Monday, June 30, 2003
On vacation this week, in Stratford at the Shakespeare festival. Seeing only 1 Shakespeare this time, though (Taming of the Shrew), plus 4 other plays ancient and modern. I'll review upon returning. More Shakespeare at the end of the summer.
Friday, June 27, 2003
I remain impressed at the contradiction in the conservative camp between reactions to the affirmative action and sodomy cases. A strict constructionist and respecter of precedent should have no problem with the affirmative action decision. It is plain that at the time of the 14th Amendment's ratification that no one contemplated the amendment demanded a colorblind society. And legislative enactments and judicial decisions alike make it clear since 1964 that no one regarded the Civil Rights Act in that way either (including, for example, MLK, who favored affirmative action). Affirmative action may be bad policy (I think it usually is). It may be unjust. But it is not obviously unconstitutional. And it is unclear to me why conservatives wanted to have the government constrain private and semi-private bodies (e.g. state universities) as to how they choose to admit students or hire employees or what have you. The fairest criticism to bring against O'Connor's opinion in the case is that by laying down no clear standards for what is or is not permissable discrimination, it aggrandizes to the Court the power of deciding this question in every subsequent instance.
In the sodomy case, the Supreme Court did precisely what so many conservatives wish they would have done in the affirmative action case: laid down a clear, principled rule based on clear precedent (Griswold, Roe, etc.) and struck down a law that discriminated among different classes of citizens. But conservatives are appalled: the Court extended a privacy right with minimal basis in the text of the Constitution, struck down longstanding (if now controversial and arguably stupid) laws on the books of many states, overturned its own precedent (from 1986) and opened the way to far more expansive Court interventions in our ongoing culture wars. Conservatives are right, in my opinion, on the Lawrence case. Justice Thomas' dissent is very much in accord with my views here: the law was stupid, and should be repealed, but there is no Constitutional basis for the Court to strike it down.
But conservatives can't have their cake and eat it, too. All laws discriminate: they give money to one but not to another, make a third a criminal and let a fourth go free. That is the function of law. The question is whether the basis of discrimination is legitimate. To say that a school or employer may not seek a racially diverse student body or workforce is to substitute the discrimination of the Court for the discrimination of the school or employer. To say that the state of Texas may not prohibit certain acts favored by a certain class of citizens is to substitute the discrimination of the Court for the discrimination of the state of Texas. If the framers of the 14th Amendment had wanted to mandate that schools admit on the basis of objective criteria of individual merit, they could have done so. If the framers of the 4th Amendment had wanted to add a "penumbra" specifying that no law shall be passed to restrict sexual relations between consenting adults, they could have done so. They did not do so, in either case.
The story of the last 50 years is of the continuing expansion of the power of the Court. Over the last 15 or 20 years, conservatives have increasingly accommodated this expansion, encouraging the Court to interfere more readily to define state government immunities from Congressional action (the so-called Federalism revolution), to prohibit discrimination of which conservatives disapprove (in the case of affirmative action), and to adjudicate disputed election results (in Bush v. Gore). There have been tactical benefits to this accommodation, but the strategic loss has significant: the conservative vision of a reluctant Court has grown less and less credible.
The Supreme Court should no more embroil itself in the politics of affirmative action than it should in the politics of abortion or gay rights. The Court should look not at polls nor at what will smooth the way to the future, but to the past, for the Court is the past's custodian, embodied in the text of the Constitution and the intent of its ratifiers, and in the framework of its own past decisions. The Court has plenty to do protecting our freedom of of speech, press, assembly and exercise of religion - to pick just a few examples - without electing itself the arbiter of rights on which the People neither past nor present has seen fit to opine decisively.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
For those who are interested, in the latest issue of Commentary (July/August 2003) there's a book review by yours truly of James Kugel's latest book, The God of Old.
Monday, June 23, 2003
I'm not much of a fan of affirmative action, but I can't get myself particularly worked up about the latest Supreme Court decision. Why? three reasons.
First, I know that the practical likely alternative to affirmative action in higher education is a general lowering of standards. There is, after all, no reason why colleges have to admit on the basis of scores or grades. They could admit, for example, the top 10% of every graduating class in the state, as the University of Texas system does since that state prohibited race-based quotas. Or we could see secondary schools reduce objective criteria in assigning grades. So it's not obvious to me that victory over affirmative action is a victory for academic standards.
Second, I know that there is a great deal of bad faith in discussions of affirmative action. Liberals like affirmative action in many cases because they secretly believe that black students can't possibly measure up. (I know that's a crude and gross generalization, but I've had too many conversations that confirm it.) Conservatives hate affirmative action for various reasons, some noble and some less so, but in general they refuse the answer the question of what the consequences will be if allocating college admissions strictly by test scores results in racial stratification in education. So I don't think either side debates the issue honestly.
But third, and most importantly, I think we are scrutinizing this whole question too strictly. The reason we have strict scrutiny for racial classifications under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment is that this country had a history of legal white supremacy. To conclude from this that the Constitution is "color-blind" is a considerable stretch, and quite far from strict constructionism (as any honest reading of the ratification debates will attest to). Banning affirmative action would be yet more micromanagement by the Feds of racial matters, something I think we already have too much of. In taking this tack I am following the lead of Jeffrey Rosen, the court watcher for The New Republic.
Of course, there are nuances. The cases at hand involved public universities; perhaps they should operate under different rules. But in practice, most private education in this country gets Federal monetary support. I think preserving the independence of academic institutions is worth a whole lot, and that includes the independence to pursue divisive, wrong-headed social policy.
And of course, the decision, written by Justice O'Connor, does not either give a blank check to pursue discriminatory policies nor does it inaugurate a colorblind Constitution. Rather, it lets Justice O'Connor decide when policies are too discriminatory and when they are OK. Chalk up one more for the Imperial Judiciary.
