For the past several days I have been intensely involved in trying to convince Lawrence Auster that he should not be hosting a respectful conversation at his site, View from the Right, over whether some human beings are actually subhuman! To save time, I shall link all the threads in a row. They are here, here, here, and here. The consideration of this odious proposition began in explicitly racial territory, and though Auster said that he wasn't prepared to "stand by" the outrageous comment he made that kicked off the discussion, and although he decided to shift the discussion away from the racial angle lest it be "seen in racial terms," there was no explicit retraction. It seems only fair to add that some of his readers did not actually fully make the shift, though largely the conversation moved to a discussion of individuals rather than groups.
However, we should also not be respectfully considering the proposition that criminals, even truly horrible criminals, might be literally less than human.
In the course of the several threads, many incredibly odious comments were posted without any demurral from Mr. Auster. One reader, Ben M., even purported again and again to provide Biblical evidence for considering some people to lose the imago dei altogether and hence to be less than human. The threads make hair-raising reading. Commentator "Vintueil" in this thread, who chided me as allegedly not having the true philosophical spirit for not keeping all questions open (or something like that), literally raised as a merely interesting question whether there are subhuman beings (clearly, in the context, including biological humans) whom it might be more legitimate to torture than it is to torture full-fledged human beings.
Auster was utterly unwilling to accept the idea that this was not a conversation that should be going on. Once it had shifted largely to the question of criminals, he defended the conversation to the hilt. He was greatly angered by my somewhat anguished attempt to appeal to him as a fellow Christian to stop this, so much angered as eventually to make me see that it would not actually make matters significantly worse for me to put up this additional explicit post about the controversy.
There were several excellent gems among the comments, including this eloquent one by Kristor. I don't have time to link to all of those who deserve praise for their attempts to stand in the gap, including commentator Matt.
One question that surfaced more than once from Auster, implicitly or explicitly, was this: If one accepts the death penalty, what difference should it make practically if wicked criminals are considered subhuman? They are simply going to be executed anyway, and that's it. He asks this explicitly here:
[S]ince we are talking about individuals, not classes, nothing worse would happen to murderers who are believed to have lost the image of God than already happens to murderers who are believed to have the image of God. So Matt’s passionate indignation is much ado about nothing.By the end of the last thread, he and other commentators were still heaping a certain amount of scorn on those of us who were bringing up issues such as abortion and euthanasia (all of these being offshoots of the attempt to declare some people to be "subhuman"). After all, they reasoned, they were only talking about the bad guys. How could the story of Terri Schiavo possibly be relevant?
Now, I considered that this showed such a sweeping lack of imagination, information, and thoughtfulness as nearly to be beneath answering. But these kinds of things kept coming up, with even something of an air of arrogance about them, as if they were unanswerable, so I finally decided to address the issue of criminals directly. Let me say here, as anyone who reads the threads will see, that I am a strong defender of the death penalty. But the death penalty does not arise from a denial of humanity. Indeed, it arises from an assertion of humanity and hence human moral responsibility, such that the penalty is just because the criminal has committed acts that deserve it. This could not be the case if the criminal were subhuman, a point several commentators attempted to make to Auster, without noticeable effect. There are far, far worse things than the death penalty, and it is very important that even the bad guys not be dehumanized. The state may and in my opinion often should justly kill them, but we may not dehumanize them.
So I sent another comment to Auster explicitly addressing the question of what difference it would make to dehumanize criminals. However, he was evidently weary of the conversation and refused to publish it. He even alleged in a private e-mail that I had nothing new to say in it. This surprised me considering that he and his readers had repeatedly asked how any of this could be relevant to wicked criminals, how it could be a problem to consider that they might be subhuman, and this was the first time I was expressly addressing that issue.
It was because of his refusal to publish that I decided to put up this post. I do not have time to edit my comment to him to make it less targeted or less full of allusions to the dispute at VFR. I have many other, better, things that I would like to read and write about. But if anyone has been following that controversy and reads this, let it be known: Those of us who are opposed even to considering the dehumanization of any members of the human race, including criminals, are not lacking answers to the question: What difference could it possibly make?
I have removed View from the Right from my blogroll here at Extra Thoughts. Despite the fact that Larry Auster has frequently had some excellent insights on various political topics, several of which I have quoted and highlighted in different venues, it is important given the extremely odious nature of these ideas he has recently been flirting with that my blogging activity no longer be associated with the site View from the Right.
Here is the comment I sent to Auster that he decided not to publish: