[Update 5/8/2017: Given that there have been rumblings of a ‘debate’, Ben Shapiro was invited, below, to a Skype/phone debate with Dan Schneider as moderator. Alternatively, he is free to respond to this piece in writing as he sees fit, which would allow us to formulate our thoughts and cross-check each other’s references due to the breadth of the discussion. Note that I do not know whether Shapiro even knows of this article, nor have I reached out to him. He can also ignore me, obviously, with no further comment from either of us. I am leaving this note up due to the number of e-mails requesting some sort of ‘action’.]
A couple of weeks ago, conservative pundit Ben Shapiro delivered a Reddit AMA (‘Ask Me Anything’) on r/politics, a left-leaning subreddit which – to Shapiro’s credit – has never been a fan of his work. Yet as a liberal, myself, I’ve nonetheless found common ground with a number of Shapiro’s views, ranging from his critique of the Left’s attacks on free speech, to their over-use of emotion in what ought to be cold and detached argument, to the futility of identity politics, liberal intolerance, and – of course – a decades-old embrace of Third Wave feminism as a rational response to gender issues. No, r/politics isn’t THAT far left, but when I saw the AMA announcement, I nonetheless respected Ben Shapiro’s willingness to engage in what can be a notoriously unforgiving format with a group of people unsympathetic to his views. I expected, therefore, to see a little give-and-take, some dumb, bait-y questions, but also a few good ones, too, that he was perhaps not used to. Naturally, these would be questions that Shapiro – given his ‘attack-dog’ reputation – would of course answer. More, he would answer them in depth, after having time to think and formulate his responses, if only to prove once and for all that he is not the monster that so many claim he is, but might very well be the Right’s biggest intellectual star.
Well, I was wrong, to put it mildly. I was unfamiliar with much of Ben Shapiro’s work prior to his AMA, but, frankly, I am confused why he even agreed to the format in the first place, given how lazy and self-serving his answers are. He intentionally avoids the more difficult questions, goofs off on what he DOES choose to tackle, and refuses to meaningfully engage in any follow-ups despite others’ prodding. Not exactly the hallmark of a probing and far-ranging mind. Either Shapiro just doesn’t give a damn, and tried to use Reddit for publicity rather than genuine engagement, or he is as intellectually vapid as his worst critics suggest. More, despite a well-executed AMA serving as a kind of précis for one’s worldview, I cannot even use the bulk of Shapiro’s comments to string together anything coherent on that front, and must dig into his articles and videos in order to elaborate on the scant piffle he does provide. Thus, what had started as a brief note on Shapiro’s disingenuousness has now turned into a point-by-point takedown of modern, bastardized conservatism as a whole, highlighting not only Shapiro’s poor thinking skills, but his utter hypocrisy, as well. Needless to say, the silly, fawning tone with which Shapiro has been described reveals how utterly desperate the Right has been for a champion – for anything, really – to the point that they’d settle on a vapid, pussy-grabbing TV mogul for President, on the one hand, and an intellectual con as the purported ‘corrective’ on the other.
And that’s because despite the Republicans’ cowardly embrace of Donald Trump, Ben Shapiro has stood by his principles – dumb as they may be – in both criticizing the President as well as some of the more unsavory characters Trump’s campaign helped energize. In fact, he even alienated Breitbart after the rag refused to defend their own journalist from physical assault, and later weathered anti-Semitic attacks from alt-right trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos while the Ted Cruzes and Paul Ryans of the ‘conservative’ wing merely caved.
In the end, however, principles are nothing without some bedrock of reality, a thing Shapiro desperately needs a dose of after years of arguing with liberal caricatures on TV and brain-dead college campuses. Indeed, for despite Shapiro’s intellectual pose, he cuts himself off from the real world by not examining his own assumptions, nor the logical conclusions that a truly consistent position demands. More, he is FAR too willing to take a conservative bon mot (“abortion is murder!”) on the strength of its popularity rather than its immanent, logical value, and has the same simple-minded approach to complex issues that he hates so much in the Left. But whereas the Left is often either absurdly reductive or needlessly complicated on any given issue, Shapiro prefers both, limiting the world to sound-bites even as he throws in pointless variables that ultimately confuse even Shapiro. In many ways, then, he is merely the ‘cold, detached’ iteration of the over-emotive liberal whiner, for just as the whiner uses emotion as a cudgel to beat back reality, Shapiro’s utter lack of self-control takes an otherwise useful tool – information – and mismanages it to the point of irrelevance.
Now, there is lots to get through, so let us start where my curiosity first began: the Reddit AMA. The top-rated question – which Ben Shapiro no doubt saw – was this:
[–]HoustonRocket 444 points 7 days ago
Hey Ben. You voiced your displeasure in the past at how it is unethical to force pro-lifers to fund Planned Parenthood through tax dollars. Do you also think it is unethical to force certain people to fund the subsidies of meat and dairy products if they do not believe those products are ethical? Thanks
Good question, but with a poor follow-up that unnecessarily gives Shapiro a way out of the logical conundrum. As some readers no doubt know, Shapiro is a ‘principled’ conservative with libertarian leanings: meaning, he would likely cut quite a few subsidies if he could, thus allowing Shapiro to merely answer ‘Yes’ and move along. But the issue, of course, is NOT with the example provided, since it’s merely a case-in-point for a global problem that Shapiro’s assertion points to. If it is in fact unethical to force someone to dole out tax money for something he does not believe in, then it stands to reason that other protected classes must exist, as well. Now, it is quite possible that Shapiro might demarcate abortion from all other exceptions, but why – when the standard is mere personal revulsion – stop at abortion? There are countless other logical categories, from pacifists funding war, to Jainists chipping in for road-cleaning, where the offended party might feel just as strongly against some item of the Social Contract that the rest of us must consent to. More, note how abortion is utterly divorced in this case from the global libertarian scope. Shapiro is not even making a libertarian argument against abortion – for there is no such thing, as I will later show – but appealing to an individual tax code by way of a local ethic damning that (and only that) tax. By NOT appealing to the ‘unjustness’ of taxation, as a whole, Shapiro manages to open up his own economy to a free-rider problem of which he would quickly lose control, thus making a caricature not only of the abortion issue, but Shapiro’s wannabe exceptionalism, to boot.
Not that it matters, however. Despite it being the AMA’s most popular question, Shapiro decided to completely ignore it, likely because he saw how deep of a hole he’d dug once he was actually faced with the logical consequences of what might have been an off-the-cuff remark.
[–]bbiggs32 223 points 7 days ago
I was wondering, how’s Kansas doing after their relatively large tax cuts? Is the wealth “trickling down”?
A bitchy question, perhaps, replete with the missing period on ‘Thanks’, but also a fair question nonetheless. Again, Ben Shapiro is not a full-on libertarian, but that’s irrelevant, since he supports many of the same measures – tax breaks for the wealthy, huge reductions in entitlement spending – Kansas has recently undertaken with predictable results. From the libertarian perspective, they are arguing for a system that – for good reason – has NEVER been implemented in its pure form. I mean, it would be unethical to do so, but even disregarding basic human decency, it would be impossible to implement without a violent revolution (‘coercion’, in libertarian parlance), after which the resultant anarchy (sorry, libs!) would inevitably give rise to the same subsidy mindset – i.e., factionalism – as a mere product of animal psychology.
More pointedly, however, libertarianism suffers from the same endless purity-testing that its hated mirror image – stateless communism – undergoes, with every iteration of Stalin, Lenin, the Paris Commune, etc., being bastardizations of the REAL thing…if only the ‘fakes’ would get out of the way, and let the true believers deliver on their promises. Likewise, the more typical, Shapiro-like conservative response to Kansas’s budgetary woes and tepid business growth runs the gamut from “that’s not what I’d do!” to pointing out all the ways the Kansas model does not live up to some non-existent ideal. In other words, the No True Scotsman fallacy writ large – across 82,000 square miles, no less, where people’s suffering is both irrelevant as well as a piece of key evidence which can never be turned in against the believer’s own zealotry.
Yet, again, Ben is silent on a tough query, forcing me to dig up other materials where he makes his position clear:
The wealthy in this country are by and large the job creators. Tax them, and they will cut jobs because it impedes their ability to create. Money only stretches so far so it’s not a matter of the wealthy simply wanting to earn more, but a matter of making prudent decisions that don’t deplete their capital in a time when they could lose everything in a weak market. If they’re not creating jobs now, they’ll be cutting jobs if the taxes rise…
The truth is that if you talk simply in terms of effectiveness, the most effective thing is to not tax the upper end of the income bracket very much at all because those people are the ones actually earning money, producing products, providing services and hiring people. A flat tax is the best balance between equity and efficiency. I think it’s perfectly equitable because by nature percentages are perfectly equitable – it’s not a flat sum, it’s a flat rate. If someone has a smaller pie, a smaller piece will be taken out of the pie.
