One Small Step Against Hate Crimes

On November 4th, the movie Vincent Who? will be making it’s Los Angeles premiere. This documentary was developed and produced by the folks over at Asian Pacific Americans for Progress, and if you are in Southern California I highly recommend that you come.

Over 25 years ago, the hate crime murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit galvanized the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. This new 40-minute documentary, winner of the Media Award from the National Association for Multicultural Education, looks back at the movement that started from the case and asks how far we have come and how far we still need to go.[apap]

The story of Vincent Chin’s horrible murder is an important historical event marking how hate crime policies developed for the APIA community. The movie traces the event and how little is remembered about this landmark case. Chin’s story is one that as South Asian Americans, we can all relate to. Every few months it seems another story of a hateful crime against a South Asian comes through the Sepia Mutiny bunker. It feels repetitive to write stories about hijabs getting pulled, brass knuckle beatings, or the murder of 26 yr. old Satendar Singh for being in a park. But these are the stories occurring in our community that deserve to be told.

Today also marked another historical landmark for hate crimes. After ten years of opposition and delay, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

[The legislation makes] it a federal hate crime to assault people based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. The new measure expands the the scope of a 1968 law that applies to people attacked because of their race, religion or national origin. The U.S. Justice Department will have expanded authority to prosecute such crimes when local authorities don’t.[huffpost] The president had this to say at the commemorative event after the signing:

And that’s why, through this law, we will strengthen the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the place of your birth. We will finally add federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (Applause.) And prosecutors will have new tools to work with states in order to prosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes. Because no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability.[whitehouse]

The signing of this legislation marks an exciting day that many of community activists in the our community have worked long and hard for. Hopefully, the effects of the bill will make a significant improvement to how hate crimes are categorized and legislated on the ground.

Full disclosure: I make an appearance in the film talking about the importance of web organizing for getting the word out on hate crimes in the community. Should still be a good movie.

This entry was posted in Community, Events, Politics by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

119 thoughts on “One Small Step Against Hate Crimes

  1. repeat after me: it’s just a piece of paper. what gives substance and meaning to politics is what people want.

    What if people “what people want” is for their government to adhere to the rules set forth by that “piece of paper?”

  2. Doc Amnon, …repeat after me: it’s just a piece of paper. what gives substance and meaning to politics is what people want. if they want to stick to a piece of paper from 200 years ago, that’s they’re prerogative,

    To all originalists and Scalia fans, here’s an antidote from the greatest US Supreme Court Justice of our time, Thurgood Marshall. In 1987, on the occasion of the Bicentennial of the Constitution, Marshall, chose to stay away from a gala and his fellow Js at Philly, and instead spoke to a group of patent attorneys and agents in Hawaii. The speech cannot be summarised, it is so dense. Still a few lines may be said to capture some of the spirit of what he has to say,

    The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the “more perfect Union” it is said we now enjoy… I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite “The Constitution,” they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago… For a sense of the evolving nature of the Constitution we need look no further than the first three words of the document’s preamble: ‘We the People.” When the Founding Fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America’s citizens… These omissions were intentional… While the Union survived the civil war, the Constitution did not. In its place arose a new, more promising basis for justice and equality, the 14th Amendment, ensuring protection of the life, liberty, and property of all persons against deprivations without due process, and guaranteeing equal protection of the laws… What is striking is the role legal principles have played throughout America’s history in determining the condition of Negroes. They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law. Along the way, new constitutional principles have emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society. The progress has been dramatic, and it will continue… We the People” no longer enslave, but the credit does not belong to the Framers. It belongs to those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of “liberty,” “justice,” and “equality,” and who strived to better them… We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not… Thus, in this bicentennial year, we may not all participate in the festivities with flagwaving fervor. Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.

