that could practically exist and that would guarantee equality and liberty.

"Large aggregations of people bearing the same ideas of the perfect and impelled with a passion for their cause are not the most rational entities. We should encourage quiet room sitting at every chance we get."
Agreed. the operative phrase being 'every change we get.'

"I despise protests on a level simultaneously both visceral and aesthetic."
Well, aesthetic is obviously an opinion thing, I would only suggest it isn't a good reason to oppose what people stand for.

My lofty opinion of immigrants . . .
I really don't think these guys have asked for much. Unlike people born here they truly appreciate what a great country we live in. They are almost always overwhelmingly grateful just to be here and for the most part that is what they are asking the government for, not to deport them. The protests are in response to governmental attempts to make it harder for them to live here. Immigrants complain very little and ask for very very little to be given to them by the government. They just want a chance to stay in a country that they love in a way that should be carved into stone so that we can see it and God willing learn something from them. I know in alot of ways the protests are turning into, "immigrants should have health care, and welfare, and every other social program" but really, if you ask any first generation immigrant, they would be happy if the government just let them stay here, just left things the way they have been for the past 20 years.

Thats really the important stuff, as for the nitpicking . . .

You seem to take a lot of what I say and turn it into absolute ideas. When I say that "Rationality can only remain a quiet thing when it exists in a society that is free and fair.", you say that rationality can never exist. That isn't true. The more free and fair society is the more rationality will survive (and vice-versa). Rationality exists in part, and will continue to grow as it has throughout history. You took a few other things I said and turned them into absolute statements. Its a good argumentative tactic, but it doesn't really help either of us learn anything or approach truth(y'know, with a capital t).

. . .

the comparison between violence and protests. This isn't a disagreement with any part of your argument, but I do believe they are a great comparison. Nelson Mandella made a great speach, "I am prepared to die" in which he outlined the way in which his anti-appartheid movement evolved from non-violent protests to violent resistance(with an emphasis on avoiding the loss of human life). He mentions four types of violent resistence in his speach each increasing in seriousness and increasing in the damage to human life (interestingly enough, terrorism was the least desireable form of protest to Mandella). When violent rebellion is shown on a sliding scale this way it is easy to see non-violent protests as the slot that fits just to the left of violence that avoids the loss of human life.

"Only after 50 or 100 or 150 years can we exhale and be sure that we have not, in our revolutionary fervor and haste, destroyed that which we meant to achieve."

I think you can see this much earlier by the means through which the protests are carried out. The immigrant protests in France right now are doomed. I am confident that they will result in more bad than good simply because of the way they are being carried out. The protests in the US are being carried out by more civicly minded people and because of this I believe violence will remain at a minimum and eventually, through a slow process of change, people will accept these immigrants into the US.

"Stay outta my face, dude, I can think about this stuff on my own."

Yeah, ok, agreed.

"First, the government, as I understand it, isn’t trying to take away anything."

I disagree, but the reasons again are very detailed, again though, a lot of my reasons for this are borrowed from John Locke. If you've read his second treatise you might be able to piece together my reasoning for this.

Anyways, I can bullet point to conclude as well . . .
-Immigrants are oftena model of the ways we should be and as such we should welcome their place in our society.
-Protests are a form of education that will inform the public. Anything that (correctly) informs the public will bring us closer to Truth.

Hopefully this didn't turn out too long, I think I did a decent job of covering most of your points without tangenting forever.

12:26 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home