During the holidays we inevitably are faced with objections from atheists regarding public Christmas displays. In their view, nothing connected to religion is allowed in the public sphere. We can argue about just what is religious, or what constitutes the public sphere, but what I want to address here is something more fundamental- the question, stated simply, of who is going to get their way. For whenever a symbol that is interpreted to be religious is removed because a small minority object, or simply because someone might object, the effect is not just to assuage the concerns of the minority in some neutral fashion, but to impose their preferences on the majority.
We are ever sensitive to the rights of the minority, as we should be in a democratic republic, and believe they never should be oppressed, but such rights do not extend to imposing the minority view over everyone else. There is almost always going to be someone raising objections to just about anything the great majority of people are comfortable with. Should those who raise objections always have their way? There are some who in effect maintain this position, to the extent that anyone who finds anything offensive must be indulged at the expense of the majority and common sense.
There are some things about which legal claims are invariably made, that are not matters of law. If there were some sort of legal discrimination against a minority it would be unconstitutional, but there are no “cultural” rights (with the exception of Indians) outside of universities that have invented them. In symbolic and cultural matters the preferences of the majority should prevail. No one is being forced to adhere to them, nor is anyone being harmed. When the norms of the majority in society are not respected the social order becomes untenable. If the majority feels challenged or under siege it will react. For minority rights to be respected at all there has to be a cohesive majority that feels secure. There must be a prevailing majority ethos in society, otherwise there is at the very least alienation and instability, and ultimately social collapse.
In a courthouse where the ten commandments have been posted for over a century, and where they have been established by tradition and convention, it is a stretch to argue that they are banned by the constitution, which simply states that the government cannot establish a particular religion, not that religion is altogether prohibited from public life. I personally am not religious, but I recognize that most people are, and it is their sentiments that ought to prevail whenever such questions are raised. Those who want to ban Christmas displays are part of a constant chorus claiming that all minorities have rights, but the majority never has any rights.
The objections of a few to virtually anything basically boils down to saying we don’t like that, and because it offends, bothers, or otherwise disturbs us it must be removed. Society cannot possibly function if in any instance that someone finds something objectionable that thing must be eliminated; it would then be impossible for there to be anything common. If every claim of this sort is honored it leaves society in an acultural state, and social bonds are severely weakened.
But to maintain that the majority ought to prevail in such matters is not unfettered majoritarianism. The minority is still protected. Crucially, when the majority prevails it is not forcing anything on a minority. The minority is not being compelled to succumb to the majority position or practices. It is therefore absurd to require that the majority submit to the minority position, but this is what constantly happens when a minority effectively vetoes the majority, often due to nothing more than the timidity of those charged with the administration of various venues. Christmas is a custom that has been with us for ages and cannot suddenly be undone on the basis of a theory. Thus there is no possible justification for allowing a minority that has deliberately singled out the holiday to spoil Christmas for everyone else.
On their way out of controlling the US Senate the Democrats appear to be possessed with a desire to break all the windows. It is as though they are never coming back, and if the mentality behind this scorched earth policy prevails, they may well not return any time soon. What is to be gained by releasing, on an entirely partisan basis, their CIA interrogation report five years after enhanced interrogations were banned and eleven years after the last terror suspect was water-boarded? Why do this now when in the past, secrets from World War II or the Kennedy administration were kept for many, many years? What can possibly justify spending $40 million on a process that didn’t even bother to interview principle program managers, and incomprehensibly, no CIA Directors? Apart from massaging liberal consciences there is no purpose to this.
It provides rhetorical fuel to enemies of the United States, particularly those regularly abusing human rights, although it is hard to see how much waterboarding is going to motivate terrorists who are currently beheading people and already hate us. It is more troubling that, in attacking the intelligence services, and increasingly the military, which formerly had bi-partisan support, they have gone off the rails. Even Barack Obama, the most liberal president ever elected, is now being attacked by the left.
John Kennedy would have a hard time fitting in to today’s Democratic party. Kennedy was a moderate who cut taxes and was strong on national security. In the year he was elected Hubert Humphrey was the liberal candidate in the primaries, not JFK. (The myth that he was a progressive emerged later in the 60s when Bobby Kennedy became radicalized and moved the Kennedy family towards liberalism). It is toxic for a major party to be perceived as anti-national security given how little support that view has. To assuage their left the Democrats are alienating a majority of the population.
The issue here is not whether enhanced interrogation, which can still be distinguished from torture, is wrong or right. It is broadcasting what our intensions, strategy and position is, as if the the rest of the world was somehow composed of liberal humanitarians, rather than a large number of odious regimes and players. It isn’t, and we still face a serious terrorist threat. It is hard to find anything in these actions that is not detrimental to our security.
Liberals think it was “important” to issue this report at this time, not for any treasonous reasons, but rather due to righteous indignation and the warm and fuzzy feelings that comes with saying “we’re better than that.” By asserting “principle” over the lives of these people they play into the hands of those whose principles are far removed from their own, and put all of us in greater danger. But this vain exercise comes at great cost, by throwing the people who risk their lives under the bus while they pontificate in safety and security. For as George Orwell wrote “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Most people have a set of values which inform the way they see the world, and which provide the foundation for their sense of right and wrong. This accounts for many of our political differences because the sense of what is good is not completely in synch. When that occurs we sometimes try to resolve things rationally by marshaling facts which we believe will support our position through an objective, impartial reading. But as Bertrand Russell pointed out:
If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.
Thus it is not so much a matter of “having our own facts,” as Senator Moynihan once said, but rather the extent to which we are willing to admit them.
However when beliefs are dearly held they may be impervious to evidence. For example, those who believe the bible to be literally true and the word of God will not be moved by any conflicting information. For the true believer, even if something isn’t true it ought to be. But the true believer is not just the religious fundamentalist but anyone who sees the world primarily in political terms, because their “side” must be right.
In the incident in Ferguson, Missouri some people reached conclusions based upon where their sympathies took them, either in favor of the police officer or the man who was shot. In doing this they treated it as an “issue” rather than as a particular situation in a particular place where only an impartial, disinterested party can get to the truth of the matter reliably. In this instance it was a Grand Jury, which reached a conclusion based upon evidence and eyewitness testimony. The negative reaction to this determination is based not on the actual truth, but on claims that were made previously, which was what what some people wanted to be true. Nothing can satisfy those committed to the notion that something must be true under any circumstances.
The fallback position is that the process was flawed, and therefore cannot be given credence. The problem with this is that if the decision was in accordance with their beliefs they would not make this claim. The American legal system is by no means perfect, but it is certainly checked by disinterested, randomly selected citizens, whose judgement we ought to respect. All of us need to avoid prejudging incidents we do not have accurate information about, which leads us to succumb to our prejudices instead of accepting that we were wrong.