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home Law Rational Beliefs vs Dogmatic Certainties (pt1) – Lessons of Law in Scalia’s Wake

Rational Beliefs vs Dogmatic Certainties (pt1) – Lessons of Law in Scalia’s Wake

In my most recent rendition of This Week In I touched on something that has been on my mind a fair bit lately, and I wanted to take a more in-depth look at this topic, partly because I think it’s something we can all benefit from reflecting on, and partly because it seems rather timely, in the wake of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. That thing, ladies and gentlemen, is the human tendency to become so entrenched in our beliefs that we begin to see anyone who disagrees with us as being objectively wrong, even in cases where the issues are highly contentious. You see, rational beliefs and dogmatic certainties are not mutually exclusive, and this is the story of how the former morphs into the latter when we allow ideology to cloud our judgement. I’ll even equip you with some handy dandy guidelines to avoid falling into dogmatism.

I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about Scalia. The news broke for me on Twitter when someone tweeted that he was dead, and that he had fought to “keep vidya safe“. I didn’t think too much of it, and wouldn’t have, except over the next couple days I saw people on my Facebook feed posting some pretty unflattering things about the guy, including sentiments like “burn in hell”. This, more than anything, got me curious. As someone who has come lately to the conclusion that progressives are, frankly, stupid, seeing this condemnation got me curious. What was it about Scalia that progressives hated so much they feel the need to dance on his grave? I decided to google that very question, and one of the most promising leads was an article on Slate titled Why Liberals Loved to Hate Antonin Scalia. Great, I thought, straight from the horses mouth.

scalia wtf
And speaking of the horse’s mouth, when it comes to determining what makes Scalia so outrageous, I want to hear the things that he said and did. The first bit that is proffered up by Slate is this quote from his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas:

“Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”

You want to shake him, right? Thus quoth the Slate. But I don’t actually. Before we get into why this quote is entirely innocuous, maybe we should just touch quickly on what the Supreme Court is actually suppose to be, and what the supreme court actually is. The supreme court is suppose to be the ultimate court which can be appealed to in situations where the constitution is being violated. Basically they have one job, and that’s to uphold the constitution. What the supreme court actually is, is a way to circumnavigate democracy when you want to change laws without the support of your elected representatives. In the words of Ben Shapiro, the Supreme Court ends up acting as moral arbiters for the entire country that interpret the constitution like a piece of poetry.

U.S. Supreme Court Building
Back to the Scalia quote, the first thing we should all be able to agree on, is that this is an objectively true statement. There are people who feel that way. The second thing is that this quote does not give us any indication of how Scalia feels personally on the subject. If one reads the dissent in full, and, being legal stuff, it took me a few readings to fully absorb the implications of everything, one would see that Scalia is affirming this fact simply as evidence of that Bowers did not meet the principle of “no individual or societal reliance”; what makes this really important, is Scalia’s well reasoned argument that the decision in Lawrence v Texas created a legal precedent that could be used to overturn Roe v Wade, making abortion illegal. Reading with stoic detachment, Scalia gave us a grave warning of the problems that could come about when you play fast and loose with your interpretations of the constitution and the inalienable protections it provides.

Let me try to put this all into layman’s terms. Maybe you watched that clip I linked above, and you heard Ben Shapiro say that bit about how being gay isn’t like being black, and maybe that really offended you, because maybe you believe that gay people are born that way and can’t help it, just like black people. Now, is that a rational belief, or a dogmatic certainty? It’s fine if you believe that, but you can’t actually prove it, and that’s the problem. Where do you draw the line?  Polygamy? Nudists? Obscenity? Incest? Bestiality? Paedophilia? Pederasty?

OMG LP YOU CAN’T COMPARE THOSE THINGS THEY AREN’T THE SAME!!!

calm your tits

Calm your tits, I’m not saying they are the same, I’m just asking you to prove it. Scalia’s fear is that we were leaving nothing to stop someone from saying “how dare you criminalize me for wanting to fuck children! It’s not, like, my fault, man, I was born this way.” And no, that’s not an irrational fear, there are actual public organizations that advocate exactly that. What we have to trust in now, is that the Supreme Court Justices won’t allow that to happen, because they will morally arbitrate correctly, because that’s basically their job now because we opened this can of worms – again in layman’s terms – the law has been thrown out the window and all we have left to protect us is the morality of nine unelected individuals.

“No state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This is what we’re talking about, The Fourteenth Amendment. This is what was used to justify the decision in Lawrence. And this is the whole point, nobody, including Scalia, was saying that the constitution forbids you from having manly man on man ass sex. Rather what Scalia was saying is that the constitution doesn’t give you carte blanche to do whatever you want. That’s what democracy is for. Democracy mandates that you elect someone to repeal laws criminalizing something that should be legal.

Scalia leaves us with these words which not only sum up the whole argument, but let’s us know clearly that his motivation are legal and not moral:

Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of sexual and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best. That homosexuals have achieved some success in that enterprise is attested to by the fact that Texas is one of the few remaining States that criminalize private, consensual homosexual acts. But persuading one’s fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one’s views in absence of democratic majority will is something else.

And there it is. The quote Slate gives us, just to reiterate, is an objective truth that a judge would have to consider if he wanted to observe his due diligence. You can hate that truth all you want, but don’t shoot the messenger. And that, gives us our first guideline for not falling into the trap of dogmatic certainties:

GUIDELINE ONE: Don’t get mad at someone for stating an objective truth.

We now have the stage set for an ideological battle to rage for who will replace Scalia. This simple fact in and of itself, openly being reported by the media, highlights the inherent failings of the Supreme Court, because at the end of the day, interpretation of the law shouldn’t depend on ideology.

I’m not done with the general topic of dogma, but I think prattling on more about Scalia would be belaboring the point, so we will leave this here for now as a To be continued…

Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law

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