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January 20, 2005

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Short version of a proposed answer -- that famous thought from the 50s -- I hate your ideas but I'll vigorously defend your right to express them. Tolerating a subgroup's rights to express their beliefs is not the same as promising not to think poorly of them.

Most anything goes in the marketplace of ideas -- after all, its just words and not conduct that we are talking about.

However, that assumes that the subgroup is happy to simply express its ideas or act on their ideas in their own group, instead of, as you say in your hypothetical, "militantly tries to exercise those views." The majority can impose its values by regulating some forms of conduct even though the subgroup may see that conduct as essential to its beliefs, and perceive the regulation as attacking its beliefs. The classic silly example of this is a religion that believes in animal sacrafice, which is outlawed per SPCA type laws. Is this regulating conduct or belief (I vote conduct)?

Another classic example was the dilemma of the 50s concerning outlawing the communist party simply because its belief was to advocate the overthrow of the government. Today's analogy would be jihadis preaching terrorism in the mosque. The traditional line has been prosecute any overt act that is a step toward acting on that belief, but not attacking the general expression of the belief (even though its odious). We already had a criminal prosecution (that failed) in Idaho of a quasi-jihadi for running a web site that allegedly was useful to jihadi terrorists.

That is a form of repression that we live with, but it can be messy deciding what is proper regulation of conduct and what is oppression masquerading as some form of regulation of conduct.

The flash point is always over the teaching of children -- it is in the linked article and in your example about creationism. The mere process of exposing children to knowledge will affect their beliefs, so its hard to separate ideas and conduct at this level.

The creationism issue is based on the desire that certain religious beliefs be taught in public schools. Creationism is just the focal point of that agenda. This fight will never end, and the appropriate response is to fight those ideas, including keeping the creationist agenda out of schools.

Of course, that could change if our laws were changed to permit the teaching of religion by the government.

I'd been thinking about this one as well, Sebastian. The right of particular segments of the population to embrace and discuss their particular point of view is protected; the right of those same groups to use public schools (for instance) as a springboard to foist those ideas on all people isn't. Oddly enough, though, their attempts at foisting seem to be protected, although as a disclaimer: IANAL.

The problem is, in my opinion, that individuals now have too much power with too little responsibility and social restraint. In one sense, our ability to grant individuals power has outstripped our ability to teach responsiblity.

Risking a karnak, if I were a conservative, I would argue that this undermines the notion of multiculturalism, and we have to work towards constructing an identity that embodies values that would keep this kind of irresponsibility in check. However, keeping true to my handle, I would argue that it is our inability to move towards a true multiculturalism that is the problem.

What is the solution? Hell if I know. I'm in a country that seems to be bent on hanging on to the old notions of national identity . Here's a recent story that illustrates the line of the government, which, as far as I can see, is merely an extension of the conservative line. My apologies to those of you on the right who may see no relationship between the policies that are being espoused by the Japanese government and their position, I would be interested in hearing why you may feel that I'm wrong in asserting this.

Laws.

You pass laws that protect the majority and individuals within the minorities from the more intrusive efforts of radical minorities to exercise their views.

But your examples offer different problems with different solutions. The extremist Muslim separatism will sort itself out with each passing generation, as Muslim children born in Western countries continually seek to fit in. So long as there are strong enough laws to protect the invividuals and contain the radicals, time itself will sort this out. Waves of immigrants into the United States represented similar threats, also with violence, and assimiliation took care of it. It may take longer with Muslim immigrants because of the difference in religion, but it will happen. Especially as new generations of Muslims fall in love with nonMuslims. And if the laws protecting individual rights are strong enough, the difference in religion will eventually present no greater challenge than it currently does if a Christian marries a Jew in the US. Sure there will be some compromising, perhaps even some inter-family strife, but it need not rip society at-large apart.

The problem with the fundamentalist Christian organizations which are promoting the teaching of 'Intelligent Design' in high school biology classes may require a bit of a revolution within those religious institutions.

I had an interesting conversation with my father the other day about this. He's a devout born-again Evangelical, who believes the Bible is the sacred word of God exactly as God meant us to read it. It took me a while to convince him that he can believe that AND still believe that some of what God had written in the Bible, was, by necessity, metaphor.

The best way I found to illustrate this is the example from "Inherit the Wind" about the Sun stopping in the sky. I explained that at the time when that story was written, people had not explored far enough to understand the world was round, not flat, and didn't understand that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. If God had had written, "the earth stopped moving around the Sun" it would not have made sense to the intended audience...it would have been gibberish and his larger point would have been lost. He had to say the Sun stopped because that was the only way his audience would understand what he wanted them to.

In other words, the overarching messages are more important than the minute details people are capable of comprehending at some particular point in history, because man cannot totally understand the universe, but God is trying to convey messages about the universe and so must use language that conveys the most important part of the lesson...hence the use of metaphor. Once you accept that God intentionally used metaphor to compensate for mankind's ignorance, it's no longer a challenge to the funadmentalist's central believe that God's word is technically sacred as written and it becomes easier to accept that the Creation story is also a metaphor and hence evolution presents no more threat to fundamentalist beliefs than astronomy does.

Until the leadership of the church can convey that message though, you must have laws that prevent religion from being taught in public schools. Period.

Of course, both these assume the radicals will move toward the center, not the other way around, which is in a way not respecting their views. But a Democracy is majority rule, and until such time as these folks are the majority (which would require actions much less respectful on their part than the solutions I'm suggesting), this represents the most overall respectful, least violent resolution IMHO.

Laws.

You pass laws that protect the majority and individuals within the minorities from the more intrusive efforts of radical minorities to exercise their views.

I agree to an extent, Edward. But I think passing laws as a (mostly) unthinking, knee-jerk reaction to a particular wrongdoing isn't the way to go about it. I also think that the public outcry that comes from a particular wrongdoing is what serves to get the laws passed to begin with, so we're back somewhere in the neighborhood of square one.

I had an interesting conversation with my father the other day about this. He's a devout born-again Evangelical, who believes the Bible is the sacred word of God exactly as God meant us to read it. It took me a while to convince him that he can believe that AND still believe that some of what God had written in the Bible, was, by necessity, metaphor.

Oh, there's many examples of ambiguity (not to mention the admonitions that no one is going to know when, for instance, the end of the world is coming) to support the theory that (for the faithful) although the Bible is the true word of God, it's not intended to be fully understood by man. I see this as dovetailing quite neatly with the notion that God's motivations and intentions are unknowable, and that those who claim they are knowable are projecting human character onto something that is not human. And yes, before it's pointed out, I'm fully aware that this is a rationalization.

Risking a karnak, if I were a conservative, I would argue that this undermines the notion of multiculturalism, and we have to work towards constructing an identity that embodies values that would keep this kind of irresponsibility in check. However, keeping true to my handle, I would argue that it is our inability to move towards a true multiculturalism that is the problem.

Speaking strictly for myself, LJ, I'm thinking that the move toward "true multiculturalism" (in quotes because I have no idea exactly what that might look like) is going to occur while we're mostly busy with other things. And I don't see that it's an end in and of itself that's going to have many fervent supporters.

Sebastian, your question reminds me of the a book I read last year, God Against The Gods, by Kirsch, which looks at how that dilemma has played out in western history. He focuses mostly on the rise of Christianity in pagan Rome. His view is that monotheism is inherently intolerant (or other religions), while polytheism is inherently tolerant.
What I got from it was that intolerance, it seems, wins when it reaches a critical mass of supporters.

Is intolerance always a bad thing? Because lawlessness is tolerance, is it not? Anyone who is ethical is intolerant, no?

Is intolerance always a bad thing? Because lawlessness is tolerance, is it not? Anyone who is ethical is intolerant, no?

Precisely the point. The pagans were cripped by their inherent tolerance. Possibly survival depends on defining the limits of tolerance, which I think is the question that Sebastian is asking.

Speaking strictly for myself, LJ, I'm thinking that the move toward "true multiculturalism" (in quotes because I have no idea exactly what that might look like) is going to occur while we're mostly busy with other things. And I don't see that it's an end in and of itself that's going to have many fervent supporters.

Well, we don't know what it might look like, because if we did, we would know the future. I certainly don't want to claim that what I think multiculturalism should be is correct or that I know where it is going. I imagine that many of our ancestors would be horrified if they were transported to the present. When I go back to the states, I have equal measures of horror and fascination.

A true multiculturalism would begin not with a desire to avoid insult to any group (which is what a lot of multiculturalism has become and seems to have started out as) but an acceptance that there should be a foundation of general knowledge that is wider than what we have now and a general ethos of appreciation for other cultures. I personally don't see that in current education or current culture. Though I think that the ability is there. After 9-11, there was a rush on books about Islam and I would suggest that a fair number of people here have spent a lot of time getting to know the ins and outs of the culture of Islam. Unfortunately, some have gone into it with a point to prove and a grudge to settle.

As far as moving towards multiculturalism while we are occupied with other issues, I think that is precisely the problem. Rather than having multiculturalism arise through a broad public discussion of what it is, and why it is necessary, it has been fallen into. There is no way that the US could have the standard of living it has without globalization, but tha globalization comes at the 'cost' of a multicultural society. Unfortunately, rather than having true multiculturalism that would be a public norm, we have backed into it. Thus, groups that preach 'conservative' norms (that's not a backhand to conservatism, but if conservatism is the preservation of culture and norms, than groups that try to push the status quo back through the use of ID and militant muslim sects that advocate separatism are exemplifying a 'conservative' mindset) have ample material to show how multiculturalism is not a respect of other points of views, but a dilution of what they feel is meaningful. As long as creating a multicultural society is something that we stumble into, it is always going to permit those who feel threatened to take issue with premises and whip up fear. It is quite possible that these sorts of groups would not have been weakened had we done what I think we should have 20 years ago. But I don't think that we have even tried, so I don't think one can say that it hasn't worked.

