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How Plato Made a Bad Argument

Recently, I saw the most offensive video I’ve ever seen posted on the interwebs. Andrew Sullivan’s provocatively--and accurately--titled, “Hipster Zealots” links to a video where a young man named “Molotov” Mitchell defends an Ugandan law that makes homosexuality punishable by death. (He also pulls off the rare  “use Martin Luther King Jr. to defend murdering people” trick.)

I called Eric C and told him that the video is literally the most offensive thing I have ever seen on the Internet. Oddly, “Molotov” is in good company; Socrates made the same argument.

Yeah, I’m going there. (Eric C plans to handle the rest tomorrow.)

At the end of the most offensive video on the Internet, the “hipster-Christian” Molotov Mitchell argues that if Ugandans (specifically, the gay Ugandans) don’t like the “kill the gays” bill, they can leave Uganda. In other words, if you don’t like a law, then you “can get the f*** out.”

Honestly, the idea that if you don’t like a law, you should just leave a country is nonsensical, impractical and simplistic. In fairness to Molotov Mitchell, my brother and I have made this same argument before, about immigration, except at the time we were...in middle school. And we hadn’t learned logic or rhetoric. And we were immature because most middle schoolers are...immature.

As tempting an idea as it is impractical, for the vast majority of the world, you can’t just pack up and leave your home country on a whim. Your home country, in most cases, speaks your native tongue; it’s your birth place; it’s usually the home of your family, your work; your whole life is your home country. People who leave their homeland tend to have extremely--extremely--compelling reasons to do so, and never do it lightly.

I know you are saying, “Go ahead. Connect this to Socrates.”

Well, Socrates made nearly the same argument in support of his own death. I’m not joking either. In the dialogue “Crito”, one of Socrates’ followers, the eponymous Crito, visits his teacher and asks him why he will let the Athenians kill him, telling Socrates they could escape and go live in Thessaly. Socrates counters that by coming to maturity and choosing to live in Athens, he accepted the rules of his home city. He abides by their rules, so he will follow the community, even in injustice. In other words, Socrates is saying, “If I didn’t like it, I should have gotten the f*** out.”

Though both Mitchell and Socrates (really Plato, who wrote the dialogue) make a bad argument, Socrates/Plato at least intended a positive message. Socrates advocates a sense of civic duty and civic engagement to change unjust laws, while “Molotov” Mitchell uses a silly argument to defend a terrible law that would immorally execute homosexuals.

More than anything, Socrates’ argument relies on an idealistic version of the world. Which makes me wonder...

1. If the world did operate like Socrates’ ancient Greece, would it be superior to the world we have now?

Imagine that all governments of the world could do/act whatever/however they wanted, with one enforced caveat: if someone wanted to leave your country, you had to let them. Further, whatever country they went to had to take them in.

Wouldn’t this destroy autocracies? I mean, who would stay in North Korea? “Brain drains” already cripple autocracies today. Imagine if countries had to essentially act like a “free-market” competing for people. It’s an impossible world, but would that be a better world?

2. If leaving your country shows the level of disgust with the political system, then Iraqis sure hated post-invasion Iraq.

In post-invasion Iraq, people voted with their feet. Millions of Iraqis fled as refugees, many of whom will never return. If we accept that people will not leave their country unless they really, really have to, then why did so many Iraqis leave after the U.S. invaded, but not before? The massive exodus of people before, during and after the Iraq War shows that the people of Iraq hated the U.S. occupation.

In math terms, post-invasion Iraq < Saddam-era Iraq.

3. I still don’t see how opposing homosexuality jives with libertarian politics.

That’s my whole comment. Molotov Mitchell supports both the Tea Party and this “kill the gays” law, which just confuses me, since the Tea Party claims to want the government out of our lives. I think the easier explanation is this one from Foreign Affairs: the Tea Party is formed mainly from members of the Religious Right, not libertarians.

4. Christians should not endorse this policy.

I mean for practical, not religious reasons. From Nigeria to Pakistan, fundamentalists of other religions have oppressed Christians. (See this Economist article on it or this NPR article on Indonesia.) Should the same advice apply to the Christians? If you don’t want the state or vigilantes to murder your family for their religious beliefs, then get the f*** out? Of course Molotov Mitchell wouldn’t agree to that proposal.

5. Mitchell’s beliefs could end partisan gridlock in America.

If Mitchell follows his own advice. See “Molotov” really hates a lot of things about America like the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), all democrats and social security. Well, Molotov, if you don’t like it, why don’t you “get the f*** out!”

You don’t like gays either? Why don’t you move somewhere else that shares your irrational hatred?

I hear Uganda is nice this time of year.