We take a look at some of the better things written and said in the wake of the horrific terror attack in France this week. At a time when thousands of Muslims are fleeing Islamist tyrants in the Middle-East and looking to Europe for sanctuary, how ought Europe be dealing with Islamists of its own?
Writing on Facebook, Professor of Economics at Portsmouth University, Alan Collins highlights the following comments:
Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister: “We should not stop being ourselves because of this kind of attack. If we do engage in self-censorship, if we do change the way we live and the way we think, that gives terrorists a victory and the last thing that we should do is give these evil fanatics any kind of victory.”
Booker Prize-winning author Ian McEwan has suggested that children be taught freedom of speech in schools. Writing on his website in the wake of the Paris attack, he argues that what he calls “murderous and self-sanctifying, radical Islam” has become a global attractor for psychopaths. “We could really bring this right into the national curriculum in schools,” he told BBC’s Newsnight. “We need to be able to teach everyone just how important freedom of speech is. And how in that freedom there is mockery, satire, scholarly analysis. It’s going to be difficult but talking and writing is all we’ve got. Slaughtering each other is going to bring us to the very gates of hell.”
Nick Clegg writes in the Telegraph:
The same laws that allow satirists to ridicule Islamists allow Islamists (and other extremists) to promote their views. When extremists incite violence or promote terrorism, the criminal law is the right response. But when they peacefully express views which the majority of people find odious, we need to remember what is at stake. Free speech cannot just be for people we agree with. If it is to mean anything, free speech has to be for everyone.
For the record this is why I find ‘no-platform’ policies at universities so disturbing.
Nicholas Kristof (NYT) warns:
Muslims have shared with me their own deeply held false narratives of America as an oppressive state controlled by Zionists and determined to crush Islam. That’s an absurd caricature, and we should be wary ourselves of caricaturing a religion as diverse as Islam.
Writing in The Independent, Mark Steel notes:
The claim that Farage and many others appear to make is that Islam is inevitably violent, to which others reply that it’s a religion of peace, with each side quoting chunks of religious text to make their case. But this probably doesn’t help to settle the argument, as every religion’s holy book is a chaotic mixture.
The Old Testament is like an episode of The Sopranos written by someone on crack, with prophets murdering children for calling them “baldhead” and nations destroyed with locusts. But most of us can pass a church without thinking “we should deport those loonies, they want to turn you into a pillar of salt”.
Alexander Baines-Bufery observes:
There are two issues overlaid here: On some basic level all theism, even moderate theism is by its nature disconnected from reality. The second issue is; a bunch of psychopaths who look to validate their existence through violent acts. Even without the religious justification: These people may have found a reason to do what they did. But their justification is on religious grounds.
So I think we need the answers to these boring questions: Are these psychopaths in any important way different from regular garden variety murderers? Are they “made” by their environment?
If they are being turned into violent people: Is there a funding and support network of “moderate” or “hardline” theist which is enabling these theist to become violent? Are they causing more death and harm than regular Murderers we can’t do anything about? Is this an important problem? Or does it pale in comparison to the vast number of more mundane deaths?
If it is an important problem, what is the most cost effective way of dealing with it?
Back at the Telegraph, Michael Deacon has a theory:
Terrorists aren’t offended by cartoons. Not even cartoons that satirise the Prophet Muhammad. They don’t care about satire. For all I know they may not even care about the Prophet Muhammad.
Instead, they merely pretend to be offended by cartoons, in order to give themselves a pretext to commit murder. Murder so horrifying, on a pretext so unWestern, that non-Muslims – blinded by grief and rage – turn on Muslims. Blame them. Persecute them. Burn their book, attack their mosques, threaten them in the street, demand their expulsion from Western societies. Actions that, in turn, scare Western Muslims, isolate them, alienate them. And thus drive some of them to support – and even become – terrorists.
Result: terrorists swell their ranks for a civil war they long to provoke non-Muslims into starting.
In our angry innocence, however, we persist in thinking this is somehow about cartoons. In thinking that the terrorists “win” if we don’t reproduce those cartoons, and “lose” if we do. As if, at this very moment, terrorist leaders across the West are privately wailing in anguished disbelief because satirical cartoons have been reproduced this morning in several European newspapers.(“Disaster! Our plan has backfired in a way we couldn’t possibly have foreseen! Ink really does beat Kalashnikovs! Satire defeats us once again!”)
