Strawmen Tell No Tales: The Sophistry of Victor Davis Hanson
Hello again dear reader. Why yes, this is another post in as many days… While I rant and rage in comments, I try to keep polemics out of my front page posts and stick to topics I’m comfortable discussing if not without passion, then without rancor. I’m going to break that tradition just this once, and hope it won’t become a habit.
Why? Because I’m sick to death of the equivocating and victim blaming surrounding the Trayvon Martin case. I’m sick to death of the shameful displays of covert or overt racism. Just as much I’m sick to death of a particular windbag who uses the rhetorical sophistry worthy of ancient Athens itself. A modern day Cleon. Perhaps not as influential, but certainly as spiteful and deranged.
The honorable gentlemen of the League will forgive me when I say that the Respected Dr. Hanson has tested my patience one too many times. And there are times when a gentleman can be goaded beyond civility.
This post is in response to a creatively titled “Walking Back the Trayvon Martin Hysteria” by Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, a blog post on the National Review Online. In a post fittingly designed to demolish any credibility of Rich Lowry’s assertion that the magazine fired John Derbyshire for engaging in “disgusting” racial intolerance. Rather, it demonstrates that the magazine let go the “mild, tolerant racist” because he had broken the cardinal rule of the magazine. Never get caught being explicitly racist. Rather, cloak your terms in a way as to accuse whoever accuses you of racism to be the offender.
The screed by Dr. Hanson of course falls under this latter category. He asserts of course, in his arrogantly smarmier than thou way that his points are not refutable with evidence and that rather his opponents all resort to base calls of racism. Well then…let’s look at his bullet proof “points” shall we?
1) If one suggests that there may not be, at least as yet, enough evidence to overturn the initial police decision of not charging Mr. Zimmerman with a crime, then one is a de facto racist.
How kind of the professor to begin with a completely fabricated strawman. Let’s clear up a few things first, shall we?
First, the outrage was and is focused primarily upon the failure of law enforcement to adequately investigate the killing. The Sanford Police Department has a history of inadequate investigations into homicides involving black victims. Moreover, the information that’s come to light in the wake of the tragedy has given substantial weight to the notion that the Sanford PD simply didn’t do its job correctly.
The outrage and the cry for justice for the mainstream commentators isn’t that George Zimmerman isn’t hanging from a tree somewhere. (And yes, I’ll invoke that imagery because people like Hanson have casually thrown around the word “lynching”) It’s that there’s a very real phenomenon in this country that the police do not adequately investigate homicides, particularly when they involve victims of color. That this particular police department has had a history of not doing so gives damning insight into what everyone not invested in victim blaming can see: The police fucked up.
Moreover, given the conflicting accounts that are popping up between Sanford PD (former) Chief Bill Lee, and the special investigator, we can’t actually be sure if the initial police decision of not charging Zimmerman was even accurate. (For a note on the police actually wanting to push the case see: This piece. Simply put, unless we’re going to define the mainstream of criticism and outrage over this incident as the reaction of the Black Panthers, this is a substantial strawman for the millions who find the entire incident to have been conducted poorly by the powers that be.
This is a reflection upon common attitudes towards police and authority in this country by people of color. Rightfully or wrongfully, there is doubt and mistrust. What makes your “don’t judge” nonsense racist isn’t that the fact that it doesn’t condemn George Zimmerman. Rather, what makes it racist is that you assume people who have a grievance against the official investigation are somehow “illiberal” or looking to condemn without due process. No. Most of us simply want due process to happen at ALL. Rather than it being swept under the rug as it so often is.
2) It is clear now that the African-American civil-rights hierarchy is concerned largely with maintaining power and influence by promulgating the theme of unending white racism — and the need for its exclusive agency to find redress and reparations from that eternal fact. That is a serious charge, but one easy to substantiate — whether we compare the commensurate outrage accorded the Duke case, the Skip Gates mess, the Tawana Brawley hoax, or the present Trayvon Martin tragedy, with the veritable neglect about the carnage of young African-American males in our cities, or the deliberate distortion that white-on-black crime is an epidemic when, in fact, black-on-black crime is — in addition to the fact of vastly higher incidences of black-on-white crime….
Playing a meme that’s finding some traction in the (mostly white) Conservative Blogosphere…
Professor Hanson continues:
And the professional grievance industry has achieved many of its aims. The latter common occurrences earn scant public attention; the former rare incidents, lurid hysteria. The disturbing truth is that to examine the black-on-black crime might raise uncomfortable inferences that such violence cannot be entirely explained by contemporary racism, and arises from issues as wide-ranging as illegitimacy, male parenting, literacy, education, family structure, disproportionate rates of criminality and drug use, misogyny in popular culture, etc. — crises that often demand more than just government attention and funding.
