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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 17, 2022

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I don't care about the rest of his argument, I care about the part that was the subject of this dispute, since this dispute is what we are discussing. Was that not the part that you think is at least disputable in its moral or intellectual wrongness? Or do you believe the courts should overlook this clear case of defamation because he separately made some other arguments that were reasonable?

You are speaking in absolutes. I think he did defame but I disagree he’s completely intellectually and morally wrong in this case. The parents entered the fray when they decided to politicize anti gun messaging.

I don't think it's a good thing to try and argue this from a culture war perspective; parents of school shooting victims are perhaps simply always destined to go campaigning against guns. As someone who is pro-gun, I don't need Alex Jones on my side, I can simply try and argue from other angles why I think the Brady Campaign and so on are wrong without trying to undermine the tragedy they suffered. If anything, we are served better by people like Open Source Defense, Karl Kasarda, and so on than we are by Alex Jones. "Arguments as soldiers" is one thing, but Alex Jones's problem was taking that a bit too literally.

parents of school shooting victims are perhaps simply always destined to go campaigning against guns. As someone who is pro-gun, I don't need Alex Jones on my side, I can simply try and argue from other angles why I think the Brady Campaign and so on are wrong without trying to undermine the tragedy they suffered.

I think this is absolutely right. Victims of tragedies are very, very often going to be in favor of intensely strong policy against whatever victimized them, which is why, despite thinking what they advocate for is wrong, I don't get very angry at radical feminists whose hateful opinions about men were forged by being a victim of rape or abuse. I think this is one of the big reasons we don't let victims determine the sentence of a convict (although I understand their input is often sought) -- while the pain someone feels after a grave tragedy befalls them is understandable and highly sympathetic, their rationality is obviously skewed by the great hulking emotional elephant in their soul. Courts have to view sentences and crimes in the context of the larger society, where it might make sense not to convict a particular person for a particular crime, or to give a lenient sentence instead of a greater one. The same of course applies to policymakers, who I think need to look at criminal justice in terms of what is best for society, and best protects the rights of both victims and perpetrators, an essential aspect of a free society.

So while the pain of gun violence victims is real and sympathetic, I don't think that, given their terrible personal circumstances, their personal political opinions are especially helpful or useful, though it certainly illustrates the harm that comes from guns in society. But, imo, the virtuous legislator has to consider things in a largely utilitarian way, provided that human and civil rights are respected. And personally I think the benefit of gun ownership, generally speaking, outweighs the serious harms that guns inflict on society, in addition to my skepticism of the ability of proposed legislation to actually target the causes of violent crime.

Not to mention that I think gun rights are protected by the US Constitution, no matter what harm they might cause. That puts them in my category of exceptions to legislative utilitarianism, even if the harm-to-benefit ratio were 100:1. I'm not a utilitarian, but I think utilitarian logic is essential to public policy which is why I think Jeremy Bentham, a political philosopher, developed the concept. I just think he took his valid insight into how public policy should be shaped and misapplied it to the whole sphere of moral conduct, like a paperclip-maximizing program forcing the whole world into penury in order to produce more paperclips. The heuristic has a valid purpose, but that purpose is not universal.

I actually think the input of victims re: sentencing should be sought even less -- while I think the compassion and strength of spirit involved in a victim testifying that their victimizer should be given leniency is laudable, I don't think it should make a difference as to the severity of an offender's sentence. That should be decided according to what is best for society, in the name of justice. I suppose my view is shaped by the fact that, while I acknowledge it must play a role in justice, retribution is one of the lesser principles for me (though above rehabilitation, which I think is rarely successful).

On that note, I've often wondered why Michael Dukakis responded the bizarre way he did to the famous 1988 debate question on the death penalty, in which he was asked whether he'd want the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. He responded technically with a dismissal of the concept, reiterating his long history of opposing capital punishment without actually answering the question. Personally, my response would have been:

No, of course not. I'd want to kill them myself, with my bare hands. But that -- the desire for vengeance, the emotional intensity, of victims of a heinous crime like rape and murder -- is why, in a free society, we don't allow the victims of crime, or their relatives, to dictate the punishments of perpetrators. And a great many victims, their anger and pain relieved by the compassion of friends and neighbors and the real, serious justice dispensed by non-capital punishments for crimes, eventually become willing to forgive the offenders who wronged them. We should never allow even the understandable outrage of victims or their families to move us, as a society, to take away their opportunity to forgive, and the ability of the perpetrator to be forgiven.

So, ultimately, no, I wouldn't support the death penalty, even for a criminal who raped and murdered my own wife. Despite the real and terrible pain inflicted on victims of crime and their families, I don't believe we should, in this country, ever sentence people to death. I believe the government shouldn't have that power, any more than I believe victims should have the power to dispense mob justice on criminals. We decided that mob justice was wrong a long time ago, when the Founders of our country and their British forebears bequeathed to us the timeless principle that the power of the state over life and death is not absolute -- that all men are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, among which is the right to life. And I believe we should remove from the potentially-tyrannical arm of government the ability to ever take away that life.

On that note, I've often wondered why Michael Dukakis responded the bizarre way he did to the famous 1988 debate question on the death penalty, in which he was asked whether he'd want the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. He responded technically with a dismissal of the concept, reiterating his long history of opposing capital punishment without actually answering the question. Personally, my response would have been:

There was an episode of West Wing in which the fictional President Bartlet was prepping for a debate and gave that same bumbling, technocratic answer to "What if your wife was raped and murdered?" and his aid Toby (Aaron Sorkin's mouthpiece) proceeds to rip into Michael Dukakis President Bartlet giving him basically a version of your speech.

(And then because West Wing was Aaron Sorkin's Democratic Party fan fiction, everyone laughs because it turns out they were pranking Toby, Bartlet just wanted to set him off, of course he'd never actually give such a terrible response in a debate!)