Monday, February 06, 2006

BACKING OFF OF HATE

SAM SMITH - When a situation such as the one created by the anti-Muslims cartoons and their reaction, the tendency for all parties is to seek ever higher ground of self-righteousness - all the time exacerbating the situation. The fact is that the biggest danger to the world at the moment comes from the conflicting certainties of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim fundamentalists. These certainties are rooted in a varied mixture of paranoia, real persecution, cultural egotism, and a search for more simple answers than the world willingly provides.

There is an alternative approach, namely to back off from the conflict at issue and ask: how do we lessen the chance of this happening again?

The traditional answer of the extreme branches of all three cultures is found in new law. It doesn't work well. For example, Metafilter recently summarized laws designed to reduce anti-Semitism: "In Austria it against the law to make any statements denying the occurrence of the Holocaust. . . Laws in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland make it a criminal offence to deny the Holocaust in public. Germany's parliament passed legislation in 1985, making it a crime to deny the extermination of the Jews. In 1994, the law was tightened. Now, anyone who publicly endorses, denies or plays down the genocide against the Jews faces a maximum penalty of five years in jail and no less than the imposition of a fine." In this country we have also passed hate crime laws, many of which directly conflict with the First Amendment and certainly haven't proved effective.

In fact, violent or nasty offenses against cultures and beliefs are far more dependent on the political or social conditions of the time than on any law or lack thereof. Thus Israel's policies have spurred anti-Semitism just as 9/11 spurred anti-Islamic expression in this country. In the end it is far more like a disease than a crime and the cure is not the forcible elimination of symptoms but the riddance of viruses causing them.

This involves backtracking by all involved. But sadly those in charge of today's triptych of terror are too pathologically invested in their self-righteousness to slack off and so matters just get worse and worse.

It is up to the rest of the world - both religious and secular - to show the way through the demonstration of workable and decent relationships with those different from themselves. We need to illustrate with examples things that work better than riots or anger. And we best ignore such futile arguments as the current ones about the cartoons and find ways that serve not as another response to the present debate but as an alternative to it.

Absent right now, for example, is the concept of reciprocal liberty. As Thomas Paine said, "Where the rights of men are equal, every man must finally see the necessity of protecting the rights of others as the most effectual security for his own."

Describing David Hackett Fischer's discussion in 'Albion's Seed' of the difference in the view of freedom within the American colonies, Leonard J. Wilson writes, "Their contrasting concepts of liberty are among the most visible today. The Puritan concept of liberty, 'ordered liberty' in Fischer's terminology, focused on the 'freedom' to conform to the policies of the Puritan Church and local government. The Virginia concept of liberty, 'hegemonic liberty', was hierarchical in nature, ranging from the great freedom of those in positions of power and wealth down to the total lack of freedom accorded to slaves. The Quaker concept of liberty, 'reciprocal liberty', focused on the aspects of freedom that were held equally by all people as opposed to the unequal and asymmetric freedoms of the Puritans and Virginians. Finally, the Scotch-Irish concept of liberty, 'natural liberty', focused on the natural rights of the individual and his freedom from government coercion."

The good thing about reciprocal liberty is that you don't have to approve of the other person's behavior to accept his or her right to engage in it. Thus, one may fairly object to the Muslim treatment of women but, according to the principle of reciprocal liberty, you don't invade their countries, force a pseudo democracy upon them, or otherwise try to bully them into righteousness. You find more civil ways to deal with your differences.

Europeans are not particularly good at this which is why they have far harsher laws about Holocaust myths or Muslim women wearing veils. But America, at its best, knows that you don't have to like someone or their beliefs to extend to them the same freedom to be right or wrong. As Walter Kelly said, we have to defend the basic American right of everyone to make damn fools of themselves.

What has worked here can be applied as well to the rest of the world. As at home, for diversity to work, no one gets to approve its membership. It exists because that's the world is. Sure, it could be better, but neither more hate nor more Hummers will make it so.

56 Comments:

At February 07, 2006 9:01 AM, Anonymous said...

The example you give of reciprocal liberty (disapproving oppression of women but accepting the right of men to engage in it) doesn't work for me. Unless we're stuck at what Larry Kohlberg called the 'conventional/law-and-order' ethical stage, an act should need more than mere law or convention to shelter it under a 'reciprocal freedom' umbrella.

I'd suggest that the concept of 'reciprocal freedom' can only apply to acts that have no more than an unintended, incidental effect on non-consenting others. Oppression of women doesn't meet that test

 
At February 07, 2006 11:52 AM, Anonymous said...

