DR Editor in BYU Studies Quarterly: “Ye Are No More Strangers and Foreigners”

I’m excited to announce that my article “”Ye Are No More Strangers and Foreigners”: Theological and Economic Perspectives on the LDS Church and Immigration” has been published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly. From the abstract:

Issue 57:1 CoverImmigration policy is controversial topic in 2018. In response to refugee crises and legal situations that can break up families, the LDS Church announced its “I Was a Stranger” relief effort and released a statement encouraging solutions that strengthens families, keeps them together, and extends compassion to those seeking a better life. This article seeks to shed light on a correct understanding of immigration and its effects. Walker Wright gives a brief scriptural overview of migration, explores the public’s attitudes toward immigration, and reviews the empirical economic literature, which shows that (1) fears about immigration are often overblown or fueled by misinformation and (2) liberalizing immigration restrictions would have positive economic effects.

From the editors:

Walker Wright’s article on religious and economic perspectives about immigration, strangers, and refugees is marvelously timely. He approaches the debate over immigration through a double lens: the Church’s official statements and scholarly research on the economic effects of immigration. He demonstrates that the Church’s accommodating approach is overwhelmingly supported by the research. Migration is often impelled by external pressures, but it is ultimately the voluntary response of those fleeing to improve their lives. Immigrants come unassigned, so people can reach out to them without needing to be asked (pg. 5).

The article is divided into the following sections:

  • “I Was a Stranger”
  • Migration in Scripture and Sacred History
  • Strangers, the Sin of Sodom, and Zion
  • Public Opinion on Immigration
  • The Economy as a Whole
  • Global Poverty
  • Refugees
  • Common Objections to Immigration
    • “Stealing” Jobs
    • Depressed Wages
    • Culture and Institutions
    • Fiscal Burden and Welfare Cost
    • Terrorism and Crime

Check it out. You can also access it on my Academia.edu page.

 

Wright vs. Hart: Which Translation is Better?

Translating the N. T. Wright and David Bentley Hart Tussle

I’m a big fan of both Anglican New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and Easter Orthodox theologian David B. Hart and have read a number of books by both. A few years ago, Wright published his translation of the New Testament. Hart recently published his own translation through Yale University. And apparently, the two have been sparring over Hart’s translation. According to Christianity Today,

One notable scholar who does not appear to be particularly impressed by Hart’s translation is Wright, who is probably the closest thing current New Testament scholarship comes to having a celebrity. His review of Hart’s New Testament, published January 15 in The Christian Century, details a lengthy list of disagreements with Hart’s translation choices, and ends with the backhanded compliment that Hart’s translation is “as idiosyncratic as it is bold.”

Wright’s primary concern seems to be Hart’s understanding and use of language—both Greek and English. Hart claims his translation will in many parts be “an almost pitilessly literal translation,” intending to “make the original text visible through as thin a layer of translation as I can contrive to superimpose upon it.”

While Wright seems to respect what Hart is trying to accomplish, he nevertheless argues that instead of making the original text visible, Hart may actually be obscuring it by trying to render Greek syntax and idioms in English. “Greek and English, as Hart knows well, do not work the same way,” Wright argues. “… The strange English here has nothing to do with a cultural clash between the first Christians and ourselves.”

Hart didn’t waste any time in his response:

Hart’s rejoinder is, like Wright’s initial review, full of zingers and jabs and worth a full read. Hart grants Wright a few basic premises, then wades right into the details of Wright’s critique—meeting him point for point, and then some. Hart notes in the comments on the blog post that he was “annoyed … that Wright wrote any review at all … because he has a competing version out there [published in 2011], and it’s an old rule that one doesn’t write reviews—especially caustic reviews—of competing books.”

Hart characterizes Wright’s review as a “catalogue of complaints,” and thinks that Wright’s own work “suffers from a dangerous combination of the conventional and the idiosyncratic, with a few significant historical misconceptions mixed in … imposing meanings on the text that best conform to his own convictions, plausible or not.” Hart concludes one particular point about how to translate a noun in Greek that lacks an article by saying, “Here I am right and Wright is wrong,” but it would not be a stretch to say that this statement characterizes much of Hart’s response.

So what’s the heart of the issue? The article concludes,

Where Wright is trying to translate the Greek of the New Testament (replete with its Greco-Roman and Second Temple Jewish valences) into modern English, Hart instead is attempting to translate the Greek of the New Testament (in all of its original “mysteries and uncertainties and surprises”) in modern English.

