Ace at AOHSQ hits a home run, expressing something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about but couldn’t find a way to express. In a masterful post about the ex-tabloid editor, ne CNN “star”, Piers Morgan, Ace invokes G. K. Chesterton’s wall paradox:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
Both Greg Sergent [and Morgan] smuggle a lot of not-quite-hidden assumptions into words like “sensible” and “dignified, edifying.” What they do not say, but which is readily apparent, is that a sensible, dignified, edifying conversation can only be had with someone who accepts nearly all of their baseline assumptions and policy preferences ab initio. That’s not a discussion — that’s a group hug. But only people who begin with these assumptions, they claim, can take useful role in the “discussion,” which means the discussion, from the start, isn’t a discussion at all.
But tying this into Chesterton’s wall: My problem with Morgan and Sergent is their ignorance. They cannot tell me why the wall exists — or, here, they cannot tell me the benefits of fairly free gun ownership. Obviously, there must be some, or the nation would not have had fairly-free gun ownership for 240 years, and the NRA would not have a 59% approval rating, and 100 million Americans would not own guns, otherwise.
But can they actually explain the other side of the argument? As they say, a good lawyer, one who really understands the issues of the case, can argue either side of it effectively. He may favor one side over the other, but he knows enough of both to make a strong case for either.
Sergent and Morgan couldn’t do that. They have a simple-minded understanding that Guns are Bad and do not have the intellectual curiosity to discover, even though it’s actually part of their jobs to do so, in what ways Guns May Be Good, or, at least, the reasons people might think Guns May Be Good.
The case for prohibition is always the same: Those advocating for prohibition always claim there is nothing good in the thing they would prohibit, and that anyone who claims or believes otherwise is somehow corrupted, morally or just mentally, and simply wrong.
But we know that’s almost never been the case in any single case of prohibition: Wine and liquor are not without value; obviously millions of people value them. Why?, the prohibitionists should have asked. And they should have further have asked, Is it civil to use the law to push our own limited, provincial view of things on millions of others?
Same with marijuana, frankly. Most of us (including me) don’t like pot, don’t like most people who use pot (or at least don’t like the pot-headed sort of culture that goes with it), and so ourselves find no value in it. But obviously millions of other people do find value in it– are we really acting in a civil fashion to use political power to essentially make our own preferences the controlling law which binds everyone?
Same with homosexuality, once upon a time, 30 or 40 years ago, when anti-homosexuality laws were occasionally enforced — it is trivially easy for heterosexuals to find no value in homosexual sex, given that we don’t like it (and in fact are repelled at the idea of taking part in it ourselves); thus it’s also quite easy to support a regime of official prohibition. After all, we find no value in it. So why not ban it? Of course, gays and lesbians might find more value in it than we are willing to credit it for.
People generally have a built-in bias in favor of the prohibition of things they themselves don’t like. From SUVs to Big Gulps, people will gladly — enthusiastically — impose prohibitions on any product they themselves don’t use or any action they don’t themselves partake in.
This is a very bad habit of people, and illiberal (in the old sense of “illiberal”), and people should be keenly aware of this bias that lurks within them, the bias in favor of government action to compel the “victory” of one cultural preference over another.
Morgan, Sergent, and the rest of the liberal blockheads all have this simple-minded and ugly belief that their culture — urban, liberal, wealthy (or at least mixing in the circles of those who may become wealthy in their later years) — is not merely a culture, with its own mix of arbitrary class prejudices and class beliefs, but the culture, the plainly superior one, the one that is so demonstrably correct that one should have no trepidation whatsoever about attempting the mobilize the coercive powers of the government to make their culture the legally mandated one.
And at no point in this process do they ever find within themselves the intellectual curiosity, or simple humility, to ask: Why do some people disagree so sharply, and is there any truth in their arguments?