Nobel, Guns, and why I became a "conservative":
So Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize. All I can say is, at least it wasn't the U.N. I'm actually going to refrain from judging the merits of this case--maybe he deserved it, maybe he didn't--but I will say that it was entirely predictable. I don't mean that I won a huge pile of money by betting that Carter would win, I mean that Carter (and the U.N.) is exactly the sort of guy who would
will the N.P.P. these days. The circumstances surrounding this particular case, along with a remark which appeared in Armed Liberal's comments, served as a reminder why I became a "conservative."
Now, I want to be very careful in how I say this. I've been complaining about liberal bloggers bashing conservatives, and I want to avoid simply doing the reverse. Still, I called myself a liberal, or a moderate, for years, and I called myself a libertarian for a while after that. I don't think I used the c-word until this year. I still don't use it in an entirely unqualified way. I've been chewing on this all week while I couldn't blog, and today I have two perfect quotes to illustrate what I have been thinking about.
Here's what the Seattle P-I (the "liberal" paper here) said in an editorial
Former President Jimmy Carter, the Nobel Committee says, "has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights and economic development."
Such a philosophy seems quaint and nostalgic as the United States pushes for military action against Iraq. The comparison may have been quite intentional, according to Gunnar Berge, Nobel Committee chairman, who said Friday that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Carter "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States."
First of all, Berge's comments--and the "quaint and nostalgic" line from the editorialists--are frankly an insult directed at Bush and his supporters. Apparently Republicans don't believe in mediation, cooperation, human rights, or economic development. Oh really? I don't suppose it's possible, just maybe, that the Iraq situation has
gone "as far as possible" with diplomacy? Does the Nobel Prize committee see any connection between Bush's saber rattling and the sudden friendliness of the Iraqis to international arms inspectors? Just a coincidence, right?
Now here's the quote from one of Armed Liberal's
critics (UPDATE: the author if this quote says he isn't a critic at all, but simply a guy trying to explain the thinking of both sides on their own terms.):
Guns are tools for doing harm to people, but outside of video fantasies, someone carrying a firearm is highly unlikely to use it during any given day -- or year. What makes the gun so controversial is that the gun carrier is sending a message: 'I think we live in a violent world, where we might be attacked at any time, and if it happens, I'm going to deal out some violence too.'
The principled non-carrier is also sending a message: 'I think we may live in a society where violence could occur at any moment, but I refuse to be part of the culture of violence. By refusing in advance to prepare for violence, I will help stamp it out.'
In short, one says "I'm dangerous, watch out for me,", the other "Give peace a chance." What's really at stake is a question of how people ought to live.
Can you see Einstein hiding behind this idea? "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." The logical extension of this belief is that police should be unarmed. No pistols, certainly. But no batons and no pepper spray either, I'd think, since those are tools of violence. After all, if it is immoral for you to use violence to defend yourself, it is surely immoral for you to hire someone to use violence on your behalf. You can't get out of a murder charge by paying someone else to pull the trigger; self-defense is no more moral if the police do it for you. Let's all just be nice to each other.
Can you guess how I feel about this idea? Let's just put it this way: try to rape my wife, and she'll make sure you never rape anyone ever again. Personally, I think that's better than calling the neighborhood together to produce Neighboorhood Resolution #324(b) declaring rapists to be in violation of international law. If a little unilateral action on her part stops a crime, so be it.
These two beliefs--eschewing violence in the face of any and all threats--are basically the same thing. The philosophy behind the Nobel Prize this year seems to be gun control writ large. And, without wishing to smear lots of intellegent people or gloss over nuances, these beliefs are both "liberal," in the sense that the form part of a left wing/progressive/Democratic party worldview and agenda. I truly can't understand how people can hold these views, and since the people who hold them don't seem to want to explain or refine them in the face of criticism, I can't identify with them in any meaningful way.
These two belifs are absolutly batty. Really, how can you stamp out violence by presenting yourself as the perfect victim? Do you really think that the reason muggers attack people is that some of those people are armed? Huh? And what's with calling gun owners (and, of course, martial artists, police officers, women who take self-defense classes, and security guards) part of a "culture of violence"? I would say that concealed carry, and karate classes, and armed bank guards, are all responses
to a culture of violence which they do not create. Certainly, the rule of law (and a culture of respect for life) is a more reliable protector of human life than simply passing out guns for free. But the rule of law is maintained by the threat of force.
