Should black people feel solidarity with the oppressed everywhere?

What’s objectionable about Rick Santorum’s assertion that our black President ought to support equal rights for fertilized ova is that the fetal-rights claim is wrong, not the appeal to the solidarity of the oppressed.

Disagreeing with Ta-Nehisi Coates is generally a bad bet. So is agreeing with Rick Santorum, or, for different reasons, with Joe Klein. Still, against the odds, I’m going to risk it.

Santorum, a hard-line right-to-lifer, said that President Obama, as a black man, should support what Santorum thinks are the rights of fetuses. Again, wingnuttia is trading on the notion that abortion rights recognized in Roe v. Wade are like the rights of slaveholders recognized in Dred Scot: “rights” premised on the denial of full personhood to a class of human beings, and therefore morally insupportable. The argument seems to me too silly to deserve much attention; law and custom have always held that a person joins the civil community at birth and leaves it at death. (Just to choose an example at random, the original Census counted the born, but it did not count the unborn, any more than it counted the dead.)

But Ta-Nehisi’s objection isn’t so much to Santorum’s logic as to his assertion that Obama’s skin color ought to shape his beliefs. TNC writes: “I think it would be deeply wrong of me to say, ‘As a member of ethnic group that’s suffered bigotry, Rick Santorum should be for gay marriage’.”

Of course, all ethnicities are not the same, but as a (non-observant) Jew, I find the argument “You, as a member of a traditionally persecuted group, have a special obligation to stand up for the persecuted” quite cogent. (It’s also consistent with Jewish tradition.)

After all, you can’t expect full sympathy with the downtrodden from the traditionally powerful, and sympathy from the powerless does only so much good. So it is, I submit, A Good Thing if the memory of historical wrongs leads the descendants of those who suffered those wrongs to speak up on behalf of the currently oppressed. Even among those still fighting their own fights, a little bit of solidarity with the struggles of others would not come amiss.

So I, for one, don’t see any objection to telling the black preachers who oppose equal rights for gays that they’re acting like a bunch of Bilbos, or the Jewish Muslim-bashers that they sound like a bunch of Nazis. What’s objectionable about Santorum’s argument is its substance, not its form.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

53 thoughts on “Should black people feel solidarity with the oppressed everywhere?”

  1. "Like 'shorter'"; Haven't you ever seen somebody post a comment here, and somebody says, "Shorter (whoever): (Insert hateful nonsense bearing no resemblance to what whoever actually posted.)" Above Koreyel said "Demystified", instead, but the normal usage is "Shorter".

    Frankly, I think the rhetorical tactic deserves it's own listing as a logical falacy.

  2. Henry: "I don’t understand '(Like ‘shorter’.)'"

    "Shorter Henry: '2+2 = 7 3/4' " (or similar stupidity).

    Sorry. You did not say that. See? That's what the deliberate misrepreserntations "Shorter Malcolm:…", "Shorter Brett:…" etc., do.

    (Sean): "Is it wrong of me to think that it’s at least slightly sadistic for conservatives to argue that either a fetus is a life and thus under no circumstances should abortion be allowed, or a fetus isn’t a life, and so if someone punches a pregnant woman in the stomach with the intention of killing her unborn child, that person should only be charged with a simple assault-and-battery charge and not a harsher punishment?"

    I have had to defer a response. Is it wrong to speculate about psychological motivations? I don't think so. Neither did George Orwell, who suggested (in __The Road to Wigan Pier__ that socialism may be nothing more than a hypertrophied sense of order and elsewhere (e.g., "Raffles and Mrs. Blandish", "Inside the Whale") that a preference for authoritarian (icluding Stalinist) politics may originate in vicarious sadism, or Ludwig Von Mises, who suggested, in __Socialism__, that socialism originates in a primitive revenge fantasy. I think socialist (i.e., "progressive") politics originates in an infantile, self-congratulatory power fantasy: what a wonderful world it would be if I ran it.

    I don't think it's either mistaken ("wrong") or immoral ("wrong") to speculate about other people's motives. Is your conclusion, "it’s at least slightly sadistic for conservatives to argue that either a fetus is a life and thus under no circumstances should abortion be allowed, or a fetus isn’t a life, and so if someone punches a pregnant woman in the stomach with the intention of killing her unborn child, that person should only be charged with a simple assault-and-battery charge and not a harsher punishment", mistaken? Over the population of abortion opponents, I expect so. a) I don't see how you infer "sadism" from this. b) Morality evolves. Attitudes toward abortion, even within individuals, are a patchwork. As Ambrose Bierce wrote: "A hypocrite is a man who…but aren't we all?" c) Maybe you should ask a conservative.

    (Sean): "It seems that in this either/or moral world of conservative rhetoric about the life of the fetus, women are punished no matter what."

    a) The dichotomy is your construction.

    b) How is the woman "punished" by prosecution of her assailant for assault and not for attempted murder, if the State does not recognize the fetus as human?

  3. All that said, I agree with Brett that you degrade the discussion if you attribute to your opposition arguments that they have not made, unless you do so with their permission (i.e., "If you suppose A, it seems to me, you must suppose B, which implies C". C being some conclusion which your interlocutor will reject).

    "Shorter" as in Professor Kleiman's "Shorter RedState.org", Andrew Sabl's "[Shorter Michele Bachmann: Look, up in the sky and off to my right! It's a really cool statue of four six guys raising a flag!]", and Warren Terra's (December 3, 2010 at 2:16 pm): "Shorter Malcolm: 'be rich; failing that, just die'."

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