Friday, February 11, 2005

In Offense of Internment

For those who haven't been reading the comments below, I've gotten into a spirited meta-discussion concerning internment with Hov.

Everyone finds certain topics more interesting than others. Internment is on my shortlist of government policies which I don't find interesting at all because the answer is obviously “no”. In this it finds company with other no-brainers like “Can genocide be a good government policy?”, “Would a absolute dictatorship work better than democracy?”, and “Is Communism preferable to Capitalism?”. The answers to these questions are so transparent that few would bother with it. Anyone who believes these things are either crazy, or as have values so wildly different from ours that fruitful discussion is impossible. There are many positions with which I disagree that I could see someone believing in good faith. The shortlist is different though; they are issues that are morally or intellectually wrong on their face.

My position on internment is as non-negotiable as my position on genocide for reasons of morality(although genocide is obviously far more immoral). With good Christian humility I accept that I am faillible and might be mistaken. But barring extraordinary circumstances, I've got to prioritize my time. Accordingly, I wouldn't argue with Stalin about democracy or bother trying to refute Hitler's ravings about international Jewish conspiracies. Better to save my breath and perhaps figure out a good way to stop them.

Hov has a different opinion on internment. In the wide tapestry of American political thought, Hov thinks, people who support Internment as a legitimate government options are interesting and to be respected. He does not mean this just in the limited “ACLU defending Klan members' free speech rights” sense, or the “Let's look anti-evolutionist literature to see how they reason” sense, or even the “let's read Al Queda's web page so we can figure out ways to stop them” sense, but in the “Maybe I disagree, but this guy is a well thought out person with interesting opinions that could conceivably sway me” sense. This is his choice and and he has a right to it even if I disagree.

(There is also the unrelated argument that Malkin's book “In Defense of Internment” doesn't defend interment that much. I guess I'm willing to discuss the non-internment material.)

Now, while Malkin's views don't interest me, the meta-questions do. “What are acceptable criteria for a moral shortlist?” “Is it OK to have one at all?” Hov points out correctly that I'm not very articulate on these points. I mean, Genocide: it's wrong to kill a bunch a people just for being of a specific race because it just is. That's pretty damn circular. To a similar point about internment Hov responds, “you provide only normative (nonconvincing) arguments on your side.” I agree. But then, his answers seem equally incomplete. He is willing to listen to people defending internment but would he be more open-minded than me about genocide? Even I don't think so. His arguments haven't really explained why one and not the other. Is Hov is arguing that you shouldn't have anything on your shortlist at all? or is he just arguing that my shortlist should look more like his?

Either way, I don't pretend to be able to convince Hov's with logic. These moral questions are first principals of the type that we must all have. While I might show the many morals stances in my shortlist are consequences of one or two larger principals, in the end we're still left with something that isn't really supported by logical structure underneath. (It's turtles all the way down). At more everyday levels we might discuss many topics without having to resolves these fundamental disagreements, but moral first principals are for the most part* off the table. This isn't to say that they are all equally valid since of course mine are right and yours are wrong. But I expect you disagree with me so let's not bother.

*(There is the strange case of one person's first principals contradicting each other. That could be fruitful grounds for discussion since someone could help you come to new realizations even if they don't share same moral framework. This is what I was getting at with the anti-Malkin flyers arguing bad scholarship. Sill though, man contains multitudes.)


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