Unfortunately, some have gone into it with a point to prove and a grudge to settle.

Maybe it's a cultural thing.

Maybe it's a cultural thing.

I wouldn't be so hard on WASP culture, Slart. (^_^)v

Heh. Just pointing out that multiculturalism, by implication, means that you've got to embrace the people you don't like. Even if they don't want to be embraced.

Multiculturalism has to have some limits or devolves into pure moral relativism. My initial thought is that it embraces a small set of really core values and lets everyone work everything else out. (It is reminiscient of the way Postrel wants to have rules about the economy . That does little to help us decide which values are those values.

I suspect part of the problem is squeamishness about identifying the core moral values. Quite a few people in the US have difficulty with saying "This value is better than that value".

It seems to me that one guiding principle should be that your freedoms and rights end where they trample on my freedoms and rights; and that everyone* should exactly the same freedoms and rights.

So having one set of people forcing another set of people to do something is wrong: frex men forcing women to dress in a certain way.

*"everyone"
-- but limits on childen and the mentally incompetent (which seem self-evident but I find it hard to articulate why)
-- everyone cannot include corporations

Just pointing out that multiculturalism, by implication, means that you've got to embrace the people you don't like. Even if they don't want to be embraced.

Hence, people need to be taught multiculturalism, not allowed to stumble into it.

My initial thought is that it embraces a small set of really core values and lets everyone work everything else out.

Which again means that it has to be promulgated and taught. Bear in mind, I admit that I have no idea how this is done. But the fact that we haven't had that process is a big problem.

I suspect part of the problem is squeamishness about identifying the core moral values.
Yes, I think that is an outgrowth of the lack of discussion. We've made remarkable strides in the past half century, but those strides have been made in large part because the minority has had to push and fight. The majority culture has not really given these things of their own accord. I'm sure if I sleep on it, I'll have the answer by morning. night all.

Hence, people need to be taught multiculturalism, not allowed to stumble into it.

To belabor a point, you can't force people to learn what they don't want to learn. You can, however, lay down the ground rules for behavior.

I suspect part of the problem is squeamishness about identifying the core moral values. Quite a few people in the US have difficulty with saying "This value is better than that value".

As a squishy, bleedin'-heart liberal, I completely agree. And since that's like the third time we've agreed this week, I'm afraid that the world is now coming to an end. Everyone max out your credit cards!

To belabor a point, you can't force people to learn what they don't want to learn.

Man, what I'd give for that not to be true...

Actually, somewhat less snarkily, you can, sort of; the trick is to convince them along the way that this is something worth learning. There are a surprisingly large number of motivating factors in this regard, one of which is simply respect of the teacher. I've always done best when my students respect me, irrespective {no pun intended} of my actual teaching ability that semester.

I agree with dmbeaster and Edward: you pass laws to protect minorities; you distinguish sharply between believing something and acting, and prohibit those actions that harm others. To Slart: I don't think it's a question of passing laws mindlessly: you may be thinking of hate crime laws (say), but I'm thinking of laws against, say, murder or arson, which protect us all, as well as laws like the first amendment, which protect all of us, but give particular protection to those of us whose speech, religion, etc. might otherwise be outlawed by a majority.

I think that part of the point of a democracy like ours is to say: we all get to figure out how best to live our lives. We have rules, like the laws against murder, which mean that while I do get to decide that the best life is that of a hit man, I do not get to act on that belief. But there should be some basis for these laws other than the majority's dislike for hit men, and in this particular case, of course, there is.

It follows from this general (if sketchy) view that radical Islamists get to say whatever they like, but do not get to do things that violate those rules. And I think we sell ourselves short if we think that we as a nation will not convince the great majority of our fellow citizens that, say, an attempt to impose a Muslim theocracy is misguided. If we do fail, it will only be because those of us who believe this don't take our responsibilities as citizens seriously enough.

The question of children and their education is different, I think. As an adult, I have the right to decide for myself how I want to live, within the limits of the law. And in this country we give great latitude to parents in making these decisions for their kids. But great latitude is not complete latitude, as laws against child abuse and neglect make clear. We as a nation have an interest in the education of children for a variety of reasons, including (a) the fact that a democracy requires citizens who are capable of making informed choices, and (b) the fact that in our society those who lack a basic education will have a seriously stunted set of options available to them when they become adults. Now, we do not let adults do things to their kids that seriously impair their ability to be autonomous adults. We do not, for instance, let them lobotomize their kids, or cut their legs off absent some medical necessity. And for an adult to decide not just that she would rather not have a wide range of choices available to her, but that her children should not have them either, is just wrong: she has no right to make that choice for them.

