6.29.2009

Something to Consider

So, I moved onto the campus I work at -- yes, I'm living where I work, because it's free! Imagine: living rent-and-bill free for a year, just for doing a little extra service.

Anyway, I've been enjoying it so much early on that I was hurtled back to an earlier intellectual interest while I was walking across campus today.

Charles Fourier was one of the utopian reformers that followed on the heels of the Industrial revolution. He preceded Marx by a generation, and although (or maybe "because") his socialist thought was not quote-unquote Scientific (cough, cough) like Marx's, I think it's a more interesting alternative.

Fourier imagined that society could be organized and subdivided into what he called Phalanxes. Wikipedia reports some of the details:
He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people. One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world "omniarch", or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes. He had a touching concern for the sexually rejected - jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of "fairies" who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people.
This reminds me a bit of the college campus, and it also sounds a little ideal. Each phalanx would consist of a certain number of teachers, millworkers, blacksmiths, etc. Theoretically, each would be self-supporting and entirely independent.

There are some problems -- Fourier's terms are sketchy ("loosely ruled?"), and he didn't seem to take much account of birth and death rates, etc. Oh, and, people have actually tried this, most famously at Brook Farm, which Hawthorne visited and turned into the setting for The Blithedale Romance. George Ripley and a bunch of other good-hearted, progressive unitarians (including Hawthorne) founded it. Read about it here. If it wouldn't work with those people, it could never work. It didn't work very well.

Still, when I observe contemporary civilization crumbling into cubicles, electronic gadgetry (did anyone but me ever notice the phrase "i pod" is pretty depressing?), and all its alienating symptoms -- and then when I look, in contrast, at the vibrant energy around college campuses -- I am convinced that it might be something worth trying all over again.

Utopian, yes. Possibly disastrous?--of course. Anyway, how great an idea is this?

Lacking Emphathy, Anyone?

An update on the Sotomayor-relevant decision that you probably read about today, having to do with the white firefighters in New Haven, CT.

Jamal Greene at the NY Times wrote this paragraph today:
Let it never be said that the Roberts Court lacks empathy. The court’s five-member conservative majority has shown plenty of empathy to corporate defendants, to police officers, to government officials, to prison wardens and, today, to a group of white firefighters.
Oh yeah, you mean that group: nazis, devil-worshippers, and white firefighters? I'm troubled by the tone, Jamal.

6.28.2009

Rub Some Dirt On It

I couldn't help watching a little soccer today when I saw that, after upsetting Spain, the American men's team was leading against Brazil 2-0 near halftime. One play reminded me of a thought I had a while back, when I had earned a reputation as the guy who talked about "truth" all the time. People always wanted me to define the term (I think they suspected I wanted them to talk and dress and act like me, that I wanted to remake the world in my image... right?). Fake injuries in soccer seem to be notoriously perfect examples of the kind of untruth I was sometimes frustrated by. To be sure, social and cultural oppression and repression are real phenomena, but I sometimes wonder whether certain injuries might be exaggerated. Looky here:



In this metaphor, "truth" is nothing more than not falling down and grabbing your knee when only a minor foul--or no foul at all--has been committed. Obviously, soccer players take the occasional "dive" because there is a payoff: if they can fool the referee, their team may be at an advantage. I wonder if there are enough incentives in American society in place to motivate the occasional "fake fall?" Is it conceivable that this kind of thing happens in soccer, but never in life? I know for sure that the culture of "fake falling" is the single feature of soccer that keeps me from becoming a fan, and I suspect that other Americans share my repulsion.

As my high school baseball coach used to say every time we perceived an injustice or injury--either physical or mental or emotional--"rub some dirt on it and get back in there."

6.27.2009

Speaking Between the Lines

Sometimes, two people who love each other deepen their bond by making fun of other people together. Or at least, my wife and I do that, once in a while. But sometimes she misfires, and rather than laughing and pointing at our unfortunate target with her, I feel like she's making fun of a trait in someone else that I share. This is always the danger in gossip, I suppose.

