In my last post I criticised a newspaper column written by Nicole Ferrie. She didn't like Senator Cory Bernardi arguing that the traditional family is an ideal to aim for. Instead, she believes that all family types are equal, on the basis that all that a family needs is love and respect.
One thing I missed in that post was the headline to Nicole Ferrie's column: "Love does not discriminate." It's the sort of nice sounding comment that's easy to gloss over.
But then the thought struck me that, hey, love actually does discriminate and in obvious ways. For instance, if you say that love doesn't discriminate then you are denying the possibility of heterosexual love, in which we love only those of the opposite sex and discriminate against those of the same sex. Similarly, you are denying the possibility of monogamous love in which we discriminate against all others in favour of just one person.
Marital love is discriminatory - we love our spouse in a preferential way. Patriotic love likewise is directed at one country and discriminates against others. And what about friendship? If love doesn't discriminate, then isn't friendship a bit meaningless? Doesn't feeling friendship with another person mean that you love them in a different way than you love others?
What about paternal love and maternal love? Aren't these directed at our own children, thereby discriminating against other children?
Even when it comes to feeling love for a stranger, this is at least partly directed at those strangers we meet or have some potential connection with. The Good Samaritan, after all, didn't help out all strangers equally; he tended to the injured man he met on the road. He didn't give his money to all strangers equally.
I think it's worth pointing this out, as obvious as it is, because it is an important criticism to raise against liberalism in general. If you are a liberal, and you want individuals to be able to self-define their own goods, then any kind of "supporting goods" that you raise in an argument have to be either vaguely universal and abstract or else aimed at promoting an equal choice.
For instance, if Nicole Ferrie wants people to be able to choose whatever family type they want, then it helps her to argue that "all that you need to make this work is vaguely universal and abstract quality x" - which she lists as love and respect. If "all you need is love" (in a vague and abstract way) then the way is clear for people to be free to choose in any direction as autonomous individuals. A vaguely universal love doesn't stand in the way of anything.
But what if women need marital love? What if a child needs (optimally) paternal and maternal love? Then suddenly some choices become more objectively moral than others, which then contradicts the liberal idea that we can self-define our own goods however we want.