Friday, October 24, 2014

Yes, there are limits.

I haven’t been on Facebook for a week and that’s a record! And here’s my response to Ethan. First part of another long reply. And quoting him, If anyone is wondering why I’ve spent so much (or too much) time on this: I cannot separate Mill’s tolerance from my faith.
The reason I pointed to Mill’s detractors is because there are a several (those I am familiar with and have read) whose views are scathing, and do say something important about Mill’s inconsistencies and other utilitarian/classical liberal philosophers of his ilk. Maybe I only read authors I agree with. Like Mill’s contemporary JF Stephen (who has sadly disappeared from popular discourse on liberalism), or the late Australian philosopher David Stove who wrote this snarky line: Liberalism demands that people without guns be able to tell people with guns what to do. Ok, quotes are not arguments, yet how these 2 skewer Mill with nothing but common sense.
There are those who do not necessarily say Mill is an idiot, but who admit to the philosophical conundrum of applying his ideas to justice, education, politics, economics, what’s good, what’s right, etc in the real world. As you say, it has to be worked out, the negotiations of which make for a whole lot of profit for publishers. But who’s to be the referee? Harvard’s Michael Sandel whose books argue for virtue and common good (and he’s not a Christian), because not doing so would be fatal to a society that wants to preserve liberty and freedom. So you need laws – and like it or not, the application of laws presupposes morality and restraint.
You know Rawles broadened Mill’s ideas into a theory of social justice: Society is rightly ordered, and therefore just, when its major institutions are arranged so as to achieve the greatest net balance of satisfactions.” I may disagree with some conclusions but fact is, philosophers don’t like to say they are drawing a line, but a line is what they are talking about.  Rawls talks about fairness and social contract; Mill argues for the harm principle and happiness. Whose line is it anyway? Why should your lines be prettier than mine? 
Perhaps Mill is Malthusian because he is a child of his time (like Luther’s anti-semitism?), but his
inconsistency is carried through his belief that liberty as he espouses works best in civilized societies and won’t apply to barbarians. So backward societies (like Singapore and Malaysia?) need an education in virtue, even coercion, while enlightened ones don’t because they can reason values for themselves and are unlikely to rape women. It merely means that every idea is conditional or contingent, and depends on the position you define. That’s my beef – contingent. You always have to smuggle in some boundaries, or maybe a bearded man or two from ancient Greece.
Which is what JF Stephen referred to all things being equal, that there's no such thing to begin with: 

Mr. Mill’s principle throughout assumes existence of an ideal state of things in which everyone has precisely the position which, with a view to the general happiness of the world, he ought to hold. If such a state of things existed there would be some plausibility in saying that no one ought to interfere with anyone else except for the sake of protecting himself against attack, by maintaining the existing state of things. But as no such state of things exists or ever yet existed in any age or country, the principle has at present no locus standi.
Spidey’s Uncle Ben’s right on the responsibility bit. JF Stephen also wrote, 

There is hardly a habit which men in general regard as good which is not acquired by a series of more or less painful and laborious acts. The condition of human life is such that we must of necessity be restrained and compelled by circumstances in nearly every action of our lives.   

It was he who also said government is a mild form of coercion. That's how we are. People do not in general seek public or common good but personal interest first. Perhaps 'coercion' isn't nice, but it just means we need regulations. Unless you are a libertarian with an anarchic bent, you wouldn’t argue that’s a bad thing. Slavery was abolished in the US not because reasonable men and women agreed it was unacceptable. In fact they argued that abolishment would harm the economy. A government went to war to end it, unhappily for the South.
One of my questions was, if something is wrong and offensive, do we have the right to call it out? Gurmit’s daughter Gabrielle surely believes it was within her right to say raping women isn’t cool. More than that, she and I believe that raping or abusing women (or man or child) is evil whatever colour or creed you profess. I do not know any government on earth that will say raping women is one of 5 acceptable ways to treat women and let’s teach our children the freedom of choice. No, you want to be able to say, raping women is not on the table.
Lewd music may not turn everyone into a rapist, but it will surely diminish the value of women in time, demean sexual relations and thus increase the toxicity of society, and escalate sexual abuse. Society becomes poisonous, weakens social well-being, and that’s where the harm lies. We are after all connected selves aren’t we?  A simple illustration: political and advertising messages presume that frequent airing and persuasion of a cause do alter perception and sway public opinion. Otherwise why bother to advertise and communicate so feverishly? Why then assume that a negative message will have no effect? If something is bad or wrong, why is public restrain and curtailment not good?
Society already shows us what happens when liberty is unrestrained: a culture of indifference takes over. Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick admits that all that libertarians really want is to be left alone.

This is why Michael Sandel wrote that, “The public philosophy by which we live cannot secure the liberty it promises because it cannot inspire the sense of community and civic engagement that liberty requires.” Hmm, I wonder if he is referring to voter turnout too.
Okay, Sandel also confesses he hasn’t figured it all out (same as all of us here who are arguing in a closed universe). But Obama’s credited in Sandel’s 2010 book, Justice, when he referred to moral transformation via religion:  “Our fear of getting ‘preachy’ may… lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems,” and that would be a serious mistake. That so-called act of tolerance needs a subject, something to direct at; and surely somethings are intolerable - because it makes society less tolerable for human flourishing. 
Let’s put religion aside for now. We would agree that it’s more preferable to live in a society where laws respect personal rights and where personal rights uphold laws, for the common good. And common good means ‘good’ values, morality, that which contributes to human flourishing. We may disagree on the fine print, but we must be able to say that some rights do diminish our right to a just, decent, and fair society, and that’s plain wrong.

No comments: