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Archive for the ‘03. Liberalism vs. Communitarianism’ Category

Recently, I had a discussion here with a friend of mine. I held that it is perfectly coherent to publicly support basic equal rights for ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities, while still making privately jokes about their ways of life. My friend accused me of hypocrisy.

Now here’s a quote from Bhikhu Parekh:

“In most societies libel is an offense. Broadly speaking it consists in making public, untruthful damaging remarks about an individual that go beyond fair comment. Libel is an offense, not so much because it causes pain to, or offends the feelings of, the individual concerned, for the damaging and untruthful remarks made in private do not constitute libel, as because they lower him in the eyes of others, damage his social standing, and harm his reputation” (bold emphasis mine; italic emphasis in original).

[source: Bhikhu Parekh, “The Rushdie Affair: Research Agenda for Political Philosophy”, in: Will Kymlicka (ed.), The Rights of Minority Cultures, OUP, 1995, p. 314]

The legal distinction between private and public shows that there are things you can do in private, but not in public. So it is perfectly coherent to publicly support, say, the rights of gays, while still be able to have a good laugh when you hear, in private, a good joke about homosexuals. But is it also a moral thing to do both? I think so. A simple joke is something which is not serious: neither in its content, nor in its purpose. This is why a joke cannot be considered as “libel”: it does not intend harm (it does not intend to demean the social status of a gay person). We “just” joke (now we’re laughing at you as a gay, and then probably we’ll be laughing at me as a blonde). Of course, this is totally different from taking a stance in mass-media and saying that homosexuals are ill, disgusting, etc.

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[Article written on December 3, 2007]

I would really like to know what the proponents of multiculturalism, communitarianism and identity politics have to say about these three recent cases:

1) The case of the teacher Gillian Gibbons, who was sentenced to jail in Sudan because she allowed her class to call a teddy bear “Muhammad”. BBC tells you her story here

2) The case of the 19-year-old woman sentenced after she was raped. The woman is known only as Qatif Girl, after the region where the crime took place. “She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car of a strange man. On appeal, the Arab News reported that the punishment was not reduced but increased to 200 lashes and a six-month prison sentence. (…) The victim’s lawyer was suspended from the case, has had his licence to work confiscated, and faces a disciplinary session” (BBC). See the whole story related by BBC here

3) The case of Aqsa Parvez, a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Brampton, Ontario (Canada). She was killed by her father because she refused to wear the hijab (the head scarf) anymore. More about this case here

As it is well known, multiculturalism puts forth an important challenge for the liberal theory. According to this ideology, the liberal ideal of treating people as equals cannot be reached by treating people in the same way. This is because there are no universal, “culturally blind” laws: every time, “universal laws” are, in fact, the laws of the majority group (or of one country, or culture), which are forcefully imposed on minority groups (or on other countries or cultures). As a consequence, such ideas as “universal human rights”, or even “human nature”, are culturally-framed: they are Western cultural ideas, and to enforce these ideas on individuals belonging to other cultures means simply to oppress them. According to the proponents of multiculturalism, treating individuals equally requires to treat them differently, to let them live according to their own cultural standards.

Well, as the above three cases show, this is simply stupid (I would have wished to say: “crap”). We really need universal rights. And imposing them on other cultures and countries (even by force, when necessary) seems to be the only way to go, if we don’t like to see such cases happening again.

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As far as I can see, in what concerns the relation between an individual and his cultural group, communitarians could endorse one of the following two claims:

(1) The group is ontologically, but not politically, prior to the individual. As a consequence, the interests of the group should be protected, but when these interests conflict with those of the individual members, individual interests (and rights) must always trump group interests (and rights)

(2) The group is both ontologically and politically prior to the individual. As a consequence, the interests of the group should be protected, and when these interests conflict with those of the individual members, group interests (and rights) must always trump individual interests (and rights)

If (1), then there is no conflict between liberalism and communitarianism. Even if some liberals deny that the group is ontologically prior to the individual, the problem is not that important. All that liberals want is to sanction the view that the individual is politically prior to his cultural group. In other words, (a) the group should be protected just because this protection increases the freedom and welfare of group’s individual members; (b) whenever there is a conflict between the group and (some of) its individual members, the interests of the individual members is prior. Bluntly put, I consider that this view is endorsed by liberal communitarians like Charles Taylor, Will Kymlicka and Joseph Raz. But this shows that there is no conflict between communitarianism and liberalism.

If (2), then the conflict is genuine: if group’s interests must always trump individual interests, then the group (in fact, its leaders, right?) has the right of life and death over its individual members. The “traditions” of the group (and the power of its leaders, right?) must always be defended, even at the expense of the individual members’ welfare and freedom. I do not know any communitarian theorist who would explicitly endorse this view, although Michael Sandel and Michael Walzer can be read as supporting a “soft” version of this idea.

In short: if (1), there is no conflict between liberalism and communitarianism in what concerns the relation between the individual and its cultural group. If (2), then this latter theory (if not simply wrong) cannot be sincerely endorsed by any mentally healthy person. So it seems that liberalism wins the case again.