A controversial point of view, as far as the research goes, yet look at how confident Shapiro is at his own pronouncements. To be sure, there has been exactly ZERO evidence that taxation is anything more than 1) a collective means of ensuring social goods that an individual cannot guarantee; 2) equity. Business, innovation, and recession have existed in pretty much every mature tax climate, with study after study indicating not only the problem of getting an academic consensus on whether tax cuts promote growth, but also how wildly divergent their conclusions have in fact been. This is not an ‘opinion’, nor some liberal conspiracy against big business. This is an honest reflection of the ONLY data that we have available. If I were to guess, I’d presume that a neoliberal tax policy has a modest (at best) effect on growth, but wreaks havoc on every other metric of the social good: really, the only logical way to measure economic success in the long run. Yet it’d only be a guess, anyway, unlike Shapiro’s childish desire to craft policy based on nothing but a hunch: and a hunch that’s been derided by economists and statisticians for decades, at that.
But let us assume that Shapiro is correct. Let us assume that low tax rates do in fact promote growth and employment. The assumption is that everyone benefits, but while taxes have been cut from an ‘official’ (but rarely paid, of course, by the rich!) 70-90% down to the 30s and 20s, with multi-millionaires often paying even less in between kickbacks and massive tax-dodging operations, the everyday American isn’t doing so well. Real wages have declined alongside four decades of massive tax cuts, even as worker productivity has risen quite a bit. Shapiro likes to say that people more or less get what they deserve, and that ‘unfairness’, in the cosmic sense, does not imply any inherent fairness in redistribution. More, the suckers just need to work. Yet Americans have worked, at more hours for less pay and less stability, netting corporations trillions since the 1970s and getting little in return. In Shapiro’s proposed system, workers have done exactly as they should. But the second the idea of a minimum wage or a progressive tax is brought up as some sort of reward, they are treated exactly as what they’re NOT – an obstacle to growth – rather than what they are: a buffer between the bottom and the runaway rich, and a means to balance nearly half a century of losses with data-driven entitlements that ultimately do MORE for fiscal balance than Shapiro’s economically haphazard, faith-based system of tax cuts for the rich.
This brings us to the issue of a minimum wage, as well as the recent effort to increase it. According to Shapiro:
A minimum wage requirement always impacts an economy horrifically. A minimum wage doesn’t work and always increases unemployment. It’s just basic common sense that the minute you tell people that they have to pay more for labor, they’re going to buy fewer units. If the price is raised on gasoline, people tend to buy less gasoline, if the price is raised on cereal, less cereal will be sold and if the price of labor is raised, people tend to buy less labor.
Yet this just isn’t true, both theoretically (an employer’s ‘monopsony power’ in an imperfect market) and empirically. First, the entire reason why there even HAD to be a minimum wage debate is because wages did not appropriately grow despite increased work hours, greater worker productivity, and exponential growth in corporate profit: all things Shapiro would argue as ‘good’, yet without the concurrent boon Shapiro’s system promises.
Second, Shapiro’s assertion isn’t supported by the data in the way that he thinks it is. Yes, it’s common sense that raising the price of labor might lead to a number of problems, yet this is true of literally ANY decision one might undertake, ranging from complex issues like war to personal ones, like losing weight. The real question is whether the benefits outweigh the losses, and in the case of a carefully-implemented minimum wage hike the evidence is clear.
Like many similar organizations, the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute argues – without citations – that the biggest effect of an increase is massive job loss for affected industries. More down-the-middle groups, such as the Congressional Budget Office, likewise predict significant job losses for an indiscriminate, federally-mandated increase. Yet a far larger, decades-spanning meta-study from the liberal Center for American Progress only sees upside, partly due to unintended consequences that have little to do with “cost of labor” analyses. This is further supported by empirical observations where a livable wage has in fact already been implemented. Could the truth be somewhere in between? Perhaps, but going even further, researchers Dale Baleman and Paul Wolfson analyzed over two hundred studies on the effects of a minimum wage increase, concluding that:
…[M]oderate increases in the minimum wage are a useful means of raising wages in the lower part of the wage distribution that has little or no effect on employment and hours. This is what one seeks in a policy tool, solid benefits with small costs. That said, current research does not speak to whether the same results would hold for large increases in the minimum wage…As many others have argued, programs such as the EITC and Food Stamps play a critical role in placing a floor under incomes and consumption, and higher minimum wages are not a substitute for such programs. In other words, the minimum wage is a useful tool for policy and, as with most policy tools, must be used wisely and in coordination with other policies to achieve the desired end.
As for more modern examples? Well, the Economic Policy Institute’s testimony before Congress revealed the following:
Whenever increasing the minimum wage is discussed, there is always concern that doing so might hurt job growth or imperil businesses that employ low-wage workers. In the 22 times the federal minimum wage has been raised, and the over 300 times that states or localities have raised their minimum wages just since the 1980, these concerns have never materialized. The effect of increasing the minimum wage on employment is probably the most studied topic in labor economics, and the consensus of the literature is that moderate increases in the minimum wage have little to no effect on employment. In fact, this was the conclusion of a letter sent to the leaders of both houses of Congress in 2014, signed by over 600 PhD economists—including 8 winners of the Nobel Prize. The letter stated, “In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”
Further, a more recent study of eighteen states that have enacted minimum wage increases saw NO appreciable negative effects in the target industry, with employment rates pretty much identical in the same industry in states without the hike. More, one study on increasing New York State’s minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour (more than double from just a few years ago) concludes that there will be little to no effect on unemployment and only a negligible increase in prices: a much-studied proposal that is now law, yet a thing few economists – Shapiro’s prediction of “horrific consequences” notwithstanding – seem nervous about. It may be true that it’s best to leave minimum wage increases to the state and local levels, where they can be incremented and adjusted as needed, but to make a blanket denunciation of ‘the’ minimum wage, as Shapiro does, is simply wrong.
As it stands, then, today’s minimum wage controversy it is little more than a philosophical disagreement between the Keynesians and the neoliberals. Perhaps one CAN argue (if that’s the word) that a minimum wage is ‘coercive’, and ‘evil’, and a form of ‘theft’, but one CAN’T claim that it’s not smart policy: if by smart we mean that it reduces poverty while increasing health, happiness, and self-sufficiency, and even maximizes worker productivity as per the academic consensus. So, let’s see: an uptick in self-reliance, AND an economic boon to the corporate job-makers, yet conservatives are against it? Jesus- if only their ideology was consistent with their axioms! And while this all may be an interesting debate to Ben Shapiro, who constantly chides already overemployed people to ‘get a job’, the real world actually has to work, often in conditions that Shapiro will only hear of, then promptly forget as soon as it’s no longer convenient for his own narrative. Ah, just like a lefty, Ben, except the blather has less to do with penises and vaginas and their preferred nomenclature, and more with a religious attachment to secular bullshit.
[–]El_jefe66 252 points 4 days ago
Regarding health care as a “right”, you’ve argued people aren’t entitled to doctors’ time and resources. How do you justify this argument when people say “what about public attorneys (6th Amendment), or what about emergency medical services”?
As a follow up, do you think emergency rooms should be able to turn people away and not treat them?
[–]Ben Shapiro 151 points 4 days ago
There’s actually significant debate about whether the public was supposed to pay for the lawyer; also, there is a difference between you being compelled to enter the government system through prosecution, and you being compelled to buy a service by government. It’s the government prosecuting you, so they should have to help guarantee your rights in that given situation.
Now, this is a good way to frame the rest of the essay, since – unbeknownst to Shapiro – there’s enough even in these two sentences to utterly bankrupt him vis-à-vis his other claims going forward.
First, let’s discuss rights, since Ben Shapiro is confused about their meaning. Although he likes to say ‘we have a right to X, but not Y’ as an expression of his ideology, the fact is, rights are NOTHING but what the Social Contract confers. It was as perfectly valid to say that blacks have no ‘rights’ in 1854 as it is to say that we have a ‘right’ to abort fetuses in 2017. In both cases, it is the Social Contract which has made that determination, not the ideological frameworks of abolitionists or anti-abortion nutballs. Thus, to say we have no ‘right’ to health care is merely a comment on a given temporal reality…and a comment that would be 100% false for seniors and Medicaid recipients, as well as for everyone else in any other part of the industrialized world. This may seem like a quibble, but pay attention to Shapiro’s words and insecurities as he tries to re-frame the debate on preferred turf. By calling his own ideological position an expression of ‘rights’ rather than some reflexive default to his own premise, he simply denies what in fact IS and hopes that you do not notice. And while Shapiro is absolutely right that liberals have a number of pathetic tactics they like to use in debate, this sort of low-grade dehumanization is the Right’s own secret weapon against the other side. Sorry, Ben! I know.
Second, note how he deals with the question itself. We do not have a ‘right’ to healthcare because we should not be “compelled to buy a service from the government”. In other words, Ben Shapiro is invoking the classic libertarian argument against coercion despite not being a pure libertarian, himself, and therefore not against taxation in principle. Yet while Shapiro might be OK with taxes for pro-Israel spending (‘necessary’ good), roads (‘collective’ good), or fraud protections (a government function he explicitly supports), he makes an arbitrary distinction between those rights and healthcare. But why? It can’t logically be any essential quality within healthcare if Shapiro’s argument is merely ‘coercion’, which is wholly independent of such qualities. Obviously, a collective tax on ANYTHING is a form of coercion since one is buying a government service. Yet just as with Shapiro’s silly contention on the ethics of forcing anti-abortionists to fund abortion with their own tax dollars, he is again creating a local exception inconsistent with his own global scope.
As for the second question which Shapiro refused to answer: the answer, of course, is ‘Yes’…regardless of what Shapiro might have in fact written if he’d cared to. And why the hell not? If health care is not a right, as Shapiro argues, then why would a non-payer (assuming we have perfect knowledge of future non-payment) be entitled to a doctor’s time and resources in the emergency room? Go ahead: turn away the sick and dying, for just as doctors have their own market obligations, so do the poor. And this psychopathic suggestion, by the way, comes on the heels of Shapiro’s hypocritical desire to ‘save the unborn’, where government is obligated to bring a pregnancy to term when a fetus has no self-conception, but is then free to dump child and mother to the whims of an imperfect market when both can understand terror, pain, and abandonment.
But wait. Perhaps Shapiro does have a solution after all:
[–]broodcapital 64 points 6 days ago
Have you ever been so poor that you could not afford health insurance? If not, what would you do if you lost your health insurance?
[–]Ben Shapiro [S] 4 points 6 days ago
I would go to members of my family, then members of my community for help. That’s what social fabric is for.
Are you laughing? Luckily, I do not have to explain how stupid, disingenuous, and out of touch this lazy and self-serving answer really is, as Reddit has already done it for me:
[–]troubleondemand 155 points 6 days ago
What a fucking ignorant and elitist answer.
[–]ZlatanIslamovic1 41 points 5 days ago
Agreed. Does Ben Shapiro and people that share his beliefs possess any sort of ability to see themselves in someone else’s shoes that might not be as lucky in life as them?
[–]broodcapitalAmerica 17 points 4 days ago
It’s clear that he has never been poor or interacted with anyone that is in poverty.
[–]HighGradeImbecile 15 points 4 days ago
This explains American Libertarianism, the inability to see that other people are dealt different hands in life and therefore might be less able to do the things they are able to do.
That’s the setup. Now, let us dig in to the issue which most clearly exposes a modern conservative’s intellectual dishonesty: abortion!
[–]caroline_crlsn 40 points 6 days ago
What would be a “limited/small government” argument for pro-life policies (i.e., limits on abortion by trimester or regulations of abortion clinics)?
[–]Ben Shapiro[S] 156 points 6 days ago
All human life deserves protection. That is the fundamental basis of government.
Note the specifics of the argument: “All human life deserves protection.” Of course, that’s not really what Shapiro means, for it is not ‘protection’, in general, that’s the fundamental basis of government in Shapiro’s mind, but protection against murder, which is – coincidentally enough! – his definition of abortion. Otherwise, we are stuck with protections that contradict Shapiro’s worldview, such as zero-consequence emergency room visits (protects life) as well as both legitimate regulations that have saved lives (such as removing lead from the environment) and unnecessarily burdensome ones (such as New York City’s proposal to eliminate large sodas from certain locations).
Now, let’s keep this in mind as we examine Shapiro’s attack on abortion:
I mean- Jesus. Where to begin? In Shapiro’s typically lazy, haphazard fashion, he literally tries to throw everything at you in the hope that something sticks: the parsimony argument, slippery-slope, kindred-species, a ‘sanctity of life’ assumption, and even a deluge of emotional manipulation to shift the terms of the debate towards preferred ground. This is not to say that Shapiro even knows that these arguments have names and have already been debated (and some settled) for decades, or else why dilute his own position with their sloppiest, least convincing iterations? More, the top comment from the video seems absolutely stunned at the ‘quality’ of Shapiro’s argument, leaving one with the distinct impression that neither Shapiro nor the commenter have ever engaged with an opposing viewpoint in an honest, deep, and intellectually curious way.
There’s a lot to unpack and throw overboard, so let’s take the video apart before settling on Shapiro’s key claims. Yet just as I plan to engage Shapiro on his turf, out of a good faith attempt to rebut his most pressing concern (life-as-inviolable), I will ultimately end the argument with my own needs: pragmatism and the realities of the Social Contract. More, I will do this without accepting the logical necessity of rebutting the slippery-slope, showing it to not only be philosophically inconsistent on its own terms, but completely at odds with Shapiro’s implicit acceptance of the question’s more global scope.
The video starts with- you guessed it- a straw man wrapped in a tangent of Shapiro’s own making. Taking a pro-abortion video from actress Olivia Wilde, he is ‘disgusted’ by her alleged hypocrisy in talking sweetly about her own pregnancy in the same breath as discussing abortion rights. “This is about perverse a notion as I can imagine,” he says, “that as you are about to have your child, you’re thinking, ‘boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could still kill this thing?’” Uh, no, and even the use of subtly miscued words (‘wouldn’t it be’ vs. the more logical ‘have a right to’) is there to put forward a narrative that simply doesn’t exist. Ridiculously, Shapiro then asserts that she MUST be thinking ‘Maybe I should just kill it…’, but why? Because Shapiro is so closed-off intellectually that he can’t imagine someone taking a detached position 100% antithetical to her own stated desires? As if, you know, she in fact accepts she is not the measure of the world, and what’s right for her may not always be right for others? Ah, but life is much too sacred for such thought-experiments, I guess…as long as you’re unborn. Then anything goes, really.
Wilde goes on to discuss human rights, at which point Shapiro impatiently cuts her off to begin his emotional onslaught. “This is going to be mildly graphic, but it’s important,” he says, already suggesting there will be more pictures than dialectic. “I’m sick of the euphemisms! This is not aborting a fetus. It is not getting rid of a ball of tissue. This is a baby…” The screen shows a botched late-stage abortion (perhaps 24+ weeks) by Kermit Gosnell, followed by scientific depictions of gestational stages. “No one has a right to choose this picture. That’s a baby!” he repeats, all the while sprinkling allusions to his own “beautiful children”, offering graphic descriptions of minority-case abortions (“crushed skulls”, “brain gets sucked out”), and even manages a Freudian slip that lets his true feelings known and bankrupts his own argument. Just look at what he says of Gosnell: that he was “the most prolific serial killer in American history”. But why? Because he performed abortions? Yet so do thousands of other doctors, some of them far longer than Gosnell and likely with even more ‘casualties’. If ALL abortions are murder, as Shapiro claims, what’s so special about Gosnell? Oh, that’s right; he performed illegal, late-term abortions where the fetus looks more like a child, deluding the hyperemotional Shapiro into accepting it as ‘true’ murder (hence the ‘serial killer’ cognomen) against the other, run-of-the-mill abortions he implicitly knows to be anything but. Damn- Shapiro didn’t even get to his argument yet, and STILL managed to undo its conclusion!
And if that wasn’t enough, consider Shapiro’s unsettling hypocrisy just a few minutes in. Recently, he was asked about abortion in the case of rape, and he pointed out that if abortion is in fact murder, rape “cannot change the calculus”. That’s correct, and something that ‘weak’ anti-abortionists who make exceptions for special cases absolutely need to consider. Yet while he complains at the student’s “use of an exceptional case in order to…guilt me into supporting a broad-based abortion platform”, what does Shapiro do in the video? Oh, right, he dangles an image of an exceptional-case, late-term abortion (roughly 1% of all abortions) in order to bolster an EMOTIONAL argument for a broad-based anti-abortion platform. Gotta love the Right’s manipulativeness, even as they gaslight the Left into believing that it’s strictly THEIR behavior that’s at issue.
I mean, re-watch the video again, if you must. Can you HONESTLY say that its content is any different from a typical feminist screed, save that the bullshit comes from the other side of the political aisle? Give Shapiro an Antifa mask and let him argue that conservatives should be banned from public speaking, and the intellectual tactics (or lack thereof) would be identical. Yet before we can even address Shapiro’s main point- what is ‘murder’, exactly? More, why is it not even discussed, much less defined? Shouldn’t we know what we’re talking about before a conversation begins? In fact, I’d argue that murder is the unsanctioned taking of a human life: sanctions, of course, which we permit and remit at will depending on the particulars of the Social Contract. More pertinently, what is the ontological sense of ‘human life’ when, definitionally, the human being is not even born: is not even a full-fledged logical category, much less an autonomous person that – in all commonly-aborted stages – is almost parasitically dependent upon its host? Do we confer, for example, EVERY categorical privilege of the oak tree to an acorn? If so, why, and what is the essential quality that’s under discussion? If not, do we simply make an ad hoc exception on the ‘sanctity’ of life (which is mere question-begging, naturally) in order to retroactively apply our own group identity (‘the born and autonomous’) to one arbitrarily-privileged subgroup that has not even met the sole prima facie requirement of membership?