No one has a right to a spot in college. Colleges can take all kinds of factors into consideration of candidates, including athletic ability, how much the candidate's father gave to the school, and how many Chinese cellists were admitted last year. The most competitive schools reject hundreds of well-qualified appliants every year in favor of candidates who may not be top-scorers but who have something else going for them that makes them stand out, and that, thrown together with the other candidates, make for a more diverse class. I don't see that it's the government's business to say that, if they want to make sure the incoming class is at least 8% black, they have to come up with dubious roundabout ways of getting there. I'd rather there be more diverse kinds of schools - some with open admissions and some with highly restrictive admissions; some that admit solely on scores and some that don't use the SAT at all; some that are single-sex and some that have co-ed bathrooms; some that are religiously affiliated and take their religious mission seriously and some that are avowedly secular - than to enforce uniform admissions rules in the name of justice. Virginia should be allowed to sponsor a public, single-sex military academy. And Michigan should be allowed to sponsor a school that seeks a minimum percentage black representation in the incoming class. And let a thousand flowers bloom.
I think conservatives should think hard about whether they really want to encourage the Court to extend its equal-protection jurisprudence. Affirmative action is the kind of policy that should be thrashed out in the political arena, not settled in the courts. If it is bad policy (and I think it often is) it should be defeated on the merits (as it frequently is when it goes to the polls).
Hillary Clinton favors civil unions and opposes the redefinition of marriage. Andrew Sullivan describes this as being opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians. Doesn't it strike him as odd that what, to him, is a reasonable middle-of-the-road, even conservative position is too controversial for Hillary Clinton, liberal standard-bearer, to touch? Shouldn't that suggest to him that maybe - maybe - his internal political compass is a little out of whack on this question?
Thursday, June 19, 2003
I've been getting a bunch of mail lately about the gay stuff here (thanks to John Derbyshire and Jonah Goldberg for linking) and I thought I ought to clarify some of my views for the sake of those who are new to the site.
First, I have a handful of very close gay friends, and I certainly don't believe in any way in shunning gay people or keeping them in the closet. The closet is a dark and lonely place and no one should stay there. You can be out to yourself without being out to the world; that's a personal decision. But being out to yourself is a matter of basic mental health, I am completely convinced, and for most people once you're out to yourself, you want to be out to other people, at least people you know well.
Second, I believe that male homosexuality is essentially innate; whether it is genetic or the result of early-environmental factors or both I don't know, though I am inclined to believe (from studies like the relative prevalence of gay identical twins versus fraternal twins versus non-twin siblings) that there is some genetic component. (Female sexuality is, generally, a much different story, one that I have a much firm grasp on. I've known too many lesbians and bisexual women of convenience to be sure that it is in any way analogous to male homosexuality.)
Third, I believe that no one is born a Nazarite. That, I think, is part of the point of the Samson story. Let me explain: the Nazarite is an obsolete Israelite institution, where an individual would take an oath of abstinence (from wine, shaving, etc.) it order to achieve some spiritual goal (typically to overcome some powerful compulsion to sin). The rabbis generally frown on oath-taking, and the institution of the Nazarite cannot operate without Temple sacrifices, but that's not my point. My point is: the Nazarite abstains from things that are part of normal human life, for a specific purpose. Samson is the only character in the bible who is born a Nazarite - that is to say, he is under a sentence of abstinence from birth. And he is, I think, a very tragic figure and a failed hero. What I mean when I say that no one is born a Nazarite is that no one is born under such a sentence, and that to subject someone to such a sentence - for example, to condemn a person to either loveless sexuality or no sexuality because of being born gay - is to perpetrate a tragedy. As a matter of course, because I believe this, I think there has to be some Jewish accommodation of homosexuality, which is very difficult to accomplish given the lack of useful precedent.
Fourth, I believe that gay men differ in many ways from straight men, not all ways that bear directly on sexuality. I think the difference is profound enough to constitute a difference in nature. I think there are gains and losses from this difference, and I don't think there's any point in trying to weigh one against the other, but I think to deny the difference is just silly. I think that the differences between gay and straight men are comparable in magnitude to the differences between men and women (though not at all identical; gay men are definitely men). If you don't think there are any differences between men and women (fundamental psychological differences, I mean), then we have simply had very different experiences of the world.
Fifth, I believe that the institution of marriage is absolutely vital to social well-being, as well as to individual well-being. I believe that companionate marriage is one of the great achievements of civilization, an enormous advance over the patriarchal polygamy that preceded it, and considerably superior to the arrangements that are slowly replacing it (which I would describe simply as the abolition of fatherhood). I believe that marriage is important to individual well-being in so many ways that it is hard for me to articulate them briefly, so I'll mention just one way: marriage orders a life. It gives a life a center, a purpose, a trajectory; it anchors a person the way nothing else - no business or vocation - can. A marriage is about love, and friendship, and economic security. But before it is any of these things, it is about the completion of a self through the transcendence of the self. For that reason, every marriage that fails - even bad marriages that must fail - is a tragedy, in a way that a faded love or a waning friendship or a bankrupted business is not. A failed marriage is like a kind of death.
Sixth, I believe that marriage works because it speaks deeply to us; because of the encrustation of tradition and the interaction of that tradition with our deepest natures. I don't think you can simply engineer that sort of power; it must grow, over time, through literature far more than through law. The bible articulated an ideal of companionate marriage 3500 years ago in a polygamous world. Monogamy did not become obligatory in Judaism until 1000 years ago in the West, and not until the 20th century in some parts of the Islamic world. That's a long, long time.
Because I believe that marriage is so important; because I believe that it is deeply mysterious and tied to our deepest natures; because I believe it can never be understood fully in a social-science kind of way, I don't want it mucked with. We've done an awful lot to muck with it already; nothing gay marriage could do could be as bad as what no-fault divorce has already done. But it will, in a way, be a capstone to the project of the deconstruction of marriage and its replacement by a variety of relationships of convenience. No-fault divorce could be reversed; it was not a redefinition of marriage so much as a gross liberalization of its terms. I'm not sure a court decision that marriage itself is discriminatory because it posits the complimentarity of men and women could be so easily reversed. It would, fundamentally, redefine marriage.
Because I believe all of the above, I believe that the right solution to the problem of gay couples needing recognition is to create an institution - by legislation - designed for gay couples, bearing equivalent rights and privileges to marriage. Britain is heading that way by legislation; Vermont got there by judicial fiat, which I think is far less defensible; Canada redefined marriage itself by judicial fiat, which I think is even less defensible, and Massachusetts looks likely to follow suit.
