Friday, April 06, 2007

Al Gore

A hypocrite by definition is always doing something right. The trick is figuring out what that something is.

Take Al Gore. (Please.) Once lauded for the global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth -- now available on DVD in super-flimsy "eco-friendly" packaging all but guaranteed to leave your disc scratched and bruised -- Gore has been drawing fire for the past month over an inconvenient truth of his own. In late February, just as the erstwhile Tennessee senator was basking in the reflective glow of a Best Documentary Oscar, a tiny libertarian thnk tank, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research revealed that the energy consumption at Gore's Nashvile mansion leaves a carbon footprint the size of Toledo. According to the Center, Gore's electricity bill runs a whopping 1200 dollars per month.

The story might have died there, but for columnist Deroy Murdock's shocking report yesterday on the torrent of abuse the Center received after breaking the news. (Never one to mince words, Murdock even publishes the offenders' names.)

It is an axiom of the free market that any individual has the right to buy as much of any good as he or she wishes, provided that the individual can find a seller to supply it and the wherewithal to buy it. Gore has found an electric company willing to supply him with as much energy as he can use, and either he or his foundation is willing to pay over a thousand dollars per month for it. He could pay less if he used less, but he doesn't want to -- and no one should force him to do otherwise.

I care far less about Al Gore's "carbon footprint" than he claims to care about mine. As far as I'm concerned, he can manage his energy consumption as he sees fit. But Gore's puritanical stance against carbon emissions and global warming doesn't permit such restraint. He supports coercive international measures, oppressive taxation and massive regulation against energy providers and consumers alike. Even so, the environmentalist who advocates radical governmental activism in public has proven himself a supporter of the free market in private. That makes him a hypocrite, but hypocrisy isn't necessarily a bad thing.

In Al Gore's case, it simply means he's doing something right.

Take Back the Night 2007

The annual "Take Back the Night" march against domestic violence occurs tonight. Here's something I wrote on the subject more than four years ago. I still agree with every word:

Take Back the Night, Just Leave Me Alone

UVA is having a "Take Back the Night" combination march-and-vigil tonight. The idea, such as it is, is to protest sexual assault. At some point, someone is going to ask me if I attended, and I'll say no.

"But why?"

At this point, the conversation could take several different turns. I could say that the American feminist establishment lost its credibility on the issue of sexual assault back when Bill Clinton was accused of rape and feminists connected to the President claimed the accusation was politically motivated. I could say that these feminist marches are crypto-Victorian spectacles that do as much to degrade, infantilize and objectify women as the crimes they protest. I could say that, historically speaking, the women who organize these marches have been slower to recognize or cultivate the presence of Gays, Lesbians and persons of color than the Republican Party. And all of these things would be true.

But frankly, the real reason I don't go to these marches is because I consider their central issue a fait accompli. When "Take Back the Night" was started, many states didn't have laws against wife-beating or marital rape. Anything a husband could do to his wife, short of murder, was considered legitimate and proper. Unmarried victims of sexual assault had to bear the social stigma of someone else's crime, and, if they were women, were regarded for the rest of their lives as "damaged goods."

Thanks to feminists' activity, neither state nor local law enforcement holds these positions anymore. Husbands who beat their wives are subject to punishment, and marital rape is treated like any other sexual assault. Most rapists, married or not, are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and if convicted they will go to jail. Meanwhile, victims of sexual assault have full access not only to the criminal justice system, but also to a variety of extralegal social services, psychological counseling, and support groups.

Isn't this enough? Can't we say that this particular battle is truly and fairly won? Well, contemporary feminists would claim that no, we can't. They want tougher laws, greater latitude for prosecutors and increased enforcement powers, because they believe that if the criminal code is tough enough on potential rapists (and by this term they very often mean "men") then this sort of crime just won't happen. Never mind that laws -- or at least, laws in a free society -- are designed to punish crime, not to prevent it. You can punish a criminal action as harshly as you want, but unless you institute some totalitarian surveillance system that reaches into the human soul, you can't stop a crime that exists only in someone else's head.

Ay, there's the rub -- a consensual rub, one hopes, but a rub nonetheless. What this march has now become is a cry to remove protections for the accused and extend the veil of secrecy over due process. The right to confront one's accuser? That would be traumatic for the victim -- all right, alleged victim, but you know what I mean. The right to a fair trial? Perhaps, but let's be sure this menace -- I mean, the criminal ... er, the accused -- is kept off the streets so he can't do this again. Reasonable doubt? Well, all right, but if the case comes down to "He said, she said" testimony, you know whom to believe. (After all, everyone knows that a victim would never lie.) The use of character witnesses and unrelated evidence? It's certainly not kosher when it's against the victim, because if the victim is a woman it would suggest that she was unreliable or sexually promiscuous, but it's perfectly acceptable when it comes to the accused, because how else are we to prove that a man was capable of doing the dirty deed?

I have a major problem with feminism when it ceases to advocate individual freedom and becomes a tool to expand the power of government. Feminists should be suspicious of government, too, and the more radical they are, the more suspicious they should be. After all, if we live in a corrupt patriarchy, fundamentally hostile to the needs and desires of women, then women ought to be especially wary of giving that system greater power over all our lives -- no matter how much protection that system may promise them, or us.

Here's an addendum, and an apology, from 2005:

I was browsing among the dusty shelves of a used bookstore, when I heard hundreds of college-age women outside chanting against rape (and in favor of mathematics, since their slogans usually began with rote recitations of the twice-times table). It could mean only one thing: The UVA Women's Center was conducting its annual "Take Back the Night" march and vigil against rape.

During this annual march, hundreds of women walk down Rugby Road -- UVA's fraternity row -- in a symbolic gesture meant, I suspect, to expose the denizens of these frat houses as rapists-in-training. The men must remain inside their respective dens of sin and accept this slander passively, and to their eternal credit most of them do. But for our feminists, nearly universal acceptance will not suffice. If one man dares to utter so much a peep against these protesters, the Women's Center is guaranteed to launch a withering volley of righteous indignation against every XY-chromosomed member of the Greek system.

Which actually happened once, as I recall, when two fraternity members responded to all that chanting with a few choice epithets of their own. I forget precisely where this happened, and it hardly matters anyway, since for this particular Damiens' scratch the entire fraternity system was subjected to months of mandatory "sensitivity training," along with copious demands for an apology and widespread vilification from the university community. The only thing missing was an actual duel to the death -- though if one had occurred, doubtless the women would have appeared with twelve-pounder cannons and denied the hapless men so much as a peashooter with which to defend themselves.

To my knowledge, no one has ever suggested that the protesters should have apologized for their mean-spirited attack on hundreds of innocent young men. Until now, that is. I'll begin with my own culpability: Long ago, when I was young and foolish, I participated in several "Take Back the Night" rallies as a marcher and a protester. So I want to tender a personal apology to the men of UVA's Rugby Road, past and present. I participated in a grave injustice against you, and I should have known better.

Let the healing begin.

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