Message Boards and Comment Sections

I have been involved in many conversations on message boards and in blog comment sections over the years. Very few of these conversations have been respectful and compassionate although this sometimes occurs. More often these conversations start as a difference of opinion about a specific issue but then morph into a battle of egos. Neither side will admit this of course. They always couch their position as if it is motivated chiefly by a search for the truth. This proclaimed motivation, however, is almost always betrayed by the snarky, sarcastic quality the comments take on and by ad hominem attacks made against the person espousing the opposing position.

I should know better than to get sucked into these debates. They always end up the same way, sour my mood and muddle my thought process. But this is the nature of an ego based exchange. As I said, ad hominem attacks (as opposed to an honest discussion of the issues) is a good indicator that the conversation has turned in this direction. Another indicator is when the debate replays itself in my mind when I am not actually engaged in the debate. This is the ego preparing itself for the next round. And the goal is not really to show the opposing side the errors of his ways. The goal is always to humiliate the other side. This is why it always gets personal.

I have my theories as to why a person chooses to make a debate personal. Choose is actually the wrong word because this decision is made on a very primitive and neuro-chemical level. That is, reward chemicals are released when a person senses that he has humiliated his opponent through text. Over time his brain rewires itself in response to this reward. Through this rewiring he becomes addicted to the reward and then acts on it through compulsion.(1) This is why a troll does what he does. But the question remains why these chemicals are released in response to this scenario in the first place. It seems highly likely that this neural pattern is based on prior experiences of being humiliated (probably by primary care takers at an early and formative age). This creates the mechanism that rewards humiliating other people.(2) But often within the throws of an exchange it feels like a struggle for the truth is at stake. It is forgotten (or never known in the first place) that the real motivation is to humiliate the other even though this motive remains alive and well on a subliminal level.

Another aspect to this dynamic is a failure (or refusal) to appreciate the other person’s position. Once things get personal this obstinance only calcifies. For example, Zippy talks about the positivists wearing blinders in the following passage:

For sane people, a real counterexample calls for revision of the theory or metaphysics which its existence contradicts. For positivists, a real counterexample is something to be dismissed unless it can be incorporated into positive theory.

However, he fails to see the beam in his own eye in this respect when it comes to his obsessive anti-liberal stance. He is so wedded to his own belief that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world that he dismisses out of hand all counterexamples (usually with an  ad hominem attack thrown in for good measure). Moreover, within the echo chambers of the comment sections of the Orthosphere and his own blog his absurd points of view are largely confirmed. The best example I can give as to this is his argument that the USA and North Korea are equally free societies. (See the comment section to this post). I can only attribute his ability to believe this to the fact that he has a loyal band of people who readily agree with him and reinforce this belief. Unfortunately, such is the post truth / alternative fact world in which we now find ourselves living.

In closing, I write this post mainly to put a bookend to this series of posts I started writing a while back. It started when a self proclaimed white supremacist and Orthosphere commenter by the name Thordaddy start spamming my blog with literally hundreds of comments. Something I said clearly irked him and he made it his mission to read all my posts and comment copiously on them. I sort of enjoyed this for a while because it gave me a wealth of material on which to write. But as I mentioned before this type of exchange eventually becomes emotionally and spiritually draining. Later I started engaging the more sane contributors on the Orthosphere in an honest attempt to understand their point of view. This worked for a while. My original position was merely to document my thought process as I followed their arguments and evaluated the natural counter arguments that arose in response. But eventually that position devolved into the present position where I find myself engaging in silly debates about whether a person can coherently say he would rather live in a free society such as the USA over an un-free society like North Korea. The answer is obvious to me and it is equally obvious that any further debate would only serve to feed each other’s ego. It is Lent after all and I would rather follow the advice of St. Paul and set my mind on things above rather than earthly things. (Col 3:2)


(1) See The Cure for Alcoholism, Roy Eskapa, PhD, (2008)

(2) See Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw (2005)

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65 responses to “Message Boards and Comment Sections

  1. donnie

    Winston,

    You are grossly mischaracterizing the arguments of your interlocutors here.

    He is so wedded to his own belief that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world…

    This is an absurd absolute which I have never seen claimed by Zippy or any of the other regular commenters at his blog. Liberalism is not the cause of all the evil in the world. But as Zippy and others such as myself have argued, it is a dangerous and destructive political doctrine.

    …that he dismisses out of hand all counterexamples

    Perhaps my memory fails me, but I only recall you citing one alleged counterexample to Zippy’s claim that there are no free societies: the United States of America. The USA is, in your view, an excellent counterexample by virtue of its Bill of Rights. I don’t recall you ever explaining why, exactly, you believe the existence of the U.S. Bill of Rights to be sufficient proof that the USA is a free society. Perhaps the answer to this is supposed to be self-evident. Well, certainly I have tried to explain to you why I do not see the Bill of Rights as sufficient proof that the USA is a free society. I know others have as well. And I hardly think all of that work amounted to dismissing your counterexample out of hand.

    The best example I can give as to this is his argument that the USA and North Korea are equally free societies.

    This is an egregious mischaracterization of the argument being debated. The argument is that there are no free societies. To twist this around and claim that what is being argued then is that the USA and North Korea are equally free is disingenuous. What is being argued is that neither society is free.

    I can only attribute his ability to believe this to the fact that he has a loyal band of people who readily agree with him and reinforce this belief.

    Since I am presumably a member of this purportedly enabling group of loyal followers let me be absolutely clear: Zippy is not arguing what you claim he is arguing and neither am I.