For Hart, the focus is communicating the “strangeness” of the Greek words and phrases themselves, which occasionally requires dips into esoteric vocabulary in order to find just the right word and a willingness to forgo normal syntax in order to allow the “Greekness” to come through. By contrast, for Wright the focus is communicating the strangeness of what those Greek words were conveying, meaning removing as many barriers to receiving and understanding the difference between a first-century viewpoint and our contemporary one.

They are both aiming at very similar goals, but their methods are starkly different. They both want the original to shine through as much as possible, to give, as Wright puts it, “a first-hand … understanding of what the New Testament said in its own world.” For Hart, this means making English say things as “Greekly” as he can manage; for Wright, it means making English mean Greek things as much as he can.

The translations of both of these scholars are impressive achievements, and both deserve praise and appreciation for their careful and dedicated work to produce them. Neither is necessarily “better” or “more faithful” than the other; they are simply aimed at different things (as their acrimonious repartee displays). Likewise, as both scholars attest in their introductions, neither of these translations is intended nor fit for regular use in church or for devotion. Rather, they both serve as valuable and faithful opportunities to encounter the text of the Bible anew and afresh.

Read the whole thing.

Campus Free Speech Crisis a Myth?

The WaPo has an article claiming that there is no free-speech crisis, and providing stats to back up the claim. The article did not convince me. Here’s why.

It’s Not Just About Free Speech

The decline of free speech on college campuses is not the root problem; it’s a concerning symptom of a broader malady. In particular, the folks who are concerned about this issue posit that there’s a tendency of a radical minority to shut down political discourse as a political tactic. Although a lot of problems in the country are bipartisan, this one isn’t. It’s a peculiarly left-wing malady that reflects a growing contempt by many on the modern left for the values of liberalism that once defined it. I mean liberal in the old sense of the word, as in emphasizing individualism.

This isn’t an accusation from the outside, by the way, it’s an avowed element of one of the core intellectual components of Critical Race Theory. One definition states flatly that “CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy.”

So it’s not that there’s this explicitly anti-free speech trend in college campuses. It’s that there’s a virulent new ideology that uses attacks on free speech as a first resort.

Not All Speech is Equal

This being the case, looking for general survey results that attack free speech is misguided on multiple levels. First, it’s possible that the anti-free speech crowd are too small to register much in surveys but still powerful enough to create a climate of fear. In fact, that’s basically exactly what people concerned about this issue are saying. Second, even if you can get a survey with enough granularity to pick up on this minority, they aren’t opposed to free speech in all cases, but only in some cases. If you ask them about the wrong cases, you won’t measure anything at all.

Bearing that in mind, what kind of survey does the WaPo piece rely on? One that asks whether or not gay people should be allowed to give a speech. I kid you not. That, and an example about an anti-American Muslim cleric, are the leading examples. If you wanted to design survey results to be willfully blind to the actual concern, you couldn’t do better than this.

What are We Trying to Measure?

Speaking of willfully blind, the last section cites research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that there were only 35 no-platforming attempts in 2017 with only 19 being successful. So, “In a country with over 4,700 schools, that hardly constitutes a crisis.”

The meaningless of this statistic is impressive, given that Jeffrey Adam Sachs went to the trouble of finding and citing a dataset, but apparently not copy-pasting it into Excel to do some super-basic charting. Your first question might be, “Well, 35 attempts in 2017 doesn’t sound too bad, but is there a trend?” That would be anybody’s first question, I’d think, and here’s what that chart looks like:

Well, gee. There’s an upward trend if ever I saw one. And remember, we said that this was an ideologically-biased trend. FIRE helpfully sorts the no-platforming attempts into left and right, so what does that breakdown look like?

We’ve got a more or less flat line from the right, and a pronounced, multi-year upward trend for the left starting a little less than 10 years ago. It’s almost as though all those people who are worried about a disturbing new anti-free speech trend coming from the political left might have something in the data to substantiate their concerns! Again: the same dataset that Sachs cited (but apparently didn’t really look at).

This doesn’t go directly to Sachs’ claim that 35 incidents out of 4,900 universities isn’t enough to care about, but that’s a questionable assumption if ever there was one. First of all, I’m curious as to what Sachs’ threshold is. How many times do left-wing radical have to shut-up speakers they don’t like in specifically the places ostensibly designated for discussing controversial, diverse ideas before it becomes a problem?

And then there’s the fact that this doesn’t reveal anything about how many controversial speakers never get invited at all because administrators don’t want to deal with protests? Counting free speech in terms of protests is fundamentally a strange concept. I would expect both a libertarian utopia and an Orwellian dystopia to have essentially zero protests, so what does the absence of protests say about free speech? Only that it’s not an issue. When it’s as prevalent as the air we breath, no one protests. And when it’s completely repressed, no one protests.

