Thursday, May 22, 2014

Liberal intolerance is getting noticed

Kirsten Powers, a Democratic commentator, is bewildered that liberals, who are supposed to be committed to the value of tolerance, are increasingly intolerant of opposing views:
How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card.

James Kalb has written a response agreeing that liberalism is intolerant but setting out why this follows from liberal principles.

I'd like to follow on in the same vein. Liberalism is neutral in a limited way. It is neutral only in the sense that individuals are supposed to define their own subjective goods and respect the right of others to do the same. That viewpoint isn't really neutral as it assumes a number of things philosophically, for instance, that objective values can't be known, or agreed upon, or don't exist; and that individual goods can be understood separately from communally held ones.

But leaving that aside, liberalism's limited neutrality runs into another problem. If my main moral responsibility to others is that I tolerate their right to subjectively define their own goods, then that means that what fills the gap in terms of public moral standards are values of non-interference such as tolerance, openness, non-discrimination, inclusiveness and so on. These values then become the new standard of public good that people can be thought of as contravening.

It sounds odd, but liberals can then declare their intolerance of violations of tolerance. Here for instance is the right-liberal Jonah Norberg:
It is time for our liberal societies to stop apologising, to get back our self-confidence and state that tolerance and freedom is our way, and those who are out to destroy that deserve no toleration...We should force everybody to accept every other human being as a free and autonomous individual with the same rights as himself. That is the law of a liberal, open society...Everybody who wants to enjoy that society must conform to it. (The Age, 24/9/05)

Force, conform, liberal law, no toleration - these are the terms employed by Norberg who then states that his highest values are tolerance and freedom.

The contradiction is made worse by the fact that it is so easy to run foul of liberal tolerance on a variety of significant issues. For instance, under Norberg's "law of liberalism" I cannot defend any distinction in what men and women do in society. For instance, I cannot defend the idea that women should not be combat troops, as that would place a limit on how women might define their own good. Similarly, I cannot defend border controls as that restricts immigrants defining their own good; nor can I defend traditional marriage, as that limits all those who cannot accept heterosexual fidelity from defining their own good.

The liberal principle forces the outcome on a great many of the most serious issues to be decided in a society. Instead of defining my own goods, I end up having many of the most important ones defined for me by the procedural principle that liberals have established.

In the traditionalist view, it is better for at least some goods to be decided on by a community, in part formally, through a process of politics, and in part informally, through a process of culture and tradition.

That's because some of the most important goods I am likely to hold are aspects of a communal life; if a community does not uphold them, then they are lost as individual goods. You cannot respect the life of the individual, without taking seriously the goods embedded within the community to which the individual belongs.

Second, the outcome of what goods are upheld within a society ought not to be left to a procedural principle, such as that asserted by liberals. That's a curiously mechanical way to decide what goods will triumph in a society; it is also a way that fails to find a harmonious balance between competing goods, or to weigh the real merits of the goods under consideration.

I'll give a concrete example. Brendan Eich, a man with much success in the technology industry, was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla because some years ago he made a small donation to a campaign to defend traditional marriage.

That's how things work in a liberal system. There is an issue of whether two men or two women should be able to marry. The issue is decided on a procedural basis: the principle is that we should tolerate people self-defining their own good, therefore it is decided that homosexuals should not be limited in defining their own good and should therefore be allowed to marry. People who oppose this are thought to be contravening the tolerance principle and are therefore treated intolerantly.

That's not how things should be done. It is both too contradictory (intolerance in the name of tolerance) and too mechanical (decided according to a procedural principle). What should determine the outcome are questions to do with the nature of marriage itself as an institution; the purposes its serves; of what upholds it as an institution; and of how it fits within the larger order on which a society is based.

17 comments:

  1. Liberalism takes for granted the institutions and people that make its assumptions possible.

    When those peoples and institutions and history are gutted, the possibility of liberal freedoms and 'tolerance' can only continue at the expense of other groups, including those who originally made liberalism possible.

