Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What Scalia Was Truly Like

If you want to get a feel for what the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was like, you can do no better than to read this long interview from three years ago.

Some highlights: despite being so "brilliant", Scalia was unsure about the pronunciation of the word "ukase" and wasn't familiar with the term "tell" as applied to poker. I am neither a lawyer nor a poker player, but I knew both of these. And I'm not particularly bright.

Scalia also knew nothing about linguistics, if he thought "Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change." That's an extremely naive view of language and meaning. In reality, the meaning of words is fuzzy and smooshed out. And meaning changes all the time. Compare our current understanding of "nubile" with the dictionary definition from a dictionary 50 years ago.

Scalia read the Wall Street Journal and the Moonie-controlled Washington Times, but stopped reading the Washington Post because it was "slanted and often nasty". He didn't read the New York Times at all. Talk about being unaware of your own biases!

Scalia believed that the "Devil" is a real person because it is Catholic dogma (and by implication, because one cannot be a Catholic without accepting all of Catholic dogma). That's exactly the kind of black-and-white extremist viewpoint it takes to be an originalist. He thought this being was occupied in getting people not to believe in the Christian god. And he liked The Screwtape Letters, easily the stupidest of C. S. Lewis's output (and that's saying something). Scalia justified his belief by saying "Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil." Yeah, well, many more intelligent people than I believe in Scientology, Bigfoot, and alien abductions, but that isn't a good argument for them. He also said that the Devil's becoming cleverer was "the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place." The other explanation -- that there is no Devil and demonic possession never happened (it was health conditions misinterpreted by an ignorant and superstitious populace) -- was too obviously correct for him to consider.

Scalia thought that the only two possible choices after his death were "I'll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy." The obvious correct choice -- namely that he would simply cease to be -- did not even enter his mind as a possibility.

Scalia thought he was "heroic" by not recusing himself in a case where he clearly should have recused himself.

Reading this interview I could only think: What an asshole! Good riddance.


ispeuq said...

I have always admired your writing, but this one I believe crosses the decency line (esp the last couple of lines) and, in my opinion, is unbecoming of a person of your stature.

Scalia, like all human beings, has had his brilliant moments and not so good ones. If we highlight only the controversial moments of everyone then it would seem nothing good is happening in this world.

- Ram

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I have never subscribed to the societal convention that one cannot be honest about the recently departed. I say what I think. When I am gone, feel free to express as harsh a sentiment as you wish about me.

nmanning said...

I agree with you Jeff - I call it 'Nixonization' after how the media and politicians treated Nixon after he died, barely mentioning his paranoia, his mean streak, and all that Watergate stuff. No, he was America's 'elder statesman', a man of 'faith', blah blah blah.

Scalia was a pompous, arrogant, hypocritical, theo-fascist who made it very clear in many public appearances that he intended to use his position to further his conservative Catholic agenda (e.g., he once declared in a speech that he would never vote (or whatever the correct judicial term is) to keep abortion legal in a case before the SCOTUS.

I also agree - he was an asshole, and good riddance.

Mark said...

Of course, there is no reason to wait until an ogre is dead before telling the truth about him. He does not then become a saint by the simple and ultimately expected act of dying.

CDP said...

Recall that the "current" conservative conceit is that 20-year-old female and Latino and black students are so infantile and spoiled and overweening that they can't deal with life without trigger warnings and safe spaces. Thus I was amused to read the following portion of the interview with the 77-year-old Supreme Court justice.

Jennifer Senior: Isn't it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?

Antonin Scalia: You're looking at me as though I'm weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It's in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

Senior: I hope you weren't sensing contempt from me. It wasn't your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.

Scalia: I was offended by that. I really was.

This elicits a further apology from Ms. Senior for her insensitive microaggression.

As regards the actual argument put forward here by Scalia, which epitomizes the intellectual level of his jurisprudence, I can do no better than to quote Bertrand Russell: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible."

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Looks like he was not just an asshole, but, as you highlight in your posting, an idiot. More evidence to the latter is his favorite one-liner:
‘No man should see how laws or sausages are made.’ 
Apparently, this intelligent phrase is due to Otto von Bismarck.