But when free speech is in a transitional period–away from or towards repression–well that’s when I’d expect to see a spike.

And keep in mind: there’s a lot more going on than just no-platforming. One of the most important functions of no-platforming is not only to dissuade controversial speakers from visiting the campus, but to create a climate of ideological intolerance and intimidation that keeps ordinary students from speaking their minds, something that is going on, as Sachs concedes: “Very conservative students also tend to report that they are less comfortable expressing themselves in the classroom than very liberal students.”

Final Thoughts

Some folks might not like that I’ve singled out the left in this piece, especially when I try to be even-handed. I get that. I do try to be even-handed. That’s not going to change. This post doesn’t represent a new, angrier, more partisan turn for me. This just happens to be one, specific, exceptional case where the cards don’t break evenly. The left has a bigger problem here.

But that doesn’t mean the right doesn’t have one! You could easily say that Trump’s populism and the entire Alt-Right is nothing but the right’s attempt to catch up with the left’s new-found identical politics. And you’d be right. And, lamentably, the right is a fast learner in this regard. It could very well be that–shortly–the right will have caught up with its own radical fringe of anti-free speech zealots.

Whether or not you call this a “crisis” is just semantics. What does seem evident is that there is a rise in no-platforming protests, that it is stemming primarily from the left, and that it is happening at the same time as a tide of research indicates ideological discrimination on campuses is widespread and pernicious for both students, professors, and research. For more on that, just check up on the Heterodox Academy’s problem statement.

Moving the Conversation Forward on Common Sense Gun Reform

While most Americans support the Second Amendment, and support the rights of hunters and homeowners to own rifles or handguns to defend themselves or bag deer, these same Americans also support restrictions on certain specific guns that are too deadly to be in the hands of civilians, because they lead too-readily to slaughter.

While certain gun-rights advocates take this to be a call to “ban all guns,” it’s really not. It’s only about particular guns, and the distinction is common sense.  It’s so simple I can explain it in pictures.

This is a picture of the rifle used in the 2011 Norway massacre where some 77 were slaughtered.

This gun is fully semi-automatic. While this is not an AR-15, it is based on an AR-15, and fires the same deadly ammunition at the same rate of fire used at both the Parkland shooting and the Las Vegas massacre. It has a detachable magazine that can hold up to 20 rounds and be readily changed. With an attachment like a bump stock, this gun can be altered to fire at machine-gun speeds.

Here is a picture of another rifle.

This gun is dubbed a “ranch gun,” intended for use by hunters and ranchers for life in the American West. It fires a moderate round, the Remington .223, which many believe to be a “varmint round” — that is, a bullet that is suited more to shooting coyotes than to hunting deer. The bullet caliber is nothing compared to more deadly ammunition intended to bring down elk or bears, and some states ban the use of this caliber for deer hunting, since it doesn’t always kill a deer immediately. And unlike an assault rifle, the ranch gun will not fire automatically.

It’s common sense that no one needs to own the first gun, which is intended only to kill, while the second gun has a legitimate use for ranchers. While some individuals may be calling for a blanket ban, most Americans wanting a reform of gun laws still believe in the right to own a firearm like the ranch gun to hunt or defend your property.  Most Americans want sensible gun control laws, that will still allow you to own the ranch gun, but not the deadly weapon used in mass shootings.

But It’s Not So Simple

This is the thing, though, about common sense gun reform: The two weapons shown above are the same gun. They are both the Ruger Mini-14.

Similar to automobiles, which can come in coup, hatchback, or sedan styles, guns can also come in different styles. What I just showed you are two different styles of the same gun: tactical and ranch. Those two guns have the same rate of fire (semi-automatic), fire the same caliber bullet (.223R), they both have detachable magazines that can hold up to 20 rounds. Neither of the guns is capable of automatic fire.

Further, the Ruger Mini-14 uses the exact same caliber bullet as the AR-15 and has the exact same rate of fire as the AR-15. Neither the Ruger Mini-14 nor the AR-15 is capable of automatic fire.

Aside from details of appearance and preference, there is no functional difference between the ranch gun I showed you and an AR-15. They are equally deadly as weapons.

This is where we see a problem with “common sense” gun reform. While I agree it seems obvious which gun to ban, that is a misperception formed from a lack of knowledge. The public is largely misinformed on guns, and it is crucial we clarify what we mean.

The Terms of the Conversation Are Muddled

There is a vocal movement of people calling to ban assault rifles. You hear about it very often in the news. FedEx just released a statement calling for ban on assault rifles, as did Dick’s Sporting Goods.  And it would seem common sense, that civilians do not need assault rifles for hunting.