    To all those who question legislation or judgments on the grounds that they create new rights, I suggest a reading of the Ninth Amendment, which makes clear that the Bill of Rights only specifies what the federal government may not take away, and not in any way, lists the rights that the people enjoy. Of course the said amendment like everything else in the Constitution is a thicket, and it possible to question a judgment on the grounds that the Ninth Amendment restricts government action with respect to a right, but permits the denial of that right, if any, if that denial is based on certain listed powers of the government. I find this pretty messy, because it permits the majority to cook up laws thru mob rule (aka referendums) and trump any Ninth based challenges. But then since these referendums happen in the states only, each with its own maze-like constitution, applying the Ninth to a state becomes entirely another challenge. For those who may still insist that new rights may not be created, the gun lobby has tried to use the Ninth to create “new rights” for itself, over and above those it deems flow from the Second!

    Mods, bear with me for the long quote from Marshall J. He’s awesome!

  3. <

    blockquote>What if people “what people want” is for their government to adhere to the rules set forth by that “piece of paper?”

    Then that’s fine. In many ways, that’s the case now. However, both legally and in terms of political ethos, it’s relevant to remember that the Constitution exists by virtue of the consent of the governed, not the other way around. Too often, you see arguments in which the last word is either “that’s in the constitution” or “that’s not in the constitution”. We should always understand that that is not the last word, ever – even by the framework of the Constitution itself, which allows for calilng a Constitutional convention and thereby revisiting the entirety of the text.

    I won’t go too much further into this, but I do believe it’s deeply damaging to political ethos to pretend that disputes between the piece of paper and what it means today on the one hand and what people want for their lives on the other hand are effectively resolved by always having to mount claims in the terms of the former. If people don’t want guns, get rid of guns – if people want equal representation in the Senate, develop equal representation in the Senate – that the text runs counter to that should not be the end of an argument.

  4. repeat after me: it’s just a piece of paper. what gives substance and meaning to politics is what people want. if they want to stick to a piece of paper from 200 years ago, that’s they’re prerogative, but they should be given a choice in the matter by articulating exactly that it is a piece of paper (mostly written by slaveholders and their allies at a time when direct election of most officials was frowned upon and land was considered a reasonable criteria for allowing votes). yeah, its content has changed over the years in practice and at times textually (tot he point where you might argue there’s a separate constitution after 1865), but it remains, at the end of the day, just a piece of paper. not really something i want deciding major policy issues much less what my attitude towards them should be. :)

    D r. A; I’m not sure what ur complaint is. On the one had its just a piece of paper. on other had you appear to be complaining that it prevents the people enacting policy they want, in which case its not just a piece of paper…but rather an effeictive barrier against the people using the governemt to do what they want, which is exactly what it was designed to do.

  5. If people don’t want guns, get rid of guns – if people want equal representation in the Senate, develop equal representation in the Senate – that the text runs counter to that should not be the end of an argument.

    How are you going to go about determining what “people want?” Which people’s opinions are you going to go with? 50%+1 good enough for you? Because it’s not something I’d be terribly happy with.

    The reason we tend to defer to the Constitution unless we have a very strong interest in altering something is specifically so that the government doesn’t get constantly pushed and pulled by the whims and fancies of a largely ignorant electorate that doesn’t even really know what it really wants for itself. Having a Constitution acts as a stabilizing force. A foundation to work around instead of having to spend all our time arguing over process rather than actually getting things done.

    Also keep in mind that the US is a state built around the constitution. Maybe you haven’t taken the oath of citizenship, but when I took mine the oath was to support and defend the Constitution. Not the people, not the government, and not “the nation.”

  6. jyotsana:

    there’s a lot of debate as to what if any new rights the 9th amendment protects. it’s been used to justify (though not by scotus) property rights, gun rights , abortion rights etc. but those are all classically defined rights, ie freedoms from government intervention. No serious constitutional scholar has argued that the 9th protects postive rights (not that you say it would) like those we see in the UN charter…like a right to an education or healthcare. such rights would expand government, not limit it, and just as importantly would take major policy decisions out of the hands of the people (since rights are presumably not subjected to vote)

    i agree that the 9th amendment is a good argument against strict constructionism a la scalia, but its in no way an argument for positive rights since rights defined as such have no basis in the American constituional or classic liberal philosophy, in short, since they’re simultaneously undemocratic and statist, they would therefore be a prescription for tyranny…and it is no concordance that many progressive police states justified their oppression by calling it a right.