    Winston, I find this OP disappointing. Not just because it entirely misrepresents the opposing side but also because you seem to be throwing in the towel. You started this series of posts intending to learn more about the ‘alt-right’ in the wake of the U.S. presidential election. Instead you wandered across a different group of right-wing folks with even more ‘out-there’ political beliefs. Beliefs that we actually took a fair amount of time and energy to develop. Beliefs which we at least tried to explain to you in a reasoned and civil manner. Believe me, if you had found yourself instead at a truly ‘alt-right’ blog or forum you would have been afforded neither the reason nor the civility with which you have been shown. No, we’re not perfect. Yes, each of us have egos which flare up from time to time and it’s not always pretty. But we do try to act with charity on the internet. At least I know I do. And having debated with you on this topic for some time now, I believe that you try to act with charity as well.

    Winston, I’ve been on plenty of blogs and internet forums and I’m sure you have to. Honestly I don’t know of any other corner of the internet where people can debate obscure political ideas at this level of relative sanity and civility. So I encourage you not to give up. I can’t speak for anyone else but I actually enjoyed our debate back-and-forth: after all, iron sharpens iron. So if you’re not totally sick of the topics at hand, I encourage you not to call it quits. I am sure that there is still plenty that we could both learn from one another.

  2. Hi Donnie – I appreciate the time you spent writing your response. You said:

    The argument is that there are no free societies. To twist this around and claim that what is being argued then is that the USA and North Korea are equally free is disingenuous. What is being argued is that neither society is free.

    I find this a little confusing. If there are no free societies is that not the same thing as saying any two societies are equally free? If you are not saying this then it sounds like you are making my point that one society is “more free” than the other.

    • Winston,
      If I may: If there are no green fire trucks, then we could describe that by saying all fire trucks are equally green, but describing it that way may imply that all fire trucks are green which contradicts what we are proposing. So it is more useful and more accurate to say there are no free societies rather than saying all societies are equally free.

      • But I reject the notion that no societies are free. It is obvious to me (and probably most people) that certain societies enjoy greater degrees of freedom than others. Therefore I have no problem with my use of language.

    • donnie

      Thanks Winston. Glad to see you’re not throwing in the towel. Hope you brewed yourself a cup of coffee because this comment is a long one:

      When I say, “neither society is free” or “no society is free” I do not mean it the same way one might if one were to say, “neither society has any unicorns in it” or “no society has any unicorns in it.” In the unicorn analogy, it would be accurate to say “both societies have equal numbers of unicorns” because what is being claimed is that there are no unicorns to be found in either. But when I say “neither society is free” I am not intending to claim that there are no freedoms to be found in either place. Certainly there are many freedoms to be found between the two. What I am meaning to claim is this: due to the subjective aspect of freedom, which is inherent in its nature, it is not meaningful to apply the term “free” to a group of people with such diverse desires as any society must contain.

      Surely if a man desires to do a range of different things, and all the various things which he desires to do are options available to him, he can said to be free. Likewise if a group of folks all desire to do the same thing, and that thing which they desire to do is available to them as an option, they can be said to be free. So if a man desires to criticize his government publicly, and his government affords him the authority to publicly criticize it, he can be said to be free in that respect. Likewise if a group of Jewish people desire to practice their faith, and one country grants them the authority to do this and another country does not, it can then be said that these Jewish people are more free in one country than in another, at least with respect to the practice of their religion.

      But when you take a group with such diverse and varying desires as an entire society of people, it becomes far less clear what exactly is meant when one says, “the society of Country A is free; the society of Country B is not.” Free from what? Neither is free from authority, since every country’s society is still subject to the authority of their respective governments. In fact it is the act of the government authoritatively discriminating between different people and different groups of people that create the available options which are commonly referred to as “liberties.” If it were not for the government of Country A authoritatively restricting the options available to lawmakers and law enforcers, there would be no way for men in its territories to have the designated authority to criticize government, or to observantly practice Judaism.

      I suppose the counter-claim to this would be the following: saying that the society of Country A is free while the society of Country B is not does not mean the society of Country A is free from authority. It means that the average citizen in Country A has more options available to him than the average citizen in Country B.

      If that is what is being claimed then fine. Though I do not know how or even if it could be measured, I do not doubt that the average American citizen has more options that are afforded to him by his government than the average North Korean citizen. But here I must still question how meaningful it is to label this state of affairs as being “more free.” For example, what if the average North Korean citizen does not desire the extra available options that would be afforded to him if he were an American?

      This is not a distinction I learned to appreciate until relatively recently, when a few years ago I became close with a girl, as well as her friends, who were all proud citizens of the People’s Republic of China. Neither this girl nor her friends contradicted me when I pointed out that when it comes to publicly criticizing our respective governments, I as an American citizen had a far wider range of liberties at my disposal than they did as Chinese citizens. They agreed with my observation. What they objected to was my claim that this somehow meant I was freer as an American than they were as Chinese citizens. They insisted this was not the case because they had no desire to criticize the government of China. Therefore, they argued, their lack of available options in this regard did not make them any less free.

      I suppose it could be argued then that my Chinese friends were simply wrong, that regardless of their own subjective preferences they really were less free as Chinese citizens. After all, their lack of desire to criticize their government was a result of their upbringing, which instilled in them a profound love for their homeland. Perhaps, one might argue, if they were wiser and less blinded by patriotism, they would desire to criticize their government, and then they would recognize Americans as being freer than them in this regard. But if we are going to deal in hypotheticals of this sort, then I must ask: what if all of us were wiser? What if all of us were less blinded by our attachments, biases, and failings? What would we desire then?

      The answer, of course, is that each of us would desire what the Saints in God’s Kingdom desire: to perform those actions which are pleasing to God, and to shun all actions that offend Him. And since we know this, how then is it reasonable for our governments to center their acts of authority around an expressed goal that, at best, merely increases the number of options available for the average citizen? Shouldn’t we desire for our governments to be wiser than that?

      • I get what you are saying (even though I suspect Zippy would assert that I did not). To me it is simpler than you are making it out to be. In the Western liberal tradition there are certain rights or freedoms that are respected by governments that label themselves to be free. These are outlined more or less in the bill of rights to the US constitution. These rights also have a significant jurisprudential depth to them so they are not just words on paper. And yes we can look at it in terms of one citizen of a country having a wider range of options than another. This is sufficient for me. With all due respect (and I mean that sincerely) I’m not really interested in arguing semantics.

      • donnie

        OK, but it definitely didn’t seem like you understood from your OP.

        Anyway, since in regard to your stated position, I have a couple of questions:

        1. What the Western liberal tradition is and what it stands for has been defined and redefined a number of times in the last few centuries and is continuing to be redefined even within our own lifetimes. As an example of this, Americans understanding of their own Bill of Rights has shifted dramatically in a mere 225 short years. The rights and liberties that Americans understand themselves as having today is not the same as the rights and liberties their forefathers understood themselves as having in 1791, which is not the same as what Americans understood themselves as having in 1831, which is not the same as what Americans understood themselves as having in 1896, which is not the same as what Americans understood themselves as having in 1974. So if a free society is defined as one which respects the rights and liberties outlined in the U.S. Bill of Rights, but each passing generation understands these rights and liberties differently, how can there be any coherency to our understanding of what a free society is?

        2. Why are the U.S. Bill of Rights the standard by which we judge whether a society is free or not? Why not some other country’s Bill of Rights?

        For example, as I suggested back on Zippy’s blog, if we polled every person on Earth and asked them which country best epitomizes a free society, I am pretty confident China would win. They have the most citizens of any country by far, and do an excellent job of raising their citizens to be proud of their country and satisfied with the range of options that their government grants them. Furthermore, they have their own Bill of Rights which expressly grants each Chinese citizen full authority over their speech, press, assembly, association, religious belief, and a whole host of other things which bear much in common with what is written in the U.S. Bill of Rights (scroll down to “Chapter II: The Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens” in the link). So why then is the USA the standard by which we judge whether a society is free? Why not the PRC?

        If the concept of a free society is coherent and simple as you claim it is, it seems reasonable to me that both of these questions will have answers.

      • China does not have the rule of law. Their constitution may say one thing but their court system does not act with the same independence and respect for the law as in our legal system. So the fact that their constitution has an equivalent to the bill of rights is not particularly persuasive.

        Again, I get the agenda you are pushing. I’m just not convinced it is correct.

      • donnie

        And your answer to the first question?

      • The jurisprudence may have evolved over the year because the context has changed but our free society is still essentially based on the same principles.

      • donnie

        While I’ve no doubt that you believe this to be true, to say that the principles underlying American society’s own self-conception of its liberty are still fundamentally the same principles as they were back when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 is incongruous with concrete historical reality. Far more has changed in regard to this than can simply be hand-waived away as evolving jurisprudence and changing legal context.

        The interpretation of these underlying principles have shifted so dramatically and so fundamentally in the last two and a quarter centuries that they very clearly do not mean the same things as they once did. In 1791, when Americans professed themselves to be free, it was not meant in the modern sense of freedom as unbounded by racial identity. Not until the abolitionist movement decades later would this conception of freedom become widespread.

        And when slavery ended and the abolitionist conception of liberty became enshrined in law, American’s self-conception of their own liberty continued to evolve with respect to freedom of economic autonomy and freedom of markets in the industrial age. America was free, so it was claimed back then, because its citizens were able to compete without any restriction in the economic marketplace as a means for their own personal advancement.

        Yet by the time of the Great Depression, American society’s understanding underwent another change. President Roosevelt redefined freedom in terms of economic security, freedom from want, rather than economic autonomy. And the idea of freedom as security and protection would take on a new life by the time of World War II, leading to an important development in American society’s understanding of their own Bill of Rights. Rather than granting a set of authorities unto the American citizenry, Americans began to see the Bill of Rights as protecting a number of innate rights that all human beings were entitled to. And the notion that freedom required protection became crucial to the justification for dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese civilians, among other atrocities.

        When the USSR replaced Germany as the antithesis of a free society in the minds of Americans, the Depression-era self-conception of a free society as one free from want became suspect and freedom once again came to be seen as linked necessarily with economic autonomy and “free enterprise.” And as the ’50s gave way to the ’60s the civil rights movement came to redefine freedom to be used as a rallying cry for the socially and racially disadvantaged as well as for feminists, who ultimately became the first group to take the idea of personal, private liberty and recast it into a political freedom – leading to the nationwide industrial scale mass murder of over 59 million children to date.

        This is not merely an evolution of jurisprudence and changing legal context. This is each passing generation of Americans redefining and recasting our self-professed founding principle of liberty to mean one thing in one generation, and something entirely different in another.

        So in light of the concrete historical reality I ask again: how can the ever-changing American conception of a free society be an objective or even coherent standard by which we judge whether another society is a free society?

      • I understand your opinion but I disagree. The essential nature of the western legal tradition is larger than the original intent of some of the founders of the United States in 1791. Context matters. Changing demographics matters. Changing technology matters. The brilliance of the American system is in its adaptability and despite what you say I do believe their is a continuing essence to it that has been preserved over the course of history.

        Again, I understand you have a different opinion that you hold very strongly. I respect that. However, I think we will just have to agree to disagree at a certain point.

  3. donnie

    Very well. I can’t say I understand your position all that much, though. I understand that you believe American society to be free today. And I understand that you consider this to be true by definition, e.g. that a self-professed free society such as the PRC cannot be free unless and until it conforms to the example set by today’s modern American society, which is the standard by which you define a free society. I understand that you believe all this despite also acknowledging the fact that modern American society (and the majority of countries that supposedly share in this Western liberal tradition) presently sanctions the industrial scale mass murder of defenseless infants at the behest of their own mothers, and considers this to be a basic right inherent to any free society and protected by (in the U.S.) a citizen’s Constitutionally granted autonomous authority on matters of personal privacy.

    I also understand that you believe American society to have been free upon the ratification of its Bill of Rights, which is also an essential part of the standard by which you define a free society. I understand that you believe this despite the fact that at the time of the Bill of Rights’ ratification, roughly 700,000 of America’s 3.9 million people were expressly sanctioned by law as the property of someone else. By 1860, roughly 4 million Americans were expressly sanctioned by law as the property of someone else, a number greater than the entire population of the United States at the time the Bill of Rights was ratified. As I understand it, you consider the United States to have been a free society throughout this entire period despite the fact that this allegedly free society sanctioned the enslavement of an entire nation’s worth of Americans.

    Forgive me, but I do not see how anyone can coherently claim that America’s objective and identifiable essence as a supposedly free society remained constant and unchanged during this entire period, unless that essence somehow is not affected by a society’s present slaughter and past enslavement of its own people.

    What your rebuttals so far appear to suggest is not that a free society has an essence (which as an essentialist I believe anything that exists must have an essence) but that what a “free society” is is simply what Westerners collectively consider it to be at any point in history. Which, if so, I would argue proves my point that the concept is meaningless by any objective measure.

    • You seem to want to put (lots of) words in my mouth and seem to want me to believe what you believe. Let’s keep it simple. It is silly to say that one cannot compare two societies and say that one is more free than the other. You say that there is no objective measure but I think there is and that is the bill of rights. We can even use this measure to to compare the USA of today to the USA of yesteryear if you would like. I don’t see what the big problem is frankly.

      • donnie

        Not trying to put words in your mouth, just trying to extrapolate what you have already said to demonstrate why, IMO, it lacks coherency.

        If a society being “more free” simply means that the average citizen has more concrete options available to him in one society than in some other society then this is not a controversial point. We both agree that different people and different groups of people have different choices available to them in different polities.

        But as I understand you, and do correct me if I’m wrong, you believe that freedom as a societal quality is not strictly relative. Free societies exist, and do so objectively. If true, I posit that there must be an essence which separates a free society from an un-free society. As you have suggested, the U.S. Bill of Rights represents such an essence. If a society has a list of enumerated authorities which it sanctions in its lands in a manner comparable to the way that the USA enforces its Bill of Rights, then that society is an objectively free society. Again, please correct me if I am misrepresenting your point of view in any of this.

        Now as I have pointed out, the USA has not always enforced its Bill of Rights in the same way even within its own lands and with respect to its own citizenry. So unless we settle upon a specific interpretation and enforcement of the Bill of Rights and apply that understanding to different societies, reaching a verdict as to whether a society is free or not cannot be done with any consistency. As an example:

        “If a society is subject to a list of sanctioned authorities comparable to those found in the U.S. Bill of Rights which are interpreted and enforced in a manner comparable to the USA’s interpretation and enforcement of its own Bill of Rights circa 2017, then it can be said to be free, objectively.”

        This definition would at least allow us to reach a consistency in our understanding. However, having read and re-read your responses to this thread it does not seem clear to me that this is the position that you hold. I welcome any corrections.

      • The key difference is our history of jurisprudence which demonstrates the judicial branch of the government’s intention to make freedom and equality a primary priority (to return to Zippy’s definition of liberalism). Other, non free societies such as China and North Korea do not have this.

      • donnie

        The People’s Republic of China has its own jurisprudence which, it’s defenders will claim, demonstrates the judicial branch of the government’s intention to make freedom and equality a primary priority.

        As an aside, if you ever get the privilege I cannot recommend enough befriending and debating a citizen of China who loves the country.

      • Feel free to do a little research on the judicial system of the PRC.

    • donnie

      I was trying to avoid playing the annoying, “Go read this book” card by finding a quick summary of it. Here is another one, also containing a short video from the author.

      I will need to read the article you link to later but will get back to you.

      • The important point here is that Chinese judiciary system is not independent from the executive branch.

      • donnie

        OK, finally read the article. But I’m gonna need your help here. There’s no way these stats can be right.

        NY Times reports that 825 of the 1.16 million people who went to trial in 2013 were found not guilty. Which is jaw-dropping. But what’s even more jaw-dropping is that only 1.16 million people went to trial in 2013. Do you know what the population of China was in 2013? 1.357 billion. So according to this, less than 0.1% of Chinese citizens were tried for crimes in 2013.