On the whole, I’m not sure that’s very likely. I don’t think the terrorists “win” if we fail to reproduce cartoons. I think the terrorists “win” if we leap up, gulp down their bait – and hate Muslims.
This is not about satire. This is beyond satire.
Adam Wagner (UKHR) concedes:
David Aaronovitch has a point when he says that a “reason why Charlie Hebdo could be singled out for attack is because the rest of us have been cowards“. Fear, says Aaronovitch, has caused us to surrender to the terrorists by refusing to ridicule Islam. Because of a longstanding failure to print images which might cause offence or violence, publications like Charlie Hebdo became outliers which were easily singled out and targeted.
There is a second kind of fear, and it is more pernicious. It is the fear of causing offence. We have become obsessed with this in the UK, to the extent that it is even illegal to cause “gross offence” on social media. I have written about this before. Indeed, people are regularly imprisoned for posting offensive jokes on Facebook.
There is a line between legitimate satire and hate-mongering. I am not sure where it is though, and I am certain the police don’t know either. It is right to criminalise speech which results in violence, but we have now gone too far. Criminalising offensiveness has had a chilling effect on speech, and this has been compounded by the press’s self-censorship.
…and the FT’s Robert Shrimsley concludes:
“Be glad someone had the courage to be Charlie.”
Je ne suis pas Charlie. I am not Charlie, I am not brave enough.
Charlie Hebdo’s leaders were much, much braver than most of us; maddeningly, preposterously and — in the light of their barbarous end — recklessly brave. The kind of impossibly courageous people who actually change the world. As George Bernard Shaw noted, the “reasonable man adapts himself to the world while the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself”, and therefore “all progress depends upon the unreasonable man”. Charlie Hebdo was the unreasonable man. It joined the battle that has largely been left to the police and security services.
Technology is destroying jobs faster than it is creating them. Whilst that’s proving distressing for some, it really needn’t be, and when you think about it is actually pretty great news. Provided equitable distribution of the benefits can be ensured, the fact we now collectively have to do less stuff in order to generate the same amount of wealth means we’ve suddenly got a whole load of free leisure time available. Obviously without changes to our economic system, should all that leisure time be ‘forced’ upon people in the form of unemployment and all the cost-savings accumulated at the top by a capital-owning technoelite then frustrations may be justified… but that needn’t be the case.
Our future rests in a social contract, a social system and culture, truthfully, that guarantees all citizens a basic unconditional income on which they may easily survive and thrive. Unlike welfare there will be no preconditions to receipt, unlike welfare there will be no stigma attached, and unlike welfare it will be impossible to ever earn more on a basic income than in work. To enjoy higher standards of living, holidays and the like, individuals must still work – but the sorts of work done may be different – more closely tied to the generation of intellectual and cultural capital – through scientific research, design and the arts than traditional manual labour: store stacking or truck driving. Nobody really wants to be a shelf technician at Tesco, who the fuck are we kidding?
Technology destroying jobs is a great, great thing, but we need a system of government that recognises that in the future less people will be employed in a ‘traditional’ sense… and that, I believe, is inevitable, and exactly what the Basic Citizen’s Income ensures. We need a system of government that recognises that all people deserve and should be guaranteed a basic standard of living. We need a culture that reconciles the fact that, to work out for all, some people will be able to live under such a system by doing nothing at all – living at others expense – albeit not well or glamorously (such people already exist, of course). Above all we need a culture that instills a sense of wonder at man’s achievements, a sense of excitement about the beauty of art and the fantastic promises of science and technology – and we need to work together to bring about a new political and economic world social order. Whilst today we have a workforce of labourers, in as little as fifty years time we may have a workforce of great thinkers, artists and scientists. The
Certain technologies aren’t just destroying jobs and replacing the need for humans to do them – they’re fundamentally altering the mechanics of our free markets. 3D printing promises to allow people to print products in their own home – in a sense open-sourcing the manufacturing process. Other potential near-future technologies, whilst seemingly ambitious at present, are becoming increasingly possible and indeed likely given the massive payouts at stake. Asteroid mining, for instance, promises to open the heavens up to our usage and promises to usher in a new era of abundant supply (with single rocks observed containing more than the entire earth’s known supplies of various elements). Combined the two technologies, 3D printing and abundant supply, and in the very long-term a Star Trek-like economy, replicators ’n’ all, looks like a reasonably achievable outcome (but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).
