Irreducible Human Dignity
December 15, 2010 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Need a little political philosophy? Why not try this conversation on economics, the human person and democracy between conservative Catholic legal scholar Robert George and the always fascinating African-American studies professor and philosopher Cornel West? posted by l33tpolicywonk (8 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'll just say this: Robert George doesn't speak for all Catholics. Perhaps that's obvious, but I feel the need to say it.
posted by oddman at 2:13 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have found West to be a questionable man to listen to ever since hearing him declare that O.J. Simpson was innocent, the victim of racial injustice, stated at the time of the trial.
posted by Postroad at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found the love v. compassion thing rather problematic, actually. The problem with the idea of tough love—at least the kind that I write about, where you basically tell an addict or troubled teen, do what I say or else I cut you out of my life— is that it is based on pity, not compassion.

If you practice tough love on someone, you are inherently claiming that you know what is right for that person better than they know themselves. This does not place in you in the equal position that empathy or compassion does in the way discussed by West. It places you in the position of someone who pities from on high, who knows that you know better and that the other person is not capable of making rational decisions. It is inherently patronizing and demeaning in a way that West clearly opposes.

This doesn't mean that there are never times when you say no out of love or even when you have to cut someone you love out of your life. It does mean that you can't do that and expect that your superior knowledge of what's best for someone will make them better. You might cut someone off—as George McGovern did to his alcoholic daughter— and find them dead in a snowbank a few days later. You may need to cut someone out of your life to protect yourself or your children— but you can't do it to fix them. It could have the opposite result.

And since there are compassionate means that are more effective at getting people to get help—more effective precisely because they treat people with dignity and respect, rather than infantilizing them and because they don't carry the risk of simply dropping people who are not doing well into a world of no support— there simply is no justification for the kind of tough love George calls for.
posted by Maias at 3:15 PM on December 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yechhh... This reminds me of the endless hours wasted in my Catholic school religion class honing the fine points over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, where these exact same points were discussed ad nauseam. The surprising thing to me here is how identical George and West's debates are to the ones we had, where nobody (including the instructor) was ever completely persuasive, and most everybody managed to resolve these big questions for themselves in the end, despite the arguments, appeals to faith, authority and/or reason, no matter how eloquent or inarticulate. The intellectual chops displayed in this Bloggingheads differ almost not at all from those displayed in Fr. Nocita's class circa 1985, except the latter came from the mouths of inexperienced students armed mostly with their own curiosity, reason, and previous instruction. The similarity leaves me a bit amused, and a bit dismayed.

The erudition is greater. Somehow, the quality of the output is not.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:48 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the universe where Liberals really are actively trying to euthanize disabled children I could probably get behind this conservative view of the world.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:12 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, and that idea that eugenics was done out of compassion is ridiculous. The only "compassion" that could be argued for it is compassion for the group, in not having to deal with the "defective." There was no compassion for "life unworthy of life"— the idea was to for the rest of the folks not to have to be burdened. It wasn't to "help" the disabled or mentally ill— it was to get rid of them, I can't see anyone making a straight-faced argument that people who were sterilized or killed because they weren't "fit" would be happy about it.
posted by Maias at 6:03 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Both speakers need to read this, for starters. Then, go read more in one of Lakoff's books. We think in metaphorical frames; we can't get around that, because it has to do with the way our brains work. We have to learn to work with the real, physical differences (in terms of metaphorical pathways, literally burned into our gray matter), and then approach those differences in ways that don't make us (anyone leaning left, even moderates) reinforce the frame of those whose ideas we oppose. This is *key* in all matters that have to do with one's approach to the essential meanings and philosophies of life - politics among them.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:28 PM on December 15, 2010

btw, I find Cornell West too seemingly clever for his own good. The man has a way with words, and even though I tend to lean his way, he's not really a good representative of progressive values, because he's too quick to jump on every turn that looks progressive, whether it has proven itself or not. Just look at his experience with Obama, as one example.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:40 PM on December 15, 2010

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