        Meanwhile back here in the States 11,302,102 people were arrested during that same year. I can’t seem to find good stats on how many of those arrests went to trial, but according to the US Courts website 90%+ of all arrests end in guilty pleas. So if that was true in 2013, and ~10% of arrests went to trial, that would mean that roughly 1.13 million people went to trial in 2013. Only 30,000 less than people than went to trial in the PRC. At the same time that the PRC had 4.3x as many citizens as we had.

        So there has to be something else going on here.

        And before we get side-tracked on this, I just want to be clear that we are not in disagreement over the fact that China is not a free society. Nor are we in disagreement over the fact that a person standing trial for a crime in the PRC would have far greater options at his disposal than a person standing trail for a crime in the USA. The point I was trying to make was that your arguments defending American society as being objectively free (as opposed to Chinese society which is objectively not) are not convincing because they can easily be appropriated by a defender of the PRC to claim that Chinese society is also objectively free.

      • We’re both giving our opinions here. I’m just stating the reasons why I believe in my opinion. You of course are entitled to your opinion and view of the world as far as I am concerned.

      • donnie

        Yes of course. But I am also attempting to understand your position in order to either:

        a) Refute it
        b) Update my opinion if refutation proves impossible, or if you refute my position

        Obviously there is no guarantee that either of these things will happen so if you think this horse is dead I’ll stop beating it.

      • I don’t know that I ever set out to prove that the USA is objectively free. I only tried to make the case that the USA is more free than North Korea which I believe most reasonable people believe to be the case. We can add to the Bill of Rights (and its supporting jurisprudence), an independent judiciary and a democratically elected government. I think you just confirmed that you agree with the US allows for a greater degree of options which I would certainly equate with more freedom. Zippy of course, does not agree with this for some reason.

      • Winston:

        I’m trying to follow your logic here about how the USA is more free than North Korea and it seems circular. You seem to be saying that freedom can be measured by the American Bill of Rights and it’s supporting jurisprudence, and then use this definition to say North Korea is less free. Well of course, no country will be more in line than America with Americas Bill of Rights and its supporting jurisprudence. If I am miscomprehending please show me where my fault is.

        The reason that having a greater range of options in defending yourself against an accusation of crime by necessity means that the prosecutor has a smaller range of options. So in China the prosecutor has more options than the defendant, and in America the defendant has more options than the prosecutor. Saying that the latter is more free than the former is really just saying that you prefer that the defendant have more options than the prosecutor.

      • Your circular critique might make sense except for the fact that the purpose of the bill of rights is to define the freedoms of the citizenry and how the government is restricted. Moreover, a free country is one where the citizen’s rights are preserved as such your discussion of the Chinese prosecutor having more options is irrelevant.

      • donnie

        I don’t know that I ever set out to prove that the USA is objectively free.

        No, but you have stated many times throughout our discussion that you do believe that the concept of a free society is real, coherent, and able to be determined objectively. Such as below where you state to halt, “Moreover, a free country is one where…” demonstrating that you believe free countries: a) exist, and b) can be shown to exist. And since you keep citing American laws and practices (Bill of Rights, jurisprudence, etc.) as the standard by which all other countries can be measured against, it seems to me that you certainly do regard the USA as an objectively free society.

        If instead you are merely trying to demonstrate that the USA provides more options for average folks than most other countries, then I apologize for misunderstanding your position. My understanding of freedom is that it is inherently subjective and relativistic (as opposed to objective, thus why I assert that there are no free societies), so if this is your position we don’t really have much to disagree on in this regard.

      • I do believe in objectively free societies. I’m just not trying to prove they exist. I think that’s not worth the effort as you people seem pretty wedded to your position.

      • donnie

        Your circular critique might make sense except for the fact that the purpose of the bill of rights is to define the freedoms of the citizenry and how the government is restricted. Moreover, a free country is one where the citizen’s rights are preserved as such your discussion of the Chinese prosecutor having more options is irrelevant.

        I think what halt is attempting to point out is that what the Bill of Rights refers to as rights are really just discriminating authorities granted unto its citizens. And anytime someone exercises authority in a certain situation, they can limit someone else’s options that many times that person probably desires (IOW place limits on that persons freedoms). So if a prosecutor desires to efficiently and quickly convict an alleged felon he has far ability to do so in China than in the United States. So for the prosecutor in this instance, China would actually be a freer place for him to do his job.

        Of course, no one should want the prosecutor to have all the discriminating authority he desires if that would be harmful to the common good of the nation. We should all happily put up with less speed and efficiency in prosecuting actual felons if it means that we are able to exonerate more of the wrongly accused in the process. For our courts to act otherwise, and send greater numbers of innocent people to prison (or worse), is morally reprehensible and questions the legitimacy of that nation’s law and order.

        But the point being made ultimately is that freedom is inherently subjective and relative, rather than objective.

        It also demonstrates why attempting to govern in a way that increases liberty and equality is inferior to attempting to govern in a way that increases the common good. Trying to increase liberty and equality always results in the question, “Liberty and equality for whom?”

      • I understand Halt’s point but when we speak of free societies we are referring to the freedom of the citizens, not the government.

      • donnie

        The people that make up the government aren’t citizens?

      • This is getting silly. Yes the people who “make up” the government are citizens. But we can easily treat their capacities as citizens and government actors differently.

      • donnie

        You say that like it’s just that easy.

        The legislators, administrators and arbitrators who, collectively, form the makeup of a state’s government are (almost always) citizens of the state that they work to govern. They apply for their respective jobs as citizens and they go about fulfilling the duties of their respective jobs as citizens. To claim that there is a clear delineation between Citizen Joe and Public Servant Joe is, in my opinion anyway, very silly indeed.