But this morning she goes, "Oh my God; listen to this: this guy left a comment on facebook for one of our friends (ahem): 'Random Levinas question for you. I'm interested in Gnosis as an alternative to epistemology and hermeneutics - underside of modernity, that kind of stuff. Specific context for me is 16th century France but I'm curious about Levinas on this. Any texts you'd recommend?' "

After she finished reading in her best know-it-all voice, my wife waited for me to jump on the guy. But I said, "Umm... actually, that guy's awesome. Gnosis is what I'm into. [long pause] But yeah, I guess all those words people use can end up sounding douchey, huh?"

See what I did there? I compromised. The wife must be part right: using the word Gnosis is always risky (it's a very elite concept, no?). Using Levinas, epistemology, modernity, and hermeneutics in the same little Facebook paragraph is probably ill-advised.

So let's try a low-brow translation of the original, just to see if anything absolutely necessary gets lost: "What do you think about revelatory or non-rational ways of knowing?"

Was anything lost there? Speaking of Gnosis, here's what the "Gnostic" Gospel of Philip says on the matter of whether anything was lost in the translation:
Names given to the worldly are very deceptive, for they divert our thoughts from what is correct to what is incorrect. Thus one who hears the word "God" does not perceive what is correct, but perceives what is incorrect. So also with "the Father" and "the Son" and "the Holy Spirit" and "life" and "light" and "resurrection" and "the Church (Ekklesia)" and all the rest - people do not perceive what is correct but they perceive what is incorrect, unless they have come to know what is correct. The names which are heard are in the world [...] deceive. If they were in the Aeon (eternal realm), they would at no time be used as names in the world. Nor were they set among worldly things. They have an end in the Aeon. (italics added!)
So here's what I've learned in my years of studying "Gnosis." The true initiate understands that it is not what is spoken, but rather what is heard, that is of the greatest importance. Know thy audience, etc. I'm totally into what that guy on Facebook was writing about -- and I hope he makes a book out of it, because there aren't enough academic books on this kind of thing. But I wouldn't be surprised if, eventually, some editor somewhere forces him to change or diminish his language. It's unfortunate: but again, as I said, for the real initiate, it shouldn't be a problem.

6.26.2009

Academic/Postmodern Theory

And another thing: it seems to me that academics involved in what has been known as "Theory," although they will almost unanimously sing the praises of diversity of thought, actually tend to look through a very narrow lens at the world. Do you know how many people live in France? Sixty-five million. That's less than one percent of the world's population. And yet: Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Lacan and their American interpreters have always been at the center of the discussion. There are, of course, a few notable exceptions.

But there seem to be unnatural/artificial boundaries in this discussion: does it matter what a famous zen master, say Suzuki Roshi, or an unknown shaman from Siberia think? Obviously, you may excuse overlooking the Siberian shaman by suggesting that most of contemporary Theory focuses on the modern; but wouldn't an un-modern view of modernity be a welcome contributor?

Certainly there is something to be gained by great and deep focus. If Emmanuel Levinas' words become the objects of study for a good number of academics, I have no doubt that some fruit will come as a result. But for a culture (liberal arts academia certainly qualifies as a culture) perpetually and convincingly espousing the importance of listening to the "other," I think we American academics cut a pretty shabby figure, collectively.

And I sometimes wonder whether the emphasis on diversity has not caused further social and cultural fragmentation (is this a bad thing?--well, hard to say). If white males entering academia are permitted/encouraged to study mostly French and American "Theory," aren't they going to see the world in their own image? The situation may in fact be similar in the case of African American intellectuals focusing deeply on African American literature, and gay and lesbian thinkers focusing on gay and lesbian literature, and so on. Do we benefit more from studying what we already are--what we already probably know? Or do we believe what we have been saying: that studying the ideas of people different from ourselves may be the best path toward the future?

I have changed a great deal, psychologically (and/or "spiritually") as a result of studying the world's holy texts and religious traditions. Obviously, I cannot say with certainty: perhaps if I had studied only Protestant Christianity as deeply as possible (I was raised Presbyterian/Methodist) I would have become a better person or a better teacher or a better citizen or something. But I feel that learning what the gurus and shamans and rabbis believe has been a giant source of growth for me, and I find myself wishing that my colleagues would join me in tracing or re-tracing these wider circles.

