Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Does love discriminate?

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.


  1. When the politically correct want to destroy something, they use words first. They either deny it exists, or they redefine it.

    Saying "the white race is only a social construct" is a step towards destroying the white race (and only the white race).

    Replacing "sex" (a biologically given reality) with "gender" (an arbitrary social designation) as the received term was a step towards the destruction of biologically well-founded sex roles and toward trans-sexuality as an officially approved and subsidized phenomenon.

    Redefining "patriotism" as fidelity to liberal values was a step towards destroying actual patriotism, which is essentially directed to the preservation of specific national communities rooted in a genetic and cultural patrimony.

    Saying things like "'family values' means we are all family" was a step towards destroying the values neccessary to the construction, preservation and repair of real families.

  2. Regarding the comment above...

    Orwellian tactics, those are.

  3. Marriage is an institution.

    An institution is a way of life (which can be socially represented in many ways) that society concedes to itself in order to warrant its continuity.

    Every institution discriminates, because there will always be some people which have the right conditions to be accepted by a whatever institution, and other people do not. For example, a gentlemen's exclusive club (i.e., an institution) is supposed not accepting female members; this means that some people fulfill the right conditions to be members of that institution in particular.

    If an institution does not discriminate, in some way, it follows then that is not an institution at all.

    If subjective “love” is a “right to marriage”, then, in theory, every form of “love” has the right to be part of the marriage institution. And if marriage institution does not discriminate any subjective “love” (does not discriminate some people), then it follows that marriage institution ceases to exist.

  4. I can love my cat, but if I feed her vegan food, she's eventually going to get sick. Just because a lesbian couple loves their child, doesn't mean that child is getting everything it needs in life. "Love" is an emotion, an action, a duty and a responsibility, not a sainted state of being that makes you magically able to overcome any measure of reality.

  5. Thanks. This helps me really understand Western liberalism - the core ideology upon which subjects like Arts, Law, History, are taught.

  6. I think I agree with what you mean by "discrimination", Mark. I don't agree with what liberals think you mean by "discrimination". "Discrimination" is a stumbling block for liberals; why set them up to fail by using it?

    Why not say, Love treats others exactly as he would want to be treated in similar circumstances?

    When liberals hear that you want to discriminate against a person because of his race, they think you mean you personally dislike someone because he happens to be of a certain race. That isn't what you mean at all. You mean that you think this person would be a poor fit for whatever because of certain racial characteristics (nothing personal at all).

    The parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible is a handy way to expose the differences in the way liberals and traditionalists understand discrimination.

    Liberal Christians are likely to understand this as a message to racists. To them, racial discrimination means you personally dislike individuals just because of their race. You wouldn't help an individual dying on the side of the road as soon as you found out he belongs to a race you dislike.

    I think most traditionalists would laugh at that. To them racial discrimination means you think individuals of certain races are more or less suited for certain attachments/relationships/connections, nothing personal at all. Of course you'd help a guy dying on the side of the road regardless of his race/sex/religion or whatever, because a.) he needs your help, and b.) helping him creates no problematic attachment/relationship/connection between you.

    Given that liberals think "discrimination" means personal animus based on a trait the other person can't help, it seems to me we ought to avoid the term when talking to them. Maybe we could focus instead on talking about the importance of carefully crafted and well-ordered relationships with an eye on the future.

    Unless we're just trying to exasperate them, and then by all means, drop the "d" bomb, grab some popcorn and watch the show :)

    1. they think you mean you personally dislike someone because he happens to be of a certain race.

      Yes, they think you are either ignorant or motivated by hatred or fear. But doesn't that come back to a liberal moral culture that has developed over many generations? If liberals see a society as being made up of autonomous individuals each pursuing his wants, then it's important, for such a social system to work, that individuals don't infringe on how others pursue their wants. This can lead to different solutions. One is for liberals to emphasise the idea of neutrality, i.e. that we only take our own goods to be personal and private ones. Another solution is for liberals to develop a morality based on non-interference, a morality which focuses on respect, tolerance, openness, diversity, non-discrimination and so on.

      If this morality is never challenged intellectually then liberals will continue to make the lazy assumptions that they currently do. They will see, for instance, any violation of the non-discrimination principle, as being a moral failing.

      So one aim of ours should be to get liberals to the point at which they see their own world view as one amongst many, rather than as an unexamined assertion of a natural morality.

      You are right, though, that in the meantime we have to be careful how we tread on liberal toes. If I were arguing in a liberal forum then I would be careful in using the term discrimination.