    The Father eats his family.

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    1. Thats true. It brings to mind the 2004 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling that found Pakistan-born pastor and mathematician Daniel Scot guilty of religious vilification because he told a church seminar about passages in the Koran that require Muslims to slay infidels wherever they find them.

      VCAT said Scot had incited hatred against Muslims, even though he had emphasised that most Muslims do not know or follow these verses. He said Christians should love Muslims and offer friendship. It took several years and huge legal costs before Scot was vindicated by the Supreme Court of Victoria. Scot told the truth about the Koran – a truth most Australians do not want to hear.

      Will it take a home-grown al-Shabab massacre in an Australian shopping mall to make them listen? Or will they merely pay lip service to religious toleration and bring their filthy meat products over with them and thats the whole point of the exercise – refusing people the freedom to say no until they convert to Al Shabab in the suburbs of Australia – ie Sharia Law. Whats Bill Shorten/Thompson/Slipper got to say to that – or should we ask Daniel Scot his view of the multicultural madness currently gripping our land ie halal meat undermining the local meat trade!

      Traditionally, halal has been a difficult market for major supermarkets, partly because of its scattered nature and partly because there is no single halal cuisine. Customers looking for halal products might have their roots in Pakistan, Turkey, the Middle East, north Africa, Bangladesh or India and they aren’t exactly the favourite customers of the newly installed Government! The World Halal Forum estimates sales of all types of halal food combined totalled $2.6bn in Australia in 2011, most of it sold to goat herders slaving to survive on a Temporary Protection Visa when not being subsidised with new swimming pools, free cars and a water park. Some are still not subject to behavioural protocols but this will stop soon as a new broom sweeps through the land. But we are waiting for that and thees no evidence it will be soon or that we can wait any longer!

      Liberalism will sweat to cope with a new challenge to the family, the traditions of Judeo Christianity and orthodoxies that we have all come to love and cherish.

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  2. Procedural principles don't really decide much, since all but a small and declining fraction of the human race is covered by privileged exceptions.

    If there are twenty people on an island, of whom only two are white; and if a new ruler says that universal, neutral principles require that everyone has to give up everything they have, including their futures, except for the eighteen non-whites (who all get exemptions), neutral principles have nothing to do with it.

    If only about ten percent of the population of the planet is white, and the dominant elite says that neutral principles require that that minority be treated (in effect) by the principles of integrated pest control, with disruption of the breeding cycle, expropriation of resources, loss of habitat, forced inter-breeding and blending out, but all other races get exemptions and can keep their habitat (such that 90% of cases are covered by exceptions to the "you die" rule), then "neutral principles" have nothing to do with what is happening.

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    1. Titus, sometimes you have to focus on a core aspect of thinking to clarify that, before then moving on to the details of how that view is applied more specifically.

      The point you raise, namely that whites are treated exceptionally rather than neutrally, is a long-standing one within liberalism, having its intellectual origins during WWI.

      The specific context at that time was that American liberalism had previously had a dual consciousness; on the one hand, the Anglo elite was committed to a version of classical liberalism which meant that it was also committed to open borders; on the other hand the Anglo elite identified very positively with their ethnic heritage, believing that Anglo-Saxons had a special dispensation to bring liberal freedoms to the world.

      However, by the early 1900s there were intellectuals who were breaking from the Anglo-centric view and identifying instead with a pluralistic one, in which all cultures had something positive to contribute. Then by WWI a group of intellectuals who, as intellectuals, didn't identify easily with the mainstream of their society, decided on a more radical course of denying that there was a positive Anglo culture and claiming that Anglo Saxons should instead become cosmopolitan consumers of the vibrant cultures of others.

      It was, in part, an expression of intellectual alienation and, in part, a reaction against the excessive Anglo-centricity of the previous view and, in part, a reaction to the new diversity of ethnies that an older liberalism had begun to create in the U.S.