Common sense gun-reform proponents will then be happy to know that assault rifles are already illegal for civilian use in the United States. Only certain professions are authorized to own assault rifles, and they may only own registered assault rifles manufactured before the ban went into effect.

You may further be stunned to learn that the NRA supported the ban on civilian ownership of assault rifles.

But now you’re wondering: if assault rifles are already illegal, then why is there a vocal movement to have them banned? And if assault rifles are already illegal, then how are these killers able to get their hands on AR-15s?

As to the second question, the answer is easy: it’s because an AR-15 is not an assault rifle.

I know, I know: who cares the terminology, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, you don’t need to own it. But it does matter. It matters because these words have definitions, and we can’t have a conversation about policy if we’re not going to use the policy-defined words to talk about it. It leads to confusion.

The word “assault rifle” already has a definition. An assault rifle is a rifle capable of selective fire between automatic and semi-automatic fire, as defined by the ATF.  Assault rifles (and all automatic weapons) are illegal in the US for general civilian use. An AR-15 is incapable of automatic fire, and so is not an assault rifle, and therefore not included under the ban on assault rifles.

The difference between firing rate is a common source of confusion, so let me explain: automatic firing means that the gun will continue to chamber and fire bullets for as long as the trigger is held down; semi-automatic firing means that the action of releasing the trigger causes a new bullet to be chambered. This is an important distinction. A semi-automatic rifle like the AR-15 or the Mini-14 can only fire one bullet with one pull of the trigger.

It’s important to remember this difference in firing rate, because it matters to policy decisions. For instance, because it is already illegal to own one kind of gun, and perfectly legal to own the other. If you talk about banning assault rifles, someone might think you mean to ban guns capable of automatic fire; someone else might think that guns like the AR-15 are capable of automatic fire. It leads to confusion on what we’re even talking about, and makes people claiming to be following “common sense” appear to not actually understand the issue at hand.

Assault rifles are already illegal, an AR-15 is not an assault rifle, because an AR-15 is not capable of automatic fire.

As to the first question, why the move to ban a category of weapon that is already banned… I think the answer is a lack of understanding.

If You’re Not Familiar With Guns, You Have a Bad Intuition About Guns

There is currently a proposed bill that would criminalize all semi-automatic rifles. When Marco Rubio, at the CNN Town Hall, warned about just this, he was met with defiant applause; as Trevor Noah of the Daily Show put it, that’s what we want to do; we want to outlaw all semi-automatic rifles.

Except think back to the ranch gun from earlier. You probably thought it was common sense not to ban it. And you probably didn’t think of it as a semi-automatic rifle.

The problem is that people are guided by their intuitions on this issue, and those intuitions are formed by a mix of Hollywood images and national news cycle that are at best misinformed, or at worst actively disinterested in accuracy in favor of sensationalism and theatre. In such media, words like “automatic”, “semi-automatic”, “assault rifle”, and “machine gun” get thrown around with reckless abandon, seeming to confuse them all in discussing guns like the AR-15.  We usually see the AR-15 is characterized as some sort of pinnacle of scariness, such as in the recent CNN investigation into them that kept trying to hype up their terror-factor. We’re told that the AR-15 is a toned-down machine gun with superior firepower and devastating ammunition.

I think many people calling for common sense gun reform believe what they hear about the AR-15, and don’t know of any other referent in the discussion of guns, calibers, and firing rate. If the AR-15 is the only semi-automatic weapon you’ve ever heard of, then you probably associate semi-automatic rifles with massacres; less so with ranchers shooting coyotes.

The fact of the situation is that semi-automatic rifles make up one of the most popular classes of hunting rifles (by some estimates more than 20% of all privately-owned guns), and make a larger proportion of gun sales each year. As it turns out, hunters (like video gamers) prefer not having to reload after every shot.

But the only difference between a semi-automatic rifle used for hunting and the tactical gun we need to ban, is the way it looks. There is no meaningful legal category that distinguishes them.

If you ban semi-automatic rifles, you will be banning the Ruger Mini-14 ranch gun. You’ll get the tactical Ruger Mini-14 and the AR-15, but you’ll also get the gun that shoots coyotes and may or may not be able to bag a deer.

So when someone tells you that there is no way to ban the AR-15 without banning all semi-automatic rifles, you, the advocate for common sense gun laws, should be concerned. Most Americans would feel that a rancher has a right to a gun that can defend his property from predators. It’s common sense. If you really feel he has a right to it, then you should oppose laws that infringe that right. And a ban on semi-automatic rifles would do just that.

