I am the kind of person who is willing to discuss and debate anything, regardless of what norms and sacred cows the conversation winds up defying. I’ve been this way my entire life. I used to think it was badass to challenge religious institutions and traditional ways of living. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to find those sorts of contrarian thoughts to be more cowardly and corny than rebellious. It’s easy to make fun of Christians and the nuclear family. How often do the people who find those critiques offensive come after your livelihood or your head?
Standing up to the real sacred cows of today takes guts:
Is homosexuality a choice? Has suffrage been a net negative for women? Was 9/11 an inside job? Has the Holocaust been exaggerated? Can we cut $1.00 from the Social Security budget?
Just asking these questions and having these discussions is enough to make many people tune out or condemn you of thought crime. I would not be surprised if much of my (admittedly small) readership has x’d out of this window already.
Part of me wants to blame those who are too squeamish to question their firmly held beliefs. Why are they so close-minded?
But it’s more likely that I’m the weird one. I am able to discuss and ponder about the most sensitive subjects while simultaneously keeping it together. Like Christopher Boone, the autistic narrator and protagonist in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, I am able to detach my mind from emotion and bias in order to solve problems and root out illogic (though I’m obviously not perfect at this and the shrewdness of my logic is up for debate).
I remember being in a staff meeting at my second school as a teacher. A coworker, who thought himself the department head, had questioned one of my teaching methods, and asked me to make an adjustment. The actual department head agreed. I responded by saying that I disagreed with their assessment, but I will make the adjustment anyway.
My willingness to voice my dissent enraged my coworker. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, he was stood screaming at me from across the table in front of the entire staff. He admonished me for daring to express my disagreement and, I felt, wanted me to say something along the lines of you’re right; I’m sorry. If this is what he wanted, he never got it. I held my ground and stuck to my guns.
Later that day, I ran into another coworker who had been at the meeting. He shook his head and put his hand on my shoulder before conveying how amazed he was by my calm in the face of someone so unhinged. He said that he would have leaned across the table and punched our coworker had he been in my position.
At this moment, I should have realized how different I am from the average Joe. I am afflicted with the capacity for brute reason.
Kevin Williamson, who was recently fired after writing only one column (and a great column at that) for The Atlantic, has the curse of brute reason too, and it would ultimately be his undoing.
I originally intended to name the most frightening components of the Williamson saga 1) the left-wing mob that regularly sabotages Conservatives and Libertarians who are given mainstream platforms and 2) the gatekeepers of intellectual thought (in this case, Jeffery Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief) who placate said left-wing mob.
But what can be done about these antagonists of antagonism? Is the left-wing mob suddenly going to calm down and listen to the other side if we keep insisting to each other that they do? Will our ridicule slowly chip away at their sensitivity until they are hardened objectivists? Are the gatekeepers going to choose to offend the bulk of their audience for the benefit of a handful of free thinkers? All of this appears to be a fruitless endeavor.
What I now believe to be the most frightening component of the Williamson saga is playing the character capable of brute reason. Like Pandora’s Box, my open mind cannot be closed. And those who do not want to trudge through the darker alleyways of reality have agency, both ethically and factually, to cover their ears, close their eyes, and sprint the other way, leaving me and those with similar abilities alone with each other in the shadows.
There are only two things I’m sure brute reasoners can do about our isolated state. The first is to try our darndest to persuade the masses even though our success rate will be minimal. This is and will continue to be a major hurdle because good marketing often requires piles of bullshit, and bullshit is like kryptonite to a brute reasoner. We aren’t appealing to the masses, and one of few things that we find too repulsive to bear is misrepresentation. Like sardines in a shoal, encircled by predators, whose survival instinct to follow the darting of our neighbors is now leading to our doom, the bait ball our nature and circumstances have got us in is going to be difficult to escape from.
The second thing we can do is to stay inspired by admiring the beauty of the products of brute reason. Kevin Williamson’s thought experiment conclusion about hanging women who have had abortions is a great example of this.
Williamson’s conclusion rests upon several premises:
- Abortion is akin to murder
- Mothers are complicit in elective abortions; it’s not only the abortionist who is responsible
- The death penalty is a reasonable way to punish murderers
- The violence of the state should not be sugar-coated
Regardless of your or my or Kevin’s sincere agreement with any of these premises, let’s try to detach our minds and see if we can rationalize them.
Abortion as Murder
It is common knowledge that Conservatives (and many others) believe abortion is murder. They believe that life begins at conception, so terminating a pregnancy is terminating an innocent human life without its consent (which, like a child or unconscious adult, it does not have the ability to grant anyway).