        Furthermore, even if you were to convince me that there exists such a thing as an objectively free society, the way you are defining it (in your quote above, “when we speak of free societies we are referring to the freedom of the citizens, not the government”) would not even be enough to convince me that such a state is even desirable. The men and women who serve as legislators, administrators and arbitrators in a country are, generally (though certainly not always), good decent citizens trying to fulfill their jobs adequately so as to benefit the common good in whatever capacity, large or small, that they can. In order to do this, public servants need certain discriminating authorities to accomplish their jobs in a way which maximizes the benefit to the citizenry. What those discriminating authorities are will vary depending on the role of the public servant in question. But rest assured they will need a certain degree of freedom to operate most effectively in their jobs, and this will inevitably result in a decrease of freedoms available to certain (sometimes all) private citizens.

        A “free” society (if such a thing is even possible) cannot focus only upon the freedom of its private citizens. It’s public servants need their discriminating authorities as well. Otherwise we cannot accomplish the goal of benefiting the common good.

        Which reminds me, if we already agree that the goal of all exercises of political authority are to benefit the common good, why do we even need liberalism in the first place? Even if you were to convince me that it is a coherent political doctrine, why is it even necessary? Why make the expansion of liberty and equality the primary justification for any exercise of political authority? Why not make the expansion of the common good the primary justification?

      • (1) The law treats citizens and government actors differently.

        (2) I don’t care if you don’t agree with me about objectively free societies. I’m fine with us having different opinions.

    • “Moreover, a free country is one where the citizen’s rights are preserved as such your discussion of the Chinese prosecutor having more options is irrelevant.

      Poor word choice on my part. Replace “prosecutor” with “plaintiff” and this critique does not hold: both the plaintiff and the defendant are citizens.

      “Your circular critique might make sense except for the fact that the purpose of the bill of rights is to define the freedoms of the citizenry and how the government is restricted.”

      It is not so simple as this. The bill of rights presents authority to the citizens in limiting the actions of the government, but the current jurisprudence enlists the authority of the government in limiting the actions of citizens. The first amendment is used to justify criminalization of hate speech, prayer in public schools, bakers refusing to bake a cake for a gay “wedding,” etc.

      Not only that, there are parts of the bill of rights explicity empowering the government to compel witnesses in favor of the defendant, to compel witnesses against the defendant to face the defendant, compel citizens to serve on the jury, etc. You cannot make the claim that the bill of rights does not empower the government in certain ways against certain citizens.

      • In a civil law suit involving a plaintiff and a defendant the matter is decided according to the facts and the law. I’m not sure what you point is.

      • My points are:
        1) In a court of law, there are restrictions placed on the freedom of the plaintiff that are not placed on the defendant. For instance, a defendant may decide not to have the trial be a jury trial, but the plaintiff may not. It could just as easily be written into law that it is the plaintiff who may decide whether the trial is a jury trial or not, but the law in the United States does not allow that. This is freedom for the defendant, and restriction on the plaintiff, both of whom are citizens acting in their capacity as citizens.

        2) The current jurisprudence of the Bill of Rights does not grant freedom to the citizenry across the board. The first amendment has been used to take prayer out of public schools, and it is looking increasingly likely that the Pledge of Allegiance will also be removed from public schools in the near future, or at least amended to remove the reference to God.

        3) The Bill of Rights not only empowers citizens to the restriction of the government, it also explicitly empowers the government to the restriction of the citizens. You said: “Your circular critique might make sense except for the fact that the purpose of the bill of rights is to define the freedoms of the citizenry and how the government is restricted.” I provided an example where the Bill of Rights restricted the citizenry and defined a freedom for the government (compelling witnesses to testify for the defendant).

        So to say that “the bill of rights defines the freedoms of the citizenry and how the government is restricted” is a simplification that does not really capture the Bill of Rights and its evolving jurisprudence.

      • (1) Yes, in a court of law in the Western legal tradition the burden of proof generally rests upon the party who is making the accusation. That’s a good thing as it acts as a check against frivolous law suits and false accusations. It forces the criminal prosecutor (who has a higher standard of proof) and the civil plaintiff to prove their cases. The judiciary has finite resources and there are significant backlogs as it stands. So I think this is a perfectly reasonable, practical and fair standard to uphold. Moreover, a plaintiff today might be a defendant tomorrow so I don’t really agree with your argument that one person’s rights infringe on the other’s.

        (2) I never said the jurisprudence of the Bill of Rights grants freedom across the board. My point has always been that it sets the standard for what is generally considered to be a free society.

        (3) The Bill of Rights (for the most part) restricts the government from passing laws which infringe on certain core freedoms. Yes there are other things in the Bill of Rights as well. So what?

      • 1) “I think you just confirmed that you agree with the US allows for a greater degree of options which I would certainly equate with more freedom.” You argued that the range of options is what you mean by freedom. In this case the defendant has restricted the range of options of the plaintiff. In another country, the plaintiff might restrict the range of options of the defendant. Since anyone might end up either role (“a plaintiff today might be a defendant tomorrow” works both ways), the range of options presented to a citizen in both cases is comparable. What you have just argued is that the defendant having a greater range of options is the better way to do things, with which I agree; but that is not an argument that it makes society “more free” unless by “more free” you just mean you agree with the way society does things.

