Wise is relative

Sonia Sotomayer:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

“Wise” is not the only relative term here. So is competence..

17 thoughts on “Wise is relative”

  1. Why not also bold “who hasn’t lived that life”?

    If you did, you might answer your unasked question. The comparison between racial and ethnic features for determining competence or wisdom disappears and you are left with:

    “with the richness of her experiences” vs “who hasn’t lived that life.”

    Wisdom, then, is relative to quality (and perhaps quantity) of life experiences, which has been the traditionally recognized touchstone for the acquisition of wisdom.

    May it also be true that the experiences of those who have grown up as a member of a cultural minority or else as a member of a repressed group — these are not necessarily the same by the way — may contribute to a more acute awareness of the various frictions occurring in their environment? If so, then the response to those frictions will determine the benefit from growing up in such an environment, since some within that group will rise to the occasion of actually acknowledging and contemplating their environments, thus gaining greater wisdom than any who do not rise to the occasion. But those who grow up in a relatively secluded and secure environment may have less opportunity or motivation for such wisdom-producing intellectual hair splitting.

  2. Why not also bold “who hasn’t lived that life”?

    Because I am interested in Sotomayer’s racist remarks, not her trivial ones.

    The rest of your comment is a discourse on Somomayer’s trivial comments, and thus is as interesting to me as an observation that it is often bright when it is sunny.

    I would be interested if Sotomayer had said Second, I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina female who hasn’t lived that life.

    That would raise all sorts of interesting questions!

  3. Well yes, those who have grown up in a relatively secluded and secure environment would see triviality where another who hasn’t grown up in such an environment might see important distinctions. Failure to contemplate the environment — much of which would seem so “trivial” and hardly worth considering — would limit the acquisition of wisdom. I guess I’m saying thanks for proving my point!

  4. A Nony Mouse,

    It’s interesting you add qualifiers to the statement, where Sotomayer didn’t.

    She said, without qualification, Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

    Do you hope, without qualification, that a wise white man with the richness of his experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina female who hasn’t lived that life?

  5. What I hope seems irrelevant to the consideration of what Sotomayor said. There we would be falling into an ad hominem argument, or judging of her words on the basis of our own particular hopes or biases.

    However it is interesting that she herself used the qualifier “I would hope” to open up her statement.

    In any case, the distinction she seems to be making revolves around a consideration of life experiences rather than race. She opens up the statement with a consideration of life experiences and she closes the statement with a consideration of life experiences. If there is a hidden assumption in her words, that would be the assumption that a Latina woman’s life experiences are richer, and in general more conducive to the acquisition of wisdom, than a white male’s, which is a subject ripe for consideration. Since she openly stated that she “hoped” this was the case, we cannot (or rather should not) assume that she was being dogmatic because she herself is convinced of the truth of what she is saying. Instead, she reserves a little skepticism about what she says, at least for the sake of her rhetoric if not a deeply held skepticism.

  6. Regarding Cohen’s article, Daniel Larison observes that criticism of her ruling misses the larger point: the judges (and the city) were forced into a Catch-22 by Congress for having two contradictory laws on the books.

    The city’s action in the Ricci case (while reprehensible for the injustice committed against the white firefighters) was defensive in the sense that a law would allow the minority firefighters to sue the city for the wide racial discrepancy in the test results.

    An absurd state of affairs, but one brought to us not by Judge Sotomayor but Congress. Or should we say, which law was she supposed to ignore?

    http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2009/05/26/thoughts-on-sotomayor/

    We live in a terrible PC world where a white male from the rural West cannot make a comment about his upbringing and his experiences as a white male in the rural West without appearing racist, yet a Latina woman can make such comments and not be criticized.

    I am troubled by her comments and yet also the criticism of them. My own experience informs me that there are significant cultural differences not only in an ethnic sense but in an upbringing/environment sense as well.

    The motivational techniques and conflict-resolution methods I had to utilize as a supervisor in the Navy could often be far different from person to person, usually based less on their temperament and more about their backgrounds. Having been blessed with a life spent in numerous places quite different from each other in many ways, I was better equipped than some to detect where a person was “coming from” and what potential sources of problems or misunderstandings could arise.

    Nevertheless, she is a boilerplate liberal in most ways that has managed to avoid writing judgments on most controversial hot-button issues. That is disturbing in itself since we don’t know what her true opinions are, but I presume given some of the other options out there she is more appealing to me than a Granholm or a Woods.

  7. Also, now that the full speech where her “Latina” comment was made has been released, Rod Dreher and others have noted it is not nearly as bad as it sounds:

    “Taken in context, the speech was about how the context in which we were raised affects how judges see the world, and that it’s unrealistic to pretend otherwise. Yet — and this is a key point — she admits that as a jurist, one is obligated to strive for neutrality. It seems to me that Judge Sotomayor in this speech dwelled on the inescapability of social context in shaping the character of a jurist. That doesn’t seem to me to be a controversial point, and I am relieved by this passage:

    While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases.

    Relieved, because it strikes me as both idealistic and realistic. I am sure Sotomayor and I have very different views on the justice, or injustice, of affirmative action, and I’m quite sure that I won’t much care for her rulings as a SCOTUS justice on issues that I care about. But seeing her controversial comment in its larger context makes it look a lot less provocative and troubling. As some of you have noted in comments. ”

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2009/05/i-was-wrong-about-sotomayor-sp.html

  8. A Nony Mouse,

    What I hope seems irrelevant to the consideration of what Sotomayor said. There we would be falling into an ad hominem argument, or judging of her words on the basis of our own particular hopes or biases.