      There were those in minority groups who seized upon this newer outlook as favourable to their own interests; also, as I observed recently, if the newer pluralistic view of society means that the state is meant to be a neutral space within which different groups have equal status, then the historic dominant group represents a superseded and uncomfortable presence of an older ("unjust") social order - it is better to the newer vision of the state if there is no such group.

      Finally, there are liberals who assume that in a just society one's ethnicity would have no bearing on life, which means that there should not be differences in outcomes between ethnic groups when it comes to income, education, crime etc. When such differences endure, they need to explain the persistence of inequality. There are left-liberals who have chosen to explain this in terms of a theory that whiteness was socially constructed to uphold an unearned privilege over others; therefore, the solution to inequality is to deconstruct whiteness.

      So it is true that whites generally end up getting treated exceptionally, rather than neutrally. However, even if we were treated neutrally, as some right-liberals would want us to be, that would be no help - a genuinely colour blind society has no more place for the continuing existence of whites than does a society that believes that white racism is the fount of all evil.

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    2. "Finally, there are liberals who assume that in a just society one's ethnicity would have no bearing on life, which means that there should not be differences in outcomes between ethnic groups when it comes to income, education, crime etc. When such differences endure, they need to explain the persistence of inequality."

      Unless the difference is to the detriment of whites, for example Asians doing better than whites, when it comes to income, education, crime etc. Then the differences shouldn't be theorized or even publicized.

      Intellectual necessity requires that success be theorized as a "privilege" that justifies hostile acts toward the "privileged" - unless the successful are part of the 90% of humanity that is not white, in which case no such necessity exists.

      The "exception" rules, and it covers 90% of humanity. The phony "core" is intellectual bluster to rationalize institutionalized anti-whitism.

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    3. "So it is true that whites generally end up getting treated exceptionally, rather than neutrally. However, even if we were treated neutrally, as some right-liberals would want us to be, that would be no help - a genuinely colour blind society has no more place for the continuing existence of whites than does a society that believes that white racism is the fount of all evil."

      A genuinely neutral rule would be that societies that recognize and preserve a race are unproblematic, and white societies are as valid as any other. That would not mean the end of whites, or any other race. Neutrality in that sense is all we need.

      "What's yours is ours; what's mine's me own" is a fatal rule for those whose property and rights are "socialized".

      If all white societies are theorized as having to become "neutral" and non-white societies are practically exempted from that theoretical status, then whites get eliminated by policy (with or without violence) and non-whites don't. That's targeting, and that's genocide. That's also the actual state of play.

      If all societies whatsoever were forcibly multiculturalized and all races blended out of existence, that would also be the end of whites, but it would not be genocide because there would be no targeting. However, that is not the state of play, and it never was, and there is no indication it ever will be.

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    4. "A genuinely neutral rule would be that societies that recognize and preserve a race are unproblematic, and white societies are as valid as any other. That would not mean the end of whites, or any other race. Neutrality in that sense is all we need."

      Sure, and we should advocate this. But the problem is that such a stance is assumed to be racist and that middle-class whites are committed to the very opposite ideal, namely that of bringing justice and equality by opposing white "racism". And, given that they clearly have the upper hand, we need to successfully explain what drives their view and why it is wrong. In some ways we have to explain liberals to themselves - particularly early on when world views are still more open.

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    5. "Unless the difference is to the detriment of whites, for example Asians doing better than whites, when it comes to income, education, crime etc. Then the differences shouldn't be theorized or even publicized."

      Right, Asian success is a weak point in the left-liberal theory, which is why we should highlight it.

      What we're up against though is:

      a) Whites are targeted for privilege, in part, because we are the historically predominant group and therefore we get in the way of the new concept of the "neutral" state

      b) We don't have the support of our own intellectuals to press our case within these kind of debates.

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  3. "What should determine the outcome are questions to do with the nature of marriage itself as an institution; the purposes its serves; of what upholds it as an institution; and of how it fits within the larger order on which a society is based."