        2) My point is that setting the Bill of Rights as the standard necessitates circular logic; if you use the United States as the standard by which freedom is to be measured, then of course no society will be “more free” than the United States. No society can be more United-States-like than the United States.

        3) To what extent is the government limited? The understanding of these “core freedoms” in 1800 was extremely different from the understanding in 2000. The government has restricted these “core freedoms” much more than was ever thought possible under the understanding of those who lived in the 18th and 19th century. I guess I just don’t see where it is exactly that the line for the government is drawn in the Bill of Rights because the way it is interpreted can change to make the line move. So which interpretation are we supposed to understand as the one that is the standard for freedom? Today’s? Pre- Roe vs. Wade? Pre- Brown vs. Board of Education? Pre- Civil war? If you think the understanding has not fundamentally changed can you please explain to me exactly where you think the Bill of Rights draws the line in restricting government and why?

      • (1) We’re looking at the big picture. Not quibbling over relatively minor details. I stand by what I said.

        (2) When you say an argument is circular you are implying that there is some arbitrary foundation upon which the argument is based and to which it refers to in a circular manner. The Bill of Rights is not arbitrarily selected because the Bill of Rights was originally penned to preserve specific freedoms of the citizenry.

        (3) Although the interpretation may have evolved over time due to changing contexts, demographics, technology etc. the Bill of Rights still works to limit the power of government. Every Supreme Court case is a demonstration of this.

  4. 1) I don’t see it as a minor detail, I see it as an example of how political action works in all cases of political action. But it does seem to be unhelpful, so I will drop it.

    2)It is arbitrary, because the Bill of Rights was chosen for the specific freedoms you think it preserves, but there is no reason that those specific freedoms should define what makes a society “more free” except that this is what people in the West think defines a “more free” society. People in the East could write a document, preserving a completely different set of freedoms for the citizenry, and say that this is what defines a “more free” society. That you like the freedoms in the Bill of Rights better than another set of hypothetical freedoms given to the citizenry is not an argument for why the Bill of Rights defines freedom and the hypothetical other document does not.

    3) This is not really true. Over time, the government has become much *less* restricted in regulating the freedoms of the citizenry. The power of the government has grown over time, so how can it be that the Bill of Rights limits the power of the government? A document whose limits on the government can be reinterpreted doesn’t actually limit the government because it can always be reinterpreted to lessen the supposed limits it places. It’s like saying that if I put someone in chains that aren’t attached to the wall I have put a limit on his movement. I very clearly haven’t.

    • donnie

      Regarding contention (2), commenter insanitybytes22 over at Zippy’s blog left the following comment which demonstrates the circularity rather succinctly:

      The government has authority which then must establish rights to protect you from their authority, and should your discriminating authority be violated in some way, you will need to make an appeal to the authoritarian entity that caused you to need protection from the authoritarian entity in the first place.

      Without quibbling over semantic details, that more or less sums it up.

      • Except that in the American system we have three separate branches of government that act independently and check each other. So the branch that creates law is not the branch that enforces law is not the branch where disputes are resolved.

      • donnie

        This doesn’t change anything. Should your individual discriminating authority be violated in some way by the great big authoritarian entity that has ostensibly granted you your discriminating authority in the first place, you will still need to make an appeal to the judiciary of that same authoritarian entity which violated your discriminating authority to begin with. And if the first judicial courts of the authoritarian entity rule against you, you can appeal your case to a higher court (still within that same authoritarian entity). And if all the judicial courts of the authoritarian entity rule against you, you can finally appeal your case to the highest judicial court whose final verdict will depend heavily on whether there happens to be at least five justices subscribing to a right-liberal ideology on the bench at the time your case is heard, or at least five justices subscribing to a left-liberal ideology on the bench. And whatever at least five of these justices happen to think will, authoritatively, be the law of the land unless and until their decision is overturned years later by a different assembly of at least five justices with a different interpretation of how your individual discriminating authority fits into their distinct conceptions of “liberty” and “equality”.

        At the end of the day all political acts, even in the USA, are authoritarian.

      • Your opinion is duly noted.

    • Halt,

      (2) You see it as arbitrary. I do not. Freedom of speech is a freedom, as is the free exercise of religion as is the freedom of the press. What other political freedoms not expressed in the Bill of Rights do you suppose an Easterner could enjoy?

      (3) The Federal government might be bigger and less restricted now than it was in the past but it is still restricted in significant ways that (for example) North Korea and China are not. In fact, constitutional law is all about the restrictions imposed on government. Pick any Supreme Court case for an example.

      • Winston,

        The freedom to buy, sell, and keep slaves; the freedom to not face a person you’ve accused of a crime; the freedom to punish criminals yourself; there are many potential actions not justified under the Bill of Rights. What makes freedom of speech and the press more free than the freedom to keep slaves and punish criminals?

        The problem is that each Supreme Court case evolves the understanding of these “restrictions.” In many cases, it has evolved it to be less restrictive, and this can continue to be the case without limit. In what way does the constitution restrict the United States government that could not be changed by a Supreme Court decision tomorrow? There is no restriction on how loosely the constitution can be interpreted.

        You say there are 3 separate branches, but currently this is not strictly true. Congress has delegated significant legislative power to the executive branch in the form of beuracracy, and there is no reason to believe the Judiciary could not delegate some of its own power to the executive branch as well.

