Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Ricci Case, Souter, New England Liberals, etc, etc

I've been toiling on this post for a week now (7/6), it isn't coming together, and I don't even really care about the subject. It was in fact my distaste for the whole necessity and existence of the case that made me interested in writing about it at all. I will try to condense what I was trying to get at as succinctly as possible.

There is a certain faction of the internet Right that I confess to reading and being somewhat amused by; they are, briefly, white guys with high IQs but, one suspects, not the social status they feel they deserve, who are obsessed with IQs and social status. The reader might suspect that I identify with them, but as they only tend to respect mathematical/ science/technological intelligence or success in business and are dismissive of the abilities of anybody who studied the humanities in college--not to mention pretty much all women, blacks, non-100% European Hispanics, and anybody who isn't in the top 10-25 percentile of financial success--I feel pretty secure that they would not include me as one of their number either, and to be truthful they are rather too relentlessly Aspergery and judgemental for me to crave much of their society. Still their posts and comment boxes are kind of a guilty amusement. Anyway this crew hates affirmative action, and they were obsessed of late with the Ricci case in the Supreme Court, by which, even though the vote went their way, they were still agitated by the narrowness of the margin and the ridiculously complicated process necessary to resolve what they considered to be an obvious case to any intelligent person. I admit I did not find the case particularly exciting, as I do not find most court cases and decisions, as apparently many people do. With the Supreme Court it is pretty predictable how almost all the judges are going to rule beforehand, so there isn't in most instances much sense of any problem being identified and the truth of it worked out so much as seeing how each side of the argument justifies its pre-existing prejudices. The Right believes that it intellectually eviscerated the Left in the Ricci case, and that in general, they have a team of much more incisive and logically impregnable minds on their side in the Court, while the left's team is, with the evident exception of Breyer, soft of brain and largely confused about what their proper purpose as court justices is. The Right is at the same time resigned, or at least many of them are, to losing all similar cases in the future once Obama, or some inevitable left-leaning successor, is able to replace their guys with his guys. All of which indicates to me that 1) issues coming before the Court are essentially of a political nature rather than about seeking a dispassionate interpretation of the law under dispute, and 2) the justices are--and are seen as--mere tools of particular political ideologies and factions.

On the subject of this idea of the justices as properly beholden to a particular ideology, the obvious current example is David Souter, who when he was nominated was denounced by the left as a mediocrity and a threat to the rights of various people under that side's umbrella, and now is widely detested and denounced as a mediocrity among the right for being the nominee of a Republican president and not turning out to be very agreeable to what the Republicans perceive to be their agenda in the court. I admit I am not sure what constitutes brilliance and mediocrity in the legal world--commentators are very concerned about it, though they don't usually define it adequately enough for the general reader --though I have always thought Souter, as far as I can discern from such writing of his as I have seen, explains the reasons for his decisions as clearly and reasonably as anyone else does, if in a plainer style than is perhaps fashionable among professional intellectuals. Nonetheless many on the Republican side rack their brains trying to figure out how this rather bland pre-1960s New England Rhodes Scholar Harvard Wasp could have gone so horribly astray. Is he gay? Is he just another self-hating guilty white male liberal? Is he simply stupid?

I should interject here that I live in the smallish town (Concord, New Hampshire) where Souter went to high school and lived most of his adult life until he was named to the Supreme Court, so I know a lot of people who are personally familiar with him on one level or another, including my father-in-law. He was a legendarily brilliant student in the local public school system long before he made it to the Supreme Court, and he is by all appearances one of those very rare people who combine very high intelligence with the kind of work ethic that is almost instinctive, that is one that largely sees whatever its current work is as its proper activity, an end in itself, and as such its own reward. I don't say that he never had a calculated master plan in the back of his mind to win a Rhodes Scholarship or be named to the Supreme Court, though if he did he appears to have directed his energy towards into being worthy of attaining the goals whether they were actually attained or not rather than becoming fixated on the actual attainment of a specific goal, to the exclusion of other motivations and satisfactions, which I think is one of the unfortunate character traits that has really been gutting the soul of this country almost my entire lifetime. Souter is in a way a relic of an older attitude and approach to education and life that I find rather admirable. Concord of course is a somewhat out-of-the-way place, geographically, demographically, and culturally, even now, and was certainly so when Souter would have been growing up here in the 1950s. I am pretty sure that among all the people in Washington programmatically far more cutthroat and driven than he has ever had to be, he is one of the least likely to be out to stick it to anybody, and has a more benign view of people, their motivations, capabilities, and so on, than is generally found there...

I was going to try to go on to explain the nature of what is apparently called (disdainfully) in other parts of the country New England liberalism, beyond the fact that Republicans from Red-State America (which is now more than a day's drive from us) are just too cruel and macho and scary for most people in this emotionally sensitive region to be able to cope with anymore, and tie that into David Souter, but it would take too much time that I don't have right now.

Regarding the Ricci case, if you are going to do affirmative action it is simply stupid to have a test open to members of the group you don't want to hire where you cannot control the results. The city did blunder badly there. Affirmative action in general is one of those issues where it seems you adamantly have to take one side or the other or else everybody is calling you a milksop. I am going to take the position that I am angry at people on both sides. To the angry white men on the right using AA as a convenient scapecoat for some disappointment or failure in your life. Unless you have been blatantly and directly victimized in an area where you had an especial talent or passion that you could not pursue elsewhere or work in any other field at an approximate level--which is not most of you--realize that there are probably other forces as work, including personal inadequacy by the current, and admittedly harsh, standards of society, under which, however, minorities are still faring far worse on the whole. To the militant defenders on the left--realize that in society as it is currently constituted, where decent middle class jobs are fought over like principalities in the Holy Roman Empire, and access to the most desirable schools and professions is approaching lottery-like chances even for nominally flawless candidates, a policy that necessitates passing over thousands of candidates with far better qualifications that they are required to demonstrate to even be considered for a place or positions, to attain an AA quota, is going to be an increasingly hard policy to defend to everybody else the more time that goes on, regardless of the comparatively minor amount of harm you may, and not without reason, perhaps consider it to do.

In short, I don't think there is a workable solution to this problem until both sides grow a little more realistic about it.

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