Umpire Greg

Gregory Djeredjian attempts to play umpire between Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds, and comes off rather well for it. And he brings up a point that folks dismayed by Andrew’s recent writings would do well to bear in mind:

(Oh, please spare me the comments about how no one got decapitated at Abu Ghraib just for being Christian. And that Abu Ghraib was worse (so much, dude!) when under Saddam’s stewardship. And that we treat ‘their’ Holy Book better than they’d ever treat ‘ours’. And so on. We are better than our heinous, barbaric enemy; and so must have hugely higher standards).

Greg’s comments remind me of an e-mail I once sent to Andrew:

I believe that the vast majority of American service personnel are good people, as are most of their officers. But all it takes is one bad apple to ruin the bushel, and I don’t mean this in the sense that they ruin our image. Much more than that, Andrew. What I mean is, if they are seen as getting away with inhumane treatment of prisoners, what’s to stop another group of soldiers who were already leaning that way from giving into the temptation of sadism?

So while Gonzales may be correct on a technical level, it remains to be seen whether or not this sort of behavior is what we want the world to see. I don’t doubt that most other great powers would be harder pressed to be better than us. But as my brother takes pains to remind me, we are America, we can be better than everyone else, and so we should be.

Well, I guess it just goes to show that even the non-Kos/DU side of the blogosphere is not immune to the dynamics of a community. While it may cause short-term consternation, it is a healthy sign of the vitality of the community, as long as nobody’s going to become archenemies. And, most of all, it speaks well of both men’s statures that so gifted a blogger as Greg would attempt to mediate.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

4 thoughts on “Umpire Greg”

  1. I usually find Gregory’s posting to be even-handed, but here Greg isn’t playing “Umpire.” He is sticking up for Andrew.

    My close analysis revealed an glaring inequity in his criticisms. Two problems caught my eye. The first is his unequal devotion of page space to the defense of each interlocuter, and the other is his equivocation in his defense of Glenn and his criticisms of Sullivan, while he shows surprising conviction in both his defense of Sully and his criticisms of Glen. In short, we only know where Gregory really stands when he protects Sullivan.

    Of 12 paragraphs (the first is introductory), Glen’s “defense” gets only two of them while Gregory devotes a full seven to Sully’s. The second and third ‘graphs are Greg’s best defense of Reynold’s points. But the next five are in Sully’s favor. Gregory’s verbal devotion to Sully doesn’t stop there. In ‘graph 8, even though he starts with, “In closing, a few final thoughts as I presumptuously play umpire between these two blog titans…” Gregory goes on to donate the rest of the paragraph and the entire next one to Andrew’s continued defense. With 7 full paragraphs devoted to making Sully’s points for him compared to Reynold’s two, you can start to see the trend.

    Lastly, equivocation is the hand-maiden of moderation so I have to forgive Greg for engaging in it. But he does not wield it fairly in this case. The best indicator of Gregory’s equivocation is syntactic contradiction, and in this post he engages in two forms. The most obvious sign of it is the use of the contradictory conjunction “but” placed between opposing clauses in an adjudicating sentence, thus rendering it equivocal. Another version is to acknowledge a contrary point of contention in the same paragraph where he attempts to defend the point’s antagonist. To my point, it is Greg’s attempts at Reynolds’ defense that suffer from this, and never Sully’s.

    I’d offer examples but I don’t want to hog bandwidth. I encourage others to search Gregory’s piece to judge for themselves.

  2. Thanks Steve, nicely thorough. (Though Bruce has a point in my book.)

    One of the differences between the two is that, I suspect, Reynolds has a better idea of what happens in prisons and, therefore, a better understanding of the pressures on and temptations to guards. A good man resists these temptations; that these guards were not good men goes without saying.

    One of the reasons I have long admired Glenn Reynolds is that he looks unflinchingly at life and still retains an optimism about human nature. He has a sense of proportion. Reynolds has long complained of prison rape; for instance here.
    This is a bad thing but is often and offensively joked about. One gets the feeling that Gregory Djeredjian takes that light an attitude; that he could even mention as an equivalent Martha Stewart’s time in jail is a sign that he has never seriously thought about nor been around a real prison system. Of course, sodomizing someone with a chemical light bulb? is bad but I notice in this list “threatening to rape.” Sorry, guy; I suspect many a prisoner in an American jail would cheerfully settle for the threat over the real thing. Of course, these are seldom if ever done by the guards (and apparently there was a rape by an Iraqi national).

    This is not to pour blame on prison guards, whose lives are seldom pleasant nor easy. But it is to observe that both guards and other prisoners can make life hell for an inmate. And that this is likely to happen no matter what the laws of a state are and no matter how conscientious a governor is nor how tight a warden runs his ship. All of these can improve or degrade life within a prison in a general sense, but the nature of (indeed, the necessity in) such an institution is to give some power over others and the nature of human beings is to abuse that power. Anyone who has spent much time around institutions knows what Lord Acton knew and what Frederick Douglass knew – too much power over others tempts man to be his worst.

    Sullivan’s surprise (as well as others) does seem to be derived from, as Reynolds puts it, “an appalling ignorance.” That does not mean that Reynolds does not think that such actions are bad nor that they should not be punished. It is merely that in any real world they could be predicted. Perhaps more rules should have been handed down; certainly Abu Ghraib should have been run with a tighter hand.

    I also share Reynold’s impatience with those who did not think war would be hell. This war has shown far more heroism than it has degradation, but it is a war fought by humans. It has shown more narrowly aimed destruction than ever before. Our soldiers have much to be proud of and we have much to be proud of in them. But it is still hell; it’s point is destruction.

    What strikes me about these systemic arguments is they arise from a sense that man is a noble savage. Man is at the mercy in some kind of a hierarchy where the person “really” responsible is several levels up on the food chain. (Frankly, I see this as far too often trying to find the person the accuser can believe is “not him” by virtue of the other’s responsibility.) In general and in this particular, I don’t buy that.

    And it is another way of degrading all of us – assuming we are not responsible for our own actions.

    The guards at Abu Ghraib were arrested, were tried, were found guilty, are now serving their sentences. If there had been no investigation, if there had been no hearings, if there had been no trials, then the prison would resemble what it was under Saddam Hussein’s reign. That is what human institutions can do.

    I’m not sure what rules of human nature Sullivan believes were repealed in recruiting American soldiers.

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