The point of this has been to try to clarify the conversation, because so much misinformation exists out there. I get people calling for common sense gun reform. One school shooting is too many, and at first glance there is an obvious way to draw the line about weapons. AR-15s are deadly; but so are all guns, including the hunting and defense guns that most Americans think people should be allowed to own.

The point of this is not that stricter gun control is unnecessary. That is a conversation worth having. The point is to make sure we’re being clear what we mean when we say “ban assault rifles” or “common sense gun control.”

To summarize:

Assault rifles are rifles capable of switching between semi- and fully-automatic firing. They are already banned. Any weapon capable of automatic fire is illegal for general civilian use. Ordinary civilians cannot purchase an assault rifle, or an automatic rifle. Modifying or building any weapon to be capable of automatic fire is strictly illegal.

AR-15s are not assault rifles. (The “AR” is for “Armalite Rifle“) They are not capable of automatic fire. They are semi-automatic, which means they fire one bullet for each pull of the trigger. The trigger must be released before a new bullet will load. They fire a Remington .223, which is not a particularly deadly round compared to other ammunition in other rifles. (Update: as a visual illustration of this point about caliber, here is slow-motion video of a ballistics test of an AR-15 vs. a .30-06 hunting round; the AR-15 impact is shown first from two angles, and then the impact from the hunting round)

An AR-15 definitely looks intimidating, but that’s only a style. An AR-15 made with gray metal and a wooden stock would look like a normal rifle, and still be just as deadly. The way a gun looks doesn’t determine how deadly it is; that is primarily a combination of accuracy, rate of fire, and bullet caliber.

Semi-automatic rifles are very popular with hunters, and are available in styles that look more “common sense.” They make up a very large, if not the largest, class of rifles used in hunting. When we’re talking about banning semi-automatic rifles, we’re talking about removing staid-looking hunting rifles from the hands of hunters; we’re talking about going against what we earlier thought was common sense.

There is no way to ban the AR-15 and not ban the ranch gun, because there is no meaningful difference between them. Enacting a kind of “common sense” law that bans the AR-15 and the Mini-14 tactical rifle, but not the Mini-14 ranch gun, would not solve any problems; the next shooter would use the equivalent Mini-14 ranch gun. A ban distinguishing guns by their style would be security theatre; you might feel something was done, but no one is any safer for it.

With all of that in mind, hopefully we can continue having this conversation more intelligently, with a better understanding of the terms, and what exactly it is we’re talking about banning

How to Tell the NYT Really Hates You

President Thomas S. Monson–the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–died on January 2, 2018. Here is how the NYT covered this event:

For contrast, this is what they tweeted when Fidel Castro died:

The NYT also had nice / neutral things to say about folks like Hugh Hefner and Hugo Chavez when they died. Hefner “founded Playboy magazine in 1953 and became inseparable from his brand” and Chavez “died after a long battle with cancer.”

Under Fidel Castro, anti-gay discrimination was institutionalized.

After a discussion of homosexuality at the Cuban Educational and Cultural Congress in April 1971, homosexuality was declared to be a deviation incompatible with the revolution. Homosexuality was considered sufficient grounds for discriminatory measures to be adopted against the gay community, and homophobia was institutionalised. Gay and lesbian artists, teachers, and actors lost their jobs. Gays and lesbians were expelled from the Communist Party. Students were expelled from university. Gays were prohibited from having contact with children and young people. Gays were not allowed to represent their country.

It is worth noting that by the end of his life, Fidel Castro had done a 180 on gay rights. By 2010, he was calling their treatment under his own regime in the 1970s “a great injustice, great injustice!” and accepting responsibility for that treatment.

Even so, the contrast between the NYT’s treatment of President Monson and Hefner, Chavez, Castro, etc. is illuminating. As Ben Shapiro wrote, commenting on Hefner and Chavez,

…it’s much worse, from the Times’ perspective, to be a religious person who abides by religious dictates on female ordination and same-sex marriage than to be a sexual profligate who trafficked in pornography, or to be a socialist dictator who destroyed an entire country. Monson was obviously a monster.

Pretty much.

2017: Best Year Ever, Pt. 2

I know I already made this claim about halfway through the year, but the Council on Foreign Relations provides 10 more reasons to shout it from the rooftops:

  1. “The World Health Organization reports in October that global measles deaths have decreased by more than 80 percent since 2000 to an estimated ninety thousand last year.”
  2. “Colombia’s largest Marxist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), completes its disarmament process in June, six months after it reached a peace agreement with the government, bringing to a close Latin America’s oldest and bloodiest civil conflict. The second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), agrees to a temporary cease-fire in September.”
  3. “The hole in the earth’s ozone layer is the smallest it has been since 1988, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports in October.”
  4. “Women’s rights advance in several Arab countries with the passage of legal reforms[.]
  5. “Eight countries adopt legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, bringing the total to eighty-five, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.”
  6. “The number of people living in extreme poverty, making $1.90 or less per day, continues its steady drop, falling from roughly 35 percent of the world’s population in 1990 to 8.4 percent in late 2017, according to the Vienna-based World Data Lab.”
  7. “Gambia’s longtime authoritarian president, Yahya Jammeh, steps down on January 20, 2017, weeks after losing his reelection bid to Adama Barrow and a day after troops from the regional bloc ECOWAS cross into the country. Barrow’s government releases hundreds of political prisoners, holds legislative elections deemed free and fair, and announces plans for a truth and reconciliation commission.”
  8. “Maritime piracy declines in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, dropping 14 percent to 121 incidents, according to the International Chamber of Commerce.”
  9. “After resolving Argentina’s billion-dollar dispute with bondholders in 2016, President Mauricio Macri continues promarket reforms that have lifted the Group of Twenty economy.”
  10. “The eurozone economy grows 2.5 percent more in the third quarter of 2017 than in the same period a year prior. The increase puts the zone’s economy on track to see its highest annual growth since before the 2008 global financial crisis. Unemployment in the single-currency area drops to 9.1 percent, its lowest level since early 2009.”

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A Nation in Stagnation

There have been a bevy of depressing articles over the past few days that I haven’t seen tied together yet, but which I think do share a common theme. Here are the stories, which I’m just pulling from the top of my head.

1. The GOP’s moral authority is disintegrating.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever…

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

2. Police can gun down unarmed civilians literally begging for life on their hands and knees now.

Last week, in “A Police Killing Without a Hint of Racism,” I wrote about Daniel Shaver, an unarmed man killed in a hotel hallway while begging for his life. At the time, the man who shot him, former Officer Philip Brailsford, was on trial for second-degree murder, and body-cam footage of the killing had yet to be released.

Now, that chilling, deeply disturbing video is available. The relevant portion begins at the 12 minute 50 second mark. Be forewarned: An innocent human is killed.

The video is not easy to watch. I did, and I’m not posting it here. In the end, the police officer was found not guilty of either murder or manslaughter. During the trial, the officer testified that he had no regrets, and that ““If this situation happened exactly as it did that time, I would have done the same thing.”

3. The media has lost its mind and its integrity

FRIDAY WAS ONE of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

The common theme I see running through all these stories is this: the degradation of our national institutions.

In all our panicked rushing from one sensational story to another, what I’m really worried about is the longer-term effects on the institutions that make up our nation. I don’t know how long police forces that treat their citizens like enemy combatants expect to enjoy public support, but the answer is certainly not “forever.” I don’t know what short-term victory the GOP thinks is worth selling its soul. Probably not the presidency and certainly not Roy Moore’s senate seat. And the same goes for the mainstream media and the American left which–instead of allowing Trump’s vast repository of lamentable qualities and poor decisions–feels the need to squander their credibility on conspiracy theories.

The finer points of each of these three stories can be discussed at length, and should. None of them represents a seismic cataclysm alone. None are without precedent.

But that, I guess, is the saddest part. These are just examples in long-running trends.

I don’t think more hysteria or drama will help. But I do think it’s worth taking a moment to realize there are things at stake beyond the short-term consequences, and that at a certain point the tribal, partisan struggles begin to tear the social fabric itself asunder.

Gender Discrimination in College Apps

There’s an article today about how leaked documents reveal that BYU used to favor male applicants:

A document titled, “New Freshman Index 2013-2014,” shows that during that time, applicants to the university were scored on several factors to determine whether they’d be admitted to the school and male applicants were given an extra point.

Another article–this one from the WaPo in 2015–shows that BYU was far from alone in this practice:

Getting accepted to an elite college has never been more difficult. So to all the young women who got in this year I say: Great job! You earned it.

To the young men I say: Congrats. But just be thankful you didn’t have to apply as a woman.

Why? Because one of academia’s little-known secrets is that private college admissions are exempt from Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination—a shameful loophole that allows some of the most supposedly progressive campuses in the nation to discriminate against female applicants.

Why are colleges–BYU and other private schools–doing this? Because women outperform men academically, and so (according to WaPo again):

…this is happening because elite schools field applications from many more qualified women than men and thus [elite private colleges] are trying to hold the line against a 60:40 ratio of women to men.