The technology industry in San Francisco is often criticised for gentrifying the city and contributing to rising inequality. In a world currently savaged by resource conflicts and wars, technology and its economic benefits are not widely appreciated. Whilst the rich automate their work forces, job losses and downward pressure on incomes as relative productivity falls are felt by the poor. As productivity increases and deadweight loss is reduced through technological progress, we must ensure the increasing returns are enjoyed equitably by all.
For all the nation’s great promises of economic reform, there are several bubbles growing in China – both economic and socio-political, each of which upon coming to a head risks popping another in the process. The viability of proposed Chinese reforms are threatened and their actual implementation risks being undermined. Realistically speaking, it can be said that the Chinese leadership’s current economic reform program, whilst ambitious, is a case of “too little, too late” for an over-leveraged shadow financial industry, even if it does succeed in improving public administrators’ spending habits. Whereas in the United States and Europe economics tends to dominate politics, in China markets are dominated by the state.
Above recurring US debt ceiling debacles, Japanese monetary policy experimentation and the ongoing Eurozone crisis, veteran investor George Soros considers the Chinese economy to be the biggest source of global economic uncertainty in the next year (Soros, 2014).
The sustainability of Chinese debt has, since late 2012 come to the fore in concerns about China’s economic health, and in the minds of Chinese economic policymakers as well (Wilkinson, 2013). What was then a looming crisis has since turned into a recurring reality, with credit crunches every few months (Riley, 2014 & S.C., 2013).
Sichuan’s recent “160% of GDP” stimulus is but one example of local government spending out of control, financed through special investment vehicles in effect guaranteed by the Chinese Central Bank, yet described by outside observers as “dangerously like a Ponzi scheme for GDP creation” (Zhang, 2013). The proposed Chinese reforms are, to an extent, designed to reign in the power of local officials to engage in such spending, and in fact reduce the incentives for them to prematurely over-invest in infrastructure. No longer will promotions within the party be given on the basis of growth rates alone, but debt levels, too (Roberts, 2013). For the first time, policymakers at all levels are being confronted with a reality: that infrastructure projects must be self-sustaining. Yet less spending means less jobs and lower growth – and pushback from both promotion-seeking policymakers who have relied so long on uneconomical investment plans, and from a population keen to enjoy continuing rising standards of living – may constrain real progress.
The continued governance of any political party is, to a degree, dependent on the wellbeing and happiness of citizens. Although autocrats successfully govern in some of the world’s most deprived and underdeveloped nations, Chinese citizens have become used to high rates of growth, fuelling a continually improving quality of life and increased access to many modern amenities.
If growth cannot be rebalanced away from government-backed infrastructure spending, then China’s “inexorable” rise will slow spectacularly, down the line, as debt unsustainability becomes apparent and retards on future spending. Yet if government spending is reduced too quickly, the economy will similarly suffer a “hard landing”, hitting growth and threatening citizens’ expectations of improving standards. Recognising the foremost risk, reformers have sought to establish new private banks which due to their preoccupation with profit will surely not be so willing to engage in the dead-cert-default loan-making of state enterprises. Yet concerns over choking growth may turn such reforms into a hard-sell for the majority of CPC officials, even as the directive is issued from top-down. Meanwhile if the central bank and government fail to back bad loans already squandered on vanity projects, then faith in the financial system (evidenced by the Chinese credit crunches of 2013) risks being destroyed, leaving a paper dragon in place of a rising global power. The CPC is acutely aware of its need to achieve both long-term economic rebalancing whilst maintaining short-term growth (Roach, 2013) and if current reforms are judged by mid and higher ranking officials outside of Xi Jinping’s immediate circle to threaten that, their actual implementation may be hamstrung.