I think conservatives have shot themselves in the foot by trying to draw the line against any official recognition of gay unions. I accept Jonathan Rauch's argument that by not granting such recognition, conservatives have opened the door to the progressive expansion of "domestic partnership" legislation to the point where, today, the significance of marriage is severely blurred for many young heterosexuals. Rolling back that legislation, and shoring up the exclusivity of marriage, will require some accommodation of gay unions or it will be rejected as overly punitive against gays (which it would be). But more fundamentally, I think that (as Jonah Goldberg put it earlier today), gay people aren't going anywhere. They are part of the family. They have to have a way to be, and be themselves, and be healthy. That means both living honestly and living with self-control, two things that are hard to achieve without some social recognition for serious relationships.
I nonetheless want the recognition of those relationships to be distinct from marriage because I don't know if they will be the same as marriage, or even if it can be; because I don't want to change the definition of marriage or its mythic meaning; and because, frankly, I want to give gay people themselves the time to become what they are. Redefining marriage would, among other things, force someone to change: either straights would have to accept an evolving gay understanding of marriage as just as good for any two people (meaning also for straight couples) or gays would have to accept the established understanding of marriage (among straights) as the proper model and template for their lives. I already resist the first and I don't want to be compelled - and I don't have any gay friends who want to be compelled - to accept the second.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Okay, Mr. Sullivan, I thought Frum was over the top, too. You most certainly can favor gay marriage and also favor letting religious groups (and others?) refuse to solemnize such unions, or even preach against them.
But take the expected arguments of those who will not favor such a religious exemption seriously as well. They will make the argument that preaching against gay marriage is hostility to gays, and should be illegal. For that matter, right now they make the argument that religious discrimination against women and gays should be illegal. Does Sullivan agree with them? If not, he either believes in a very robust notion of religious autonomy (in which case, my question to him would be: do you favor an autonomy for the religious that would extend to polygamous traditions?) or he agrees that issues of sexuality and gender roles and the like are legitimately subjects on which values may differ (unlike, for example, the morality of sex with minors, which we, unlike the Ancients, uniformly abhor, or the morality of race-mixing, which our recent ancestors abhorred but we find uniformly unproblematic and, indeed, abhor those who find it abhorrent). And if he agrees with the latter, then my question is: where are the boundaries? And are you committed to moving them?
A long time ago, I argued that the proper accommodation for society to make to homosexuality is to treat it like a religion. (It even has some features that make it look like a religion; for example, the narrative of "coming out" is structured an awful lot like a classic conversion narrative - the discovery of one's true self, liberation from a false consciousness, alienation from former friends and entrance into a new and welcoming community, etc. etc.) If we treated homosexuality like a religion, we would respect its practitioners and prohibit discrimination against them in various ways, but we would also expect reciprocal recognition that their beliefs, practices, and worldview fundamentally differ from that of the majority and that, in fact, the majority rejects what they hold most true. This is one of the reasons that I have argued for a parallel institution (or institutions) to recognize gay and/or lesbian unions distinct from marriage, rather than the redefinition of marriage itself. And Canada's action, declaring that marriage itself is discriminatory, and hence illegitimate unless it applies equally to gay and straight couples, is particularly odious, because it forces the question: either the court is wrong, and gay unions are, implicitly, illegitimate and not to be recognized, or the court is right and there is no difference between gay and straight unions. Neither proposition is true, in my view, and it's none of a court's business to force me to make that ideological choice.
I know the analogy is far from perfect, but it does seem to me that the alternative to mutual accommodation is the kind of culture war we're in, where right-wingers are increasingly committed to the notion that the line must be held against gays at all costs, and left-wingers (and I include Sullivan here in this context) are increasingly committed to the notion that there is no difference between straight and gay, and that any public recognition of that difference is illegitimate. And it is not surprising to me, at least, that conservatives are starting to worry that if public recognition of that difference is illegitimate, then soon private recognition will be as well, because, for the P.C. left if not for Sullivan, that is the logical next step.
I am, of course, extremely encouraged by developments in Iran. But I am filled as well with foreboding. As I've written a number of times before, the choices facing the mullahs are Lithuania ca. 1991 or Tiananmen ca. 1989. I still think the latter is more likely. People forget that the Soviet Union ended largely bloodlessly because Mikhail Gorbachev was insufficiently ruthless to hold the regime together by force. He was the first and last Soviet Premier to believe that the people supported the Communist system; even Khrushchev, who believed fervently in the Revolution, understood that the Revolution was only going to triumph by force, and used it (in Hungary, for instance). I do not think that Khamenei or Khatami are like Gorbachev. If they can hold power by force, they will, to the end.
So the real question is whether the military and security services turn against the regime. In Tiananmen in 1989, when the shooting started, there were early reports that different units of the PLA were shooting at each other (the 27th Army was the primary perpetrator of the attacks, and there were reports that the 27th had engaged in combat with other PLA units). I don't think it's easy to prognosticate what the outcome would be if shooting started in Tehran or Isfahan. But how can we be sure that the regime's supporters won't fight with the greatest ferocity and conviction?
A lot of right-wingers have been arguing that our government should more vocally support the protestors. I agree with them to the extent that I always want us to be on the side of truth, justice and all that where possible, and to the extent that I think the mullahs (and, more important, the military and security services) know that there will be consequences to a 1989-style crackdown. But any implicit threats have to be credible. No one thinks we're going to go to war with Iran over internal repression. And it's not obvious that America can enforce diplomatic or economic consequences sufficiently dire to be decisive. Moreover, to the extent that the Iranian military is patriotic (and I think that's to a very great extent) they might be more inclined to defend the regime faced with foreign pressure. Analogies to Eastern Europe are flawed; when Eastern Europe revolted, they were (a) revolting against a foreign power (Russia), and (b) openly eager to identify with the West and become a part of it. Neither is the case in Iran.
