Sunday, June 15, 2003

If Bush gave a shit about the Iranian people, he would shut up. The reformers in Iran are winning, slowly. Khamenei has already called for the vigilantes to cool it. But everything that Texas Teahead does he does for his own benefit, and he and his pimps are all too stupid to see that in the long run, their arrogance will do more harm than good, not just for the Iranians who mean nothing to them, but for their own plans.

And the more I think of it, the dangerous stupidity of the Idiots at Volokh deserves all the contempt anyone can muster. I've been wondering, since J. Balkin is always so polite, if perhaps my rudeness is inappropriate. Not that it means much, but I suppose it's a matter of principle. Liberals defend liberalism because it seems natural to them to do so. Balkin did not respond as sharply as he could, partly out of courtesy, but I think also because he does not know quite how to describe the ambiguity he is defending. He appreciates it, and knows that it's necessary, but as in his interest in the I Ching, he's afraid to commit to a formalism that seems, as such, absurd. He has no problem stating that Posner makes good arguments for what he nonetheless opposes, but he doesn't explain how important it is to be able to say that. How after all can they be good arguments if he thinks they're wrong? The paradox of communication is that you can't do it without a set of logically consistent but otherwise meaningless rules. Metaphysicians don't mind this at all, but the rest of us are torn between being formalists and slaves to subject matter, which becomes vulgarized as 'content.' Juan Non-Volokh is a vulgarian, and Jack Balkin is too polite to say so, because he does not want to come off as defending a dilettante's definition of justice.

Justice is a matter of life and death. But it's also a matter of seduction and rhetorical skill. Hire two actors to each say the words "I love her." Hire two lawyers to each say: "He's innocent." Pick one of each. But does he love her? Is he innocent? Who knows? How can one take something so seriously, that's so absurd?

I read Talking Points Memo every day, and I often find it as annoying as not. But the best thing I've ever read by Josh Marshall he put up this week, a description of the changes in the southern California landscape over the past 30 years, and the story of his mother's death in a traffic accident in 1981. The link is here. Reading his few paragraphs in the context of this debate should remind people of what they acknowledge every day without thinking, of what Jack Balkin defends in his writing without, I think, defending it with enough force. And that is absurd as it may be, the only reason those of us who have never met Josh Marshall have to care about his loss, in a world where death is both common and inevitable, is that he uses his skills as a trained writer to describe his emotions with subtlety and grace. And if we're moved by this story, what is it that has moved us, the facts or the language that he uses to describe them? I'm neither a vulgarian nor a formalist, so I don't have to answer.

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