Friday, September 30, 2005

Don't Drink the Helmlock, Bill.

Bill Bennett's Morning in America is a different radio-talk show: he tackles extremely thorny issues with a deliberate and unhysterical approach in thinking and Socratic dialogue. As Socrates himself discovered, this is difficult for those with histrionic dispositions. And now Bennett finds with his recent comments on race and abortion. Carefully listen to
his comments for yourself, take a deep breath, and think about what is actually being said...

Bennett responded to a caller who suggested that abortion has led to the Social Security crisis. Bennett stated that this was an unknowable proposition: he cited a book Freakonomics which suggested that abortion had reduced the crime rate. He then stated:

"I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," Mr. Bennett said in the broadcast. "That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

You can reduce crime by that method (the principal beneficaries would be the equally disproportionate number of same-race victims - white, black, Hispanic, you chose the race), you can also do it by killing all children of single parents, or young men between 15 and 35, or all men for that matter. If you are a racist or sexist you are likely to assert that certain races must therefore be genetically predisposed to crime, or that men must be predisposed to crime, etc. (My hunch - and it is only an unsubstantiated hunch - is that there is a surprising number of people who will, rightly, condemn the racist claim, but will tacitly accept the sexist claim.) Intelligent thinkers know Bennett's plan of philosophical attack: just because one finds a condition with a state of being, it does not follow that this state is a cause for the condition. Nor can good ends - reducing crime or taming a financial crisis - justify any means. Bennett explains:

"Then, putting my philosophy professor's hat on, I went on to reveal the limitations of such arguments by showing the absurdity in another such argument, along the same lines. I entertained what law school professors call 'the Socratic method' and what I would hope good social science professors still use in their seminars. In so doing, I suggested a hypothetical analogy while at the same time saying the proposition I was using about blacks and abortion was 'impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible,' just to ensure those who would have any doubt about what they were hearing, or for those who tuned in to the middle of the conversation. "The issues of crime and race have been on many people's minds, and tongues, for the past month or so--in light of the situation in New Orleans; and the issues of race, crime, and abortion are well aired and ventilated in articles, the academy, the think tank community, and public policy. Indeed the whole issue of crime and race is not new in social science, nor popular literature. One of the authors of Freakonomics, himself, had an extended exchange on the discussion of these issues on the Internet some years back--which was also much debated in the think tank community in Washington.

We will state it again, clearly: it does not follow from discovering a condition within a state of being that it is the state of being that causes the condition.

This is a line of reasoning that can't be compressed into a 15-second soundbite (the length of the bite of Bennett's words as featured on the CBS News website). Here's how the Newspaper of Record - the one with the really tough crossword puzzles - led off their Bennett story:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 - The White House distanced itself today from the comments of a prominent Republican who said on a recent radio program that the nation's crime rate could potentially be reduced through aborting blacks...

What a fair, balanced, and thoughtful introduction to this story. The WaPo - via the AP - was no better. Bennett has been called racist, evil, stupid, and so on. Erstwhile champions of free speech now call for his gagging and removal from the airwaves. (from which we learn the meaning of myrmidon.) And the White House sniffs the air and follows these odors. Thinking people, conservative and otherwise , understand the threat to meaningful public discourse here.

This, for me, has been a utterly disgusting confluence of the sewer streams of ignorance, political correctness, and naked partisan opportunism. We are reaping the bitter harvest of a totalitarian culture of political correctness, lousy public education, supressing opportunity for politcal gain, and the trivial "theatricizing" of critical policy issues. Can we have a serious discussion about the disintegration of urban life despite the hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars spent? May we speak freely, and perhaps discover truth? Maybe not; maybe the morons and the morally corrupt have prevailed.

1 comment:

Eustace Bright said...

Well reasoned. Thank you for taking the time to write.

I read the NYTimes leader you quoted in this post. I took it at face value and was appalled. I thought "not another wack-o, heartless republican" and "how horrible to suggest that aborting blacks would be a good solution..." etc. Fortunately, when I read the full text, the Times included enough relevant details for me to figure out what was really going on.

Headlines are powerful. And this particular headline seems so "perfectly" wrong that I almost feel like the mistake was intentional. We are so accustomed to having the main issue in the first paragraph or first line of a story that I think all would agree that newspapers should not require a reader to finish an article to balance out a vitriolic headline. We don't always finish it, and first impressions are too powerful for us at times.