Contra Robert Greene above, I don't think the best leverage we have against Tehran is on the nuclear issue. I think it's on the terrorism issue. Iran is the principal sponsor of a host of terrorist groups that target Americans, most prominently Hezbollah. These terrorist groups are the hard-liners' primary asset and their principal means of demonstrating Iranian (and their own) power and influence beyond their borders. The regime pays essentially no price for the deployment of this asset. If the U.S. made them pay a price, that would potentially separate the military from the hard-liners. No one remotely sane in Iran wants a military confrontation with the United States. If the U.S., for example, intervened in Lebanon to destroy the Hezbollah, and pointedly warned Iran that it must cease supporting terrorist groups or face unspecified consequences, what would the mullahs do? Standing pat while their primary terrorist asset was destroyed would destroy their own credibility, internally and globally. But taking any action would provoke a potential confrontation with the United States - and over a bunch of Arab terrorists who do nothing for Iran, ultimately, even if they do a great deal for the mullahs. I don't think it's far-fetched to think that, if the Iranian military thought that the mullahs were bringing Iran into danger for their own ideological motives, that this would have an impact on how willing they would be to defend the regime against internal revolution. By contrast, it's entirely conceivable that there is widespread support for a nuclear-armed Iran even among democrats and among anti-regime elements in the military (after all, the Shah was actively pursuing a nuclear program before the revolution). And again, mobilizing international pressure over the nuclear issue is going to be slow-going and difficult without a threat of more precipitate action, action that I doubt is forthcoming.
I believe that a post-revolutionary Iran could be one of America's better allies in the region. America has been systematically wiping out Iran's enemies: the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Two of America's most problematic and equivocal allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, are also historic rivals of Iran. We have a natural conjunction of interests, and the only thing that keeps the Iranian people from reaping the benefits of that conjunction is the determination by the Iranian regime to make war on the West. It doesn't have to be that way. And this is the message that needs to be communicated, in private, to the people who will really decide whether freedom comes to Iran: the patriotic Iranian military.
It doesn't matter much, and it's not really unexpected, but I'm still disappointed: authorities rule James' ossuary a fake.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Re: the potential release of Barghouti: does anyone remember that DEBKA and others were claiming, when Barghouti was originally arrested, that Israel was "grooming him" to replace Arafat, and effectively giving him "street cred" by charging him with complicity in terrorism? I didn't give much credence to the scenario at the time, nor do I now, but it's still a real puzzle why Barghouti was arrested in the first place. (I discount the possibility that it's because he's guilty. I'm sure he is guilty; but then, I'm at least as sure that Arafat is guilty, and no one has seriously proposed arresting and trying him in an Israeli court. Why, I have no idea.)
Monday, June 16, 2003
Jonah Goldberg has written one of those columns that I want to agree with but that, instead, drives me up the wall.
One of Goldberg's hobby-horses is how "the culture" should be used to solve this or that problem rather than relying on the market or the government. He worries that the "organic society" is getting short-shrift, and that the Right is increasingly divided between libertarians (who think any problem the market can't solve isn't a problem) and right-wing statists (who think we should ban spam because it's annoying). He wants conservatives to go back to "trying to improve the culture and uphold the authority of tradition" rather than only debating whether government should or shouldn't act in a given instance.
I think Goldberg is saying is that rather than try to ban activities we don't like, we, through our private actions and organizations, should enforce the moral standards that conservatives favor. For example, he wants the local Rotarians to shun pimps and drug pushers, even if prostitution and drugs are legal. Nice idea. How about the landlady who wants to enforce her moral code by refusing to rent to unmarried couples? Or to individuals whom she is aware pursue an "alternative lifestyle"? I've got news for Goldberg: if she tried to enforce those particular moral codes, she'd be breaking the law, at least in New York City. It's illegal to discriminate on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation. Drug pushers, meanwhile, frequently operate out of public housing. And guess what: you can't evict them simply on the grounds that they are dealing drugs. There's a whole, complicated process to make sure they aren't being treated "unfairly."
In other words: if you want to empower the culture, you've first got a political fight on your hands to allow for private discrimination. Because that's what Goldberg is advocating: discriminating against individuals in things like, for example, club memberships because of moral decisions they make in their private life.
We all know the historical reason why this is a hard thing, politically, to advocate: once upon a time in this country, there was a widespread tradition of disciminating against people - publicly and privately - based on the notion that different races shouldn't mix. And eventually, enough of the country (and in particular, enough of the elite of the country) got so upset at this state of affairs that they not only banned public discrimination by race but established extensive new government powers to root out and eliminate this practice by "the culture." And once the precedent was set, as would be expected the categories of the protected grew. I have no reason to believe that pimps will not come under similar legal protection in the future.
Russ Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin, voted against the creation of a Federal Hate Crimes statute, because he felt that thought crimes were un-American and, in spirit, a violation of the principles undergirding the First Amendmenet. The law passed by huge margins nonetheless. And when it came time to vote on expanding the list of protected categories under the law to include sexual orientation, Feingold voted yes, saying that while he didn't think the law was a good idea, if we were going to have such a law, it should not discriminate against gays and lesbians by not including them in its protections. His logic was impeccable. And it's no different from the conservatives Goldberg implicitly criticizes.
Goldberg wants to "empower" the culture to "shame" the immoral and so forth. But that entails, minimally, going head to head with the whole moral and legal edifice that forbids private discrimination. It is very hard to argue that we should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of the conviction that "sex workers" are immoral but not on the moral conviction that, say, race-mixers are immoral. To discriminate between these forms of discrimination is, effectively, to have the government decide that, morally, race-mixers are OK while sex workers are not (or, at least, may not be, hence leaving it up to private discrimination). Either the government decides what moral convictions are acceptable to hold, and to act or, or it doesn't. In our society, it does. And therefore a lot the debate is about what those convictions should be.
Had an enjoyable weekend away with my synagogue on a retreat; drank too much scotch around the campfire Saturday night and so had a rather subdued first Father's Day. Upon returning to civilization, I have to see if anything important happened in the world while I was gone. So of course I check out the Corner.
Turns out the weekend was spent on a three-cornered debate between John Derbyshire, Andrew Stuttaford and Stanley Kurtz about Canada's judicial innovation of gay marriage, pending similar innovation in Massachusetts, and whether (ignoring the whole question of the democracy deficit of imposing such an institution judicially) such innovation is a good idea. In order, their posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
To me, it's striking that all sides seem happy to debate this question entirely in terms of social science. No further proof should be required that NR has indeed been taken over by the neo-cons.
