Thursday, 11 October 2018

Morality is sanctioned discrimination

With the question of religious freedom once again popping up, we get reminded that what people most want is the ability to discriminate against others.
In this case, religious schools want to be be exempt from anti-discrimination legislation in order to keep the school's environment within their set moral boundaries.
Similarly sitting the "I can't believe it's not a plebiscite" postal survey on gay marriage, a woman was fired for her "immoral" posting on Facebook against the proposition.
Or take the case of Louis C.K. His career definitely took a hit from the emergence of his masturbatory habits, but him performing again at all has some #MeToo advocates outraged. His punishment is deemed insufficient in that he's gone forever.
And even safe zones around abortion clinics draw this same ire as it prevents the moral crusaders from directly confronting the sinners using the service.
I could go all day with examples, and those examples would be from all across the political spectrum. But the point with the examples is to illustrate how morality is targeted at individuals and groups seen to break it.

Tolerance under "normal" conditions

A pluralistic society survives by allowing a personal moral compass - at least to the extent that is allowable by law. Our society can accommodate both those who choose to hunt animals and those who think it's immoral to do so. Each may teeth to convince the other of its validity, but there's no need to solve the problem via societal enforcement.
That's not to say there's no tension or coercion. Moral issues ignite our passions, after all, and invoke strong outrage. Impassioned pleas and organised protests are a healthy part of democracy.
Arguments are made in the public sphere in a variety of ways, and over time values can and do change. A majority of people in Australia choose to vote for gay marriage despite a majority seeing homosexuality as immoral less than a generation ago.
The key factor to my mind is tolerance - that we have learnt that our personal convictions most of the time are not necessarily what others hold it even ought to hold. This is not the same as relativism, though may be described as a pragmatic relativism. Christians and Muslims have truth as they see it, and they are allowed to practice those truths, insofar as they don't affect our ability to do the same. Likewise for vegans and hunters, capitalists and communists, etc.
We can argue passionately for our against these positions without the need to dictate how anyone lives within these bounds. This holds even when we vehemently disagree.

Localised sanctioned discrimination

The pluralism generally succeeds when the moral impulses are confined to limited areas where they are sanctioned. A church is a straight-forward example of this, as is a group of vegans. The organising principles of the group allow the group to police the behaviours of their own members irrespective of what those in the wider society believe.
When these sanctions aren't reflected in the wider society, there is a tension whenever these individuals deal with outsiders. The boundary of where discrimination is sanctioned can see seen where public services are provided, such as in businesses, or in schools.
When local groups create a bubble of like-minded individuals, the wider community can be seen as downright immoral for failing to grasp those moral truths. This raises the legitimate concern that outsiders are dehumanised, and that there is the threat of exertion of power. One strategy is playing the political game (and why abortion is a perennial issue), but others include shaming, ostracism, and even taking the law into their own hands.
The ideological bindings of the group shape the individual. There are few true lone wolves, but those who attack abortion clinic doctors, homosexuals, GM crops, politicians, civilian populations, etc. all share a common morality with a local group that holds them as moral and the outside society as dangerously immoral in need of rectification.

The rule of law as a proxy to justice

Law is the ultimate standard in any given society. While psychologically we may feel morality transcends law (we are all familiar with the notion of an unjust law), we know that the law is the arbiter of disputes.
Movements like #MeToo exist because of the failure of law to sufficiently address systemic problems. Conversely laws like anti-discrimination legislation exist because of a need to address systemic injustice in a society.
The law needs to be seen by enough of the population as being fair. Not perfect - no set of rules can be perfect, let alone satisfy the myriad of different moral beliefs - but good enough that major problems will be addressed so that we don't need to settle them ourselves. If enough see the law as insufficient or capricious, we get mob justice. And while mob justice might be satisfying when it comes to your beliefs (e.g. taking down serial sex offenders), it can be an outrage when it goes the other way (e.g. gay bashing).
The reason we have due process, innocent until proven guilty, tolerance, etc. is that the other way has been tried and it leads to more barbaric societies. It's not always satisfying to think that some can get away with immoral behaviour, but the alternative is far worse.

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