The Unimposing KinsleyMichael Kinsley suggests that the problem with Red Staters is that they want to impose their values on other people, whereas liberal Blue Staters do not want to impose their values on anyone:
But at least my values — as deplorable as I'm sure they are — don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?This is a great example of what Ernie and I call the Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt-in-My-Mouth Fallacy: that’s the fallacy of pretending or thinking that your point-of-view doesn’t have any possible negative consequences, whereas your opponent’s point-of-view does. To see what’s fallacious about Kinsley’s point, consider the following:
But at least my values — as deplorable as I'm sure they are — don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to keep slaves or to recognize creationism as science, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?What’s wrong with such reasoning is this. I may not be forced to keep slaves, but there is still the little matter that keeping slaves may be wrong in itself—and I have no problem whatsoever saying that you shouldn’t keep slaves. I doubt that Kinsley has a problem with this either. Likewise, I may not have to recognize creationism as science, but it doesn’t follow that I should allow it to be recognized in public schools.
The same goes for abortion and homosexual marriage. Abortion isn’t morally and legally permissible merely because it doesn’t impose on me. The “imposition argument” is a red herring, because there is still an open question about the moral permissibility of killing a fetus. Homosexual marriage involves an activity that doesn’t impose on me, namely, two men or women living together monogamously, but it doesn’t follow that I have to support the civil sanctioning of such relationships. There is still an open question about whether homosexual marriage is the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage. So I return the ball to Kinsley’s court: he does want to impose his values on other people. Unlike Kinsley, however, I have no problem with his wanting to do so. It can be rational for us to impose our values on people who don’t share them, as we did vis-à-vis slavery. The real issue is not who imposes what on whom; it is whether an action is morally permissible, morally impermissible, or morally neutral. If something is universally morally impermissible, e.g. torturing babies, then we shouldn’t quail at the thought of imposing a law against torturing babies.
Call me profoundly misguided if you want. Call me immoral if you must. But could you please stop calling me arrogant and elitist?I could be charitable and say something akin to: I’ll stop calling you arrogant and elitist if you stop calling me bigoted and ignorant, and can’t we just all get along? However, I do think that Kinsley is arrogant and elitist—his entire article reeks of arrogance. On the other hand, I’m neither a bigot nor ignorant, and neither are most “Red Staters.” That means, to put it bluntly, that the problem of uncivil political discourse lies on Kinsley’s side of the divide, not mine. The left found out a long time ago that it is better to demonize your opponent than to reason with him. Is there some schmuck who is against affirmative action? Don’t debate the merits and problems of affirmative action—just label him a racist. Is there some Neanderthal opposed to abortion? Well he obviously wants to oppress women and keep them barefoot and pregnant. On and on it goes.
We are, if anything, crippled by reason and openmindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist? Which is more contemptuous of people who disagree?Oh brother. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, and he could weep—weep—for a falling star. Unless the star has the nerve to vote for Bush.