What, exactly, is marriage? It's not an arrangement cooked up by social engineers. It's not just a convinient way to enable multi-generational accumulation of capital. It's an institution that shapes the entirety of a human life, the dominant element in our private mythic universe. (I've been reading a bunch of Robertson Davies novels lately; can you tell?) When a Jewish boy is circumcised, one of the prayers recited is the hope that the boy will be reared to torah, huppah and ma'asim tovim - study, the wedding canopy, and righteous deeds. Our account of the Creation culminates first with the creation of male and female as natural and equal partners, and then retells the story of our creation specifically to illustrate how we are one flesh, working the myth of marriage into the very fabric of the universe. These myths are present at every wedding ceremony, and they are essential cement to help hold a marriage together through the inevitable tough times. As patriotic myth gives a young man something to inspire sacrifice (of, potentially, his life) for the nation, and thus become something greater than he was before (a soldier, maybe even a hero), so matrimonial myth gives him something to inspire sacrifice (of a portion of his freedom) for family, and thus become something greater than he was before (a husband, and hopefully a father).
What is the myth of homosexual union? What does gay marriage mean, finally? The primary myth of homosexual unions that I am aware of in Western literature comes from the Symposium, and it is not encouraging that the speech it is a part of is put by Plato in the mouth of Aristophanes. No culture can institutionalize a parody of its myths, and most same-sex commitment ceremony language I have seen that is not merely bland and meaningless is just that: parody.
For some time, I've advocated some institutional equivalent to marriage designed particularly for homosexual couples. I think Jonathan Rauch's argument that the lack of such an institution (or, as he would prefer, the opening up of traditional marriage to gay couples) has fuelled the progressive legal deconstruction of traditional marriage - the granting of marriage-like rights and privileges to cohabiting couples, the encouragement of adoptions by unmarried individuals or couples, etc. is very strong. We've gone a very far way down that road, and I think that, politically, refusing to create any legally sanctioned institution for gay couples only weakens the fight to firm up the exclusivity of marriage, and encourages those who would eliminate the institution altogether for practical purposes.
But there is essential cultural work to be done, and done in the gay community, to make such an institution work. Gay couples need their own myth if their unions are to be something other than and greater than friendships. I do not belittle friendship, and certainly one's spouse should be one's friend, but friendship is not the same thing as marriage, and the advocates of gay unions sometimes suggest that it is - that marriage is, to use a phrase current in the college set, "friendship with privileges."
Whether this cultural work can be done is not something I can confidently predict. Culture and nature alike continually surprise us with both their mutability and their resiliency in the face of efforts to remake them. But I would be more encouraged if an occasional advocate of gay marriage sounded less like a Millsian liberal and more like a Jungian.
Friday, June 13, 2003
Well, Clyde Wayne Crews has thought a lot more about the whole spam thing than I have. My only question is: why does he have a country-music stage name?
Thursday, June 12, 2003
I have to say, this anti-anti-spam-legislation piece sounds about right.
I like Chris Caldwell. I think he's smart, witty, and insightful. But it is no accident that he speaks French. Caldwell is one of those "big government conservatives" you've heard tell about who drive the libertoids nuts. And I suspect his anti-spam diatribe in the recent Weekly Standard isn't much more than a conservative showing unseemly New Class impatience with the complexities of life.
Now, let me tell you a bit about me. I'm the guy that Arnold Kling is talking about, the one who doesn't cull his email effectively. In fact, I'm generally technically illiterate, in spite of the fact that I spend all day in front of a terminal. My systems department hates me. But one consequence of my sloth is that I am aware of the degree to which I am drowning not in classic spam but in legitimate office email that I wind up treating as spam. I get hundreds of emails a day that I don't have time to look at - ratings actions notices, trade tickets, research pieces, etc. Some of this stuff I ought to look at; most of it is irrelevant to me. But weeding through it all is almost impossible, so usually I ignore it. Spam is trivial to ignore next to all of this junk.
Spam is nowhere near as obnoxious as telephone solicitation, and no one thought that phone solicitation would make the phone unusable, as Caldwell frets about email. And if we are to have legislation against spam, the opt-out registry should do it. I should think that would be the least intrusive means of restricting spam, and the easiest to police.
I am sympathetic to the notion that pornographic spam should be regulated somehow, but it seems to me that this is secondary to the need to "zone" the internet to make it easier to prevent minors from accessing pornography. I've never really understood why this would be difficult technically or legally, but, like I said, I am technically illiterate, so my opinions may not be worth much.
Anyhow, just my 2c.
More excellent news from the Israeli-Palestinian front.
I'm not really being sarcastic. The premise of Oslo was that Arafat could be coopted through bribery into fighting Hamas and the other terrorists - a kind of "set a thief to catch a thief" plan. That didn't work. The premise of Operation Defensive Shield might have been to eliminate the terrorist groups, but since Arafat was left untouched, and the P.A. was targeted across the board, in situations where it was specifically involved in terror and where it wasn't, one must conclude that its real premise was to punish Arafat (or the P.A. generally) until it agreed to fight terrorism. That also didn't work, though it worked better than Oslo since the P.A. and Arafat specifically were deeply involved in terrorist activity.
So now we've arrived at the conclusion, finally, that the way to fight terrorism is to kill the terrorists. With one breath the Sharon government endorses a Palestinian state and the Road Map to get there, and shakes the hand of Mahmoud Abbas, and with another breath it declares all-out war on Hamas. Hamas, meanwhile, which was happy to collaborate with Arafat in destroying Barak, the better to bring Sharon to power in order to provoke international intervention on behalf of the Palestinians, is now hysterical with rage that a negotiations have begun yet again. All these developments are mutually consistent. The elimination of elements like Hamas is essential to any possible settlement. If the Palestinian Authority is not ready to declare that, then they will have to live with an IDF-Hamas war on their territory. But Hamas will be destroyed.