        I agree that the United States government acts in a more restricted way than the government of North Korea or China, but there is no reason to believe that it couldn’t change if it wanted to. Over time, I suspect the growing power of the government to keep growing until it resembles China, and it will do so by continuing to reinterpret the constitution as it has done so many times before

      • I am not aware of any Eastern country (or any country) that allows those freedoms or expresses the desire to have those freedoms. The freedoms in the Bill of Rights are freedoms (by contrast) that most people aspire to when they speak of freedom. The Tienimen square protests come to mind as a good example.

        As for there not being three authentic branches of government, I think the example of the 9th circuit Appellate court blocking President Trump’s travel ban is an excellent example to the contrary.

      • donnie

        I am not aware of any Eastern country (or any country) that allows those freedoms or expresses the desire to have those freedoms. The freedoms in the Bill of Rights are freedoms (by contrast) that most people aspire to when they speak of freedom.

        Right. Because at the end of the day, freedom is just whatever collection of discriminating authorities folks happen to like.

      • But it does say something that most people seem to want the same types of freedoms across cultures.

      • donnie

        That we’re more alike than we seem?

        What people fundamentally want rarely changes across cultures and centuries: health and preservation of life, food, a safe place to sleep, money and the things it can buy, sex, well-being for our children and loved ones, a feeling of importance, and (most importantly of all) life in the hereafter.

        Gee, wouldn’t it be swell if we organized our polities around enacting laws and sanctioning behaviors that allow people to better attain the things they desire most of all, while punishing those who stand in the way of that? Too bad we’ve instead decided to organize our polities around enacting laws and sanctioning behaviors that ostensibly increase our individual “liberties” and “equal rights” according to ever-changing and competing notions about what increasing those things even mean.

      • I don’t know that notions of freedom are ever changing. Moreover I think notions of freedom go hand in hand with allowing people to better attain things they desire most.

      • donnie

        I don’t know that notions of freedom are ever changing.

        Sure you do. See my comment above about how what freedom means has changed dramatically even in the course of America’s own history.

        Now, what people fundamentally want and need for their own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? That has remained fairly constant across time and space. But we don’t focus our policies on those ends. Instead we focus our policies on expanding individual “liberties” and “equal rights” using whatever interpretation of those things is presently popular so that more people can have the discriminating authorities they covet and we’ll just hope that doing things this way increases the common good, and look the other way when it doesn’t.

        Most regular folks wouldn’t say that a particular woman’s desire for consequence free sex ought to trump the preservation of life, but as soon as some devilish lawyers start talking about “right to privacy” and “freedom to choose what to do with her body” all of the sudden the courts turn around and sanction an industrial scale holocaust and half the country jumps right on board in support. After all, it’s a “Constitutional right.”

      • Do you think abortion is the most important issue?

      • donnie

        Don’t you?

        As St. Teresa of Calcutta so bravely preached to our woefully misguided elected leaders back at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion.”

        But I also think the scourge of abortion is a symptom of a larger problem with our politics. And I think that problem is a lot easier to see (or at least it ought to be) when it leads to the butchering of the most defenseless among us.

      • I think it’s an issue but not the only one.

      • donnie

        I didn’t say it was the only issue. But if we can’t even prioritize ending sanctioned slaughter of infants at the hands of their own mothers (because that would infringe on people’s freedom!), then Lord have mercy on us. A nation that wicked deserves worse than an eternity in Hell.

  5. I don’t know that the issue is entirely about freedom but I will not debate the point.

    • I will try to follow the logic of your position, let me know if I’ve made a misstep somewhere.

      1) A free society is that which establishes freedom for the citizens:
      “I understand Halt’s point but when we speak of free societies we are referring to the freedom of the citizens, not the government.”

      2) It does not mean that all freedoms are granted, it means the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights are granted:
      “In the Western liberal tradition there are certain rights or freedoms that are respected by governments that label themselves to be free. These are outlined more or less in the bill of rights to the US constitution. ”

      3) The understanding of these freedoms is the one backed by the current jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court:
      “These rights also have a significant jurisprudential depth to them so they are not just words on paper.”

      4) The reason that this is the standard for free societies is that these freedoms are what most people want:
      “The freedoms in the Bill of Rights are freedoms (by contrast) that most people aspire to when they speak of freedom.”

      In summary: The freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights and its supporting jurisprudence are the standard for judging the relative free-ness of different societies because these are the freedoms that most people want. Because the United States grants more of these freedoms in a way that more of its citizens want, it is more free than North Korea or China. Do I have this correct?

      If so, then:
      Questions:
      What are the objective underlying principles of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights that you claim have not changed? How can we know that the United States jurisprudence on the matter of these freedoms is the one which most people want? How can the jurisprudence be an objective measure if the jurisprudence has changed/contradicted itself in the past?

      If not, please explain where I have gone wrong to help me understand your position.

      • The jurisprudence has evolved to reflect changes in demographics, technology and other factors. The federal judiciary is appointed by elected officials. For me this is sufficient. I recognize that you disagree and are wedded to your position and I don’t wish to quibble or nit pick technicalities and semantics.

      • Ok. The jurisprudence hasn’t just evolved, it has contradicted past jurisprudence multiple times. I just don’t see the Bill of Rights and its jurisprudence as something that is objective; even if it were objective, I don’t see how we could know that the United States’ understanding of these freedoms would be the understanding that the French, English, German, or Italian would want. I’m trying to understand what it is that makes the Bill of Rights a coherent unchanging concept by which we can compare all societies. However, I can see that you are somewhat tired of discussing this with me. Thanks for the discussion; God Bless.

      • So very tired yes. God bless you as well.

  6. Pingback: Message Boards and Comment Sections Part II | Winston Scrooge

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