6.23.2009

The Sanjaya Effect

When I was in middle school, 7th graders had recently invented a word of worse-than-dubious etymology: wigger. The term denoted a white person who "acted black." In retrospect, it's interesting to note how easily the word caught on, and how little confusion there was about its meaning. There is, of course, one awful problem with the word. But there is simultaneously a kind of problematic insight embedded in the word--the word seems to ask a question: can white people act black? Is black not a skin color, then, but a behavior?

Plenty of contemporary academics have essentially said, "That's right: race is about culture." And all the way back to Mark Twain, who deconstructed "race" in Puddn'head Wilson, American thinkers have appeared occasionally who undermine the foundational category itself.

Which brings me to Sanjaya Malakar. Sanjaya has been featured on my favorite summer television program, I'm a Celebrity... Get me Out of Here.

Sanjaya's not black. But--to employ another problematic neologism from the 1980s or so--my gaydar was going off. But Sanjaya has really taken to Heidi Montag's less ridiculous sister, Holly. They're friends, and when asked if they are more than friends tonight in an exit interview, Sanjaya blushed.

"Wait--," I said to my wife on first hearing that Sanjaya might like Holly, "Isn't he gay?"

Whether Sanjaya's gay or not is actually aside from the point. What I want to ask is whether there is anything "natural" or necessary about the behavior patterns associated with homosexual masculinity. Do some gay men "act straight?" And more importantly, do some straight men (Sanjaya) "act gay?"

Like "acting black," "acting gay" will be impossibily difficult to define, and will probably be best left undefined. But most people would admit(again: problematically!), if they are honest, that they kind of understand the concept of "gaydar." I wonder if 8th graders have invented a questionable term to denote the behavior of a straight guy acting gay. (Strays?)

In some respect, this is an even more interesting development than white people adopting pieces of black culture. Sanjaya claims that being raised by women probably contributed to his apparently gay-culture behavior patterns. More interesting because even after racial behavior stereotypes began to unravel, skin color still served (unreliably) as an indicator. If gay and straight behavior patterns begin to merge, there may not be any alternate indicators.

Frankly, I think this is a pretty neat development. Any thoughts? Does what I'm saying/asking sound reasonable? Is it too "dangerous?" (Is it offensive?)

6.22.2009

Redistributing Money from Michigan to California?

The "debate" over whether (read it!) or not the federal government (i.e., the 49 poorest states in America) should bailout California is underway at the New York Times. That's right: it's a serious question whether taxpayers in Saginaw, MI are obliged to pay the debts racked up by Californians. Two excerpts:
  1. From Peter Schrag: "Many (Americans) may also be shocked to learn that California voters, even during the latest fiscal crisis, have cheerfully continued to pass one billion-dollar spending program after another without the revenues to pay for them."
  2. Jean Ross calls it "unthinkable" to approve Schwarzenegger's plan, which "would would slash funding for schools and community colleges by $5.3 billion - a cut of more than $750 for every student in California’s public schools; add 940,000 children to the rolls of the uninsured by eliminating the Healthy Families Program, which offers low-cost health coverage to low-income children; and end the CalGrant Program, putting college out of reach for tens of thousands of young people – the work force California needs to ensure its economic future."
"Unthinkable," huh? I like this issue because it doesn't feel "liberal" or "conservative" or political -- it seems philosophical, and common sensical. The unemployment rate in South Carolina, where the glimmer has always been humble, is currently 12.1%. California needs to sell some of its celebrity jewelry before looking to Carolina for a bailout. (Sorry, Monica!)

6.20.2009

Because I know just how to push your buttons. Yes, yours.

Here's an absolutely fascinating study in rhetoric. Wrangler might call it "the bad kind," but I level no judgment. I found out about this flipping through my channels and stopping on one of the Christian channels on like channel 9.

Check it out. Silencing Christians is the title.

The Persistent Dodge

The habit and knowledge of Deconstruction seems to have "trickled down" into mainstream culture by now (any objections?). I've noticed over the past few years that it is increasingly difficult to force anyone to address a seemingly dead-on question.