So- in order to deal with all this sophistry, we’re now on the slippery-slope, the video’s key philosophical argument and probably the most common argument against abortion today. Shapiro casts doubt on the idea that a fetus is a baby ‘only’ at week 24, or 16, much less on the actual day of birth, preferring to side-step the above objections. He denies, for instance, the ‘clump of cells’ characterization (although for a period that is ALL a fetus is), implying that inviolable life begins at the moment of conception, wherein all abortions are now impermissible. Typically, the philosophers’ response at this point is to argue that “a continuous route of development from route A to B are not fundamentally different with respect to some property P” (to quote David Boonin), just as the miniscule difference between the light at noon and right after up until a second before midnight “does not mean that we must conclude that midnight is as bright as noon or that we should treat it as if it is”. Yet some might push the argument further, insisting that the lack of fundamental change from conception (as a ‘potential’ human) to whenever (as a fully viable one) ALSO implies the same potential exists right before conception, as well. This creates a logical quandary for the anti-abortionist, as it seems he must now argue for the preservation of the most basic genetic material in a way that no libertarian (on either side of the Left/Right divide!) could comfortably do.
Yet Shapiro would no doubt reject this as a needless reductio ad absurdum, since he could just as easily assume one fundamental stage of life: the exact time when conception instantiates. Ok, but as Boonin points out, the zygote’s ‘instantiation’ still has “the sperm and ovum as two distinct organisms” even as they change and interact, while the end-point of the sperm’s penetration is still “one distinct organism operating inside another”. The male and female chromosomes release and begin to pair off, but, as per the ship of Theseus, just when do sperm and egg cease being distinct entities if we can still point to their individual (and most fundamental) parts at, before, and even after instantiation? Their genetic material is still ‘theirs’, albeit in a different relationship once it’s released, once again upon entanglement, and then again once the process is complete. Even as all this is happening, both sex cells are merely being re-contextualized without quite ceasing to be: the point, oddly enough, that some might argue is the ‘true’ instantiation within the instantiation. Yet all we’ve had is stages without any fundamental shift, merely changing the original question of conception to a kind of quantum puzzle that asks the same question of its own self! More, even if we had a point of instantiation, there is still the issue of determining why THIS point is the one that’s ethically relevant as opposed to the second before or after, and by what precise mechanism instantiation grants it that moral privilege. The appeal, again, must be to some unproven premise and/or social adjudication that is no different, axiomatically, from the abortionist’s Social Contract.
To be sure, I am NOT denying the reasonableness – at least in the anti-abortionist’s mind – of trying to find some end-point to the slippery-slope, but there is a deeper truth at play here which Ben Shapiro’s argument brings out. In short, for all of Shapiro’s critique of the Left’s moral relativism (a critique I often agree with, by the way), he must STILL choose a perfectly arbitrary yet convenient point of departure for both a legal and ethical definition of life. The difference between us, however, is that while Shapiro fidgets and fights at such a task, then pretends abortionists are immoral for engaging in the same wrangling, I am perfectly willing to accept an arbitrary yet pragmatic definition which takes an end-point demarcated for some social good (even if it violates the ‘inviolability’ of life) rather than stick to logically unfalsifiable categories. Even the privileging of a fetus as ‘distinctly’ human when, say, acorns are never to be thought of as trees, creates yet another axiom for the anti-abortionist to defend: namely, what is it about human life that absolves it of the need to be scrutinized and boxed into the same categories as all other natural phenomena? A true liberal, of course, can merely answer ‘Because…’ and point to the Social Contract as his expedient while safely eating meat and killing spiders at will. Shapiro, however, must get metaphysical, and rely on the one thing he said he’d NEVER use: religion, or whatever ad hoc, secular equivalent of religion he wishes to concoct. Shapiro is neither a vegetarian, however, nor – absurdly enough – a ‘believer’ in animals’ free will, for while the abortionists are not allowed to demarcate as we see fit, he can safely divorce an animal’s suffering from an ovum’s, and even befog our own place in the animal kingdom just because. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Ben. It just makes you an unwitting abortionist. Welcome!
Yet the Social Contract is even more than that. To begin, I’d define it as an arbitrary global point of departure (full of other, more local points of departure) that is popularly agreed upon for the sake of some demotic good. If argued from one’s original position, it is a means of not only seeing the world more fairly beyond the veil, but allows us to do precisely as we see fit, adding and subtracting from the tally of what’s allowed/not allowed without either worrying about the ‘need’ to impose religious-based values (as Shapiro implicitly does) nor about Nietzsche’s hypothesis of world de-valuation. In a way, we can create values as quickly as we can create and strip rights. Nor is this an argument for moral relativism, at least in the sense that we do have specific premises – right-to-life at point X, right-to-dignity until death – both unalterable AND forever shifting. Just as this ‘point X’ granted us a society that has been able to reduce violence and increase wealth a thousand-fold, the right-to-dignity has expanded to include things (such as the right-to-life!) Shapiro-types could have NEVER dreamed of in their immobile, caste-like perceptions some millennia ago.
So, to answer Shapiro’s query of when it would be inappropriate to kill a fetus: on the day of live birth. Anything before that – brain, no brain, heart, no heart, viable, non-autonomous – is fair game for an abortion. Is this sick? Psychopathic, even? Perhaps. Yet if these are the terms we’ll bandy about, is it less or more psychopathic than Shapiro’s insistence that a woman who is beaten and raped be denied emergency room treatment due to her inability to pay? Or then forcing that same woman to carry the resultant pregnancy to term, feeling her own body change – a constant reminder of her own rape – getting fatter, vomiting, suffering mood swings, pain, depression, pissing herself, and, when the time comes, being compelled to not only pass on her own genetic information, but her rapist’s, as well? Hm, if phrased like that, well…But, don’t worry, girl! Ben’s a hero. He would – he said so – part with a little cash to help you out in whatever way you need, although, to be sure, there are many of you, but only one Ben. Perhaps I am wrong, though? Perhaps there are in fact many Bens. There’s the Ben who is concerned about the most precious group in our society: the unborn. Then there’s the Ben who tells you to beg friends for money after you – precious resource! – are actually born. There’s the Ben who will take out his wallet for you when the occasion demands. And, of course, there’s the Ben who will turn you away at Bellevue while cooing at your distended belly. No, chivalry is not dead, ladies. There’s still Ben, by God, and the dumb bitches who get raped. Here, bitch: have a dollar. I’ll make sure you pray for you at Temple.
Now, I know that Shapiro will bristle at the suggestion that anti-abortion is, ipso facto, a misogynistic stance. But why? Sanctioning abortion is- beyond what I’ve already argued- a mere recognition of the need to level the playing field as per the Social Contract. More, this is ordinary biology: the very biology, ironically enough, which feminists have tried to argue against, and which Shapiro merely pays lip service to without in fact understanding. What is a male? The disposable sex. What is a female? The gatekeepers of sex. Naturally, they each have their respective advantages and disadvantages, with men’s chief historical liability being subject to war, murder, and various grunt work, while women’s being subject to compulsory birth-giving, boredom, and passivity. As a result, men have sought ways to bring about peace- and control women!- since time immemorial, while women have tried- among other things- to control their own reproductive cycles. But redistribution is NOT justice! Oh really, Ben? Might I propose that you would, in typical conservative fashion, absolutely lose your mind to learn that women are sentenced less often and for far less time for the same crimes that men commit? Unfair, huh? Discriminatory, even. Do you wish to change this? Why? Women are simply using THEIR biology and exploiting men’s natural compassion for women in order to gain an advantage that men can never have, just as they are condemned to things- for the same physiological reasons- which men will never go through! So, which one is it, Ben? Do we give BOTH sexes the option of redress in ways specific to their sex, or do we- after embracing our own misogyny- redress men’s issues, first, then pay off any unwanted pregnancies by throwing money at the mother? Odd, indeed, that after all of your supposed ‘enlightenment’, she still looks so much like your little whore.
Yet if Shapiro’s anti-abortion argument didn’t convince you that he is a mere religiot in disguise, let’s take a look at his allegedly ‘secular’ opposition to gay marriage:
Late last week, after the Supreme Court of the United States declared without any Constitutional basis that the Constitution mandates same-sex marriages be state legitimized across the nation, a disquieting level of triumphalism broke out from coast to coast. The president shined lights representing the gay pride rainbow flag on the White House — a gross boot-on-the-throat display from an anti-religious leader. Corporations, undoubtedly fearful of the consequences of ending up on the wrong side of the riotous left, began tweeting out rainbow symbols. News outlets similarly embraced the rainbow symbol, as though it were uncontroversial to do so; BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and Mashable all turned their logos rainbow, with BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith explaining, “We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.”
Hm, typical Republican culture-war fluff, but pay attention to the part that I’ve bolded. Naturally, any argument against gay marriage needs to both be a legal and ethical one, since we are discussing the extension of legal rights to individuals who might in fact have no claim on such a privilege.
Let’s move beyond the romantically idiotic language of Justice Kennedy’s decision…
Ah, look. Just one more sentence in, and Shapiro already declines to discuss the one objective thing purportedly under review. So, the legal scholar is being paid to write what, exactly: an opinion piece on how to interpret the law without the law as a referent? Interesting.
The notion that gay rights advocates and their allies, who have spent decades suggesting that the institution of marriage represents patriarchal oppression, love and respect marriage so much that they wish to join in its binds, is inane. And the idea that the gay rights movement desperately seeks the tax assistance available to male-female married couples was made false long ago with the promises of civil unions.
