It seems like an overly ambitious, or presumptuous thing, to disagree with someone very smart and very well respected. But I’m going to do that today anyway.
Since January, when I became aware of Jordan Peterson, I’ve enjoyed learning a lot from him. But this past week there were a lot of us conservative Americans who took issue with a tweet or two Peterson sent out concerning the Kavanaugh confirmation.
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Dr. Peterson was addressing the polarized tension. And he suggested that one possible thing to consider was for Kavanaugh to be confirmed—which means he was safe from the accusations—and then step aside to allow another conservative justice to take his place. This would leave him with his life intact (he’d still be a circuit court judge, which wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t been found worthy of the Supreme Court following the accusations against him). And those who were so upset about him personally would be mollified.
Here’s the thing. Jordan Peterson is Canadian. He isn’t a political person, and it’s hard to pin him down with a label. He talks about justice and Western civilization as though the US, Canada, and Great Britain—and others—are equivalent in their debates between freedom and it’s opposite (which I call tyranny, but is called liberal, leftist, progressive, socialist, and other names). But there’s a reason Canada didn’t join with the colonies to rebel against the tyrannical British crown back in the 1770s, and failed to join us in our constitutional republic in the 1780s. They tolerated more tyranny than we were willing to tolerate.
And then there’s a difference in recent experience. Brett Kavanaugh is not the first US Supreme Court nominee who has been viciously opposed by the tyranny side, who abuse their advise and consent role.
The way “advise and consent” was set up to work, the President would be allowed to appoint justices that shared his political ideas, as long as they were qualified to be justices and were not unsavory characters or simply cronies.
The Republican side, which is the side that actually follows the Constitution, if anyone does, has allowed the president that privilege with very little rancor over the many decades. Republicans have voted to sustain candidates even when there was clear evidence those justices would not judge based solely on the Constitution, but would impose their personal viewpoints from the bench, making themselves an unelected extra-legislative body. The Republicans could have been fully justified—had they had the strength of numbers—to refuse to accept justices such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, for example. But, in the spirit of collegiality, they limited their own advise and consent power.
But the Democrats, most obviously with Robert Bork, and certainly continuing since then, have decided to block nominations based simply on their (the Democrats’) political bias. And their bias happens to be against the Constitution. They object to justices who will keep their oath to abide by the Constitution.
Only one Democrat voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh; that means every single remaining Democrat is claiming the appointee was unfit to be a judge, despite a sterling character record and long and open record on the bench proving he was fully capable. And they were willing to pull out all the stops: wait until after the hearings, toss out a still anonymous accusation about 36 years ago that had no evidence or corroboration, lie under oath, collude with other liars, and orchestrate the character assassination of a good man—because they don’t agree with him.
Kavanaugh was the most egregious since the derailing the Robert Bork nomination—or maybe including that. But they also nearly succeeded in undermining Justice Clarence Thomas’s hearings, with false charges against his character—and to this day they continue to honor the woman who falsely accused him.
Their threats led to less controversial appointments by Republican presidents, for the sake of peace, which took the Court in a bad direction, from which it will take maybe another lifetime to recover. Justice O’Connor and Justice Kennedy are two, both appointed by Reagan (who had to deal with a Democrat Senate and House his entire eight years). Also Justice John Paul Stevens, appointed by Gerald Ford, and David Souter, appointed by George H. W. Bush.
In other words, Republicans have already tried the conciliatory route, to avoid controversy and tension. And the result has been a much less Constitution-following court. We’re trying to make up lost ground.
There can’t be compromise for the sake of peace over certain things.
Jordan Peterson agrees about that. In a response about what he’d meant by his tweets, he said this:
And, people said, “No, that’s wrong, because if you let the accusers knock you out of the race, then they win, and that will embolden them, and you should know better than that, because you have told people not to withdraw.” And you know—look, fair enough. I don’t know what the hell is the right way out of this mess. I don’t see a clear path forward out of this.