  7. The distinction between positive and negative rights (I will ignore the difference between rights liberties freedoms etc for now) is cosmetic. With a little sleight of hand the one can be restated in terms of the other. While conservative reactionaries like to claim that positive rights are about outcomes and not actions, there is a simplistic and regressive religious basis to the claim – that one’s current state follows from a neglect of divinely conferred faculties, or falen state. It is irelevant where the rights are stated, whether in a Euro or UN charter. We take the best from everywhere. Americans are after all human. There is a history of opposing civil rights laws on the grounds that they seek to further positive rights – desegregation, housing laws, etc., were all opposed on similar grounds – as we are now talking about hate crime law. Other laws in the economic sphere on child labor, minimum wage, working hours, leave, etc., can all be attacked on positive rights grounds. But we have those laws and we are better off for them. The argument about restricting individual choices too is weak, as the exercise of every right, requires mutual consideration. The ginormous increase in human life expectancy over just the last 100 years, requires us to address healthcare in very new ways. We can choose not to drink or smoke, but we can’t choose not to have pancreatic cancer, or not be born with Tay Sachs. Hence the discussion of health care as a right.

  8. With a little sleight of hand the one can be restated in terms of the other.

    You can do a lot of things with a little sleight of hand, but the fact that you had to use sleight of hand to do so kind of implies that it’s an illusion no?

    Hence the discussion of health care as a right.

    It can be a right in the sense of being an entitlement, but that still wouldn’t make it a human right.

    It’s really about setting priorities. When we talk about human rights these are supposed to be the most fundamental liberties afforded to people. It’s based, in part, on Kant’s categorical imperative. The idea is that people ought to be valued in and of themselves, not as means towards some other end. If a government is systematically violating individual human rights then the people are being used as a means to the aggrandizement of the tyrant. This is different from positive liberties like education and healthcare because, like illiberal liberal said upthread, the ability to provide those is constrained by the availability of resources. Resultantly, they’re not human rights even if we decide they’re important enough that the government ought to make them available to us.

    The attempt to reclassify any and every entitlement as a “fundamental right,” however, just strikes me as a lame attempt to load the language against those who disagree. I say this as a guy who supports universal healthcare and thinks the federal government should take a bigger role in setting standards for education, but I would like it if we could argue for these things honestly on the basis of their merits to society. Dragging rights discourse into social-welfare policy just frames the questions in such a way that you get to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as evil without having to actually consider what their concerns are.

  9. Hence the discussion of health care as a right.

    only, we’re not discussing it as a right, but rather as regular law. if you haven’t noticed, people are voting on healthcare reform as part of the democratic process. ergo, its not a right. nor is there any constitutional amendment being presented.

    ditto for minimum wage, desegregation, housing laws, of which you reference. you are right that people have used the concept of negative rights to argue against these laws, and the existence of the 9th amendment–since its plain meaning indicates further restrictions on govt that specifically enumerated in the bill of rights–bolsters their case; but to say the 9th bolsters the case for healthcare as a right is completely ahistoric and has no basis in law. its Orwellian doublespeak: an amendment that restricts government actually expands its powers.

    nothing in marshalls writings indicate otherwise. you might think it gives us you an opening to introduce positive rights but that’s about as relevant as me thinking freedom of press means i must be supplied with a printing press paid for by taxpayers.

  10. D r. A; I’m not sure what ur complaint is.

    The elevation of the constitution and its surrounding mythologies over and above efforts to get people to consider their present day interests which is expressed in the reliance on exegesis of the constitution as a tool for determining what law is/should be.

    How are you going to go about determining what “people want?” Which people’s opinions are you going to go with? 50%+1 good enough for you? Because it’s not something I’d be terribly happy with.