Unless you do not value human life at all, it is probably the case that you would consider the killing of a mother’s developing child against her will to be akin to murder. If that is the case, the only way you would be unable to at least consider the possibility of abortion being akin to murder is to believe the value of a child’s life is determined solely the mother’s discretion. And even if you believe it is the mother’s choice exclusively, are you not somewhat persuaded by the reasoning of those who disagree?
Mothers are Responsible
Conservative thought-leaders rebuked then-candidate Trump when he suggested that women who have abortions should receive some form of punishment for their transgressions. It is the belief among the Conservative mainstream that abortionists, not mothers who have abortions, are the true guilty party.
But doesn’t that discount the mother’s agency? Isn’t she the one giving the okay and funding the operation? In what other circumstance does an adult approve and fund an action involving her or her child’s body and then assume zero culpability when they agreed upon action is carried out as planned? The case can certainly be made that mothers are partially, mostly, or completely responsible for the abortions they have.
The Death Penalty is Fair
The death penalty is a dangerous power to give to the state, and due to the possibility of wrongful conviction, can and does result in killings of those who did not deserve it. But let’s assume for a moment that we are privy to a case in which there is absolutely zero doubt that an individual accused of first-degree murder or another heinous crime is guilty. Under these conditions, is death a reasonable penalty?
You (and Kevin and I) may say it is not. Perhaps the potential to rehabilitate a criminal outweighs the need to inflict punishment. Perhaps a people who use violence to punish violence are becoming the thing that they claim to fight. But ruling that killing those who kill, as a means of justice, crime prevention, or something else, is not beyond the realms of sane policy. Can you at least see where they are coming from?
Exposing the Nature of the State
As Kevin Williamson has said, if you don’t pay your taxes, the government will sue you when they find out. If you fail to appear in court, they will get a warrant for your arrest. If you resist arrest, they will apprehend you and throw you in a cage or kill you if you put up a good enough fight. In other words, you will be killed or locked in a cage if you do not give the government the money it demands. This is the nature of government whether you like it or not.
If the government is essentially a monopoly on violence, why should we not be kept aware of this in our daily lives? Calls for transparency and authenticity are pervasive for all other things. Why should government be any different? If we are going to use state-sanctioned violence to punish those who break the law, why not make it as obvious as possible? Graphic hangings of murderers, as opposed to bloodless lethal injections, are honest and straightforward. If you do not support the death penalty without sugar-coating, you do not support the death penalty.
The Sublimity of a Gruesome Conclusion
Now that each of Kevin’s four premises is rationalized, let’s create a few syllogisms:
- Premise IA: Abortion is murder
- Premise IIA: Mothers are responsible for their abortions
- Conclusion A: Mothers who have abortions are murderers
- Premise IB: The death penalty is a just form of punishment for murderers
- Premise IIB: The state should make its violent nature explicit
- Conclusion B: Explicitly violent use of the death penalty (such as hanging) is a just form of punishment for murderers
- Premise IC: Mothers who have abortions are murderers
- Premise IIC: Explicitly violent use of the death penalty (such as hanging) is a just form of punishment for murderers
- Conclusion C: Explicitly violent use of the death penalty (such as hanging) is a just form of punishment for mothers who have abortions
This conclusion is beautiful for many reasons. The most obvious is that it follows a clean line of reasoning. If one accepts all of Kevin’s premises, none of which are completely unreasonable, it is hard to avoid his conclusion.
The more discrete reason Kevin’s conclusion is beautiful is that it is more challenging to those who tend to accept Kevin’s premises than to those who do not.
Conservatives who deny the mother’s culpability in her abortion are denying her agency, which is great cannon fodder for Liberals who accuse Conservatives of misogyny.
Liberals can force Conservatives into one of three uncomfortable corners:
- Admit that they are misogynists
- Admit that mothers who have abortions should be treated like murderers (and a supermajority of Conservatives support the death penalty for murderers)
- Admit that abortion is not akin to murder
Williamson also confronts Conservatives, who provide constant reminders of the forceful and violent nature of government, by calling them liars for trying to cover up the fate they advocate for murderers.
Ironically, Williamson’s thorn in the Conservative side has wound up puncturing Liberal sensibilities far more than the Conservatives it should be bleeding.
If you are a brute reasoner like me, and you can see the beauty in all of this, it should inspire you to trudge on. We are fighting for something special.