By "dead-on," I mean a question like the one I call "the question of authority." I've addressed it before, and recently at Wrangler's blog. This seems to me to be a "dead-on" question because, from where I sit, no one is exempt from being in the position of investing authority. Somewhere. Wrangler seems to be heavily invested in Emmanuel Levinas as an authority. Others prefer the Bible. Or their parents. Or Albert Camus. The point is, I have yet to meet anyone in person (though I grant that they might exist in legend--enlightened folks like Buddha and Yeshua, etc.) who does not invest some external source with a certain amount of authority.

But the Deconstruction switch gets thrown almost every time these days. So I asked Wrangler on his blog, "Why do you see Levinas as an authoritative speaker?" But I'm afraid Wrangler will dodge the question by using Deconstruction (he hasn't replied yet). And it's not just Wrangler. And it's not just the question of authority. Often it sounds like this: "Do you believe in G-d?" "Well, how do you define G-d?"

And even as I understand that it might be possible to argue that definitions are everything, I am still occasionally frustrated by the difficulty/obfuscation the Deconstructive method introduces.

So if somebody asks me why I privilege the work of Melville, I could say, "Oh, I don't--at least I don't unselfconsciously, and the selfconsciousness I invest in treating Melville more heavily than..." -- and so on. Or I could say, "I see Melville as an authoritative speaker because he has a big vocabulary, and traveled the world, and seems to have thought about difficult questions" (or whatever series of engaged responses I might come up with).

The point is, I'd so much rather discuss those kinds of engaged responses than I would discuss "the persistent dodge" -- that elusive unwillingness to admit the premise of the question.

None of us like the same stuff anymore. Isn't that interesting? Don't ya'll want to know why I think Melville and Camus are so important? I know that I want to know why you think Chomskian grammar, Levinasian Ethics, and so on are authoritative. I want to know that more than I want to know the little nuances of Chomsky's grammar or Levinas' ethics, and I'm guessing you'd be more interested in a converstaion about the importance of Melville than you would in a conversation about Melville's understanding of authorship in relation to the emergent 19th century market.

Right? Or no?

6.15.2009

On Conservatism

Today's most emailed article on the New York Times' website comes from Frank Rich. After citing the allegedly (ahem) incendiary rhetoric from the likes of Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Frank Rich points to Shepard Smith as a possible moderating voice among conservatives. Rich writes,
The question, Shepard Smith said on Fox last week, is “if there is really a way to put a hold on” those who might run amok. We’re not about to repeal the First or Second Amendments. Hard-core haters resolutely dismiss any “mainstream media” debunking of their conspiracy theories. The only voices that might penetrate their alternative reality — I emphasize might — belong to conservative leaders with the guts and clout to step up as McCain did last fall. Where are they? The genteel public debate in right-leaning intellectual circles about the conservative movement’s future will be buried by history if these insistent alarms are met with silence.
And since I've been feeling quite skeptical about the Obama administration lately, I thought I'd try to participate in filling the void that Rich has identified.

First, I'll concede that voices like Newt Gingrich's and Rush Limbaugh's would grate on anybody's eardrum, if only because they're so long-accustomed to "having the stage." So a repackaging may be necessary. Anything that smacks of sexism or racism has to go, immediately and altogether. Nevertheless, the core principles will remain almost precisely the same, and conservatism will be reborn (if it is) when these principles are articulated in a way that convinces America's middle class... there's nothing else to it.