Sharon's credibility is very much on the line. Israelis want an end to terror and an end to Israeli rule over Palestinians. They want their Jewish state to live in peace with its neighbors within secure borders. If Sharon passed up what looked like a real chance for a settlement, that would hurt him badly politically. But if he made a deal that leaves Israel vulnerable to terrorist murders, that would hurt him much more. So Sharon has agreed to the general idea of a settlement, and continues to accept, one by one, the premises that led Barak to lean all the way out of the window to try to grasp Arafat's hand and end the conflict. But he has not accepted Rabin's defeatism. He is ready for war, for generations of war, if that is what the Palestinians prefer.
Kudos to NRO for publishing the following editorial, on how supporters of the Iraq war are overreaching on the WMD issue. They are absolutely right.
There were a series of reasons articulated for the war in Iraq. Iraq was in contemptuous violation of U.N. resolutions, making it "fair game." It was a proven regional threat, having repeatedly attacked its neighbors in wars of conquest. It was ruled by an evil regime guilty of crimes against humanity. It had a history of collaboration with and support of anti-American terrorist groups, and there was some circumstantial evidence linking Iraqi intelligence to al-Qaeda and even to 9-11. The regime had used unconventional weapons against civilians and enemy troops, had had an extensive biological weapons development program and had been actively pursuing nuclear weapons for decades. And there were the "positive" reasons for war, the things to be gained rather than the evils to be ended: the establishment of a pro-Western regime in Baghdad, the end of the need for oppressive sanctions, the end of the need for American troops in Saudi Arabia, the impact of a decisive American show of force on our other enemies in the region. If I've left anything out, I apologize.
But there were good responses to all of the above. If flouting the U.N. was the justification for war, then presumably the U.N. should authorize any measures to defend its authority. If gross evil is justification for war, who prepares the indictment and tries the case to establish that evil? The U.S. alone? And if the "positive" reasons for war justified the war, then there is truly no meaning to international law: any nation can legally undertake any war for the sake of achieving positive ends.
There were only two justifications for unilateral war that were persuasive. If Iraq was involved with 9-11, or even al-Qaeda, then war against Saddam was simple national self-defense. But the Bush Administration was never comfortable putting that foot forcefully forward, probably because the intelligence pointing to the link was less than perfect and largely circumstantial. If, on the other hand, Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, with a goal of ultimately using them against the U.S. or our allies or for purposes of blackmail, then war was justified on the notion of preemptive self-defense of the sort that Israel used in the Osirak strike and in the 6-day war. People should recall that the Gulf War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace, so that the resumption of hostilities was not the initiation of a war but just that: the resumption of hostilities in a war that had not ended. That doesn't mean it required no justification, but it required some; we did, after all, agree to the cease-fire.
If the U.S. does not find an active nuclear or biological weapons program in Iraq, then the case for war becomes retrospectively much shakier. Iraq might have still been "fair game" but there will have been no compelling need to initiate hostilities rather than continuing to work through international organizations. While we can all agree that the only reason that inspectors had returned was because of American military pressure, and that the obligation of the Iraqis was to make a full disclosure of all their activities (which they did not do), from our allies' (and certainly our adversaries') perspective it will be easy to argue that a real effort was being made to solve the problem, and that America cut the process short simply because we were tired of waiting, or because the "positive" reasons for war were too compelling to allow for a peaceful solution. Which would be a very bad conclusion for them to come to.
I'm not sure which is worse for America's position, for people to believe that we lied (or exaggerated) the Iraqi threat to win global support, or for people to believe that our intelligence was fooled. The fact that their own intelligence services (as French, Russian and U.N. declarations attest) confirmed the American conclusion that there were active WMD programs in Iraq does suggest that we were fooled rather than that we did the fooling. But I'm not sure that should make us any more comfortable, since the end result will still be a greater reluctance on the part of our allies to support preemptive strikes against dangerous regimes (e.g. North Korea, Iran, Pakistan).
The Administration really is vulnerable on this question, from at least two angles. While I think the "the whole war was a lie" line is ludicrous and will survive primarily among the paranoid fringe and the inveterately partisan, the suspicion that the Administration overplayed and exaggerated the quality of its intelligence is far more credible, and this will hurt America's credibility going forward. This is a negative consequence that should be decried even by Administration supporters and war supporters. Second, and more damaging, is the line The New Republic has increasingly been taking - to whit, if we can't find the WMD, maybe they are already in terrorist hands? We heard before the war that chemical weapons were being moved to Syria and/or Iran. We haven't found Saddam. How do we know that he wasn't spirited safely away as part of a deal that put sophisticated chemical weapons in the hands of Hezbollah? How do we know that the declared nuclear sites that were looted before or during the war didn't put lethal radioactive poisons on the market for al-Qaeda? The Pentagon designed and implemented an amazingly versatile and effective campaign to remove the country of Iraq from Saddam's control. But if a primary objective was to neutralize Iraq's most dangerous weapons, we don't yet know enough to know if that objective was achieved. This is not a quibble and is, again, something supporters of the war should be very concerned about.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
Thoughts on talking peace while waging war.
It should come as a surprise to no one that Hamas has made it a top priority to kill as many Jews as possible now that the Road Map has been announced. Some on the right think that to say that Hamas is waging war against "peace" is somehow anti-Israel, but I don't see why that follows. If Hamas is, indeed, committed to preventing a settlement of the conflict, then those who favor a settlement should, logically, favor war against Hamas. The whole point of building up Abbas is the (probably vain) hope that he will do the work of fighting them (and the al-Aqsa martyrs, and Jihad Islami, and all the other Palestinian gangs). But if he won't, then someone else must. If it isn't to be Israel, then who?
The logic of the war on terror is that terrorist groups cannot be negotiated with, but must be destroyed. But it is also part of the logic of the war on terror that peoples are not identical with the terror groups that claim to speak in their name and hold them captive. America made war on the Taliban, not on the Afghani people; America made war on the Baathist regime in Iraq, not on the Iraqi people. And America wants to wage war by proxy (preferably Palestinian proxy) on the Palestinian terror groups, not on the Palestinian people. From that perspective, it makes sense for the Bush Administration to lean hard on Israel to curtail the settlement enterprise and agree to a provisional Palestinian state, because these are elements that are deemed essential to any settlement of the conflict. But it also makes sese for the Bush Administration to give Israel an entirely free hand in pursuing the perpetrators of terror throughout the Palestinian territories.