To second the earlier comment and add to it, I doubt most people of whatever political persuasion believe in the idea of reciprocal liberty. I'd say most believe in the Puritanical type, in which liberty is freedom to do as you ought, according to their worldview.
Also, would strict adherence to reciprocal liberty prohibit you from criticising or denouncing politics you find abhorrent? If a country's government practised ethnic cleansing, would it be fair under the reciprocal liberty theory to condemn that practice?
One problem I have with the reciprocal theory of liberty is that it makes everyone's rights and behavior equally invalid, not equally valid.

 
At February 07, 2006 12:09 PM, Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with both posters above. You are falling into the very trap that Sam is trying to warn against: a dogmatic assumption that you know what is right and that everything that doesn't fit your view is wrong.

Seizing on individual examples of flawed dogma and never letting go of your opposition to them is exactly what all sides in this conflict are doing and it cannot lead to anything but mutual annihilation.

To expand on a radical comment I made to another article, let me suggest that brainwashing children in a dogmatic religion when they are too young to think for themselves is a form of child abuse and should be forbidden. If the various religious flavors actually have something good at their foundation, they should still be able to win converts from among those over 21 who have received a religiously neutral education.

Fool of Eris (FoE)

 
At February 07, 2006 1:38 PM, Anonymous said...

I have to think that FoE is misinterpreting something, though I'm not yet sure what. (I'm the author of the original comment, and will follow FoE's practice by signing this followup)

What's the difference between principle (good) and dogma (bad)? To me it seems to be that principle is something that's arrived at by reasoning in a dispassionate way. Dogma is nearly always received wisdom that we're told mustn't be questioned. Principles are often cross-culturally approved, dogma is typically parochial and sectarian. I suppose one can sneer that someone who's working from principle is being dogmatic, but that seems like nothing but a jumped-up version of a pre-adolescent insult.

I think I operate on the principle of solidarity: I'm happy--eager, really--to live and let live because I want the same right for myself. Which makes a threat to anyone's freedom, health, or life a threat to mine since I might be next, and so I have an ethical obligation to at least condemn the oppression. It really doesn't matter that it's currently happening somewhere else in another language: ours is still a small world, and what's over there today might be right here, tomorrow.

The principle of tolerance does not oblige me to tolerate the intolerant, nor am I obliged to value the opinions of other people above my own. I've no reason to think I'm not just as worthy as anyone else is, and my pacifism stops short of self-destructive passivity.

Mairead

 
At February 07, 2006 1:39 PM, Anonymous said...

Anonymous@11:52 here.
To continue the discussion, I was not assuming that only my views were right. What I was attempting to do was to hold up the idea of reciprocal liberty to the same scrutiny Sam and others were applying to dogmatism.
Here are some questions I'd have about the reciprocal theory of liberty:
How do you go about convincing those who don't adhere to such a concept of liberty?
If you believe in a relativistic system such as reciprocal liberty, how do you justify persuading or criticising those who don't?
I don't think relativistic approaches to resolving conflicts are invalid, but they're not a cure-all, either.
Also, FoE, the statement, "[B]rainwashing children in a dogmatic religion when they are too young to think for themselves is a form of child abuse," is just as dogmatic as anything else posted here.

 
At February 07, 2006 3:43 PM, Anonymous said...

Anonymous@11:52 here. I apologize if this is a duplicate posting, but I don't think my initial reply showed up.
To continue the discussion, I was not assuming that only my views were right. What I was attempting to do was to hold up the idea of reciprocal liberty to the same scrutiny Sam and others were applying to dogmatism.
Here are some questions I'd have about the reciprocal theory of liberty:
How do you go about convincing those who don't adhere to such a concept of liberty?
If you believe in a relativistic system such as reciprocal liberty, how do you justify persuading or criticising those who don't?
I don't think relativistic approaches to resolving conflicts are invalid, but they're not a cure-all, either.
Also, FoE, the statement, "[B]rainwashing children in a dogmatic religion when they are too young to think for themselves is a form of child abuse," is just as dogmatic as anything else posted here.

 
At February 07, 2006 4:38 PM, Anonymous said...

"The principle of tolerance does not oblige me to tolerate the intolerant"

Right on. Death to all fanatics!

"Also, FoE, the statement, "[B]rainwashing children in a dogmatic religion when they are too young to think for themselves is a form of child abuse," is just as dogmatic as anything else posted here."

Congratulations, you passed the test. One of our agents will contact you shortly.

FoE

 
At February 07, 2006 7:36 PM, Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in an expansion by Mairead (?) of his comment, "...my pacifism stops short of self-destructive passivity." Hmmmm. So when *does* it stop? I thought being pacific was like being pregnant; you are, or you are not.

wam

 
At February 08, 2006 2:51 AM, Anonymous said...

