Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blargh!-Worthy Facebook Memes: Some Helpful Corrections

A couple of times recently on this blog, I've found myself inspired to comment on a Facebook meme. But the ones that inspired these length treatments are hardly the only ones I have something to say about. So, I thought I'd round out this theme with some quick (for me) rejoinders to some of the more problematic recent Facebook memes--memes that just make me want to say "Blargh!"; or, in a few cases, memes that poke fun at those I disagree with, too, but which aren't really fair--and so are memes which I think should make me want to say "Blargh!" (even if I don't). There's more of the former. So sue me.

Anyway, here goes:


No. No, no, no. If you state your opinion it's free speech. If I state my opinion it's free speech. Whether the opinion is ALSO hateful and intolerant depends on the content of the opinion.


Let me be clear about something: I thought the Huckabee-created "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" was a terrible slap-on-the-head-worthy misdirection of the energies of Christians and others. Christians, in my view, should live out an ethic of love--and I'm convinced that living out that ethic is at odds with the sort of theology (usually a biblically fundamentalist one) that would inspire people to endorse and underwrite with their lunch money Chick-Fil-A's support for the systematic social marginalization of our gay and lesbian neighbors. Christians who think Chick-fil-A's support of discrimination is Christian are, it seems to me, Christians who have been deluded by bad arguments and bad theology.

But those very same conservative Christians, deluded as they may be about homosexuality, are also Christians who tend to rather consistently contribute time and energy and resources to food banks and homeless shelters and poverty-focused mission trips and other projects that help the poorest among us. But these contributions are made throughout the year. Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day got them all out on one day.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that the conservative Christian focus on sexual minorities serves, more often than not, as an easy way for conservatives to feel good about themselves: if you happen to have a heterosexual orientation, it's astonishingly easy to avoid the "sin" of homosexuality, so if being a decent human being is about being straight, you get to be good without any least if you're straight. And this easy validation often serves to obscure all the ways in which our way of life contributes to the problem of poverty, both at home and abroad. In this respect the meme above is gesturing to a deep truth.

But to suggests that Christians in general are more about supporting discrimination against sexual minorities than they are about feeding the poor, based simply on how many people showed up at Chick-fil-A on a particular day...well, that isn't fair to all those conservative Christians who, week after week, year in and year out, are contributing time and resources to helping the needy.


The foundation of a democratic society, the basis for a government "of the people, by the people, for the people," isn't the right to drive. It's the right to vote. It isn't the right to board an airplane. It's the right to vote. It isn't the right to use a credit card or donate blood or open a retirement account.

It's the right to vote.

Asking for ID to vote may not be overtly racist, but it does impose an additional hurdle between the would-be voter and their ability to cast a vote. If you're part of the middle class, you don't tend to think of it in those terms because photo ID has become integral to the middle class way of life--as the above list of standard middle class activities highlights. But there are people who aren't part of that life--such as, it seems, some nuns and students, as well as those who are sufficiently underprivileged that driving their own car, boarding an airplane, making a bank transaction, writing a check, and pawning jewelry are things they only dream about.

Voting rights shouldn't be something they dream about too.

In the absence of substantive evidence of a serious problem of voter fraud, the very concept of democracy seems to demand that we err on the side of enfranchisement.


Of course I'm ready. Because you remember how those violence-hungry liberals rioted and tore the country to pieces back in 2000 when Al Gore lost a highly contested election in a controversial Supreme Court decision despite getting a higher proportion of the popular vote.

Oh, yeah. That didn't happen.

And by the way, although I haven't seen a comparable poster warning about riots when Obama wins re-election, I'm hopeful enough about the general character of the American people that I'm not going to brace for revolution in that case either. Painting the opposition as fundamentally irrational, as poised for violence if the democratic process doesn't go their way, helps no one...which leads to the next meme.


Yes, this meme made me chuckle--cleverly playing as it did with Missouri Republican Congressman Todd Akin's comments about women's bodies having a built in birth control mechanism to prevent pregancy due to "legitimate rape." But then I imagined a comparable meme taking some absurd comment by a Democratic politician--someone who'd been rebuked by the Democratic establishment for saying those very words, who apologized for them--and having whose words turned into a general remark about the stupidity of all Democrats.

