There Can Be No Serious Debate On This Issue

I think once every decade or so, we each find a public affairs issue where we don’t think one side is merely wrong — in fact or principle — but utterly unnecessary and ridiculous. We can’t even believe there’s a debate about the subject. I can think of only three in my more than 4-decade lifetime; in the spirit of open inquiry about how we all think, I invite commenters to contribute and discuss their own. Read on for clarification on what such an issue is — one leaving you shaking your head and not so much your fist.

Such issues are things where in great part we may even feel a paradoxical pity that the other side is actually more hurting its own case than threatening one's own; indeed it goes beyond moral or intellectual certitude to partial or total incomprehension. For example, I know that there are reasons one might favor or disfavor gun control, abortion, the Iraq war, the Vietnam war, gay marriage, environmental regulation, George Bush, the Republicans, the Democrats, the drug war, free trade, immigration, animal rights. Now I can hold strong, even unbending opinions, on these. But I do not necessarily find the other side beyond a certain measure of sense or at least internal consistency. But the issues I am referring to here are ones that leave you more in bemused bewilderedness than indignant posturing.

Let me then illustrate with the three issues I find fitting the bill:

1. The legal right of American Nazi’s to hold a rally in Skokie. Back around 1977, a group of moral misfits decided to hold a rally in the Chicago suburb Skokie to protest being denied permission to hold a rally in Chicago. It was an especially offensive choice, as Skokie had a large numbers of Holocaust survivors and escapees. But it was idiotic to think there was any legal challenge under American or Illinois law to the right of a group of Americans to hold a rally in a public place. It just felt beyond stupid for anyone to even argue against it legally, and ultimately a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court just about said so.

That people from Skokie would be angry enough to try to stop it is understandable enough given the special history, but that others would seriously in cool reflection treat the issue as debatable and support a legal challenge is just roll-your-eyes bizarre. And a great part of the reason it seemed so bizarre is that it undermined the underlying moral case: it was a form of trying to fight fascist racist totalitarianism. . . by restricting free association by law.

2. Opposition to oil drilling in ANWR . I made a lame satire on this issue earlier here. But still it seems that oil under ANWR should be a god-send to those who care intensely (and I frankly don’t count myself among those who care all that much) that oil production be safely away from areas of human population, significant natural life and beauty, and natural sea or river water flow. Why is there even a debate on this? That’s precisely where oil should be found and taken from, if it has to be taken; and it does. Please, it’s basically tundra versus the essential lifeblood of modern society.

3. Opposition to interracial adoption. I recall an earnest social work student, a girlfriend of the time in the early 1990s, conscientiously researching and writing a paper about the debate over whether there should be interracial adoption. She came down in favor of such adoption after studying and reporting pages and pages of debate. To me, this was actually about a one or two sentence issue. What's the debate here and why would there be any opposition taken seriously outside the Klan? Black kids are often left unadopted while Americans go overseas in search of Asian and Romanian kids. Please, these African-American kids need as many opportunities for a decent life as they can in our society, any qualified interested couple of any race would be of help.

I recall seeing bizarre arguments about the damage of taking them away from their "culture". The only culture little kids have is basically running around if they are old enough, or when younger they have the universal baby "culture" of crying, excreting, and puking. (Actually in politically correct left-wing, as well as paleoconservative right-wing lingo, there is an ironic overlap in which "culture" is a euphemism for "race".) And any "culture" (I am not talking of race or ethnicity now, but circumstances) which involves kids institutionalized and foster-cared through childhood is one they should yanked away from wherever possible and healthy to do so.

It was and is a bizarre issue, and it also self-defeating as racial equality activists who are opposed end up arguing against one of the most effective ways to bring black kids inside the more powerful majority society, much less the fact that it amounts to arguing against the opportunity for individual unfortunates to achieve a better and dignified life. A silly and unnecessary debate.


In line with the above I therefore invite the reader, less to comment on these issues, unless so inclined, than to report if they have had similar experiences of this general type (issues where the opposition is just incomprehensible), and why. A big caution: if it is an issue that gets you emotional and indignant it is a good indication it is not one of the type of issues I mean -- I refer to issues where the opposite side doesn’t even compute, and invites an almost benign bemusement.

Posted by Matthew Hogan at April 6, 2005 10:18 PM