Here's what I think will work:
  • Keep the emphasis on tax cuts. Liberals will accuse tax-cutters of being "one-trick ponies" or "ideologues," but the tax cut must remain the central feature of conservative politics because it reflects a philosophical/theoretical commitment to a particular understanding of economic realities. I won't go further in the defense of those realities here, because I've done it many times before. But this time: go further and cut government programs too. Yes, you can't have tax-cuts without cutting "benefits." So cut these alleged "benefits," at least the most dubious of them.
  • A return to "isolationism." With the disheartening exception of the Mexican-American war, America's 19th century could serve as a model here. Imperialism is not conservative, and conservatism is not imperialistic -- or at least it shouldn't be that way. One more point: "isolationism" does not mean economic isolationism: the world is obviously shrinking, and open trade everywhere will help. But our military should be positioned defensively. At the very least, end the "Bush Doctrine"/first-strike mentality.
  • Cultural libertarianism. Okay conservatives, you've talked about small government long enough. Now it's time to live by your words: if what I do doesn't harm anyone else, leave me alone. That means smoking pot. That means having whatever kind of sex I want. Those points should sound good to liberals, heathens as they are. This one won't: conservatism should also be skeptical of things like the FDA... yes, yes, you want someone to make sure that the meat you eat is really the meat the package says it is. But most of the three-letter bureacracies like the FDA tend to swell, and we're way beyond the point when these agencies can automatically be said to make life better. If a restaurant wants to welcome smokers, let it.
  • Continue to resist legalized racialism. It may be a while before this becomes a selling point for conservatives, but there's no use joining liberals on questions like affirmative action: people who favor affirmative action will vote liberal even if conservatives "sort of" favor affirmative action. So take that "All men are created equal" ideology and extend it to mean every-single-friggin'-body.
  • Stop regulating business. You've long been the party of "laissez-faire," but for too long, that's only been a popular notion. Be more serious about it: if a huge entity goes belly-up, let it: that will create new and dynamic opportunities for economic growth, even if it temporarily incapacitates certain industries (and investors!). The source of wealth in all civilizations is profit -- let that motive remain. It needs no encouraging.
  • Drop religion as a cause. This is a long-shot, but it's necessary. Real conservatism is about widespread material-well-being. The Holy Spirit has never relied on a government mechanism to get its work done. If this means the party fragments into "Religious Zealots" and "Libertarians," by all means let it.
  • Oppose Utopianism. This should be a real strong suit for conservatives right now. Liberals feel as if they're just one more "czar" away from making a perfect world, and conservatives know that that world-view is at the very least naive, and has often turned dangerous.
  • Be better educators. One thing that Rush always said remains true: conservative ideas are more difficult than liberal ideas. Anyone can "feel" that everything should be equal. It takes real discipline to understand what human choice really looks like in practice, and it takes serious courage to trust freedom as an ideology. Find new ways to articulate the inner workings of the captalist mechanism: until a new generation understands why it works, conservatism will not find its way to power.
And maybe most importantly: be a genuinely loyal opposition. Do not hesitate to criticize those who would turn violent in the name of politics.

6.04.2009

There will only be One

Today in his speech in Cairo, Obama urged Palestinian people to "choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past."  I wish he hadn't restricted this advice to the Arab world.  Nevertheless, that's some fine and memorable advice -- advice all of us might take under advisement.  A while ago, I heard a book review describing a 2007-ish French novel about a future utopian civilization (yes, utopian!--not dystopian) where everything was great: people got along with each other, the problem of scarce resources seemed to have been solved, etc.  The only hitch was, to achieve such a society, the people had been forced to stop learning history.  It seems like a fair trade to me, but then, I like to think I'm not terribly invested in the past.

Here's some prophecy I photographed in a bathroom stall last weekend:

6.02.2009

On Enlightenment

My post below on judging and Identity took me (again!) to the question of Enlightenment. Either we agree that people can achive a kind of transcendence of bias and personal sympathies, or we don't. I think not-believing-in-enlightenment is one good definition of postmodernism. I'm not a postmodernist. Poet Denise Levertov contributes to the conversation:
The Secret

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can't find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.
...for wanting to know it, for assuming there is such a secret... what a line, Levertov! I love those girls too, and for the same reason.

Transcending Personal Sympathies in Judging

First, read Sotomayor's much-discussed 2001 speech about her Latina identity.

I think I'm discovering something, with help from a friend. I'm very interested in understanding this debate (starting, most recently from the Sotomayor nomination) between those who believe, with Miriam Cederbaum, that we can judge (or, "Judge," in Sotomayor's conveniently explicit case) in a manner that "transcends personal sympathies" and those who believe, with Sotomayor, that that kind of transcendence is probably not possible, and not even desirable. I am convinced that this is a very important and easily-accessible metaphor of sorts... a kind of "way in" to a conversation that we could all benefit from. At some level, we all face the question of "judging." I believe that everybody can clarify their epistemological theory -- a process that seems to me overdue as postmodernism flags -- by studying this Sotomayor flap, and that's why I'm following it so closely.

