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July 27, 2016

Trump's Daily Outrageous Statement and Chesterton's Open Field

Today, Trump -- half-jokingly, but, I think it's fair to say, only half -- said he hopes Russia searches its records for the emails it already hacked from Hillary and lets the rest of us see them.

This has provoked the standard scheduled howl of outrage from the liberal press -- and from the increasingly poorly-named conservative press as well.

I want to talk about this. I think it's interesting.

I pointed out, on Twitter, that the number of political conversation I've been in with conservatives -- many of the #NeverTrump stripe, or at least #AlmostNeverTrump variety -- in which the question "When will Russia release the emails they've hacked from Hillary?" did not come up as conversation fodder can be counted on a single hand.

In fact, they can be counted on a single thumb.

This is one of the most popular parlor games in GOP circles -- asking:

1. Did Russia hack the emails? Almost everyone thinks they certainly did, as did the Chinese and other factions.

2. Will they keep the emails to hold over Hillary as blackmail material -- keeping their own pet president, compromised or controlled -- or will they release them? I have long thought they'd do the former, and have said so repeatedly. But now that they're leaking all the DNC emails, I think I was wrong. I guess they are going to release them.

Or maybe the DNC leak is a warning shot: This is just a taste of what we could release, if we wanted.


3. Wouldn't it be delicious if Russia (or China, or Julian Assange) released the emails and proved that Hillary was a liar and Comey a stooge?

Now, none of the people who speculated about question three, including myself, imagined we were committing Emotional Treason -- like emotional cheating; cheating without the actual exchange of information, whether genetic or governmental -- by asking it.

We thought, instead, we were speculating about the best possible outcome of an already bad situation. It is too late to hope that Russia doesn't hack Hillary's servers -- they already did.

Thus, the only remaining outcomes possible -- once "I hope the hack doesn't happen" has been mooted -- are the following:

1. Russia helps Hillary get elected, then holds blackmail material over her head to turn her into an Agent of Influence.

2. Russia rips Hillary and hurts her election prospects by revealing what she's concealed from no one at all, except the US courts and US public.

Remember, "I hope Russia doesn't hack her at all" is gone as a possibility.

Why is it Emotional Treason to think that Option 2 there sounds better than Option 1?

Conor Fridersdorf suggested that as a presidential candidate, the "rhetorical rules' that apply to Trump are different than those which apply to me, you, or him. We can lightheartedly speculate among these possibilities; as a presidential candidate, he must be more Serious and cannot so speculate.

Do I agree with that?

Absolutely not.

A long time ago I used to routinely criticize Ann Coulter for saying something outrageous (like calling John Edwards a "faggot") or Rush Limbaugh for, allegedly, damaging the cause by saying "I hope he fails."

When people noted that I say the same sorts of things -- or close enough, in any event -- I would respond: Yes, but I'm just a lowly blogger who no one pays much mind to. These people are important. They are influential.

They must abide by a much more stringent set of social controls than I do.

Lucky for me, I was free as a bird to say as I would! But these other people? My sorta-competitors? Why, they were bound up tightly, like Gulliver by tiny strings of hundreds of Liliputians.

Later on I began to question my own glib answer: If I was generally free to speak my mind and occasionally (gasp!) use humor, irony, and shock value as tactics in public communication, why on earth would I claim that others weren't equally free to do as I do?

After the Social Justice Purges, I began to formulate several answers:

1. Human beings like inflicting rules on other people that they don't abide themselves, because such rules -- vindictively applied to others, not aplied to oneself -- is a Have Your Cake and Eat It Too situation. One gets to signal virtue by condemning someone else's sinful behavior, while not having to change one's own sinful behavior an iota!

It's akin to all those leftwingers who piously condemn homophobia while feeling perfectly entitled to call every rightwinger they don't like a c*cks*cking fag.

You get to virtue signal -- while not straining under that burden yourself! Win-win!

