Monday, February 04, 2008


In the end, I think that's what this argument over HRCs between Canadian conservatives and liberals is really about. It's about supporting your team, your faction... your tribe.

Conservatives enjoy baiting minorities. (No, don't deny it, Mark Steyn exists and has a loud voice in Canada.) Especially in the United States, they've also have had rather a long and storied history of attracting votes by appealing to certain voters' latent racism. That was the point of the Southern Strategy, and how (pace Krugman) the Republican machine gained its form.

Let's remember how the whole controversy began; Ezra Levant reprinted some half-assed cartoons that weren't especially funny or insightful, but just courted controversy by deliberately flaunting that rule in Islam that says that you can't create images of Mohammed. Commissioning and printing those cartoons was the knowing equivalent of pelting Haredim with cheeseburgers; it served much the same purpose as that would have. Ezra's part of the conservative tribe, though, so he gets backed for "freedom of speech".

The Kinsella/Cherniak vein of Liberals are right about one thing in regards to that: the hypocrisy. If it weren't some ridiculous gesture of conservative tribalism, nobody would have come to Ezra's defense. Where they fail is in their own tribalism.

See, like them or hate them, HRC's are a Liberal creation. They embody a particular interpretation of liberalism, one associated with some of the most important figures in the modern Canadian Liberal Party. It's been around for a while, and is tied into other (quite worthy) concepts like multiculturalism, human and civil rights, and tolerance for other creeds. It is, however, one that isn't too comfortable with the idea of freedom of speech for those with odious opinions. It is the (paradoxical) liberalism of the censor.

This isn't the only interpretation. The ACLU would react to the Kinsella/Cherniak sort of arguments with little more than helpless laughter at their utterly ridiculousness. Warren's incessant repetitions of "NAZIS LIKE IT, SO YOU MUST BE A NAZI" is the sort of charge that has been leveled at the ACLU for generations. Their response to Warren is the same as it would be to anybody else: you are free to respond as well, and it is that freedom that is worth defending. It's the beating heart of liberalism in their minds. It certainly isn't "naive", as Warren seems to believe. Far from it, and I'd love to see him debate with an ACLU lawyer on that.

He doesn't. He wouldn't. This, of course, isn't about debate at all.

As I said, "Liberal creation". Since it's a liberal creation, like it or not, it must be defended. It is associated with the tribe. It is the property of the tribe. Its success is that of the tribe. Its failure would be that of the tribe. The tribe cannot fail, so the creation cannot fail. Even if it's a bad idea, even if it's based on a flawed interpretation of liberalism, even if it's provably naive in an age where anonymous internet hackers make fools of wealthy churches and racist neanderthals are regularly beaten down in any and all public internet forums where they do not themselves control access, it is of the tribe and must be defended. That's what this is all about.

If these specific restrictions on speech were a conservative creation, and the cartoons in question were created by a liberal, things would be the exact opposite. In fact, that happens all the time, and things are the opposite. Where one demonstrates the courage of one's convictions is in standing up for your principles even if they don't necessarily support the interests of your tribe.

That's why I'm so disappointed with so many of these putatively liberal bloggers. It's becoming clearer and clearer that it isn't about principles, or beliefs, or thought. Honestly, if it were, the justification would be better: it wouldn't be a miasma of ad hominems, fallacies of the undifferentiated middle, guilt by association and every other kind of weak argument that would be torn apart by a high-school freshman debate team.

(Not that the conservatives are any better; I just EXPECT that sort of thing from them. It's not like Jonah's crap was surprising.)

No, it's just tribalism. It's just lazily signifying that "I am a member of your group"- throwing up rhetorical gangsigns in a way that lets the others nod, smile, and know one of their own.


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