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January 08, 2013

Piers Morgan Continuing to Model His Career After Geraldo Rivera

Don't let the accent (which isn't a particularly educated accent, by the way) fool you; he's a British tabloid hound, through and through, and hopes that Americans are so impressed by a British accent they won't notice that he's a carnival barker.

Below, Morgan does his Geraldo Act with Alex Jones. Jones makes a few good points, misses some others, and then offers up tangential bits of paranoia about psychiatrists and their Suicide Pills, sounding a bit like Tom Cruise or L. Ron Hubbard. (I always notice that the fanciful mindset tends to be indiscriminate about its phantoms; a conspiracist will believe in seven conspiracies, not one, and someone who believes in ghosts will almost certainly also believe in two or more of the following: UFOs, Atlantis, faeries in the garden, astral projection, pyramid power, Rosecrucianism, psychic abilities, Shadow People, and/or Bigfoot.)

Two points: Piers Morgan thinks of himself as a Thinker, I guess, but he doesn't think much about the long view of history. And yes, Jones is right, that in the long view of history, most governments do wind up becoming tyrannical. One could take the short view, as he prefers, and say "our government isn't totalitarian now," but that's just avoiding the evidence.

It is a sad fact -- sad, but still a fact -- that governments do tend to become tyrannical. Political scientists often wonder what it is about America, specifically, that permits it to function as a democracy under its Constitution, whereas a dozen other nations that have implemented a version of America's charter wound up being tyrannies, military juntas, within five or ten years.

So anyone who is even slightly informed about governments and history realizes that America is pretty special for having resisted this horrible trend for so long; and anyone who thinks about the question looks to find particular reasons why American so resisted. Was it the legacy of English non-governmental culture, such as capitalism, banking, property law, and so on? Was it just simple prosperity, and that a rich country doesn't experience the same tumults, revolutions, and counter-revolutions that poorer countries do?

(One may ask if it's religion, but then, Latin America is very religious and constantly repeats the cycle of constitution-leftist revolution-authoritarian counter-revolution.)

Point is, there is something that makes America different (or different, at least, until recently), and one should therefore be very cautious about changing parts of the American culture. One or more of the cultural traditions of America have kept it from taking the same path as Venezuela, or Germany, or Italy, or Vietnam, or France. We might not know which (or at least we, as a group, may argue about which), but it takes a very thick-headed person to consider this and then decide to start changing America to be more like every other country, every other country, that is, which has experienced totalitarianism, fascism, revolution, and general social catastrophe.

Morgan's -- and most other's -- empty-headedness on this point recalls Chesterton's paradox of the wall:

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."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable.

And that's precisely the other point in my mind. Consider Sergent Hack:

Word has it that the White House, Democrats, and gun control advocates are planning to try to “overwhelm” the National Rifle Association when the battle over guns heats up this month. Along these lines, perhaps the most important news of the morning is that Gabrielle Giffords is unveiling a new national effort to push for sensible gun reforms in the wake of the Newtown shooting, with the explicit purpose of counterbalancing the NRA’s influence over Congress.

Or this, from Piers Morgan:

"That kind of vitriol, hatred, and zealotry is really quite scary. I didn't feel threatened by him, but I'm concerned that someone like him has that level of influence," Morgan said. "There's got to be a level of discourse that can rise above what happened last night. It was undignified, unedifying."

You deliberately staged a Geraldo-with-Nazis-style heated confrontation with someone, took part in it, promoted it for ratings, and now you want to claim that the discussion that ensued was of an "undignified, unedifying" level of discourse?

Both Greg Sergent 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?

We know their claims front-and-back, and they could only guess at ours (or offer poorly-informed parodies of them). But they're the smart ones, the intellectuals, the thinkers. Right?


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posted by Ace at 04:08 PM

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