STUPID SECURITY….Over at Winds of Change they have links to the winners of Privacy International’s contest for the most inexplicable, intrusive, counterproductive, annoying, and egregious security measures put in place around the world since 9/11. That’s five separate categories for you, with multiple winners in each category.
My favorite so far is the woman who wasn’t allowed to visit her son in prison because she wasn’t wearing a bra. However, I haven’t read them all, so there may be even more ridiculous ones lurking further on in the list of winners. Check it out, and then decide whether to laugh or cry.
THE PERFECTIBILITY OF MAN….By coincidence, I’ve run across several conservative commentators lately claiming that the reason liberals are fundamentally mistaken in their worldview is because of their belief in the perfectibility of man. This naivet?, presumably, accounts for our unending efforts to make the world a better place through social legislation.
This strikes me as odd, however, because when I examine my own beliefs, I find just the opposite. I’m a liberal precisely because I have a rather dim view of human nature. I am, I suppose, a neo-Hobbesian of some kind, and I fully agree that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short.
The thing is, I think that’s a bad thing, and, like Hobbes, I believe that the purpose of government (and civilization in general) is to force people to act like decent human beings even if they don’t want to. Ronald Reagan’s claims notwithstanding, all of human history leads to the conclusion that not only can you legislate morality, it’s actually the primary purpose of governments everywhere. The other tasks of central governments tend to be little more than glorified bookkeeping.
But maybe that’s just me. Is it true that most liberals hold their beliefs because of a fundamental conviction that most people are good and will work to become better on their own if you give them a chance? Or are there lots of other liberals like me who believe that the veneer of civilization is thin indeed and that we fundamentally become better people only when the social contract itself becomes stronger, more liberal, and more compelling?
To put it as baldly as possible, it seems to me that most people only become better if they are kicked, prodded, and ultimately dragged kicking and screaming to do so. Given this, we agree amongst ourselves to form a government that will force betterment on us since human nature is too weak and frail to expect us each to do it on our own. Thus is human progress slowly but surely made.
Anyone else feel the same way? Just curious.
COMPROMISE….Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, guest blogger Eric Muller made a comment that caught my eye today. In a post about the University of Michigan affirmative action case that was argued before the Supreme Court last week, he made a side comment about another case in which the court was asked whether a child could be allowed to testify via closed circuit TV. Anton Scalia, he said, made an interesting point:
He pointed out that the state really had two strong interests in the case: protecting the child, and convicting the defendant. The state was, in effect, pretending that the only way it could protect the child from psychic trauma was to let him testify from a remote location. But Justice Scalia pointed out that this was not so: if the state really wanted to protect the child, it could just not call him as a witness at all. The state was really trying to achieve both of its interests at the same time, and at the expense of the defendant’s constitutional rights. What the state needed to do, Scalia argued, was choose. If it couldn’t protect the child and convict the defendant, it needed to choose which one meant more to it.
This actually strikes me as typical of Scalia’s black-and-white view of the law ? and one that doesn’t stand up to even mild scrutiny. Why does it make any sense that when there are two opposing rights (or interests), you should be forced to make an exclusive choice between one or the other? Given that both interests are important, why is it philosophically improper to make small compromises that allow both interests to be mostly served, rather than discarding one interest entirely in favor of the other?
Far from being “brilliant,” this kind of thing strikes me as being at the heart of fundamentalism of all kinds: no compromise is ever possible, and the world is always viewed in the most Manichean terms possible. It may well be that remote testimony is a bad idea, but the best argument for this is simply that the right to face your accuser is far more important than the state’s interest in getting child molesters off the street. Scalia’s suggestion that compromise is ipso facto wrong in the face of two competing interests seems like the poorest possible justification.
WAR UPDATE….It looks like we really are in the heart of Baghdad now, and so far the news is pretty good. Iraqi fighting is pretty sporadic, and external signs really do seem to indicate a regime that’s close to collapse.
It’s too soon to tell for sure, of course, especially since everyone has said all along that this would be the hard part of the war. Still, it’s cause for cautious optimism.