    2. Mark wrote,
      But doesn't that come back to a liberal moral culture that has developed over many generations?

      Sure, I guess I don't see how that rebuts the overall point. I'm not saying your analysis is false, i.e. of how liberalism developed or why people believe it is true. I'm not talking theory here at all. Once they're willing to listen to your theory, I think they'll listen. At the very least, you'll make them think.

      I'm saying that certain words we use, like discrimination, trigger their minds to go into high-alert. They raise whatever barriers they had to you as a person and your ideas by an order of magnitude. That makes it even harder for them to evaluate your arguments on its merits and not the raging emotions they're feeling at the moment.

      It's hard enough for a liberal to get free of the programming. Why make it harder?

    3. I'm saying that certain words we use, like discrimination, trigger their minds to go into high-alert. They raise whatever barriers they had to you as a person and your ideas by an order of magnitude.

      Yes, that makes sense.

  7. Forgot to put my name to the previous comment. That's mine too.

    As for same sex "marriages" and "families", etc., even to sexually normal liberals this is a massive stumbling block: if the Christian life were really about love, then why do so many Christians condemn other people's love?

    In the past, I've dismissed this argument as intellectually shallow. We know that that kind of love isn't real love. We know that only a man can love a woman and vice versa.

    Lately, I've been wondering if we're making our case a harder sell than it has to be. Is it really ours to say whom someone should and shouldn't love? Yeah, sodomy is a bad idea for all kinds of health reasons. But the love itself? So you love another man or another woman. Great. Love him/her. Who can argue with love, and why would you want to?

    What if we just asked them, Why have gays/lesbians always tried to play boyfriend/girlfriend with each other? Why are they now trying to form a marriage and family with each other? Do they think that male/female intercourse and marriage is how you express your deepest love for another person? Our Lord never said that. Jesus said that laying down your life is the way you show your deepest love for another person, not marriage.

    Marriage is a way to form a family, not to express your love for someone. It provides a child with a father and a mother. Even the best two men who are all that they can be as men and who are the best fathers a child could hope for exactly because they're such great fathers can never be a mother to that child. Can you imagine growing up without a mom? Likewise, even the best two women who are all they can be as women and who are the best mothers a child could hope for can never be a father to the child. Can you imagine growing up without a dad?

    We diffuse the personal animus accusation by giving these men and women the benefit of the doubt: Sure, maybe they are better fathers or mothers than I could ever be. The issue is the kinds of attachments their "family" will deny the children they raise. Can you give a child the dad he wishes he had? the mom?

    Disclaimer: I haven't tried this argument on the liberal acquaintance I work with yet (she's an artist and has lots of sexually atypical friends).

    1. It's an interesting argument, but I have some hesitations in accepting it. First, I think marriage has to do both with love and family formation. Why don't men just aim at sleeping around with as many women as possible? There is, after all, something of an instinct within men to do this. I think it's partly because there is a recognition of a higher good by men, which is to find love with a woman, and there is a sense that the higher expression of this love is a faithful one that binds two complementary parts - male and female - together. When I make this argument it is sometime objected that it might justify, if the emotion of love goes, the dissolving of the marriage. But this kind of love draws in with it the male instinct to provide and protect; and to become a husband and father; and to help perpetuate a multi-generational lineage; and to contribute to the perpetuation of one's tradition and so on. Also, the sense of fidelity that comes with marital love ought really to require both husband and wife to be oriented to deepening the relationship, through an unconditional service to each other, through which we fulfil aspects of self and identity.

      As for homosexuals, I think it is sometimes forgotten that this involves not only a difference in how sexuality is oriented but also of sexual identity. It is the case for many homosexuals that something takes place which disrupts the normal pattern of identifying fully with one's own sex. If, for instance, you are male but you grow up not fully identifying with a masculine role and being, then it is going to be difficult down the track to be attracted heterosexually to the opposite sex.

      I think it is true that a gay man can love another man. But I don't think, first, that this should be regarded as the desirable outcome, as it involves a disruption not only to the usual pattern of sexual orientation but to sexual identity itself (i.e. of a man having a masculine sex identity). Second, we shouldn't treat love abstractly - do we really love our grandmothers the same way we love our wives? As I understand it, the ancients had multiple terms for love, depending on the specific manifestation of it: e.g. eros, philia, agape etc. I suspect that some of the qualities of heterosexual romantic love are not fully present when homosexuality occurs, for instance, the sense of sexually complementary halves being brought together, the drawing in of the provide and protect instinct (which would help to explain why sexual fidelity is rare amongst homosexual men). In other words, I doubt that marital love is the same for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals - which has implications for how marriage itself is to be understood.

      Finally, it seems to me that your argument can work anyway if you insist that marriage is about both love and family formation and that families provide a child with both a father and a mother.