Wednesday, June 21, 2006

On the "imposition of morality"

One of the favourite tactics of the reactionary right is to charge their opponents with engaging in the very same behaviour in which they themselves are engaging.

For example, they will often say, "the left demands tolerance, but they are intolerant of our beliefs." But the thing is, being tolerant demands being intolerant of intolerance. A proper analogy is that the use of force is wrong, but one must oppose the use of force with the use of force. The charges fall flat on their face; if your "beliefs" are intolerant; if your "beliefs" hold that I should be a second-class citizen (or worse); if your "beliefs" are that others should be oppressed using the civil law, I have no duty as a tolerant individual to tolerate them. In fact, it is completely the opposite - to be morally consistent in my demand for tolerance, I have a duty to oppose intolerance, even if that requires being "intolerant". To say that one should tolerate intolerance is as morally bereft as the cries of the pacifist who demands that violence be met with passivity. There is nothing wrong with being intolerant of intolerance - racists, sexists, anti-semitists, and homophobes should be relegated to the fringes of society where they belong.

Another example is claiming, in defence against the charge that they are attempting to legislate morality, that their opponents are also trying to legislate morality by, say, changing the definition of marriage to include same sex couples. (Their counterparts a couple of generations ago fumed equally about changing the definition of marriage to allow divorce; their counterparts in the United States did so when the definition was changed to include interracial marriage.) But this flaim is absolutly faulty on its surface, and here's why:

The belief that the government should not impose morality, is not imposing morality, no more than refusing to tolerate intolerance is wrong. It is completely inconsistent to claim that a belief in the moral neutrality of government is itself a moral judgment, just as it is inconsistent to claim that atheism is a religion. As atheism is, by definition, the absence of religion, so to is the moral neutrality of government a committment to amorality.

This does not mean that the citizen of a country are amoral, or that the members of the government are amoral. What is means it that the government itself, as a body, will not make moral judgments.

Some will say that protecting people against murder or theft is a moral judgment. I could not disagree more - that is simply the government performing its duty, and its duty is the safety of its citizens. That is why it exists - not to enforce moral rules, but to protect people.

Remaining morally neutral on questions of conscience is the best way to ensure social harmony. This is why the government should not legislate against abortion, nor should it make moral decisions about sexuality, nor should it decide who can and cannot get married, nor should it criminalize those who choose to speak virulently against gay people, or even black people or Jews. The cultural left must concede that last point, because again, the government should not side with their point or view no more than it should side with the cultural right's.

So no, allowing gay people to get married along with straight people is not "imposing" morality; nor is allowing abortion; nor is allowing responsible drug use; nor is allowing any form of consensual sex (even if paid for). The government in all of the above cases is quite explicitly leaving the question of morality to its citizens to decide without its interference and meddling - and that is exactly the way it should be.

(Cross-posted at Centrerion)

3 Comments:

At 6/22/2006 1:37 a.m., Anonymous burlivespipe said...

It's interesting to read a few mainstream columnists suppose that Harpor's rationale behind opening up the same sex marriage bottle is to placate those raging supporters, just to show that he kept his promise. Isn't it equally as possible that he's showing those 'believers' that, if he has enough seats, their morality would win the day? It appears to me to be just as equal as a rallying cry for the intolerant of gay/lesbian marriage crowd (while also trying to hijack some of the religious immigrant vote) as it is just to keep a promise.

 
At 6/22/2006 9:02 a.m., Anonymous Deadgoat said...

First of all I agree with you on most things there Blue Grit, however I think you might be missing some of the point. In my daily life here in redneck Alberta I've come to realize that the reactionary right doesn't see these as questions of morality, they see these as questions of security and providing security is job #1 for a government in their little minds. I know that it seems absurd that pot-smokers and gays would be considered a security threat, because it is absurd, but listen to any talk radio (other then CBC of course) with this in mind when these issues come up and you will see what I mean.

 
At 6/23/2006 1:13 p.m., Blogger lecentre said...

Totally off on this one Ryan. Government's role is to make judgement calls based on ethics.

 

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