    Well this is exactly the kind of discussion that I think is more relevant than deciding things on the basis of parsing mid 20th century interpretations of 18th century or 19th century text :) I’d say that evaluating structure a) will never completely abandon the aspects of the structure that existed before (e.g. compare neoliberal Russia to Soviet Union to Czarist russia) b) is therefore really important to think about – because if you DON’T and work towards something different gradually, you end up with exactly the same thing you started with.

    The reason we tend to defer to the Constitution unless we have a very strong interest in altering something is specifically so that the government doesn’t get constantly pushed and pulled by the whims and fancies of a largely ignorant electorate that doesn’t even really know what it really wants for itself. Having a Constitution acts as a stabilizing force. A foundation to work around instead of having to spend all our time arguing over process rather than actually getting things done.

    You say chicken. I say egg. I think people defer to argument by Constitution because they are brought up and exist in a society in which they are convinced to always defer to the Constitution.

    Also keep in mind that the US is a state built around the constitution.

    Description is not the same thing as a compelling reason. The U.S. was a state built around slavery, but it’s good that we got rid of that, right? There are an enormous number of negative changes that have happened too – e.g. each successive technology has givent he government more power than it has before. However, I think currently in the last 60 years the United States is trying to govern an enormous bureaucracy and control large swathes of the world, and its political infrastructure hasn’t kept up –> imperial presidency and destruction of the balance of powers. Unless you can at least consider coming up with something different or better, the political technologies won’t adapt to what is there, and you’ll end up with dysfunction (similar argument to how neoclassical economists discuss market failures because of compounding interference with an organic trend).

    Where this all ties into hate crimes and why the discussion emerged, I think, is that rather than discussing issues like hate crimes in terms of legal concepts and mythologies that are derived from American political culture, it would be good to consider what the tangible benefits are and take an empirical approach to it. Same with health care. Same with most other things, i would say.

  11. The U.S. was a state built around slavery

    Um. .. no not really. Slavery existed, but it wasn’t what the state was built around.

    I think, is that rather than discussing issues like hate crimes in terms of legal concepts and mythologies that are derived from American political culture, it would be good to consider what the tangible benefits are and take an empirical approach to it.

    There is no purely empirical approach to resolving things that come down to people’s subjective opinions and cultural mores. The insistence on empiricism for everything is the reason we focus obsessively on GDP to the exclusion of all those other non-measurable standards of well-being.

  12. The elevation of the constitution and its surrounding mythologies over and above efforts to get people to consider their present day interests which is expressed in the reliance on exegesis of the constitution as a tool for determining what law is/should be

    I don’t see that happening here. No one, not even I, have argued that hate crime laws are unconstitutional full stop. rather they violate the spirit of the constitution by threading very close to thought crimes. thought crimes are wrong not because they’re unconstitutional, though they are, but because they represent a dangerous empowerment of the state over individuals. though i love the first amendment, i haven’t deferred to the constitution, given that i don’t think hate crime laws as written are unconstitutional, as much as i’ve made a case based actual abuses enabled by hate crime law logic: political correctness on campus, hate speech laws in europe and france (and the subsequent targeting of marginalized groups for prosecution) and the UN human rights commission, which represents some of the more repressive police states in the world while simultaneously pushing for hate speech laws. there’s a reason repressive regimes favor hate speech laws and positive rights. after all, the cuban people have the right to healthcare but Cubans also live in a de facto police state. the pont is, the logic that gave us negative rights is still relevant today and still under fire by existing and would be dictators.

    The U.S. was a state built around slavery, but it’s good that we got rid of that, right?

    and you will notice that many of the arguments for abolition and later getting rid of jim crow “deferred” to the constitution, despite the fact that that very doc insistionalized slavery. that’s because slavery was in contradiction with the logic of liberal democracy, of negative rights, that’s why king could refer to the very document that enslaved his people as ” magnificent words of the Constitution.”

    its those principles that we’re still arguing about today in regards to hate crime laws.