I think the response is adequate and I will let the link stand on its own here. But I will note this: Anyone who thinks the “disproportionate rate of criminality and drug use” from official statistics is based on the fact that black “culture” is somehow just inferior to the rest? You’re either willfully ignorant or have an unspoken prejudice. If you seriously think that a white, middle-class teenager is less likely to possess or use marijuana than a black urban teenager? You’re either stupid or blind. One can get away with it with a wink and a nod. The other gets sent to jail. Guess which actually shows up in crime statistics.
3) If the media had erred in one or two case in either its emphases or its facts, or erred on both sides of what apparently has become an ideological divide over the case, few could complain. But from Day One, the media has tried to promulgate an unambiguous narrative of a diminutive African-American preteen model student executed by a white racist vigilante with a shady past….Mr. Zimmerman’s past does not quite fit the portrait of a white vigilante with racist tendencies; nor does Mr. Martin’s quite fit the initial picture of a model student
Of course the “media” of which Dr. Hanson is a member has also allowed disgustingly racist smears of a dead child (and for everything else Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old high school student) attempting to portray him in as unflattering a light as possible. Coming up with cockamamie conspiracy theories about “doctored photographs” or other nonsense. The Geraldo statement that Trayvon was at least “Partly to blame” for wearing his hoodie. Bill Lee stating that Trayvon too “would have done things differently”. The consistent references and use of words like “thug”, the attempts to portray his twitter, facebook accounts and statements as if they’re anything more than the unguarded thoughts of a teenager. Surely all of us are guilty of indulging in tough guy rhetoric, saying stupid things, or otherwise being intemperate, attempting to look older, tougher, manlier than we were at the age of 17. But no, that’s enough to paint him as an aggressor and continue arguing the strawman that it’s only relevant if he were shot if he were a “model student”.
4) In explosive matters of racial controversy, we can expect the president and the attorney general to be of either no help or to make things worse. President Obama…was utterly incoherent in the Martin matter
The President did what any national leader is expected to do in a situation of tragedy. He expressed his condolences and tried to reach out to the parents of the dead child to make his own thoughts clear. He stated the obvious. That there needed to be a thorough investigation to figure out what happened and all levels of government should look into it. Examine the laws and the context, and that he thought about his kids as a parent and that if he had a son he’d resemble Trayvon. And that the parents are right to expect the American people through their elected officials figure out what actually happened. Maybe he should have (as Will H has pointed out) showed some sympathy for George Zimmerman’s family as well. But the only people who have fanned the flames and tried to turn this into an explicitly divisive matters were the President’s opposition. Newt Gingrich with his disgusting “racist hatemonger” statement. The division isn’t from anything the President has said, and the smears of Trayvon Martin had started before the President answered the question.
That the reactionaries decided to jump on top of him for even daring to express sympathy for the parents? That’s hatemongering? That’s divisive?
5) To suggest all of the above is to earn almost immediate condemnation as a racist, not because any of it is refutable, but because some do not wish to be reminded that so far the case on its merits has little to do with race, and is instead yet another fatal shooting where it is difficult to ascertain a proper charge — whether of murder/manslaughter or self-defense — a quandary repeated hundreds of times each year throughout the country with near-zero national public interest.
This shows either a shocking lack of self-awareness or a deliberate attempt to repaint yourself as the victim. As noted, all of the above IS refutable, most of it simply because it has no actual relevant bearing on the protests or outrage. No, “reminding” people that a case of police incompetence (or of prosecutors not doing their jobs) in a town where there was clear racial indifference to investigations of homicides is somehow an example of a “quandary repeated hundreds of times each year” is missing the point. It’s being deliberately obtuse. The simple fact of the matter is that there was a very grave error, both potentially in the laws (Stand Your Ground) and in the way the agencies tasked with enforcing the laws handled this case. To suggest that it’s entirely racially motivated and the “Grievance mongers” are trying to force this into the national consciousness to mask their own failings when it’s not true? THAT is racist. To suggest that people of color have no reason to mistrust law enforcement because it’s their own persistent “cultural failures”? God knows that too can be damned close to racist, or at least near enough to make no difference.
Dr. Hanson I leave this post with this. You are an ignoramus. An arrogant, conceited, over-educated ignoramus but an ignoramus nonetheless. Your political commentary belies your training as a classicist: you have no knowledge beyond the world that existed in Hellenic Greece. Your knowledge of foreign affairs seems to have stopped at the Melian Dialogue and your knowledge of racial affairs could be written on the head of a pen in ten foot high letters.
I hope you never actually have to be part of an out group in any society you find yourself living in. I hope no one can ever accuse your culture or your mode of dress as being grounds to kill you. And I hope that you will some day realize that such things are a blessing. But I sure as hell hope you also shut your fucking mouth on matters outside of classical history. I don’t presume to lecture you about Socrates. Don’t presume to lecture us about modern society.