This is why we make education available to everyone, and insist that children attend school until a certain point. Now: education about Darwinian evolution is not necessary for adult autonomy, and parents who want their children not to be exposed to it can, if they wish, home school, or send their kids off to some school where they don't teach this, or whatever. But they do not have the right to hijack the public schools for this purpose; that's crossing the line between making parental decisions and imposing their decisions on others.

Lastly, about tolerance: so far I've been discussing the question what government should do about intolerant subcultures. But when we start talking about 'tolerance' in general, it's easy to run this question together with the quite different question, how should we as individuals interact with people from these subcultures? Speaking for myself, I believe that the government has no business telling people which religion to adopt. But that in no way prevents me from believing that one religion is true and the others are false, for instance.

I think that general civility should lead us (as individuals) to treat others with basic respect, and that this is so even if we do not agree with them or like them or anything. (The idea that tolerance does require agreement is odd, if you think about it: why can't we get along with people we have deep disagreements with? I get along with Sebastian (or at least, I think I do; for all I know, he may see things differently ;); but surely this isn't because we are in complete agreement on everything. This whole site is devoted to the idea that respect and decency can coexist not just with deep and passionate disagreement, but with complete and open expression of that disagreement.) Similarly, I can treat an Islamist with respect, if this means listening to what he has to say and meeting it with argument rather than violence, without in the least agreeing with him.

This is why I believe in tolerance even though I am just one big counterexample to Sebastian's statement that "Quite a few people in the US have difficulty with saying "This value is better than that value"." I have no trouble with that at all, but it doesn't get in the way of my trying to be tolerant. To the contrary: it's because I believe deeply that respect for persons, whether I agree with them or not, is the right value that I care about it.

Oh, I am so sorry.

Blockquote begone!

Oh, this is going to require more than the blockquote begone.... lol

You should just delete those extra trackbacks. I, OTOH, should get a new blogging engine ... oy.

Hi -- I don't think we can fix the trackbacks; at any rate, I don't know how to. You should get a new whatever, though ;0 -- dmbeaster: I modified your first comment, putting in four close blockquote tags. It didn't affect the substance, but I thought I should mention it anyways, since the power to modify comments is one I think I shouldn't use without telling.

Dare I use the blockquote tag again? :)

The idea that tolerance does require agreement is odd, if you think about it: why can't we get along with people we have deep disagreements with? I get along with Sebastian (or at least, I think I do; for all I know, he may see things differently ;)

Glad to know you think you get along with me, 'cos I think I get along with you.

Similarly, I can treat an Islamist with respect, if this means listening to what he has to say and meeting it with argument rather than violence, without in the least agreeing with him.

I think you are right, but then we get into an interesting quandry. In the case of Muslim extremism, we can clearly punish violent wrongdoing by Muslim extremists. The problem is that the violent Muslim extremists are coming out of an extremist culture which intentionally creates them on a fairly regular basis. As technological means keep ramping up for having one or two people kill thousands of others, that becomes a scary problem.

hilzoy: Now: education about Darwinian evolution is not necessary for adult autonomy, and parents who want their children not to be exposed to it can, if they wish, home school, or send their kids off to some school where they don't teach this, or whatever.

This does bring up the question of what parts of education should be considered necessary for adult autonomy.

To the extent that education is indoctrination, to what extent should society attempt to indoctrinate, or limit the indoctrination by its extremes?

hilzoy:

No problem. I can't even see what it did, but then I did not view my comment after posting (my conection was terminated after posting -- which happens on occasion at this site for some reason.) I guess you fixed something that didn't work right.

dmbeaster: it wasn't your posts, it was praktike's trackbacks, which caused this thread to be, for a while, about an inch wide. I only altered your post becasue I couldn't figure out how to alter the trackbacks, and yours was the first post (thus the first available point to re-widen the thread.) It was just html tags, so no alteration to the content; I just thought that I should say so, since tampering with people's posts (except when we're deleting them due to hatefulness) is, according to me, a no-no.

Sebastian: glad to know you haven't been concealing deep loathing through a heroic act of will ;)

I'd like to say that I'm not heroically wilful, but my mother suggests otherwise (I don't think it was a compliment). But whatever I am, I'm not good at concealing loathing. :)

Pardon me for the tangent, but I don't find the argument that ID believers could just find another school persuasive. Any more persuasive than telling an inner-city parent who doesn't want their kid surrounded by drug dealers and users to just find another school. It's hard to imagine they could afford either a private school or to quit their job and home-school, no matter what they found distasteful about the public school.

Which doesn't mean ID should be in schools, just that "let them eat cake" is a poor reason for why.

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