  13. Um. .. no not really. Slavery existed, but it wasn’t what the state was built around.

    Okay, you tell me what the provision about allowing the slave trade until 1808, states rights, the 3/5 compromise, and other measures to protect Southern sectional interests were about. If your point it wasn’t JUST built around slavery (it’s probably more accurate to say it was broadly built around preserving and expanding the power of the existing social order), then I agree, but slavery was part and parcel of the (sectional) deal, and a deal it was. Until it unraveled.

    The insistence on empiricism for everything is the reason we focus obsessively on GDP to the exclusion of all those other non-measurable standards of well-being.

    You’re mixing up empiricism and quantitative approaches. Something can be more accurate than something else without being quantifiable (e.g. one of our views on American history is more accurate than the other).

    No one, not even I, have argued that hate crime laws are unconstitutional full stop. rather they violate the spirit of the constitution by threading very close to thought crimes. thought crimes are wrong not because they’re unconstitutional, though they are, but because they represent a dangerous empowerment of the state over individuals. though i love the first amendment, i haven’t deferred to the constitution, given that i don’t think hate crime laws as written are unconstitutional, as much as i’ve made a case based actual abuses enabled by hate crime law logic: political correctness on campus, hate speech laws in europe and france (and the subsequent targeting of marginalized groups for prosecution) and the UN human rights commission, which represents some of the more repressive police states in the world while simultaneously pushing for hate speech laws.

    But you ARE deferring to the Constitution. You feel compelled to critique hate crimes laws as violating the sprit of the constitution and say that they are not unconstitutional. You are using the Constitution as a metric to decide what is good and bad, should be legal or not legal – that is my point. This is a destructive practice for critical thinking, in my opinion. I agree, though, that you’re not exclusively relying on it – but no one ever does, even when they say they are (which is the other part of what happens).

  14. You are using the Constitution as a metric to decide what is good and bad, should be legal or not legal – that is my point.

    the constitution isn’t the metric–after all it once allowed for slavery, doesn’t protect obscenity ,and allows the govt to seize your property and give it to a casino–but rather a philosophy of classical liberalism on which the constitution and this nation is based. the principles of democracy, freedom, and capitalism backed up with evidence that it works and that the lack thereof leads to tyranny…mixed with an awareness that the principles doesn’t always work.

  15. the principles of democracy, freedom, and capitalism backed up with evidence that it works and that the lack thereof leads to tyranny

    Well now you’re talking about substantive concepts which are exactly what I think should be debated – what we think about democracy, freedom, capitalism, and tyranny and their interrelationships – not what we think the Constitution says about these things. That was my sole point. Will leave that substantive debate for another day :)

  16. but to say the 9th bolsters the case for healthcare as a right is completely ahistoric and has no basis in law. its Orwellian doublespeak: an amendment that restricts government actually expands its powers… nothing in marshalls writings indicate otherwise. you might think it gives us you an opening to introduce positive rights but that’s about as relevant as me thinking freedom of press means i must be supplied with a printing press paid for by taxpayers.

    The Ninth rules out any argument against a right, on the grounds that it is not listed. The distinction between positive and negative rights is again illusory, and yes Yoga, because all it takes is sleight of hand, they are all rights, whether we like it or not.

    Marshall makes it clear that the law-constitutional or in the statute can be framed to accomplish anything, so as commentators in India are so fond of saying, the law is an ass If a right must be enjoyed positively, so be it. Rights are Rights. Maybe the government won’t build a printing press for me, but I can have NPR and PBS. Much the same. The government funded the creation of the internet, governments created the WWW. The government ensures that the extent to which I can exercise my rights is independent of my wealth. As much as there is a case for restraining the government, there is a case for demanding that the government act to enable the exercise of a right. That’s what a writ is about.

    As for slavery, I suggest that everyone read Marshall J’s speech in full. There can be no argument about the fact that slavery built this country. Slavery may be age old, but ours is the first Constitutional Republic that enforced slavery after grandiloquently declaring independence. All the more reason to let people remain where there were. Humanity gets better with progress. And all progress is ahistorical. Things change. That something wasn’t done in the past, or has never been done, by itself, is no argument against it. The US Constitution is >200 years old. The idea of radical revisitation isn’t even new. Jefferson suggested that >200 years ago.