The whole thing is very odd. Ordinarily, if a particular group is underrepresented in college campuses, you would expect one set of people to be very concerned about doing whatever it took to preserve campus diversity and another group to be adamantly insistent on blind admissions standards. But, in this case, those two groups have switched their usual positions. One side sees discrimination where it otherwise would see diversity, and the other has decided that blindness is suddenly no virtue.

Yglesias: Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned

It is very, very hard for me not to be extremely cynical about Mathew Yglesias’ 2-decades late realization that Bill Clinton should have resigned. As you may recall, I’ve talked about this pretty recently:

The day we decided Bill Clinton’s abuse and exploitation of women was somehow his personal business and decided to rehabilitate a serial sexual abuser and accused rapist into some kind of grandfatherly political icon was the day that we told every Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the world: go ahead. It’s open season. As long as you’re powerful enough, we’ll look the other way.

I didn’t have Roy Moore in the list because he wasn’t as big a story when I wrote that post a few weeks ago, but yeah: you can definitely add him on in.

So, I know it’s not very gracious to say, “I told you so.” But there’s a specific reason I want to highlight and respond to Yglesias’s post, and here it is:

…Clinton…mounted the defense that would see him through to victory — portraying the issue as fundamentally a private family matter rather than a topic of urgent public concern….

To this line of argument, Republicans offered what was fundamentally the wrong countercharge. They argued that in the effort to spare himself from the personal and marital embarrassment entailed by having the affair exposed, Clinton committed perjury when testifying about the matter in a deposition related to Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him.

What they should have argued was something simpler: A president who uses the power of the Oval Office to seduce a 20-something subordinate is morally bankrupt and contributing, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women throughout their lives.

Now here’s the thing: Yglesias’s age is within one month of my own. And I’m having a hard time connecting with his retelling of the way this went down. My understanding–as a socially conservative Republican at the time–was that the decision to pursue Clinton for perjury charges was only a tactical decision to find a way to hold him responsible for the actual crime: sexual exploitation of a vulnerable young woman. But, since the relationship wasn’t actually illegal–and since Clinton didn’t have the decency to resign–an actual crime was necessary to base the impeachment on.

This is standard. It’s like the old saying goes: it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup. It is absolutely ordinary for a politician to do something reprehensible that is either not technically illegal or impossible to prosecute for some other reason, and so the actual charge that they end up facing is peculiarly unrelated to the real reason they are in trouble.

And yet Yglesias makes this incredibly naive assumption that–since the charges specified perjury–that must be the actual, root motivation of Republicans. That is bizarre. He farther argues–without any justification at all–that mounting this argument somehow excluded mounting the argument that Bill Clinton was “morally bankrupt”.

To which I can only respond: really?

Let me take a moment to explain why I think this is worth talking about.

If you’re a left-leaning living in America today, you live in an environment where the default, working assumption is that conservatives and Republicans are women-hating, anti-feminist misogynists who routinely wage war on women. And I’d like to consign that stereotype to the dumpster, right beside the equivalent belief held by conservatives that liberals and Democrats are America-hating communists who want to put all Christians into concentration camps.

For too long, we’ve turned issues that should be about basic human decency into partisan battlegrounds. It would make me deeply happy if all my liberal friends internalized the idea that many conservatives strongly believe in equal rights for women and are viscerally opposed to behavior that exploits, silences, or in any other way abuses women. Don’t get me wrong, conservatives (often) have different ideas for how to accomplish these goals and I’m not trying to minimize very real political and philosophical differences.

But you know what would be great? If debates about those differences happened in an atmosphere of mutual assumption of positive intent. How much better would that be for everyone than a world where conservatives think liberals hate America and liberals think conservatives hate Americans.

So let me state–clearly and concisely–that for a lot of conservatives and Republicans who were there during Bill Clinton’s sex scandals: that’s what we were saying all along.

The Story Behind Sexual Assaults: Power Corrupts

The list of prominent men who stand credibly accused of sexually assaulting women and children just keeps growing. Just today, Kevin Spacey and Neil DeGrasse Tyson got added to it.

In my cynical moments, I agree with Malcolm Reynolds

Do you think I’m exaggerating? Well, then you clearly missed the Wall Street Journal’s review of the Gandhi biography Great Soul which described (among many unsavory aspects of his life, from hypocrisy to outright racism) how “when he was in his 70s and close to leading India to ­independence, he [Gandhi] encouraged his ­17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her “nightly cuddles” with him.” If this is Gandhi, what did we expect from Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby? Perhaps our world is structured so that the people who get the statues built after them are the people willing to step on others to get there. After all, the blood on the hands of villains and the blood on the hands of saints is still the same color.

