Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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Equal Protections

A recent post on Cory Doctorow’s pluralistic blog had a really good take on the general worldview of “the right”, describing it as “mafia logic”. I’m going to quote a huge chunk of it here:

This follows perfectly from the second definition. The purpose of the law is to protect the rightful rulers, so the law can’t – by definition – punish them. And it is “mafia logic.”

Holbo was talking about Michael Gove – a UK Tory Minister – excusing his the Prime Minister’s advisor Dominick Cummings repeatedly breaking the quarantine rules that Cummings is responsible for creating and enforcing.

But it could apply equally well to Trump’s pardons for his crooked henchmen, or the legions of Karens who think the cops should come and bust some Black kid’s head for selling lemonade without a license, while ignoring their own anti-vax playground quarantine-breaking.

It’s pure Blue Lives Matter logic: the law should protect cops from Black people, but not Black people from cops. It should punish Black people who break the law, but protect cops who break the law.

There is a meaningful difference between reactionary and progressive, left and right. It’s the difference of property rights vs human rights – whether you exact the right to hoard while others starve, or the right not to starve while others hoard.

It’s the difference between pluralism and elitism: whether you think some of us were born to be ruled over, or whether you think we should have a government selected by its people to serve those people.

It’s the difference of equal protections and duties under the law, as opposed to impunity for the powerful and the legalized oppression of the powerless.

This resonates with me a lot because “equal protections under the law” may be a pretty big ask in this country when individual citizens find it difficult to apply judgement equally to both those they support and those they don’t. Double standards abound, both for the government and many of the citizens. There are a lot of people in this country who support the people in power blindly because of some form of tribalism; they chose this person so they feel they have to support them no matter what, no matter how incompetent, no matter how blatant the abuses are, and so on. It’s a weird case of trying to justify a purchase after the fact, even if it turned out to be horrible, out of some sense of pride, maybe? People hate being wrong.

I’m reminded of someone I used to know who was an avid supporter of a particular candidate during the 2016 elections. Whenever he would fail to convince us of the merits of his candidate (or be unable to answer our concerns about his human rights record, etc), he would simply say “you guys just don’t trust him”. Which is a really weird thing to say because why trust any politician based on anything other than his track record and what he says or does? It always felt like he had already decided to trust this candidate and that nothing else mattered.

I feel like so many people in this country are so used to our politicians taking advantage of them that they have become hostage to this form of “rule”: ordinary people are subject to the harshness of the law, while for those in power, the law must be “tempered with compassion”. Being progressive and believing in pluralism in this country requires that we challenge those norms wherever we can, that we hold the powerful to account, regardless of political affiliation. It can be challenging to get people to look beyond their tribalistic nature, but it’s something we need to figure out if we are to survive and evolve as a truly democratic “rule of law” society and not devolve into some kind of right-wing populist authoritarian “rule of men” wasteland (if we aren’t already there yet).

Going back to the Doctorow quote (which I’ve already strayed from a bit… the last few paragraphs turned out a little ranty about the state of the country, but I’ve actually already rewritten it a couple of times to be… less ranty I guess?), this model of how “the right” thinks can be a useful tool when engaging in debate or discussion with others (something I am less inclined to do these days). The two sides of this model are mostly incompatible, thus when discussing with anyone you can ask yourself (or them directly) which side of that divide they lie on. (I don’t imagine anyone would say out loud they believe people in power deserve special treatment, because that sounds absurd. Or evil. But that might just be the leftist perspective in me.) Whether they agree with you or not, at the very least it gives you a model in which to frame further discussion, or even to decide whether further discussion would even be worth it.

Disclaimer 1: Doctorow is of course primarily left-leaning, hence his bias towards these definitions. It would be interesting to see what the equivalent definitions would be on the other side.

Disclaimer 2: Every individual is slightly different. I use “the right” in quotes here to indicate that the generalizations are describing a significant subset of people who might consider themselves “right-wing” or “conservative” or whatnot. I use this label more for this particular way of thinking rather than a political alignment. (And I dislike labelling people anyway, as much as possible.)

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