I don't expect the Bush Administration to be 100% consistent in its statements. No government ever is. But Bush has not and, I believe, will not cross the red line of expecting Israel to surrender to terrorism. If Sharon, as he did in April of last year, sticks to pursuing the enemies of Israel, the Bush Administration will not be able to force him to surrender. The diplomatic track is another matter.
So: is it reasonable to talk peace while waging war?
Yes and no. Mahmoud Abbas said some very important things at Aqaba. But I am skeptical that he is willing to fight a civil war against Hamas, Fatah, etc. And if he isn't, then talking to him is not so different from talking to Sari Nusseibeh - that is to say, pointless. But there is still a difference between Abbas and Arafat. Arafat is the orchestrator, financier and inspiration of terrorism. Abbas is not. Talking to Abbas is not, fundamentally, talking to the enemy against whom Israel is fighting. It may be a waste of time, but so long as Israel does not cease to prosecute its war while talking piece, it is not essentially a threat to Israel's security.
Monday, June 09, 2003
Whew! Let 'er rip, John!
I will, however, quibble a bit. Yes, what is wrong at the Times is outrageous left-liberal bias. Yes, this is a conscious strategy, and it's wrong to hide the strategy behind a mask of objectivity.
But there's another, less objectionable but no less unsettling way to spin the story of the Times' ambition. It's not that it believes in and tries to achieve some perfect objectivity. It's that it's the voice of the Establishment. And, increasingly, the global Establishment rather than the national or northeast-corridor Establishment.
Now, it's entirely normal for the Establishment to speak as the voice of right-thinking reason and to belittle those who disagree. The Economist has strong, decidedly centrist and Establishment opinions on a host of issues, and there is no question that those opinions are evident throughout the magazine. (Of course, it's a magazine, not a newspaper, but even so the opinions creep in to stories that are not presented as editorial pieces.) Why is there no crusade against the Economist?
The reason, of course, is that the Times is wildly out of step with the opinions of the people of the United States, and therefore its pretence to being the voice of our Establishment means either (a) the Establishment is itself wildly out of step with the people (a dangerous position in a democracy) or (b) the Times is pretending to far greater influence than it has. Either way, the Times's real crime is not that it lies about being objective, but that it lies about being the voice of power.
And this is what drives right-wingers nuts about left-liberals in general, I think. It's not that they have strong opinions. It's not that they have opinions righties find wrong or offensive or evil. It's not that they act superior or dismissive. It's not the assertion of rightness. It's the assertion of power, the assertion not that they ought to be in charge but that they are in charge.
And they aren't, you know.
Freddie Mac fires top 3 officers over misconduct. Well, I think I can predict the first editorial at the WSJ tomorrow.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
You know, it's very useful to have principles in politics. One of mine is: never get to the left of Shimon Peres. Peres is the eminence grise of the Zionist doves, the father of Oslo, a man who knows Israel and its security needs and has always been ready and eager to give peace yet another chance. If he is perhaps a bit too infatuated with himself and his image, that is only reason to want to err to his right, since enthusiasm for him in the courts of Europe might have now and again led him to forsake reality for a pleasing dream. Bottom line: if I find myself to the left of Shimon Peres on a matter related to Israel's security, I have screwed up. I used this principle to good effect in arguments with dovish Jews in the days of the last government. The fact that Peres was willing to serve as Sharon's foreign minister was in itself sufficient proof that Sharon's government was a fine thing to support, and that the anti-Sharon hysterics had no case. Anyhow, it's a good principle.
Well, another principle I have is not to get to the right of Arik Sharon, and this is also a good principle. Sharon is the father of the settlements, the uber-hawk, a man whose whole life has been devoted to the defense of his homeland. He does not share the late Yitzhak Rabin's twilight pessimism about his country and its abilities, a pessimism that I think was central to Rabin's great Oslo mistake. If I get to Sharon's right on a matter related to Israel's security, I am probably off the deep end.
Which is why I can't work up a big froth of worry about the Road Map. I do not believe that President Bush intends to sell Israel down the river, but who knows? His job is to defend the United States of America, and if he's convinced that Israel needs to take some risks to protect America from greater risks, by gum I'd expect him to lean on Israel. But Sharon's job, and his life's work, is to defend Israel. He is not going to pursue a mirage of peace. And he is not going to be railroaded by an American administration that he no longer trusts. He clearly still trusts Bush. He clearly thinks that, on balance, trying to deal with Abbas is the best strategic alternative for Israel.
All Sharon has really committed to, concretely, is the removal of illegal outposts, and that should happen anyhow because their existence is an affront to the rule of law in Israel. Being forced to do what one should do anyhow is a neat trick. The restriction on natural growth of settlements is not a big concession, because there is ample housing already built for a good measure of natural growth, and because it, like the rest of the Road Map, is conditional on Palestinian fulfilment of their obligations, and is eminently reversible. As for Sharon's acceptance of a Palestinian state: this is not news. He has repeatedly said he accepts the need for such a state, and did so explicitly during the last election campaign, which he won decisively. Why then the outrage from the right?
I personally don't expect the Road Map to achieve much. I'm hopeful that it, along with American action in Iraq and (inshallah!) a serious effort to destroy Hezbollah in Lebanon, will precipitate an open conflict among Palestinians (hopefully not a violent one, though I would expect it to be violent based on past experience) over their future, and open the possibility for a pro-peace faction to take the reins for the first time in Palestinian history. But if it doesn't and Abbas does nothing, then nothing will happen. Sharon is not going to surrender his ability to defend Israel.