  17. slippery slope argument = i can’t find anything wrong with what you say, but i don’t like it, so i will raise bogeymen. dictatorship is a nice one.

  18. The Ninth rules out any argument against a right, on the grounds that it is not listed. The distinction between positive and negative rights is again illusory,

    the first sentence is a reasonable interpretation but the second one is off the deep end. You’re entitled to make the argument, just as jerry falwell is entitled to argue that religious freedom means the govt must give him a church, but neither argument has any basis in caselaw or even in justice Marshall’s writings. In reality, the 9th is one of the great arguments against excessive government, since its plain meaning appear to advocate a broad spectrum of negative rights. that why justices have been loath to use it since it could strike down many things that have become government functions, like much of the new deal. it in no way serves the purpose you think it does, except in your own head.

    Marshall makes it clear that the law-constitutional or in the statute can be framed to accomplish anything

    your overreacting by taking marshall’s comments to ridiculous extremes. the man was an advocate of the living constitution, which pushes for for a broad list of negative rights, except when it comes to the right to property. roe v wade would be an example. there is nothing in his ruling or writings that would indicate he interpreted the constitution as requiring expanding govt power over the individual. if you think otherwise, please supply the quote.

    the man dedicated his entire life to securing negative rights for blacks, first under the 14th amendment (equal protection) and then as a justice under criminal procedures…both of which deal with restricting govt power over the individual. i’m sure he had no problem in restricting economic freedom, either via civil rights laws or redistribution laws, but i’ve never read anything from him even hinting that such acts should be required by the constitution and out of the hands of voters. not a single sentence in the very piece you link refers to positive rights, its all about securing negative rights for blacks or securing equal protection under the law, which is directlyu related to negative rights (ie, you can’t restict the negative right just to a certain group of people).

    Maybe the government won’t build a printing press for me, but I can have NPR and PBS. Much the same

    its not the same at all. there’s a critical difference between the government supplying you something and the government being required to supply you something because its your right. the latter is undemocratic and represents a conception of human rights that has, not just in theory but in reality, lead to brutal police states.

    There can be no argument about the fact that slavery built this country

    i agree. the history of racial discrimination in this country is intricately linked to government power, to the denial of basic rights to whole groups of people. indeed, the great crimes against huminty–slavery, Jim crow, holocaust, Ukrainian famine, cultural revolution—were mostly acts of government. thats why negative rights, ie restricting govt power, are so important.

  19. thats why negative rights, ie restricting govt power, are so important.

    negative rights is hardly limited to restricting govt power. there is a giant difference between holocaust, ukranian famine, cultural revolution and the positive right to education or minimal health care.

  20. negative rights is hardly limited to restricting govt power. there is a giant difference between holocaust, ukranian famine, cultural revolution and the positive right to education or minimal health care.

    negative rights, what you see in the bill of rights, are all related to restricting government. the problem with a right to healthcare, as opposed to just a law that mandating government supply healthcare, is that a right is something going beyond democratic control. its not up to vote.

    there’s reason regimes that have constricted positive rights have descended into Orwellian nightmares or at least police sates. its the anti-democratic nature of the concept mixed with the expansion of government. this descent isn’t necessitated by such concepts, but there is a correlation.

  21. the great crimes against huminty–slavery, Jim crow, holocaust, Ukrainian famine, cultural revolution—were mostly acts of government. thats why negative rights, ie restricting govt power, are so important.

    really? there were no economic or social organisations participating in any of these events or others that might take a place in a more impartial list? no financial benefit for Northern corporations from slavery cotton? and what exactly was the positive right that contributed to slavery? the right to propernsty? the right to enslave people? I’m interested to hear your take on how the colonisation of South Asia had nothing to do with the profit motives of the joint stock company, the East India Company or how the escalation of the war of the indian state against its own people in the name of fighting Maoism is not at all linked to mining interests :)