2. Human beings' motivations are very opaque to themselves. People tend to think of themselves -- at least in their public, performative Online Theatrical presentation of themselves -- as so highly morally refined as to be above all self-serving behavior. They think of themselves -- or at least talk of themselves as if they think of themselves -- as nearly entirely selfless individuals, concerned only for the public good, whether that be equality in the case of progressives or the American patriotic interest in the case of conservatives.

They almost never question their own motives.

People love questioning other people's motives -- and yet never get around to questioning their own.

One question they might want to ask themselves some time is "Why is it I keep attempting to impose rules on other I have excused myself from following?"

They might blunder on to the truth, that every human is soaking wet with self-interest, and routinely invents "rules" to hamper an opponent while yielding himself an advantage.

One of the simplest disadvantages to hobble an opponent with is to call him morally filthy according to the rules one has just made up, and to advantage oneself as preening as morally virtuous -- even if one ignores that made-up rule oneself.

I would propose emphasizing a necessary implication of the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule says "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." I would stress that this rule implies we should be wary of social rule-making: The Rule implies "Do not impose rules on others that you find too restrictive or onerous to obey yourself."

Imposing vindictive social controls on others, after all, is an act, a means of treating other people.

As conservatives, I know from personal experience, have been speculating about -- salivating about, if we're being honest -- the Russian Surprise for Hillary for six months, I would say they application of the Golden Rule of Rule-Making would say they shouldn't invent this new rule and impose it on Trump uniquely.

Let me also alter Chesterton's famous fence, and talk about a parable I'll call Chesteton's Open Field. First, here's what he had to say about removing a wall that was already erected:

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 dont 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 dont see the use of it, I certainly wont 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.

Brilliant and brilliantly simple: You must not engage in the destruction of a pre-existing rule until you fully fathom the reasons for the existence of the rule in the first place.

Let us now consider the case where there is not a pre-existing wall which some desire to remove, but instead an open field -- where there is no wall -- where some now desire to erect a wall. Where some would now fashion a new social rule.

It is useful to ask, "Why has this field never before had this wall? What was the wisdom in not erecting a wall to block one thought from crossing the space?"

Should we not equally know why previous generations did not see fit to build a wall here, before we rush to put one up ourselves?

And to that end, I would ask people to question why they have allowed themselves to speculate about a Russian Surprise, and yet never thought themselves treasonous for doing so.

They might think like this:

1. Well, I never thought my thoughts were treasonous, because I was not hoping for the Bad Act to happen; it already happened. I was only hoping that the Bad Act have the Least Bad Outcome possible, and the Least Bad Outcome possible is the exposure of Hillary's secrets, rather than keeping them to hold over her head like a blackmailer with photographs of a cheating spouse.


2. I think as a general rule people should be free to speculate, and let their minds wander, and generally spin out possibilities and scenarious without a lot of moral guardrails shutting down their thoughts and keeping them off certain trails, because shutting down thinking leads to far worse thinking that a permissive atmosphere for thinking -- even when thinking leads to bad thinking, an atmospere which encourages free thought rather than constant moral censure of free thought will result in the bad thinking being exposed as bad.

Or even 3:

3. Jesus Merciful God, Author of All Thoughts and Gifter of Humanity with the Power of Speech, if I have another wannabe-priest moral scold tell me what new things I must not say and must not say I swear I might have to take my own life. I can no longer abide by the ever increasing list of Forbiddances and Blasphemies which stupid, selfish humans are drafting in Your name, O Lord.

So before erecting the wall across a field previously left open, perhaps we ought to give a thought to leaving the field free for transit.

And maybe we should give it a little more thought than it the two-neuron microburst it requires to put up a shriekey Tweet about.

Guys, the left has erected enough walls across the field of thought. We don't need the moral scolds and peacock-preeners of the right building new ones and mixing more mortar for them.

Anyone who favors freedom for only himself does not favor freedom at all. Every dictator favors freedom for himself.

One's commitment to freedom -- of action, of thought, of speech, of joking around like a jackass -- is measured by the freedom one allows to others.

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posted by Ace at 01:27 PM

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