There are legitimate thoughts--and dumb ideas--coming from both sides of the aisle. The polarization of our polity is making it harder not only to see this, but harder for everyone to be as thoughtful as we can be. In fact, sometimes members of one party seem obliged to take issue with the good ideas of the other just because the other side came up with them first. Hence, I suggest the following revision: "When a legitimate thought is about to occur, polarized political ideology has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

5. Photo: Today is the 380th birthday of the "Father of Liberalism," John Locke. Locke’s theories formed the foundation of many important works, including the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

His Second Treatise on Government is a must-read for any libertarian. In it, Locke lays out the foundational arguments of liberalism: people have rights preexisting government, government exists to protect those rights, and the government should not stand in the way of its own dissolution should it violate those rights.

Read an excerpt on property rights at the link below, and like and share this image to spread the word!

Now John Locke is one of the most important modern political and social philosophers. And I don't actually have a problem with Locke's words here. But I'm puzzled by these words being linked to a libertarian website--and even more puzzled that it should be posted by someone I know to be a follower of Ayn Rand's "objectivism." Do these words of Locke's actually support modern libertarianism or Randian objectivism?

I won't answer that in detail here. But it bothers me when a philosopher's words are taken out of the larger context which is required for us to understand what those words are really about. And so, being a philosophy teacher, this is a good opportunity to offers some philosophy education by providing the context.

The quote comes from a larger passage in the Second Treatise of Government that lays out Locke's basic argument for private property rights. Here's the immediate context:

"Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property."

This context has both a communal aspect--nature is the common property of all--and a private property aspect. And we can't rightly understand the latter without the former. And Beyond this immediate context there is an important broader context. Specifically, Locke offers two important qualifications that limit the right to acquire property through your own labor.

The first such qualification is that this right exists "where there is enough and as good left in common for others." In other words, your right to acquire property through labor is limited if, in appropriating for yourself more than your fair share of the common resources of nature, you leave others with less opportunity for flourishing than you yourself have managed to enjoy.

The second qualification comes in answer to the question of "how far" God has given to us the resources of nature. His answer is two words: "To enjoy." But this leads to his second crucial limit on the right to accumulate property: "As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labor fix a property in; whatever is beyond this is more than his share and belongs to others." So, if you're just greedily accumulating wealth that doesn't add to the quality of or enjoyment of life, then you no longer have a legitimate claim on it. It rightly belongs to others whose quality of life would be enriched by it.

Which leads me to the last Blargh!-worthy meme...

6. Photo: "A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned"

Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, Wednesday, March 4, 1801

Now this one came to my newsfeed from the same source as the Locke meme, so it's only fair to judge it in terms of Locke's philosophy. And according to that philosophy, those who have appropriated for themselves more than what can meaningfully contribute to their quality of life, or who haven't left as much and as good for others, don't rightly own what they've appropriated, even if they worked hard to appropriate it. And so a government redistribution that makes it available as part of the common good which will contribute to the life quality of those who don't have as much and as good...well, that wouldn't be theft. If what was taken away fell outside of the bounds of our legitimate claim on private property, then the government would be taking it from those to whom it didn't belong. 

Interestingly, the above meme was paired with a quote from one of Locke's intellectual inheritors, a guy by the name of Thomas Jefferson (who adapted Locke's "life, liberty, and property" phrase for use in the Declaration of Independence). Here's the Jefferson quote:

"A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned."

Yes--but what about when grossly unequal distribution of wealth, caused in no small measure by those who've gained an economic advantage leveraging it into an opportunity to exploit laborers, to compensate them for their toil far less than their labor is worth--what if such practices lead to honest laborers not having enough bread to put in their mouths? Is redistribution of wealth theft then?

Sometimes, redistribution of wealth is theft. Sometimes, redistribution of wealth is returning what was stolen.


  1. oooohh, I love this post. There's one meme that's bugged me lately, though it is not political. It has one of those vintage engravings of a woman shaking her finger, and it says, "Don't make me mad then tell me to calm down. That's like shooting someone then telling them not to bleed."

    And all I could think in response was, "yes ... and some people are hemophiliacs when it comes to anger. Or hyperbole."

    -- Anna

  2. Regarding the redistribution of wealth, theft seems exactly the wrong word, simply because it's an action in this case mandated via a relatively open election. We buy into the social contracts implicit in a modern democracy, including the willingness for taxes to be taken to pay for whatever platform the government campaigns, or ultimately delivers upon. If we don't like the idea of tax for redistribution, then we don't vote for it. If society contains enough such cold hearted folk, there'll be no such taxes. Until then, while a combination of laudable charity and solid pragmatism hold sway, we shut up and pay. Property rights are defined not by moral law, but by social negotiation.