Ok, Shapiro racks up three logical fallacies in just two sentences: the fallacy of division and a red herring in sentence 1, and a straw-man in sentence 2. Impressive, eh? He begins not only with a blanket condemnation of homosexuals by targeting a cross-section of their most visible members, but also throws in their purported behavior – an unrelated variable – as a plausible reason for not extending them a civil right…which, by the way, will rather conveniently no longer be discussed from a legal perspective. Thus, we do not even need to address Shapiro’s characterization of gays in order to dismiss it- a bad sign for the rest of his argument. Yet the next sentence is just as silly, as the uniqueness of male-female marriage is not merely limited to tax assistance, as the straw-man claims, but everything from life insurance to certain medical benefits, as well as protections at the federal level which civil unions do not provide. Not that it’d matter, anyway, for the deeper, ontological questions involved, but shouldn’t one at least know the terms under discussion?
No, the gay rights movement and the broader American left celebrated the same-sex marriage decision in wild fashion because the decision established two fundamental notions: First, that government has replaced God in the moral pantheon of the United States; second, that the new god-government has the power to root out and destroy any God-based institutions, destroying the social capital and fabric that holds together the nation.
Again, even if true: so what? And government – or rather, the Social Contract more generally – has always been the fundamental moral arbiter of every single society on the planet, and, barring some cybernetic intervention, will always continue to be. That’s because God – a mere fiction – is simply a subcategory of the wider, more global fiction of sociability. Yet God is a variable, I’d argue, that needlessly complicates the global scope, where Occam’s Razor can make short work of it as we look for a less invasive premise. More, it’s not a point I have to argue, anyway, since God doesn’t exist.
Snipping a little bullshit, we soon get to this:
Now, the notion that the gay rights movement seeks the “dignity” of marriage is similarly ridiculous — movements that seek “dignity” do not hold parades featuring the Seattle Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and a bevy of chaps in assless chaps. But they do seek the “dignity” of being told by a higher authority that their actions are right, just and good.
Oy. Could it be that they seek the ‘dignity’ of the equal protections enumerated above? And could it be that they’re entitled to them whether they’re marching naked in the street wearing butt plugs, or sitting at home studying the Talmud? Nor do they need to be told their actions are right, just, and good. Their actions are merely neutral, and irrelevant, at that, to the question under review. I mean, do heterosexual couples shout over their ‘goodness’ when they get married? Do they weep over their own ‘unjustness’ when they get divorced? Does any sane person EVER categorize and grade their most private and banal actions in such a way?
With God safely shunted to the side in favor of Justice Kennedy, the next step in the gay rights movement will be the smashing of idolaters — namely, those who cling to their religion and church in spite of Justice Kennedy’s New New Testament. Leftists have already moved to ban nonprofit status for religious institutions that refuse to acknowledge same-sex marriages; leftists have already sued into oblivion religious business owners who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. It will not stop there. Religious schools will be targeted. Then, so will homeschooling programs. The secular religion of the left has been set free to pursue its own crusade against the infidel.
Actually, I sort of agree, at least on some points. The Left (including me) wishes to see the death of religion as a whole. Yet the Left (excluding me) does not seem to realize that for every ‘real’ religion that inevitably gets abolished, there will be another, more stubborn one to take its place. There’s already the cult of scientism, for one, and the various political creeds into which folks of all persuasions seek some much-valued entry. But while the Left’s error in all this is assuming they will be successful in an ever-changing mission, Shapiro’s error is in assuming that ‘the’ mission ends with the Abrahamic bullshit of some two thousand years ago. In both cases, the participants are deluded. In both cases, the participants merely accuse and inveigle until they are utterly convinced they’re right. Yet I must ask: just what does all of this have to do with gay marriage?
Oh, that’s right: this is merely the dumbed-down version of an argument he later made elsewhere, when Shapiro didn’t have to pander to Townhall:
Shapiro’s assertion is that government ought to be out of marriage, in general, and out of gay marriage especially since a legal right to gay marriage (on top of having “no social value”) can easily open the door to a kind of forced affiliation between gays and non-gays, to the point of religious infringement and a mismatch between the private and public spheres. A bakery, for example, was successfully sued for discrimination when it refused to make a cake for a gay wedding due to religious beliefs, with other businesses now facing similar legal threats. To Shapiro, this is a non-negotiable infringement on religious freedom, but is that really true? More, what are the implications of such an argument? Can a doctor who subscribes to Christian Identity refuse to treat a Jew at an emergency room out of the belief that he’d be furthering ZOG? Even if he is the sole doctor on staff, and the patient dying? What if he had his license, practice, and equipment subsidized by the state and subject to state regulations? Or what if we’re discussing a Catholic hospital which- oh, I don’t know- refuses to treat its own patients due to some personal idiocy, thus putting lives at risk by not following accepted protocol? One can argue that life/death trumps religious integrity, but on what basis, exactly, when the issue (as Shapiro frames it) is freedom from affiliation? Finally, why can’t similar exemptions be argued after the fact- if only to satisfy some outrageous hypotheticals which nonetheless have the same logical underpinnings?
Of course, a libertarian might respond that the doctor- in the first case- has no business being a doctor, anyway, since he will likely have to come across Jews in his practice and will therefore not be holding up his end of the contract. Yet won’t the same apply to a baker who will at some point be asked to bake a cake (as he’s done many times before) for a legally-sanctioned marriage (ditto)? Or a pharmacist who will be asked to prescribe yet another medication among the thousands of others he’s dutifully prescribed? That this marriage happens to be homosexual or this medication happens to be mifepristone is – as Shapiro indubitably knows – an irrelevant demarcation in the eyes of the law. After all, they are legal! Further, there can be few (if any) legal exemptions given the state’s vested interest in reducing discrimination and the undue hardship that might come with bias, whether it’s dying in the exceptional case or merely being forced to pick another bakery in the more minor one. Yet the point is that both the exceptional and minor cases are logically equivalent at their axiomatic root, and to avoid quibbles and complex regulations the state prefers to not get in the business of trying each instance case by case, opting for a blanket disapproval of ALL discrimination against protected groups. And while Shapiro might not ‘like’ the recent rights-extension, it is now simply the new point of departure, and any argument he makes has to begin there.
Turning to the “no social value” argument, Shapiro’s conception of marriage involves the state’s vested interest in population control. I disagree, but to give Shapiro the benefit of the doubt, let us merely argue on his turf, and denude him from there. According this claim, it was historically assumed that a couple would have children, and marriage licenses (at least in part) were given in compliance with this vested interest. Even if true, however, the state’s assumption was merely a good-faith belief, not a compulsion. I mean- duh? If you can literally strip an object of its purported underpinnings, yet still have it function without a hiccup, it is probably safe to say that there are variables you’ve not considered. Second, and more decisively, even if ‘the’ underpinning of marriage is population management, it does not follow that the existence of marriage as-is cannot confer other benefits that the state might also have an interest in. These include stability, an ‘official’ structure for children where parents can enjoy new legal benefits, and a deeper social glue that, ridiculously enough, Shapiro thinks is weakened with an extension of marital privilege to people who have dreamed about it for decades: a longing Shapiro dismisses by fiat in the most lazy way possible.
More, even if one were to argue (as Shapiro does) that children raised by gay parents tend to fare worse than those in straight couplings, it is just as true that biological children raised by black parents fare worse than white children from white backgrounds, or that handicapped parents on welfare in Appalachia do worst of all. More, it would be even harder to argue that- since we cannot stop gays, blacks, or the handicapped from procreating- such a child raised in a married household, with ALL official state sanction and legal rights, would do worse than in an unmarried one, where these benefits do not exist, and the child is forced to grow up with the understanding that his parents’ love is sanctioned by neither the state nor his own community. Yet Shapiro’s burden is now to prove precisely that- a task he refuses to undertake, and for good reason.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of gay marriage is something Shapiro ought have been the first to see. Just think, for a moment, of what a law is at its essence. A law is not merely a proscription or allowance. It is not simply a means for the rich to control the poor. It is not ‘just’ a minority’s last line of defense against the supermajority. Rather, it might be all of these things, at different times, but with a critical addendum. In short, the law is a negotiated understanding between a society and its members, often making what is implicit explicit, even if it sometimes means spearheading ‘vested interests’ ahead of public opinion for the sake of a well-established good. In this way, gay marriage merely codifies what a comfortable majority of Americans have wanted for at least a decade, with no logical downside (and, no, Rightist fear-mongering does not quite pass the bar). Had gays been 50% of the population, no doubt Shapiro’s argument re: vested interests would have to change, since we would suddenly have people living the same ordinary, banal lives in the macro otherwise more easily ignored in the micro, even as the essence of both – love, death, children, taxes – is unchanged.
Yet legal protections are less dependent upon number as they are on successfully establishing discrete categories and logical continuity. To Shapiro, this category is radically new, radically unjustifiable, for it officiates nothing less than the throwing aside of God. In reality, however, this newly-protected class is little more than a riff on everyone else who has wished to sanction their own coupling. As Shapiro unwittingly suggests, they wish for their bond to be recognized even though (legal protections aside) it is not necessary- a name doesn’t change a thing! Yet they seek it, regardless, as I’ve sought it, and Ben sought it a decade before me, because labels are a human foible, and while Shapiro denies gay folks the most simple human motivations, they will in fact continue to do as everyone else has done: marry, divorce, fail to raise their kids right, then seek some new category to deride that the rest of world now seeks to champion, but which to them smells too much of social upheaval. Hey, Ben- remember when Jews weren’t allowed to… Ah, Christ, but that was ‘different’, wasn’t it? Well? And yet the world cycles on.