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[Article written on February 21, 2008]

UPDATE. George has also commented Iddo Landau’s talk and the reaction of gender fundamentalists here.

The first example of political correctness and gender stupidity (this is taken from a serious philosophical text):

“One way to flesh this idea out is to pretend that there is a superbeing, GOD, who can comprehend very complex patterns. SHE alone grasps in full the pattern in the way that moral matters connect with descriptive ones” (Frank Jackson, Philip Pettit, and Michael Smith, “Ethical Particularism and Patterns”, in B. Hooker and M. Little, Moral Particularism, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 90; capital letters are mine)

Two days ago I had another two examples of gender fundamentalism and gender hate. I attended two conferences at Central European University: the first was offered by the Gender Department, the second by the Department of Philosophy.

weiss.jpg Gail Weiss

The first talk was given by Gail Weiss (George Washington University) and its title was “Intertwined Identities: Challenges to Bodily Autonomy”. She discussed the problem of surgical separation of conjoint twins. She is against this separation, because she thinks it is based on: (a) “the dominant logic of identity” – that is, “one identity – one body”; (b) the idea that “conjoint life is not a worthy life”. As an argument in her favor, she says that in the majority of cases, adult conjoined twins refuse to undergo such an operation. The conclusion is that all these can show us an alternative theory of identity, which goes beyond the “dominant” one – that is, “one identity – one body”.

Now this idea strikes me as simply false. I propose the following counterfactual situation. Suppose that a physician tells the twins: “Look, because of the very advanced technology, we assure you 100 % that the operation is totally harmless to both of you; moreover, after the operation, you will live happily until the age of 99”. Now, my question is: what would the twins say? I am sure that they would like to undergo the operation. This shows that they refuse to be operated not because they have some strange philosophical notion of identity, something like “one identity – many bodies”, but because they fear that they would not survive the operation. In what concerns the fact that the separated life is worthier than the conjoint one, I really do not think that this is necessary or logically related to the social and cultural norms of our societies, as Gail Weiss sustains. If we set aside some perverse ideas, what is so worthy in being obliged to “shut down” yourself when your conjoined twin makes love with his wife??? I think the whole talk was a good example of empty words. I mean, if you want to present me just a nice story with metaphors, then it could be interesting. But if you present me this story with propositions like “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” (Noam Chomski) as being a scientific truth, then you have to do much more than using metaphors. That is, metaphors like this: “intercorporeality as a basic condition of human existence that doesn’t undermine identity but makes it possible in the first place”. Some of us are not that stupid, Mrs. Gail Weiss!

landau.jpg Iddo Landau

The second talk was given by Iddo Landau (University of Haifa) and its title was „Should Marital Relations be Non-Hierarchical? Issues in Distributive Justice and Love”. Some of the members of the Gender Department came too. Basically, Iddo Landau wants to argue against the idea of the Marital Non-Hierarchy Standard (MNHS). He says that in every human associative venture there are hierarchical relations (“in almost all associations, including many financial, professional, educational and recreational ones, in almost all spheres of life”). Because of this, it is odd to claim that one such human association – that is, marriage – should be exempted from the rule. His idea is this: if I am married and I stay with my wife in her parents’ house, it is normal for her parents to have the last word in what concern, for example, their house. Here is a hierarchy in the family, based on the fact that we stay in your parents’ house. This does not run against justice and does not diminish family love. Again, if we are married and we have a child, and if you read a lot on child rearing it is absolutely normal for you to give me directions in what concerns this domain, and it is absolutely normal for me to listen to you. This is yet another type of family hierarchy, which is based on knowledge. But this does not run against being justice and does not diminish our love towards one another. In consequence, it is absolutely normal for hierarchies to exist in a family. So MNHS, which has a strong egalitarian claim, is false.

Unfortunately, after the talk, four representatives of the Gender Department (three “female” students, one “female” professor) demonstrated that they understood nothing from this talk. Very hysterical and very aggressive, they monopolized the discussion for more than one hour, attacking Iddo Landau. The only thing they understood from this conference was that the poor guy wanted to legitimate the hierarchical status of man over woman in a marriage, and that he does not recognize the importance of the academic literature written by “female” authors. The poor man really tried to explain what he was talking about – with the only result of a considerable increase in hostility and agressivity. That was very telling, in fact. Gender hate and fundamentalism is jointly nurtured by violence and stupidity. It is sad, because this is very detrimental to the receptivity of serious academic writers in gender studies as Martha Nussbaum, Susan Moller Okin, Uma Narayan, and many others.

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[Article written on March 1, 2008]

For English readers and for all those who are multiculturalists: you can find something about the torture of women and children in Islam now. Please click here. And if you want to learn how to beat your wife, here.

Pentru cititorii romani: pe blog-ul lui Manu, chaos_and_smiles posteaza urmatorul link. Sper ca nici unul, nici celalalt nu se vor supara pentru ca fac publica si pe acest blog respectiva chestiune. Metionez ca cei slabi de inima nu ar trebui sa faca click. Si eu, si Alina am ramas speachless. Sorry, dar chiar nu pot comenta. [si daca vrei sa afli cum trebuie sa iti bati nevasta, aici]

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