    I’m all for criticising state power. But I still failing to understand how, in the real world, people do not need protection from civil society actors and organisations. How am I better off if a group of people who are not in government, but have social, cultural, or economic power decide to attack me or worse yet provoke the government into attacking me because they DO have political power, but just not formal? Why is it better to be extorted by the mafia than taxed by the government (though likely both)? Why would I be happier as a dalit being beaten by a casteist mob rather than by the police (though likely both)? Why is it better to be shot by privately hired guards of a company than by national Guardspeople at Kent State or to be locked in a factory on fire with the emergency exits having been blocked than to be locked in my house during a fire and surrounded by a sieging army?

    Or is it the government’s job to protect me from all these things on the lefthand side of the list? But doesn’t that then mean worker safety laws? Anti-extortion laws? Protection from violence during labor organising? A minimal recognition and accounting for casteism where it exists? And how would i possibly establish such claims in a language a liberal capitalist government could understand? perhaps in rights based language?

    I would say yes to all this, but I think politics, like economics, social relations, and culture, is to a large enough extent reflective of power. As a result, is it not possible that both the holders of economic power and the holders of political power may not care very much about the welfare of the ordinary person, and that it is therefore up to that person and the social networks they can form to protect their ‘liberties’ ‘rights’ or whatever you want to call their best chance at meeting their varied needs in this world? That they have to confront a varied and tangled web of power on a daily basis and that they need trade Unions, NGos, their families, their friends, their loved ones and – yes – sometimes even a hand-holding-the-nose alliance with parts of the state.

    Or doesn’t your kind of libertarian believe that individuals should actually ever use their liberties to work with other individuals using their liberties to secure a better outcome collectively? :)

  22. I’m all for criticising state power. But I still failing to understand how, in the real world, people do not need protection from civil society actors and organisations

    libertarianism would certanly provide you with protection from civil society actors. liberalism starts w/ locke’s state of nature, where life is, as hobbes put it, “nasty brutish and short” due to “a war of all agaisnt all”, the fundamental raison d’etre for govt is to end this war, to protect the freedom of man, ie freedom from the initiation of force (and later fraud). man enters into a social contract, gives up his “right” to initiative force to the govt in return for a protection of his life, liberty , and property. So that takes care of your “mafia”, “casteist mob, privately hired guards of a company”, and “Protection from violence during labor organising” examples.

    where rights come into play is to protect you from the government acting like the mob, or private actors using governement to initiate force. the “financial benefit for Northern corporations from slavery cotton” emerge from govt violating the principle of equal protection, a principle central to the libertarian system. ditto for “slavery”, “colonialism”, and “the use of the govt to protect mining interests.” this is how MLK argued that Jim crow and slavery actually represented a contradiction in the creed. liberalism is designed to protect you from this.

    what liberalism doesn’t protect you from is JPMorgan not hiring jews. here’s an example of an extremely powerful private actor–and Morgans power in building America cannot be underestimated–nonviolently committing a great evil that has tremendous societal repercussions. for much of American history, even going into the 1990′s, a jew could not reach the pinnacle of wasp dominated American finance, not unlike quotas that existed in ivy league univerities.

    but american anti-semitism was not nearly as intertwined with the state as her racism. given that, and the existence of tremendousl levels of economic freedom, the solution to wall st bigotry was found in the free market iteself. Morgan (as well as its wasp brethren like drexel, kidder, brown bros) was countered by goldman, lehman, sollie, bear…firms established in part because of the glass ceiling. they went on to dominate the street. in short, Jews were massively and systemically discriminated against in the U.S. but since the discrimination did not by in large involve government it did not result in massive economic disenfranchisement. here in the US they were not subjected to the government enabled violence of slavery, jim crow, or lynchings. since their communities were not as devastated, they were able to take advantage of the free markets, a great liberating force.

    having said that, critics of libertarianism are right to point out the ahistoric nature of barry Goldwater’s principled opposition to the civil rights act. you can’t rob someone’s house then say ok you won’t do it again without giving their stuiff back, and thats essentially what america did to blacks. nonetheless, progressive’s faith in govt is often equally ahistoric. libertarianism’s warning that it is the giovt that must be checked most in order to prevent tyranny has borne itself out in history, even here in the US where the darkest parts of Americana history–slavery, jim crow, lynching, the KKK, all were intertwined with govt and the more progressive/statist political party.