Commit a crime and, if you survive your victim's defenses, men with guns will forcibly stuff you into a little room and make you stay there for a long time. Self-defense is part of a culture which respects life--specifically, innocent life--and is willing to protect it against aggression. Allowing yourself to be killed or maimed by an attacker is not merely a private choice--in declining to resist and failing to kill or capture your attacker you place others at risk of attack
. To borrow Kant's technique for evaluating morality: if everyone did it, the result would be barbarism, therefore resistance to attack is a moral imperative. "Giving peace a chance" is not only suicidal in this context, it is an immoral abdication of your duty to your fellow citizens. (Thanks to Jeff Snyder
. Go read his piece. Now.)
Turning to the field of international relations, we find the same mentality at work. We must use diplomacy to thwart Saddam Hussein. The threats of unilateral action which Bush is making are immoral. But wait just a moment: how much did diplomacy get us between 1998 and 2002? For that matter, how much did diplomacy get us from 1991 forward? Zilch. The U.S. doesn't threated military action when it negotiates with Japan over trade rules and tariffs. The U.S. has never attempted to militarily overthrow the WTO. This is the case because Japan, and the nations of the WTO, generally negotiate in good faith, and generally respect the rule of international "law," at least to the extent that they don't go around invading neighbors or refusing to respect agreements whicht they have made. In like manner, I don't need to shoot my neighbors if they play their stereos too loud; I can ask them to turn it down.
In the extreme case of recalitrant stereo players, I call the police to invoke the noise ordinace. The threat which the police represent to my neigbors--force, and prison or fines--gives my polite request for quiet real meaning. The presence of a real threat makes diplomatic negotiation possible: I can accept noise at certain times of day, or on one day each month, in exchange for amicable relations and less hassle than the police would involve. But I also have a trump card should I need to play it. In a city with no police, or with police too busy to take noise complaints, I just have to live with loud neighbors, or use force myself.
Well, Saddam has been able to get away with playing games because no one has wanted to call the police. He knew for years that there was no chance of meaningful military action against him, so he ignored the piles of paperwork which the U.N. produced against him. Now that Bush is waving a gun in his face, he has had a change of heart. It may well be that the credible threat of war which Bush is presenting will make arms inspections possible--and yet we are forced to listen to endless complaints about how horrible Bush is for actually getting results, and how wonderful the U.N. is for dithering without effect for years. Just as few police officers ever need to draw their guns, war may not be neccessary in Iraq, or in most trouble spots in the world. But the credible threat of war
, like a holstered sidearm, is essential for keeping the peace. Bush is threatening war not out of a desire to be Ceasar or Hitler, but because diplomacy has failed
. Einstein was a brilliant physicist (I'm a physicist, so I'm deeply indebted to his discoveries) but he was flat wrong about war: you can't prevent war unless you are well prepared for it. Unilateral disarmarment--whether by literal distruction of weapons or simply by refusing to ever use them--is a dumb idea which invites violence because weak victims are attractive to thugs.
In these two quotes lies the essence what drove me from liberalism to conservativism. I am not a conservative because I'm a racist, because I enjoy pollution, because I think coal miners deserve to die in accidents, because I think poor people deserve to starve to death, or because I think war is wonderful and I want as many wars as possible to feed my twisted imagination. I share Gunnar Berge's belief that diplomacy is essential and that war should be a last resort. I share Greenpeace's love of the woods and water, and Martin Luther King's thirst for justice. I share Sarah Brady's abhorrence of violence and the ACLU's passion for freedom. I believe in charity and compassion for the poor and oppressed. But on a host of issues--gun control, Social Security, the environment, workplace safety, civil rights, I find the "liberal" arguments--as advanced by elected officials like Ted Kennedy, by NGOs like the Sierra Club, and by well-known pundits like Helen Thomas--to be rooted in fantasy and magical thinking. In a perfect world, no one would need to use a gun to defend themselves. Therefore, we must outlaw self-defense. In a perfect world, humans would have no impact on the natural enviorment, and would eat organic foods. Therefore, we must battle pesticides and fertilizer while simultaneously railing against deforestation which fertilizer makes unnecssary. In a perfect world, no one would be poor. Therefore, we must use the power of the federal government to give the poor money, and accuse anyone who thinks charity should be voluntary of wanting to throw children into the street. In a perfect world, Saddam would be a rational actor who negotiates in good faith. Therefore, we must pretend he is exactly what he most certainly is not. The U.N. is the "Parliament of Man" which somehow expresses the will of the world's people, rather than the self-interest of 190 governments, most of them dictatorial. I am a conservative because it appears that being a liberal requires a suspension of disbelief more extreme than the average James Bond flick.
