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Legal in Theory, Impossible in Practice
Your thoughts on when to be obstructionists
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After a series of botched executions in Alabama, I wrote a piece for Deseret on why America has such a terrible death penalty system.
While other nations either permit or outlaw executions, America has expressed its mixed feelings by allowing states to attempt executions while hamstringing them on how.
(My essay is very indebted to Elizabeth Bruenig’s careful, eyewitness reporting on executions).
Since I wrote that piece in October, Alabama has put a moratorium on executions, because they’ve lost confidence in their ability to carry them out. I think executions aren’t the only policies that are broken by design—just the most shocking example.
Sometimes we land on a toxic pluralist compromise where we both permit something and make it impossible to carry out coherently. I asked you about where you saw examples of this bind.
Where do you see a broken policies as the result of compromises between different moral visions?
What kind of activism opens up the possibility of dialogue with those on the other side?
When is simply gumming up the works the best approach?
The desire, on the one hand, to not be "stingy", and, on the other, to limit benefits to the "deserving", encourages "generous" benefits to come with a process so Kafkaesque as to be inaccessible to the neediest. Now, there are costs, financial and moral, to making aid "too easy". *Something* will ration public aid, whether it's modesty of benefits making aid unappealing to all but the most needy, stringency of qualification requirements, some combo, etc, etc. But the "time tax" is insane.
Virginia has hit those barriers, and experienced their discriminatory effect:
I spent over a year going back and forth with the state unemployment office trying to collect my benefits from the original COVID shutdown in March 2020 (the confusions were partly my fault and partly theirs, to be fair). The whole thing just drove home how utterly the system would have failed me if I'd actually really needed that money and didn't have family as a backup.
I think my friend Dave is right that “lowering the unofficial barriers to aid” is an undervalued charity area:
Dave did great work in a similar vein for Vaccinate CA, to help people get shots despite a difficult-to-navigate system.
Mary ofoffered her thoughts on how to balance short-term tactics and long-term strategy:
It seems to me that gumming up the system is a good approach when serious disaster is imminent, and moral debate is a better approach for long-term problems. And a lot of these issues are both, and some people seem drawn more to one approach or the other. If you knew someone was about to expose someone else's private information or nude photos online, wouldn't you feel right about cutting their internet cables or changing their password or calling Comcast with some bogus reason to get their internet shut off? I would. I do think that person needs longer term moral reformation, but the gumming up work can prevent something horrible from happening and it's valuable for that reason.
But I do think some gumming work is done more out of a belief that we can't have a moral debate.
Magdalen made the obvious connection:
I think that gumming up the system has a particular danger that moral debate doesn't, which is that when you spend all of your time and effort on something that *isn't* your direct moral objective, this can creep into your identity in dangerous ways.
I'm thinking right now of ways we discuss the Supreme Court. A lot of people are invested in making the court look a particular way, getting justices appointed, and ascribing to particular judicial philosophies (originalism or not, etc.) when what they really wanted was a particular outcome in the Dobbs case, and they would happily have chosen the opposite philosophy or administrative position in service of that cause. I think in particular of the alliance the pro-life movement made with the Republican party--that they would accept this weird coalition between fiscal conservatism and this very philosophical, moral issue--and now the way that various Republican positions have crept into the pro-life movement when on their face they have no business being there.