Monday, May 14, 2012

Conservatives never tire of letting the past be their guide, no matter how awful

Not Reince Priebus.
Do conservatives actually listen to themselves when they speak? I'm really not sure.

Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee Chairman, has been doing the circuit recently re-stating the GOP position that while they stand by dignity and respect for gay Americans, that doesn't change their opposition to same-sex marriage.

He went on to say, on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday, that:

People in this country, no matter straight or gay, deserve dignity and respect. However, that doesn't mean it carries on to marriage.

Then, as CNN reports, he upped the ante.

I don't think it's a matter of civil rights. I think it's just a matter of whether or not we're going to adhere to something that's been historical and religious and legal in this country for many, many years. I mean, marriage has to have a definition, and we just happen to believe it's between a man and woman.

I just don't know where to begin to challenge the absurd assumption that because something had been true historically, or as a matter of religion, or the law, that this makes it right. Do we even have to talk about slavery, or the way women have been treated over time. Oh, let's see: Women couldn't vote before 1920 in the U.S.; women couldn't work in certain occupations. I don't think I need to go near what various religions have done to women over the great span of civilization to make my point. And then we could talk about women and property rights if we had time. I'm sure we can engage in a similar exercises for all sorts of communities that have suffered discrimination.

Past practice is a very dangerous measure for determining what is right. I'm not denying that it ought to be part of the equation, but a direct translation from past to present is very dangerous.

And then, sounding even sillier, Priebus said this, as he "sought to contrast Jim Crow laws, which enforced segregation, with bans on same-sex marriage," a comparison that naturally comes to mind:

I think there's a big difference between people that have been murdered and everything else that has come with Jim Crow, than marriage between a man and man and a woman and a woman.

So, according to Priebus, the degree of violence suffered by a given group in the past should be a measure determining whether or not the equal treatment they seek is a civil right?

These guys need to work harder than this to make their case. At this point, it's not even an interesting debate.

By the way, that's Aristotle up there, who once offered this gem:

But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

Aristotle lived in a society with slavery, so it seemed natural to him that some people were, by nature, slaves. Slaves, he argued, did not have qualities required for leadership, which, as they were treated as slaves, is hardly surprising. But history, the law, and convention told him that this was right, that this is what nature intended. I'm pretty sure he was wrong about that.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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