Naturally, things are little changed when he argues about the shortcomings of identity politics:
Now, prior to going any further, I must admit the following. Like Shapiro, I bristle at the notion of white privilege, and most ‘privilege’, really, as typically applied to some large category of people divided by class, background, personality, and countless other variables that can’t be so easily dismissed. In fact, it’s shocking how dumb the Left has been to harp on privilege, NOT because it doesn’t exist, but because of how utterly meaningless and psychologically destructive the concept can be. After all, what does white privilege mean to a coal miner on food stamps taking care of his diabetic mother? Or male privilege to some schlub too passive to get ahead in life by sheer brutality, and too dumb to get ahead by talent? It is as silly as positing American privilege to a fatherless black kid in a slum merely because Africans have it worse. The fact is, these ‘privileged’ groups are so busy with their own misery that conceptualizing something worse is not only futile- it’s a goddamn ontological insult! Yet instead of bringing them into the fold, the Left has cast these people aside, denying their problems (men’s, especially) all the while guilting them for votes. It’s a losing strategy, no doubt, and Trump’s victory was as much of a backlash against the Democrats’ hypocrisy as it was against political correctness more generally.
Yet just because the PC crowd has exaggerated some realities and mixed in some bullshit along the way does NOT mean that privilege, as a whole, is a useless way to look at the world. I have at different points been fat, fit, ugly, handsome, comfortable, not, passive, assertive, and know precisely what avenues open and close – often by no effort of your own – depending on what side of the divide you’re on. In short, I’ve seen first-hand what such intangibles can offer one in everything from the way a banker treats you, to the number of smiles a cop or stranger will divulge. Yet I’ve never been black, and therefore can’t deny that just as a thousand little variables have forged a unique experiential world just for me, race might be another variable – perhaps a far larger variable – as well. And while I do not know ‘that’ world in the way I know mine, I’d gladly bet that there’s NOTHING quite like being a beefy, 17 year-old white kid with an attitude and some cash in his pocket strutting with the knowledge that he is closing in on a future most can only dream of- just give me a staff and a circumcision and I can part the motherfucking ocean! Nor do I feel ‘guilty’ about this- I simply recognize it as is, no different from any other fact of life gimleted into me with years of feedback and affirmation. And since I do not feel guilty about my position, I also do not have any emotional need to deny it, either, as I recognize that my value resides only in the things within my control, not whatever the world decides to give or take from me on a whim.
Mere anecdote is not evidence, however, so let’s get to the meat of Shapiro’s claims and go from there. He begins by asserting that white privilege has been used as a way of silencing anyone who is not of color – absolutely true, by the way, and something that’s even been used to bludgeon me whenever I’d voice an opinion unpopular with the Left. He then goes through a slew of supposed privileges, many of them downright silly (white band-aids, for example) and doing much harm to true liberal causes. Yet Shapiro is not satisfied to merely leave it at that, choosing to counter a liberal myth with a myth of his own: equality of opportunity. Thus, I am uninterested in debating the sillier points- most of which I’ll grant- but rather the deeper elements of American racism on which he is flat-out wrong. The core of Shapiro’s claim is this:
Nothing that I’m saying here suggests that discrimination has never existed in America’s history. That would be stupid and afactual. But to suggest that it is a continuing factor in American life that is putting people under the boot of the white establishment is just factually nonsense.
Rather than dealing with this claim generally, let us examine three paraphrased assertions which led Shapiro to this conclusion:
1) Anti-racism activists claim that bank lending discrimination was and continues to be a problem for the black community, but this isn’t true. In fact, the perception of non-lending even spurred the government to create a subprime mortgage market in order to deal with this alleged problem, directly leading to the 2008 financial collapse.
In a way, bank-lending arguments are perhaps at the core of the racism debate in America, a fact which Shapiro likely understands and disingenuously straw-mans. That’s because while Shapiro keeps his assertions to the present day, this is a non-starter since urban life in the 1920s was more integrated (despite greater racism) in many places than it’d ever be again. From the 1930s on, redlining was codified in a series of New Deal programs that, although in some ways progressive, nonetheless targeted mixed neighborhoods for break-ups and explicitly promoted both physical and economic segregation. This meant that whites would be cordoned off from blacks in the cities, then get their ticket to the suburbs via discriminatory mortgage loans which still excluded non-whites well after World War II. Meanwhile, blacks- having already been shuffled around a few times- were invited to the only places they could now afford: the functionally ‘white’ housing projects and ghettos whites had just escaped, quickly dropping property values even before these neighborhoods had become violent and ill-serviced and thus (by Shapiro’s own logic) helping precipitate both. In response, investment into these communities dropped, further isolating them, driving up the prices on basic goods like food and gas in newly-minted ‘food deserts’, increasing crime, immobilizing residents, and generally making such neighborhoods even less desirable to investors, a cycle which continues to this day. Couple this with lower wages for blacks – i.e., an inability to save – plus the lack of return on their rock-bottom property values, and a huge swath of black Americans were back to a similar position they’d already climbed out of half a century before! In short, it’s not simply that we had a ‘failure’ in desegregation, but that re-segregation was a semi-official policy for decades, turning otherwise stable and desirable mixed and black neighborhoods into the voids which- by never being properly addressed- could safely be blamed on their residents. Unless Shapiro is prepared to blame the Civil Rights movement for some mysterious degeneration of black culture, the above narrative remains the most widely accepted explanation for black poverty:
All of these tools and approaches were facilitated by the federal government and its partners at the state and local level. For decades, it was a project of Democrats and Republicans, who worked to appease a white supremacist majority, and often, shared their assumptions. This continued into the 1960s, and arguably, never stopped: Public housing projects, for instance, were placed in these segregated, depressed neighborhoods as a compromise with conservatives who opposed them outright. This, in turn, ensured concentrated poverty and all its attendant problems, as well as bad schools and poor public services. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was meant to tackle all of this, but as Nikole Hannah-Jones details for ProPublica, it saw sporadic enforcement, if that.
After a half century (or more), it’s not hard to see how we get to here from there: When you prevent a whole class of people from building wealth, accessing capital, or leaving impoverished areas, you guarantee cultural dysfunction and deep, generational poverty. When it comes to inner-city poverty—we built that.
Moving into the present, Shapiro cites a study indicating that ‘true’ bank-lending discrimination doesn’t really exist today. Well, first of all- that’s simply immaterial, given how all of the above put quite a few blacks into a position where they can’t even ASK for loans to begin with, much less be discriminated against. Second, it is simply untrue, since any number of studies from the last two decades indicates that mortgage discrimination is still widespread. Shapiro cherry-picks one piece of data, but here are the mainstream numbers from the 1990s, which assessed both a for-profit and racial motive independently; a more recent study which reveals a clear bias against black loan applicants with photos; bias against ‘black’ names; yet more of the same; and, to top it off, a huge settlement, a moderate one, and a smaller one due to the practice, from banks of all sizes and geographic distributions, with a New York Times article commenting on yet another lawsuit in New Jersey and penalties extracted from multiple cities across America for similar violations, only to conclude that we now have “more active redlining investigations underway than at any other time in the past seven years.”
Note also Shapiro’s subtle blaming of the poor for the 2008 mortgage crisis- that their dishonest complaining about discrimination created an inaccurate perception of an otherwise fair lending system, thus encouraging both the state and private equity to get fat off of a non-existent issue. Yet the complaints were not only NOT needless, as I’ve shown, but Shapiro even manages to confuse the bottom line. If American business is so badly regulated that financial institutions were able to commit such massive fraud in THIS sector, what’s to stop big business from choosing some other target for their greed? Oh, right, they did exactly that less than a decade before with Enron, WorldCom, the dot-com bubble, and everything else, really, meant to ‘trickle-down’ and ‘help the poor’, but was simply the filling of a niche which should have never existed in the first place. Like with so many other corporate products, is not so much that subprime mortgages are inherently bad. It is merely that the risks were socialized and the profits privatized when a mix of both could have easily prevented these issues to begin with.
In other words, Shapiro is not only wrong in the spirit of his assertions, but the letter, as well. Despite his posturing over the Left’s overuse of emotion, it’s clear that he has taken an emotional position, first, and has sought a post hoc rationalization by cherry-picking a few outliers from an overwhelming body of evidence, blaming the poor for everything from their own red-lining to world financial collapse. Is he any less slimy on the issue of black poverty as a whole? Let’s see:
2) Black poverty is not a result of racism, but something that’s gone awry in black culture. For example, the liberal Brookings Institute asserts that to NOT be permanently poor, one simply needs to finish high school, get a job, and not have children out of wedlock. Yet unwedded motherhood has risen sharply in the black community, from 20% decades ago to 70% today all the while America has become a less racist country.