    One small problem is that liberals do not believe that marriage has an inherent nature as an institution; serves a purpose in society beyond the purposes of atomistic individuals, who might each perceive different purposes; needs upholding, because liberals do not perceive impending disaster no matter how much society is transformed; and do not believe that society has a larger order.

    So, we have to argue fundamental truths. We cannot argue as if it were self-evident that "marriage serves a purpose in society," even though a few generations ago only an imbecile would have doubted it.

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    1. Excellent comment. You set this out so clearly, that it gave me pause for thought, even though I've long known it to be true. The question becomes:

      a) Making sure that those who ought to be on our side know the fundamental distinctions clearly enough to break cleanly from the liberal side

      b) Building up a means of transmission for our understanding, e.g. through media, institutions etc, to challenge the liberal one at a society wide level

      c) Becoming adept at criticising the liberal view and explaining our own, so that we can split off a section of the intelligentsia from the liberal view

      We just haven't been good at this in the past.

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    2. "b) Building up a means of transmission for our understanding, e.g. through media, institutions etc, to challenge the liberal one at a society wide level."

      Some conservative films have really strong Christian themes front and centre, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, e.g., Fireproof with Kirk Cameron. However, as a form of transmitting themes any liberal will instantly refrain from watching such "nonsense"; it will raise the hackles.

      I think subtle is the way. Make the action movie, the thriller, the scifi, etc. (modernists want to be entertained, not bludgeoned with morality - Christian or otherwise), but simply embed the film with subtle, conservative themes, that won't have the liberals running for the hills.

      As corny, and as imbecilic it may sound, I think the movie Frozen achieves this to a degree. It brings in the contrasting theme of Eros v Agape (True Love), without hitting the viewer over the head. Introduce the Christian-based theme, but leave out the Christian baggage, so to speak.

      When Pop Culture is used by the Liberals to purport liberal nonsense, then "By God, we take it back!"

      One on level, It's about who controls the Pop Culture.

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  4. "tolerance and freedom is our way, and those who are out to destroy that deserve no toleration"

    That sums up their mindset perfectly. Tolerance must be enforced by intolerance. Freedom is achieved by taking away freedom. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

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  5. OK. I still think it's important, in making a case that leaves out 90% of what's important and true, not to forget that 90% oneself.

    The laws we live under guarantee our collective non-survival, while exempting 90% of mankind. They are not general laws; they are targeted laws under a false pretense of universality. Targeting a particular group, such as a national, religious, ethnic or racial group, with policies calculated to lead to its disappearance as an identifiable collective, is genocide.

    We all have to make our own judgments on when it's wise to say that, and when it's wise to keep quiet about it. But in your own heart, don't forget that this is 90% of the truth.

    The remaining 10%, the details about how seemingly general principles lead to destruction, is essentially the examination of a con job. (Which, I agree, has to be studied. And it's even more important to propose positive alternatives.)

    Unless you remember that 90% of mankind is exempted from these rules of collective destruction, unless you keep that wider context firmly in your mind, these seemingly universal rules create a deceptive impression.

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  6. " if the newer pluralistic view of society means that the state is meant to be a neutral space within which different groups have equal status, then the historic dominant group represents a superseded and uncomfortable presence of an older ("unjust") social order - it is better to the newer vision of the state if there is no such group."

    I've never heard this stated before and it is brilliant. It's why I read your blog Mark

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    1. To put much the same thing a different way: when there has been a shift to a pluralistic view of society, in which there is a diversity of groups of equal standing, then the group with the historic claim to be something more than this is the one which doesn't fit and which therefore cannot be allowed to assert itself and its identity. It becomes a mark of commitment to the new order that, at the minimum, someone no longer bears allegiance to it, or, a degree higher than this, that someone treats it as not being a bearer of a real culture, or even more aggressively, that someone portrays it in harshly negative terms as an agent of privilege, discrimination or hatred that must be actively cut down.

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  7. "In some ways we have to explain liberals to themselves"

    So true. Most of them don't really understand what they are on about.

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