In her speech, Sotomayor describes the plurality of opinion that exists even among specific racial groups: for example, she cites Clarence Thomas as representing "a part but not the whole" of African American culture.

For me, this begs a question: is there such a thing as African American culture? What African American culture is there that incorporates the views of both Clarence Thomas and (say) Michael Eric Dyson?

Inconvenient (and difficult) as it may be, this cannot be a rhetorical question. Is there some similar taste in food, music, or dress that Judge Thomas and M.E. Dyson share? Would an African American person not sharing in that taste (surely there is an exception in every case) thereby be not-participating in African American culture? And, incidentally, can a person who is not African American share that taste with Judge Thomas and M.E. Dyson? -- if they do, does that mean that they "understand" or "participate in" African American culture?

These questions ought to reveal the slippery nature of racial/cultural designations -- a slipperiness which, in my opinion, ought to be fairly obvious. Nevertheless, racial/cultural categories like African American (or Latina) have been increasingly used as "qualification." The undergrad. case at U of M (or was it the Law School) stands out in recent memory: affirmative action was deemed legal because racial/cultural experience was deemed to constitute desirable qualities in candidates. But if Judge Thomas and Prof. Dyson both enjoy (forgive the unavoidable stereotype here) jazz music, does that qualify them against a white candidate who also enjoys jazz music?

Judge Sotomayor claims that her cultural experience in America as a Latina influences her judging, and defends that as proper. When I ask, specifically, what she means by "Latina" and how it will influence her judging, I am not being cheeky -- and I'm not trying to be any more difficult than is necessary.

Here's why: if Sotomayor's Latina-ness informs her judging, then we must admit the possibility that Justice Breyer's whiteness informs his judging. If that is the case, it's difficult to imagine how a 9-white/male court decided Brown v. Board of Education (or any other civil rights case)... but more importantly, it ought to sound a bit uncomfortable: whiteness sounds dangerous (as it has been, historically).

In her 2001 speech, Sotomayor makes reference to her "Latin soul." I want to know what that means, especially considering her speculation that "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." Inherent physiological differences? Isn't that what Jimmy the Greek got fired for? I ask for specifics, and potential Justice Sotomayor responds (from 2001), "Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

I think I understand her reasoning. Sotomayor essentially assumes that white judges judge differently "based on their gender and their white heritage." And perhaps they do. But if Sotomayor plans to change the highest ground of American justice, it seems worthwhile to ask, exactly how? If we have had "white-justice" until now, what will changing it look like and feel like? Will it feel better for non-whites than it will for whites? Or will it somehow be better for everyone? Is Justice a zero-sum game?

One of my final points: Sotomayor closed that speech by acknowledging the danger of "relative morality." I'd like to underline that danger. At one point in her speech, Sotomayor said,
I also hope that by raising the question today of what difference having more Latinos and Latinas on the bench will make will start your own evaluation. For people of color and women lawyers, what does and should being an ethnic minority mean in your lawyering? For men lawyers, what areas in your experiences and attitudes do you need to work on to make you capable of reaching those great moments of enlightenment which other men in different circumstances have been able to reach.
Those "great moments of enlightenment" Sotomayor refers to are decisions like Brown v. Board of Education. But without an overarching idealist perspective, the only thing that makes any history great -- indeed the only thing that makes justice justice -- is what was decided. That is, if morality is relative as Sotomayor claims, there is nothing inherently more just about the Brown v. Board of Education decision than there was about the Dred Scott decision.

What am I asking is that we identify the mechanism that makes our justice. In the past, supreme court justices decided cases against women and minorities who were filing in "rights" cases. Is there nothing in us that tells us that those decisions were morally wrong other than the fact that a later court overturned those early decisions?

Perhaps it was the infusion of personal perspective, the early inability to transcend the white-male perspective, that created the violation of the rights of women and African Americans (and others) in the first place -- maybe it was transcendence of personal sympathies that eventually allowed for decisions that we now find more agreeable.