Oh, what do you know- Shapiro denies white privilege, on the one hand, yet admits that black people, on average, must deal with more crime and poverty than whites? So, how is this an argument against privilege, exactly, when on pure probability blacks (by Shapiro’s own examples) have MORE obstacles to deal with before they get to the same outcome? I mean- just compare his conveniently unfalsifiable theory- ‘black degeneracy’- with the well-documented narrative I’ve presented, and tell me what’s more rational? Yes, Shapiro is partly right about the figures (more on this below) as well as the Brookings study, yet the mere fact that blacks have the OPTION to ‘do better’ if they just accomplish X, Y, and Z does not mean that the variables he alludes to play no role in the PROBABILISTIC issue of how often these choices get tapped over the alternatives. Obviously, it is not that a percentage of black mothers can’t stop themselves from having children out of wedlock, but that a percentage of them don’t. Yet the suggestion that they merely ‘cut it out!’ is akin to telling a stateless society that attrition is bad: yeah, no shit, Ben, but how do you actually stop it without the introduction of a Leviathan? Has this EVER happened, in ANY society, save the hypotheticals which libertarians dream in? More pointedly, what is the Leviathan for this particular issue, and why hasn’t it been tapped- surely, according to Ben’s logic, one of the most important policy issues of our day? And just what do the numbers mean, anyway, since Shapiro gives you only half of the picture? After all, while unwedded black mothers are in fact having fewer children than ever, married black women are having even fewer children than either unmarried black women or married white women, black/Hispanic teen pregnancy has dropped by 50%, yet black poverty and income inequality is still growing:
It is important to realize that the “percent of births” is not a birth rate. The birth rate is the number of births for every 1,000 women in a specific category. The last marital birth rates calculated by the National Center for Health Statistics were for 2002. In 2002, the black marital birth rate was 64.9 births for every 1,000 married black women. The white marital birth rate was 88.2 for every 1,000 married white women. The black marital birth rate was 23.3 births less than the white rate. In the past, the black marital birth rate was higher than the white rate. Because there is such a low number of births among married black women, the percent of births to unmarried black women is especially high.
To summarize: there is no data to show that the black “illegitimacy” figure of 70 percent has been caused by unmarried black women having more kids than they did in the past. In fact, the trend is the exact opposite. What is clear is that the behavior of married black women has changed, to the point that married black women are actually having less kids than married white women.
In other words, here we are, arguing on Shapiro’s preferred turf, even as Shapiro, himself, neither understands the math he is referencing nor its implications. More, according to Shapiro’s own reference, the three rules for kids to live by are best understood in the context of wider, liberal policy initiatives for society to live by: to make those three rules appear as logical and desirable as they in fact are. And if in fact the state has a vested interest in heterosexual marriage (as Shapiro argues) for the sake of population control, why oppose the policies which have been shown to improve success by every known metric? Too ideologically impure, perhaps? Yet they’re effective. There is ‘personal responsibility,’ yes, but there’s also the tension between freedom and probability. It is a tension that seeks to balance the truth that ‘people are free to do as they wish’ with a billion other, equally true moments that make freedom a less meaningful concept depending on who you are. If that weren’t so, we’d not have had the same irrational bouts of history over and over again until we’d collectively said ‘Enough!’, and put the same faith in the Social Contract which Shapiro prefers to put in God. In some ways, then, my goals are not too different from Shapiro’s. The only difference is that Shapiro wishes to skip the math and just chide and pontificate in the hope that somebody will listen. But just as Ben ‘won’t care’ about people’s emotions, probability – a die loaded in white people’s favor – doesn’t give a damn about Ben’s moralizing. I mean- look back over the past 10,000 years. Has it ever?
3) Liberals like to say that blacks and perhaps other minorities are discriminated against by the police and the justice system as a whole. There is no evidence of this, however, and one study even found that blacks speed more often while Peter Moskos of John Jay College insists that police shootings of whites are in fact overrepresented.
Perhaps the easiest assertion to dismiss, and one which divides black from white most sharply in today’s climate. Prior to getting to the key claim, however, let us deal with Shapiro’s two pieces of evidence: ‘driving while black’ in New Jersey, and Peter Moskos’s study.
First, a little background on the New Jersey racial profiling controversies of the 1990s. Study after study as well as countless official records indicated discrimination in pretty much every form, from speeding stops, to ticketing for various offenses, and searches conducted all over the state but especially on the New Jersey Turnpike. More, the NJSP eventually admitted this, with cops reporting that they were encouraged by their superiors to profile explicitly based on race- charges, by the way, still repeated today by officers all over the country. Further documents revealed potentially criminal acts at the highest levels of the NJSP, as officials withheld information from federal prosecutors to divert attention from these illegal practices. Now, all of this is not controversial- it’s been settled. And while some critics grumbled about John Lamberth’s methodology, his own study merely corroborated what had already been in the documentary record: namely, that 42% of all stops were of blacks- 3 times the total black driving population in the areas surveyed, and, more importantly, very much in line with other state studies to the present day.
Of course, New Jersey is not special here, but the virulence of the NJSP’s practices encouraged both scrutiny and additional studies. Shapiro alludes to one such study which looked at actual driver behavior on the Turnpike by race. He states, correctly, that 23% of all speeders were found to be black, about twice the expected number, but implies that this same cross-section of black drivers gets 25% of all speeding tickets- roughly in line what one might expect based on speeding rates- as he collapses the study’s findings with unrelated data. In fact, the study’s authors explicitly state that they were NOT measuring police and ticketing behavior, merely the one racial variable, while 25% is not a Turnpike number but an overall state statistic for which there is no concurrent driver data. Further, a more recent study found that the vast majority of Turnpike drivers (black and white) commit driving violations for which they could be stopped – including speeding, thus suggesting a selective enforcement on par with Bloomfield, NJ’s recent controversies. Most decisively, even if the study is correct about black drivers’ disproportionate speeding, keep in mind that Lamberth’s numbers indicate that blacks are still stopped (for all reasons) at 3 times the predicted number overall, and almost twice of what their alleged speeding behavior predicts. Couple this with the aforementioned 100,000 pages documenting explicit abuses by the NJSP and identical findings nationwide, and Shapiro’s reference is little more than an interesting aside to a far deeper problem he’d rather ignore.
The second piece of evidence is Peter Moskos’s comments on police violence: that adjusted for the homicide rate, whites are more than 1.5X as likely to be killed by police officers as blacks. By contrast, the unadjusted per capita deaths of blacks compared with whites is 2.5-3.5X, a number- Moskos argues- that activists have long latched on to as evidence of racial bias without considering the full picture. On the other hand, it would be disingenuous to ignore the MASSIVE amount of data indicating that the violence of individual blacks has little to do with the violence exacted upon them when controlled for similar offenses. In other words, ‘adjusting for the murder rate’ for an entire race is logically meaningless when we are dealing with non-murderers whose only relation to these statistical perpetrators is skin color. Thus put into context, Moskos’s numbers imply racial discrimination definitionally– precisely what Shapiro is attempting to disprove.
Similar findings indicate that while blacks and Hispanics (such as in New York City’s ‘stop and frisk’ policy) can make up almost 90% of all pedestrian stops, they are less likely to be found with weapons and drugs than whites. And while critics argue that racially disproportionate stops are due to violent neighborhoods being disproportionately black, New York data indicates that blacks and Latinos are still the overwhelming targets in low-crime, low-minority neighborhoods for random stops- facts supported by dozens of other studies, as well as the endless anecdotal evidence ranging from my and my friends’ experiences growing up, to amateur gonzo films on YouTube and cops’ own admissions of systemic bias and enforced profiling. More officer stories exist, of course, replete with cop-initiated lawsuits, audio recordings of higher-ups, and even one case study of 24 out of 25 minority cops who themselves reported being frequent victims of racial profiling when off-duty- with five of the cops having had guns pulled on them by other officers! Honestly, if Ben Shapiro with his posh suits and yarmulke could live a dozen lifetimes back-to-back, do you think he would have a single gun pulled on him by an officer- for any reason? How many times would he complain of profiling? Is Ben simply more law-abiding than 96% of officers? Or does he simply fit another profile altogether- that of a non-threat who will always be on the right side of a probability space he can safely pretend to not exist?
And that’s just New York City. Former Baltimore police sergeant and whistleblower Michael A. Wood says the same, while Loretta Lynch’s Justice Department (which Shapiro conveniently dismisses as ‘racist’) conducted a massive investigation of the city’s discriminatory practices and constitutional violations, indicating that:
The department found reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of:
– Conducting stops, searches and arrests without meeting the requirements of the Fourth Amendment;
– Focusing enforcement strategies on African Americans, leading to severe and unjustified racial disparities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Safe Streets Act;
– Using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
– Interacting with individuals with mental health disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
– Interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment
Of course, there’s more, crushing what’s left of Shapiro’s argument. There’s this study of police behavior in Virginia, another in San Francisco, another in Ferguson, MO, another in Chicago, one in Illinois more generally, another in Maricopa County, AZ, one in Oakland, Albuquerque, Houston, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Florida, North Carolina, and several other states, a nationwide study on cop-on-cop violence, another nationwide look at custody deaths spanning five decades, police bias more generally, shooting bias, bias against black teens, and more. Many of these adjust for violence/neighborhood – precisely as Shapiro demands – and some even find that blacks have less contraband rates and/or summons-worthy offenses despite being stopped more often, indicating a bias that does not even align with the stated needs of law enforcement. Naturally, this can all be seen in the justice system more generally, and while critics might harp on the fact that there’s some dissent here, with a number of studies (especially ProPublica’s) coming under fire, it’s undeniable that the vast majority of evidence points to racial bias at all levels of justice.