  23. great comments manju & dr. anonymous!

    I deeply appreciate the civility and informative style of your args – a very welcome departure from some of the stuff that shows up here from time to time. Drop me a note (vinod@vinod.com) if you guys want me to toss your names in the hat for guest blogging….

  24. Thanks for the response, Manju. It’s interesting. As I have said before, I am not criticising critics of state power or libertarianism as a whole, nor am I espousing a ‘progressive’ viewpoint that doesn’t understand the role of the state in creating or perpetuating social ills. I believe that individualism (here called ‘libertarian’) and statism (here called ‘progressive’) constitute a false opposition, each of which misses what the other holds. Marx was one of the foremost critics of the state, even though his analysis or (mis?)uses of his analysis have led to enormous amounts of statist violence. These two things need to be intertwined for some of the following reasons:

    Left to their own devices, structures of power (whether you call them capitalism or something else) are self-interested. This is true whether its political in nature or whether its economic in nature or social in nature or cultural in nature. Depending on the government, which is simply a formal manifestation of some but not all of the aspects of this arrangement, to deal with these issues and simultaneously to accord it a legitimised unchecked monopoly on force is extremely dangerous. Essentially, once you have decided the state is the only legitimate actor that can use force, what do you have to resist the state with?

    Secondly, given that the government (formalised state aspects of power) and agents in civil society and the market (informal of differently formalised nonstate or quasi state aspects of power) are intertwined with each other and influence each other’s interests, I believe the view that you’ve posed takes an unrealistic view of the state, at least in the United States, as autonomous – both in the protections you are asking from it as well as the limitations you are trying to impose upon it. Essentially, you’ve given no way to deal with the conflict between state and nonstate forms of power that the ordinary person can turn to besides “the free market” which is illusory (more on that below).

    Thirdly, the historical analysis of capitalism you’ve presented is flawed. Capitalism and industrialisation have been profoudnly linkeed with statism – even in the first industrialisation of Britain. It structurally demands it because as less well off countries attempt to ‘catch up’ their elites are forced to use the state to protect industry in their countries (to varying degrees of success) thereby fostering nationalism and competition. So your view is also leaving out (or rather implicitly accepting) the nation state framework, rather than ‘the state’ which is just a part of it.

    Finally, the conception of force that you pose is off. It seems in your view that either there ‘is’ force or there ‘isn’t’. This is unrealistic to anyone who has experienced emotional abuse, has experienced the ramifications of being in debt, or has, as you have posited, experienced social discrimination. This gose back to the conception of power that is described above, and additionally, one might add to it the views of other advocates of individual rights like Chomsky or Foucault who haev understood that there are other mechanisms by which coercion, indoctrination, and other forms of securing ‘consent’ occur.

    But on very simple terms, it is unclear to me how you are drawing the line between what is ‘acceptable’ use of power (force) in society and what is (unacceptable) except at the points where you underline your basic support for what is called but is not ‘free market’ capitalism (which would then take your analysis away from individualism towards a straight out defense of capitalism – which is fine, though it’s not exactly uplifting or historically accurate).

    It illustrates, again, a lack of empiricism. Concepts like ‘violence’, ‘rights’, ‘hate’ and other issues need to be contextualised, understood precisely in specific contexts, and looked at in terms of their effects in the broader framework of social, economic, and political power. This lack of attention to large swathes of detail is probably due to an overreliance on philosophical imaginations of a particular time and place and structures of power that created them (e.g. Locke or Hobbes or Rousseau, who are interesting to conflate :) )

  25. Hate crimes laws violate the principle of equal protection and equal justice under the law. Hate crime laws are predicated on the notion that some victims are better than others.