    This is my point. If Sotomayer’s statement was innocent, like you say, a commentator of good character would have no problem agreeing with it and its correlaries.

    Of course, Sotomayer’s comment was not innocent. It was racist. Many peopel would object to stating racist opinions.

    To the extent this is an ad hominem attack on Sotomayer, of course it is. That is the point of debating merits of justices.

    However it is interesting that she herself used the qualifier “I would hope” to open up her statement.

    It does, though in troubling ways. If someone who states, ‘I hope blacks are more prone to criminal activity than whites’ more open-minded than someone who states ‘Black sare more prone to criminal activities than whites’?

    Eddie,

    I understand that Sotomayer had to reconcile conflicting laws. Indeed, that is often the role of the Supreme Court, as it is rare that a case makes it there without first similar cases having been resolved in contradictory ways by appeals courts.

    I am sure that Sotomayer’s racism has a context. The point is, I disagree with the racism, even if the context makes it seem like a racist policy proposal, rather than the drunken ramblings of a racist prole.

  9. If Sotomayer’s statement was innocent, like you say, a commentator of good character would have no problem agreeing with it and its correlaries.

    Why does “innocent” (whatever that means) equate to correct, truthful, valid, or justifiable, requiring agreement?

    I would say that before agreement or disagreement can be possible for a conscientious commentator, said commentator should first assess the statement to determine its validity. Note this is not the same as having a political bias which “requires” disagreement or agreement before a full assessment is made. What if, for instance, she is entirely correct that a Latina woman’s life experiences leads to a better ability to judge not only the law but the application of that law to real life cases, in comparison to a white male’s life experiences? On the face of it, as with any generalities which strive at absolute truth, many objections can be made. But that would be on the face of it, without delving deeper. Wisdom formed via a cursory examination of any give case only seems to devalue the very word, Wisdom.

    On the other hand, the statement she addressed above, given by Justice O’Connor, that all who are wise are equal regardless of gender, would seem to be a kind of multiculturalist argument (with respect to age in this case!): We are all alike and no distinctions can be made, we are all equal, we are in fact identical, so far as we have Wisdom. This, too, would be an absolutist argument against which many objections can be made.

  10. A Nony Mouse,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Why does “innocent” (whatever that means) equate to correct, truthful, valid, or justifiable, requiring agreement?

    I will assume Sotomayer accurately expressed her own desires, so I grant that she is correctly and truthfully reporting her own beliefs.

    Obviously, her aspirational racism is unjusfitiable, and impossible to agree with. I do not want to live in such a deterministic, racist world.

    What if, for instance, she is entirely correct that a Latina woman’s life experiences leads to a better ability to judge not only the law but the application of that law to real life cases, in comparison to a white male’s life experiences?

    This would be fascinating.

    Why would she hope for that state of affairs?

    On the other hand, the statement she addressed above, given by Justice O’Connor, that all who are wise are equal regardless of gender, would seem to be a kind of multiculturalist argument (with respect to age in this case!)

    Not sure what you mean by ‘multicultural’ here.

  11. I will assume Sotomayer accurately expressed her own desires, so I grant that she is correctly and truthfully reporting her own beliefs.

    Well were you asking, comment before last, why a commentator couldn’t agree with her belief or why a commentator couldn’t agree that she holds that belief? This is an important distinction which seems to have been blurred in our question/ask session here.

    The “multicultural” reference may seem odd. In general, unless I am mistaken, the vulgar use of the term nowadays is meant to signify the political belief that all cultures are good, or are equal in goodness, mostly because all persons are equally human and each person has a fundamental right to be right regardless of cultural background. All are equal/identical. So trade “all persons are equally human” with “all wise old men and all wise old women are equally wise.” Does this clarification on my use of that term make sense now?

  12. A Nony Mouse,

    Well were you asking, comment before last, why a commentator couldn’t agree with her belief or why a commentator couldn’t agree that she holds that belief?

    Both. She is racist, and expounding racist aspirations.

    Your use of multicultural does not make sense. The common use is that all cultures are equally worth while. You seem to use it to mean that culture leads to no sigifnicant difference in outcomes.

  13. Dan,
    We’ve seen the full speech now. I see nowhere there any hint of her being a racist. Please enlighten me with some evidence of her racism either in that speech or elsewhere.

  14. Eddie,

    The full speech was linked to in the original New York Times article I read. I don’t understand the word “now” in your sentence.

    Indeed, I linked to it in my original post!

    As to the substance of your point, please see the bolded part of the speech I excerpted.

    If you do not believe this is aspirational racism, what construction could possibly indicate aspirational racism?

  15. “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male” (Sotomayer)

    1) does this anti-European derived hate speech imply that white men lack “rich experiences” compared to “Latina” women?

    2) How does one measure “richness of experience?”

  16. While Obama’s greek chorus is busy defending his nominee, Obama himself is more reasonable. Both Gibbs and Obama have politely denounced the statement. [1,2] I assume that Sotomayor will do a self-criticism.

    I don’t know whether or not the original comment, or the soon to-to-be corrected one, reflect Sotomayor’s true beliefs. However, it is good for Obama that he — and not those who hope in him so deeply they cannot see racist statements when they are before their eyes — is calling the shots.

    [1] http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090529/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_obama_sotomayor
    [2] http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2009/05/29/white_house_calls_sotomayor_co.html?hpid=topnews

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