Finally, there are two issues typically ignored in discussions of race, crime, and equity. The first is the commonly-cited defense of discrimination as mere pragmatism: for example, screening Muslims more stringently at airports, or using the disproportionately large number of crimes committed by blacks to profile blacks anywhere– even outside of high-crime areas. Yet these defenses fail to understand why these practices are both unconstitutional and unfair. It doesn’t matter that blacks, as a group, are associated with ‘X’ when we are ultimately dealing with individuals that- by definition- have nothing to do with a group-tendency. This is why throwing out a woman’s astrophysics resume in favor of a man’s merely because men show more achievement therein is so egregious- there is nothing logically stopping this woman from doing as well as any individual male. By that same token, if it were somehow provable that having a certain name – say, Ben Shapiro – was disproportionately associated with sex trafficking, would it be just to target all Bens on the highway to check their trunk for children? Should we be more willing to run up on them with guns drawn- as the off-duty black cops experienced? Is that a logical solution to crime, or would it merely breed the sort of resentment and social unrest which blacks are now accused instigating?
In short, the only reason why race is often defended as a legitimate bias is because it is so visceral, easy to see, and easy to stereotype. By contrast, a name is pretty much an abstraction outside of the scope of experiential typing, even if it might have exactly the same logical relationship to some proposed variable. Further, to use the Bloomfield, NJ study as a guide: even if it’s true that the police target black and Hispanic neighborhoods MORE because of higher crime rates, it is also true that ‘incidental’ targeting translates into a de facto tax that these poor neighborhoods have to disproportionately pay. Think about it- if blacks in Bloomfield are pulled over for everything from busted taillights to tinted windows, and are ticketed for such things as per the law, there is nothing inherently wrong about police behavior in this case. Yet if (as Bloomfield’s police chief claims) this happens NOT because they are explicitly targeted, but because police resources are merely being allocated the most logical, crime-prone areas that ‘just happen’ to be black, it means that a far larger proportion of the same violations go unpunished in majority-white neighborhoods, thus filling city coffers on the backs of its non-white residents. Say what one will of the logic behind this, but it also means that blacks are suffering- intentionally or not- an undue financial burden on top of every other problem discussed.
This leads us to the second and even more important issue: the privileging of certain crimes over others. According to the Gini coefficient, crime is correlated not merely with poverty, but especially with income inequality, as well as the perception (right or wrong) of male-male competition. For this reason, the sort of crime that poverty breeds tends to be the most visible and visceral- drugs, robbery, murder, and the like. Logically, only a certain ‘type’ will engage in the most egregious of these, and will use his natural talents to flourish in the environment. Yet- as Dan Schneider argues- dress the sociopath in a suit and let him run Enron or an apartheid state like Israel, and he not only has the capacity to do a thousand times the harm he might have done in the streets, but will enjoy unique protections a drug lord can only dream of. So, while black people are told to ‘stop killing’ and ‘be responsible’ for the destruction a tiny fraction of them wreak, an equal fraction in the white community do just as much (and often worse!) in their own spheres. And while I once knew a few kids getting jailed over drugs, fighting, and similar nonsense, my OTHER circle- young, Russian, from ‘good’ families and the like- was often involved in massive tax and insurance fraud and other scams, not to mention the trillions netted every year by corporations which illegally stockpile cash, side-step regulations, and crash the entire world economy with nary a prison sentence. Really- what’s worse on the scale of human suffering? Did the architects of the Iraq War get an execution? Or the folks who lied about tobacco’s ill effects? Big pharma? Frackers? Why not? No, crime is not poverty-driven, but character-driven, and color-coded at that: evidence that ‘privilege’ is not merely HOW one gets targeted by the world’s muscle, but that certain behaviors- often the most criminal behaviors- are rendered invisible by it.
So, is it ever justified in Shapiro’s world to cry ‘bias’? Well, I guess that all depends on who you are. Ben finds black people’s complaints both illegitimate and annoying, as they are simply a means to control the conversation rather than deal with a well-structured argument. Yet when the Justice Department releases data Shapiro doesn’t like? It is simply “racist”. Obama complains about the xenophobic campaign waged against him by a good swath of whites? He’s a “bigot”. A dumb comedian compares your political conservatism to Irving Kristol’s? He’s an “anti-Semite”. America makes a few mild, token rebukes of Israel’s genocidal policies? It is a “Jew-hating” administration. “No, but…” Yes, Ben, I know, I know. It is always ‘different’ when a situation – any situation, really – involves oneself rather than one’s target, when one finds that a blanket dismissal of another person’s concerns is in fact quietly entangled with one’s own.
Let us return to where we started (whew!)- the Reddit AMA:
[–]michela_9[S] 128 points 6 days ago
What are your thoughts on the March for Science this Saturday?
[–]Ben Shapiro [S] -74 points 6 days ago
It seems that much of the March for Science has less to do with science than leftist propaganda masquerading as such.
[–]doltcola 116 points 6 days ago*
I’m gonna be honest here. I came into this AMA with an open mind. I have a friend who really talks up Ben Shapiro and all the 9 yards. I really thought I could get some perspective and maybe a different way to look at things, but all of the answers I’ve been reading here have been shallow as puddle of piss. Am I wrong when I say a lot of these responses are lazy? Does it hurt to elaborate just a little bit?
[–]deaduntil 58 points 6 days ago
Ben Shapiro made his bones at Breitbart, driving up pageclicks, hype, and outrage. There’s no real reason to think he’d be a particularly thoughtful or worthwhile thinker – it’s not a selection process that produces one.
There are people who are thoughtful conservatives with a different perspective out there, but they don’t come from alternative media.
And there you have it. For while I don’t pretend that the commenters, above, would necessarily fare much better if pressed to explain their own worldviews, they are obviously much closer to the ‘common sense’ model Shapiro only pretends to champion, popping in and out as the occasion suits him, dropping a study here, an insult there, but refusing to ever map out his own dead-ends and entanglements. And that’s because modern American ‘conservatism’ is anything but- merely a haphazard collection of unfalsifiable claims which can never be brought to their logical conclusion without self-destructing. In a way, then, it’s little more than the uglier sister of modern liberalism, parasitic as the two are on the token variants of classic ideals which neither side has truly come to terms with.
Yet for all that, I just can’t bring myself to adopt Shapiro’s tack of waging war against some ‘side’- some imago of my own making. As I’ve argued before, true conservatism and liberalism are two world-tendencies predicated upon an organism’s needs: the need to stray, on the one hand, but also the need to periodically return to one’s source, and reject that which- after some experimentation- turns out to have not worked. THAT is the function of the liberal/conservative divide, and it always amuses me when conservatives assume things will merely be how they’ve always been, and liberals insist that everything they’re fighting for can be won on the exact terms they’ve imagined. In short, if liberals are here to probe ideas and try new things at the risk of failure, conservatives are here to ensure that liberals don’t get us in too deep and trip into some bottomless pit of their own gouging.
Perhaps this is why both sides are so suspicious of one another, as neither is ‘stronger’, nor more ‘important’, but why- let’s be real, now!- conservatism is especially virulent and hysterical no matter where it’s found. I mean, just look at Shapiro’s tactics, from the wholesale rejection of scientific data, to the emotional ploys he denies others, to the constant allusions to some great culture war that in fact has been with us since Sumer and Akkad. Conservatism knows it is unstable for it is by definition reactive. It wishes to slow a world down that liberals – in a strike against them – often manage to spin out of control. Yet whether liberals are successful today or tomorrow, the point is they ARE successful, which is why today’s liberal is little different from the liberal of yore. By contrast, today’s conservative is about a thousand standard deviations to the left of where conservatism once was, and will, when the time’s right, merely be today’s liberal, albeit some decades too late. Give Shapiro about a century and his next iteration will be arguing for expanding universal healthcare for animals, but not- he’ll insist- for androids, based on some new demarcation he’ll think is perfectly logical.
And perhaps this is where Ben Shapiro fails as a spokesman for the conservative movement, and why I can’t respect him intellectually. Yes, he is better than TV pundits and more articulate than many liberals, but he is lazy, smug, and too content to coast above the swamp merely because he doesn’t have to quite dip into it. I mean- why else settle on an anti-abortion argument that philosophers have declared dead for years now, when better arguments exist? Or destroy a cogent claim on the Left’s exaggeration of privilege by denying it outright? A true conservative is there to keep the Left’s excesses in check, NOT attack them for what they’re right on, just as the Left is there to push conservatives out of their complacency, but not to the point of formlessness and waste. Anything less and one ends up with Ben Shapiro’s self-destruct mechanism. And- ah, there’s the button. Click!