(Just fyi, that would be 'her' comment: Mairead is typically rendered as Margaret in English :)

I suppose I could surrender the term 'pacifism' to those who want it to have an absolutist meaning, but then we need some other term for me to use about me. I find a broad ethical ground between aggressing against others and not even resisting others' aggression.

Where does it stop? I completely support sharing resources so that everyone has enough, and I not only do what I can in the current US context to limit my footprint, but also support and work toward reducing the destructive aspects of the US cultural economy.

But saying that I'm eager to share so that everyone gets enough doesn't mean I'm okay with someone else declaring that 'enough' to them means that they get it all, or that their God tells them that overbreeding and migration is fine and that I'd better accept that in the name of religious or cultural tolerance. My response to such claims is Bugger that!

Any clearer?

-Mairead

 
At February 08, 2006 2:56 AM, Anonymous said...

Anon11:52, I suspect FoE is trolling us, what do you think? You and I have offered supporting explanations; FoE only offers unsupported assertions.

- Mairead

 
At February 08, 2006 7:41 AM, cynic said...

there's something fishy about this whole series of posts

 
At February 08, 2006 10:27 AM, Anonymous said...

Trolling? No, it looks more like the classic Zen technique of giving the student a good slap in the face (either literal or figurative) to wake them up.

 
At February 08, 2006 12:07 PM, Anonymous said...

A Zen slap from FoE? Kwatz!

- Mairead

 
At February 08, 2006 12:51 PM, Anonymous said...

No trolling, fishing or slapping here, only asking what I believe to be reasonable questions about reciprocal liberty. In a nutshell, it sounds like a good idea - but only if everyone's playing by the same rules. If it's time to bell the cat, how do we do it?

11:52

 
At February 11, 2006 7:05 PM, Anonymous said...

A preference for playing by the same rules is part of what gets us in this mess, I think. Wouldn't it work at least as well to resign ourselves to a multiplicity of GAMES ?
Religion is a great example. Children are the people most easily trained in the precepts of a principled religion. Nothing like guaranteed dependent clients to spur on homespun amateur evangelism, I say ! Luckily children are more or less distributed across a broad cross section of our population so that no one particularly horrendous household of worship can get their mitts on too many kids at one time . Fortunately for the kids, if they can hang on for a few years they are relieved of compulsory attendance in the particular dogma /dharma collective ( family ) they find themselves in. ( note to any wayward children reading this: Growing up is as wonderful as its cracked up to be! Don't give up . ) And like an earlier poster said , former children should be as adept as anyone else at "choosing " from amongst the variety of available religions once they get loose of any previously installed sacred shackles .
The difference between principled & dogmatic religions is mainly the difference between US & THEM. Conveniently , for us ,...they never will get it right w/o our permission; whether they are disobedient chidren or obstinate adults.
In light of this earnest & occasionally dangerous life we lead, sometimes contingent on the forbearance of others to allow us to swagger forward, .... "Reciprocal Liberty" sounds like a good thing to carry around in the form of a wallet sized card , at least . Its hard to remember good shit like that when you're in a jam & really need it. Thanks , Sam.... J.J. in Detroit

 
At February 12, 2006 1:22 AM, Anonymous said...

ought the difference between 'principled & dogmatic regions' be recognized as the difference between sects?

 
At March 03, 2006 2:03 AM, The other said...

If you posters could grasp the concept of completely ignoring a persons religion or ethnicity and basing your opinion of them solely on their actions, you may come closer to understanding what I believe Sam is trying to say.

Would it matter if it were Nazis or Spanish Catholics slaughtering Jews, or does the inhumanity of the slaughter surpass the identity of the perpetrator?

Is it more important to blame or to show the world the other way to live?

A man shoplifts Similac to feed his child. It is proven in court that it his only method of feeding his child. Is he guilty, or are we? Should a child starve because human society demands the condition of poverty?

 
At March 15, 2006 12:45 AM, Jock9 said...

gljujh,

 
At March 15, 2006 1:06 AM, Jock9 said...

Response to 9:01 AM:
Reciprocal Liberty makes good sense to me:
It is not clear to me that oppression of women in another country and culture is not an unintended, incidental effect on the non-consenting others in other nations and cultures.
Of course if the first culture pushes their oppression of women on another culture then this is no longer Reciprocal Liberty.

Responce to 11:52 AM:
I sense a contradiction close here in your last sentence:
It is strange to think of a person's rights as invalid (meaning not right) No, it is simply a person does not accept the "right" to physically interfere in another's well-being which have no effect on the former.

 
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