But there are two silver linings to the floodgates of accusations we’re now witnessing. The first is the most obvious: these men aren’t getting away with it anymore. For every famous icon who is shamed and punished, I hope there are dozens or hundreds of predators out there who begin to act with decency out of a sense of fear and self-preservation. I hope women are safer today than they were yesterday because of the courage of these women to come forward and name their attackers, and because a complicit and corrupt media has finally been shamed into covering the story.

The second is not as frequently commented on. That is the fact that the perpetrators defy partisan explanation. We’ve got a Republican presidenta Holocaust survivor, a famous gay actor (that’d be Kevin Spacey), a scientist known for his views on global warming and atheism (DeGrasse Tyson), one of the mega-pundits of conservatism, and of course Harvey Weinstein was a major Democratic fundraiser. Democrat or Republican, straight or gay, black or white, the list of predators confounds just about every conceivable partisan breakdown. And if you think your particular partisan niche is safe, just wait. Because here are a couple of inviolable rules of human nature. The first is that men–yes, men in particular–are driven by sexual desire. The second is that power tends to corrupt. This means that when men have the power to coerce victims and get away with it, quite a lot of them will do so.

This has long been my problem with so-called “rape culture” criticism. The term “rape culture” implies that there is some kind of special, unusual set of assumptions required to create an environment in which sexual assault flourishes. It is a tragically naive view that the default, natural state of human beings is to be kind and nice to each other, and if only we could get rid of these ideological perversions–the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, whatever–and return society to its default, natural state then rape would go away.

But analyzing rape and sexual assault through a political lens has always been a lost cause, because the origins of sexual assault are not political or ideological. It does not require some kind of special philosophy, culture, or ideology to allow sexual assault to flourish. Rape culture is not some kind of aberration. It is the default. Civilization is the exception.

Some people have expressed surprise or even skepticism at the #MeToo campaign. I have not. For whatever reason, when I was growing up I was the kind of person people liked to confide in. So many of my female friends told me of the times they had been sexually assaulted (up to and including rape) that I have long supposed that a woman who hasn’t been sexually assaulted is very, very rare.

The reality is that men as predators are not exceptions or aberrations. It doesn’t take a specific culture for rapists to flourish. That’s the default. It takes a specific culture to counteract the natural tendency towards exploitation and abuse. It takes unnatural institutions like criminal justice systems alongside unnatural concepts such as honor and duty and sacrifice to create an environment where rape is suppressed.

If there’s one thing that I hope we can learn from these horrific revelations: this is it. That the ideas that men and women are interchangeable or that moral violations are political are bad ideas. They are political dogmas that fly in the face of common sense, science, and–most importantly–that consistently sabotage our efforts to build an anti-rape culture. Because we should be less concerned with tearing down rape culture and more concerned with building up anti-rape culture. We should be less concerned with teaching about consent–which is a horrifically low bar–and more concerned with teaching ideals of respect, honor, virtue, and love. We should be less concerned with sexual liberation and more concerned with discipline and self-control. Yes, I realize that the idea of teaching adolescents concepts like chastity and self-control sounds laughable today.

That’s why we’re here.

There will never come a day when rape does not exist in our society for the same reason that there will never come a day when theft and murder do not exist. But that doesn’t mean we are doomed to tolerate this degree of profligate harassment and exploitation, either. It doesn’t mean we have to do nothing or accept the status quo. We do not.

What does this look like in practice? I don’t think Weinstein was confused about consent. Teaching him the concept would have accomplished nothing. But teaching him about chastity would not have done an iota more good than teaching about consent. However, a society that still had some appreciation for ideals of chastity, fidelity, self-control, and what used to be called “decency” would be a much more hostile environment for predators. We live in a country where the President of the United States could coerce a young intern into a sexual relationship and instead of being viewed as a universal affront to civilization it became a partisan issue. The day we decided Bill Clinton’s abuse and exploitation of women was somehow his personal business and decided to rehabilitate a serial sexual abusesr and accused rapist into some kind of grandfatherly political icon was the day that we told every Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the world: go ahead. It’s open season. As long as you’re powerful enough, we’ll look the other way.

If we returned to old-fashioned concepts of honor, propriety, and decency maybe some boys would grow up to be better men and never assault women. I believe that would happen. But–worst case scenario–at least we could take away the horrific sense of entitlement that men of power are currently operating under. Because, as great as it is for the current crop of serial abusers to get taken out, as long as the underlying assumptions of our society remain unchallenged, the only thing that will change is that the next generation of predators will be smarter than the last.