Finally, I'd like to register a complaint against the likes of Michael Freund. First of all, the current hero of the far-right and Freund's old boss, Netanyahu, was the man who single-handedly destroyed Likud; who brought a Likud imprimatur to Oslo; who was ready to give the entirety of the Golan to Syria, and lied about that fact not only to the Israeli public but to his own cabinet - this man is now saying that he supports the Road Map with the conditions that Sharon's government has attached. The figures who attack Sharon and say he is endagering the state - Avigdor Liberman most prominently - serve in Sharon's government and have not resigned. Why should anyone listen to any of these people? Second, it is not becoming to threaten. And if you know anything about Bush, you should know that he in particular does not respond well to threats. Threats by right-wing Jews to vote Democrat because of the Road Map are particularly ludicrous - which Democratic candidate is going to run *against* a settlement with the Palestinians? In fact, I'll make a prediction: Joe Lieberman will be among the most supportive of Democrats to any peacemaking initiative by Bush. Third, and I am most tentative but most serious in making this argument, think what it does to your own cause to make the argument in these terms: that Jewish votes are bought by endorsing the ideology of National Union as American foreign policy. If you want to make a purely messianic argument that Israel should trust in God and not in allies, that Israel can never fail so long as it cleaves to the Land and the Torah, well and good; I think the Torah is against you on this (I particularly advise anyone who believes that Israel can never fail so long as it cleaves to the Land to read the book of Jeremiah again) but any practical objections I might make are obviously not germane. But if you are making a practical, real-world argument for American support for Israel, could you imagine a worse one than to say that the litmus test for support for Israel is opposition to any plausible settlement?
Why is Ha'aretz worried someone is going to put a bullet in Sharon over the Road Map? The one who is at real risk - assuming he does what he has committed to - is Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has in the past said that under no circumstances will he risk civil war among Palestinians. But that is precisely what he has committed himself to: to end terror attacks against Israel means the destruction of groups like the al Aqsa Martyrs and Islamic Jihad, and the "military" wing of Hamas. And it means, ultimately, the elimination of the rais himself, Yasser Arafat. If Abbas does not take on these terror powers, the Road Map will go nowhere; Sharon is not signing up for Oslo II. But if he does take them on, that probably means civil war.
David Frum makes a good analogy to the Irish Civil War as a map of what is - in the optimistic scenario - to come. Efrat, Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel: these are the equivalent of the six Protestant counties of Ulster that remained part of the U.K. under the treaty that created the Irish Free State. The Gush Emunim crowd complain that Sharon is planning to divide Eretz Yisrael again (the first division being when the British severed the East Bank from Mandatory Palestine), but a real territorial settlement means dividing what Palestinian *moderates* consider to be their homeland: the territories of Judea and Samaria. The overwhelming majority of settlements are of long standing and are in strategic locations that could easily be annexed to Israel in an agreement. Another bunch of settlements are on the Golan, which is a Syrian-track issue, or in the Jordan Valley, which is a purely strategic question since these settlements are far from Arab communities (as are those on the Golan). Only a small number of settlers live in close proximity to large Arab communities, such that there is no practical way to annex them to Israel.
Unfortunately, these settlements are among the strongest for "ideological resonance" - Hevron, Shechem, Shiloh, etc. That's why Ha'aretz is worried about Jewish extremism. Sharon's first act is going to be the removal of illegal settlements; that's a no-brainer, because it's ridiculous to privatize Israel's settlement policy by letting individuals decide where to found settlements and then blackmail the government into retroactively approving them. But if the Road Map goes forward, everyone knows that in the optimistic scenario, at the end of the road is the abandonment of isolated settlements like Shiloh. Perhaps they will not be uprooted; perhaps they will be allowed to remain as resident aliens in a sovereign Palestinian state. But that doesn't mean they would stay, not once the Israeli Army pulled out.
The challenge to the most radical believers in the messianic significance of settling the Land is real, and has grown throughout the Oslo period. If Israel surrenders, say, Hevron, and settling Hevron is essential to bring the Messiah, then, in this view, the State of Israel has become God's enemy and must be fought. Are there people who believe this? Yes. But I really do believe that since the Rabin assassination, there has been a change, even among the die-hards. I do not believe that they will take the fateful step of firing on other Jews. I think they have learned that murder does not pay. That doesn't mean that the challenge isn't deep. If Israel abandons Hevron, Religious Zionism will go into crisis, and may effectively cease to exist. Some will probably deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel, as the haredim did before them, though on opposite grounds. But that doesn't mean they will go to war with the State.
The contrast with the Palestinian side could not be starker. A majority of the Palestinian people rejects the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Armed factions have been waging a terror war against Israel of unprecedented scope and cruelty over the past three years. Moreover, assassination and fratricidal war have been staples of Palestinian history from the beginning. A civil war is a virtual certainty if peace is going well; indeed, Israel can gauge whether there is any progress on the Road Map by how much violence is going on in the P.A. areas. If there isn't much, the fix is in.
Depressing, but that's the way it is, it seems to me.
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Well, the culture war is alive and well in Israel. Jerusalem now has a haredi mayor from a haredi sectarian party, and Haifa has a secularist mayor from a secularist sectarian party. I suppose this means everyone either expects peace to break out imminently or has so accustomed themselves to "the situation" that these other concerns can come to the fore. In any event, I wish both men, very different men who have the responsibility for governing two of Israels most diverse cities, all the best. B'hatzlacha.
Sunday, June 01, 2003
I'm inclined to think that, in the broad view of history, it would be a good thing for Jerusalem to elect a haredi mayor, something that seems more likely given that Lkikud looks set to throw their support to Lupoliansky. Either he will figure out how to govern a city with both religious and non-religious citizens, and govern it in a non-sectarian manner, or he won't. If he fails to govern appropriately, he will convince Jerusalemites that the haredim cannot be trusted, and this will hurt his own community but give more momentum to resolving Israel's ongoing religious crisis. To govern appropriately, however, he'll have to make the kinds of compromises that the haredim have avoided in the past by wielding their power unofficially rather than taking official responsibility for governing. This will make the community grow up, and into its necessary responsibilities as a significant demographic segment, and that would be a very good thing.
Here's an early test of a Lupoliansky mayoralty: how are you going to deal with incidents like the recent vandalizing of a Conservative synagogue? Non-haredi mayors, knowing who is the biggest voting bloc in the city, have tended to downplay or ignore violence against Jewish dissenters from Orthodoxy. Lupoliansky will get treated much more harshly for similar pandering to his community's prejudices. Good. I'm eager to see how he handles it.