Now, that last paragraph is more than a little bit unfair, and I could easily be accused of smearing liberals indiscriminatly. That's not what I'm trying to do here. Part of the problem is how we identify ourselves. During the debate two weeks ago about liberals and conservatives smearing each other, a number of people said, "Well, when we say 'conservatives do X' of course we didn't mean you
, Rob." I don't doubt that they meant it. Likewise, I don't want to lump all of the good liberals I've met blogging in with Michael Moore and Maureen Dowd. I also suspect that a good number of people who agree with me on 90% of these issues would say that I'm "not really conservative" just as I would say they "aren't really liberal."
So, partly, what we all need to do is to get beyond partisan labels. But more important than that is to begin cricizing our own side. Earlier I said that the D.C. sniper shootings don't make a good case for concealed carry of handguns. I stand by that statement. I support concealed carry--but I think that people using this sniper to make the pro-gun argument are wrong. I'll do another: I think Ann Coulter is a fool. She can be enertaining--just like Moore, for instance--but she contributes nothing meaningful to the debate other than laughs for people who agree with her. And another: conservatives' arguments against gay marriage are lame and don't hold up when compared to the needs of real gay people in our society. Another: Dick Armey is a priceless nitwit with his "liberal Jews" comment. I'd like to see more conservatives taking time to criticize this sort of thing publically.
I would also like to see a liberal explaining why the Democrats' Social Security flash video is wrong. There are about 10 different ways to point it out, evening ignoring the Bush-as-murderer smear. I'd like to see someone explain why it matters that Greenpeace lies so often. I'd like to see a liberal explain when, exactly, life does begin. I'd like to see a liberal who understands the importance of healthy small business in creating jobs, and who can explain to other liberals why ergonomics rules imposed by the feds might not be a good idea. I'd like to see a liberal organic-food activist talk intelligently about crop yields and toxicology, or at least a liberal blogger explain why the outlandish theories of the anti-GMO people don't hold scientific water. I'd like to see a liberal who either presents credible evidence of the suppression of civil liberties or points out that the more paranoid fantasies of Ashcroft-as-jackbooted-thug don't seem to be materializing.
What liberalism needs today--in addition to leaders with some spine and less emphasis on polls--is to rediscover its roots in making life better for real people rather than abstract theorizing. It needs to step back and start responding to the changes of the last 40 years, rather than making the same arguments again and again, as though '30s union-busting and '50s Jim Crow were current, pressing problems. Again, the Iraq debate provides a constructive example: the "debate" consisted of Democrats asking "questions," followed by Republicans responding with answers, followed by Democrats repeating themselves several more times without variation. One could be forgiven for thinking the Dems were either deaf or too stupid to understand what was being said. This is no to say that no one had a good arguments against the war. But insofar as those arguments were heard in Congress, no one really made an effort to refine them when conservatives started responding, or to respond to pro-war arguments with anything more sophisticated than "I don't agree." Frankly, an honest disagreement even without argument would have been preferable to the vacillating crap we got. (In fairness, the Bush tax cut saw the situation reversed. And both sides support farm subsidies without any debate.)
So I find myself, somewhat surprised, in the "conservative" camp, simply because I think that results matter more than intentions, and reality--which looks damn good, by the way, on just about every front which matters to liberals--more than grossly outdated theory. I didn't mean to end up here, and I didn't think coming in that it would happen. And, of course, I may move on in time.