You know, what I see now is the— I mean I don’t like the believe-the-accuser philosophy. I think that’s an appalling philosophy. You have to be naive beyond comprehension to think that that’s a good idea. To think that people wouldn’t misuse— If that was the rule, every accuser is right? Oh, that’s a great rule, that is. [sarcasm]
I’m not willing to give up the presumption of innocence. And for the idea that it’s better to let, you know, ten guilty people walk free than to convict one innocent person—that’s a good bloody rule. That’s a good rule. And we don’t just give that rule up because we’re feeling all empathic and morally superior about it.
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So there’s a baseline we can agree on. Whatever we do, we can’t give up on the presumption of innocence. Not even for the sake of peace.
But how do you know when you’re at the point of refusal to make peace for the sake of a relationship? It’s a more personal question that is now playing out on our larger population. These are questions about accountability, justice, forgiveness, and mercy. If you’re trying to be merciful and have peace for the sake of a relationship, how do you hold someone accountable and have justice for the sake of the larger community?
In a relationship the size of this country, when there are essentially warring factions, how do you stand up against the bullying side to keep both your personal sovereignty and your self-respect?
What about mob rule? Can we agree that’s a bad thing? We should. But the opposition, at this point in history, defines “mob rule” as something only “right wing” extremists can do. Meanwhile they mob conservatives to run them out of restaurants. They scare police away from downtown Portland,OR. They riot if a conservative speaker is invited to a university campus.
Eric Holder, Obama’s former attorney general, suggested Democrats forget taking the high road; "kick them." Hillary Clinton called for no civility until they’re in power—that is, wielding power over us. This isn’t about Trump’s lack of civility, as they claim; it’s about their weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that we the people have not kowtowed to their supposed right to rule over us.
They talk about repealing the Second Amendment, or doing away with the Electoral College, or even doing away with the Senate—which is based on equal state representation rather than population. They want to get rid of anything our founders designed to keep us free from tyranny—because their goal is tyranny, and the Constitution is in their way.
We don't really have a lot of disagreement with Jordan Peterson. He was doing a thought experiment that happened to go down a path many of us have traveled before, so we know how that would go, and we reject it. But there's still this question he was dealing with:
We’ve got a problem. The problem is, is that, I don’t see any way of moving this forward without exacerbating the polarized tension.
He may be right. There may be no path without polarized tension. But he’s the clinical psychologist. So my question for him is, at what cost should peace be the goal?
If Europe and beyond had succumbed to Nazi rule, they would have had peace, of a sort. But they would be subjects of tyranny; that would be the cost. Can we agree that cost would have been too high?
The thing with logic is, if you start with the wrong “if” statement, you’ll get the wrong “then” outcome. So the starting point may not be, “If the goal is peace,” unfortunately. We might be beyond a peaceful outcome with people who are our literal enemies. Peace only comes after we defeat them.
Well, there’s one other way to peace: Those who are seeking to wreak havoc on our constitutional republic could stop it. Life would get better for them—even though they don’t see how—and it would certainly get better for us. But the record of power mongers doing that is pretty dismal.
The problem is that, at a granular level, all of us know Democrats that aren’t actually trying to tyrannize us; they’re just not thinking things through the way we freedom lovers do. So we mostly just avoid talking about divisive issues with them—anything beyond work, weather, food, and sports, maybe. And we can get along fine with them as long as we can avoid being attacked. That’s a sort of peace we’ve been used to for about a century.
The hope, then, has to be separating out regular people who have been among those enemies, but are really just our neighbors who don’t have a good understanding of the alternatives. If they knew they could choose freedom,prosperity, and civilization—rather than tyranny, poverty, and savagery—they’d step over to our side.
But for those who insist on ruling over us—on taking away our liberty, property, and civilization—and who stir up mob violence against us, there’s no path to peace. We are, however, still very hopeful—possibly naively so—that we can defeat them in the arena of ideas, without violence. (Though that explains why they have been calling speech that disagrees with them “violence,” because they prefer to think of us as the bad guys.)
Some of what has to be done is pointing out the extremes of the would-be tyrants—getting that message out despite the complicity of so much of the media and academia who hide the truth.
It’s a time to stand up and speak truth, even when peace is at stake, and even when it looks to bystanders that we haven’t been tolerant enough of tyranny yet. In this case, the bystanders don’t know what we’ve already learned by hard experience.