The Chinese Credit Crunches of 2013 may be explored further as a sign of things to come – and their occurrence may say as much about the unintended consequences of reform as it does the general health of the Chinese economy. An increasingly popular hypothesis seeking to explain how the credit crunches occurred ascribes blame for them to Xi Jinping’s crackdown on graft (Anderlini, 2013). Newfound restraint in government officials is thought to be squeezing liquidity, which if true, would pose an interesting challenge at the intersection of socio-political and economic affairs in China, as leaders attempt to both improve public perceptions to solidify power and maintain growth (at least a portion of which it appears may have been directly attributable to the profligate overspending and fiscal malfeasance of ‘legally creative’ and ‘corrupt’ officials). Whether or not this hypothesis is valid, the fact exists that grand gestures remain the People’s Bank of China’s sole mechanism for reigniting economic activity and stimulating liquidity flows in the present shaky market (Rabinovitch, 2013). Such a frustrated measure can’t be relied on indefinitely to sustain a fundamentality unsound system – and if Xi Jinping’s reforms insist on liberalising the Chinese economy then problems with underlying fundamentals will only be exposed and amplified, unwelcome “glasnost” to say the least.
Deutsche Bank analysts have likened Chinese over-reliance on borrowing to the debt-trap that snared Russia in 1998 and GDP growth is already nearing levels half that seen in 2007 (Pronina, 2013). Free-market reforms designed to liberalise and stimulate the economy can only be effective if liberalisation exposes that formerly opaque accounting and borrowing practices were not in fact in place to hide incompetence and underperformance. Meanwhile, whilst in the EU nation-states debate labour mobility between nations, the focus in China is not external but internal as the country struggles to manage labour mobility on a base (rural-to-urban) national level. Although attempts are being made to liberalise domestic labour mobility laws, caps on workers’ migrating to China’s biggest cities remain in place, with Chinese leadership recognising that the formation of agglomerations carries with it as many socio-political risks as potential economic benefits. Whilst keen to drive growth – policy makers remain acutely aware of factors which may affect their political survival. Aggravating existing populaces by rapidly expanding city limits risks drawing ire and stretching already struggling services beyond breaking point.
Whether due to concerns over economic or demographic rebalancing, debt sustainability or credit availability, it is ultimately unlikely that all proposed reforms will come to pass – and indeed the argument has been put forth that such complicating factors may at least post a challenge to the implementation of reforms in practice. But the reform package being so large and wide-ranging is not uniformly doomed to failure. The relaxation of the one-child policy is seen as both a popular and economically necessary move (allowing China’s ageing population to support itself in old age) and the mandate that state-owned enterprises should increase their dividend contributions to government is in practice easy to introduce. But even in the latter case, what should be clear-cut is not, with higher dividend payments to government inevitably meaning less investment in business processes themselves.
All-in-all, an over-riding concern for immediate political survival threatens to prevent the CPC rebalancing the economy in its long-term interests. The necessity to maintain high rates of growth in the short-term reduces the government’s room for manoeuvring and threatens the effectiveness, if not the implementation as well, of Xi Jinping’s proposed economic reforms.
It may often be appropriate for religious beliefs to be tolerated and at times respected, too – but to pose a choice between respect and toleration presents something of a false dichotomy. Individuals should also have no obligation to necessarily either respect or tolerate certain religious beliefs of others.
“Toleration” implies support for freedom of religious belief and non-interference in it. To a large extent the idea of toleration derives from the liberal notion of “neutrality” which argues that states should refrain from promoting specific conceptions of the good (Sadurski, 1990). Principles of toleration are embedded at the heart of secularism.
Meanwhile “respect” suggests effective freedom for an individual to practice their belief in a way consistent with their faith. This may involve making special accommodation for religious believers or compensating individuals in order to enable them to follow their faith, ideas widely manifest in multiculturalist theories.
But what constitutes “religious belief”? Although it may be a contested definition, for the sake of argument this essay will assume that religious beliefs incorporate faith in some form of deity with a moral code or conception of a desired lifestyle that seeks to give meaning to, or explain, life itself.
The European Court of Human Rights deems that for a religious belief to be legitimate it must meet “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” (ECHR, 2011). All these measures are subjective, however raising a corollary question as to what extent beliefs should be recognised and respected as “religious”. One may even ask why “religious beliefs” ought be extended protection over any other kind of philosophical belief. I consider a claim of supernatural authority alone to be insufficient to demand respect or toleration – and agree with the ECHR that beliefs must be judged objectively by their contents.
The theory of benign neglect implies that states will always naturally favour some social groups or cultures over others (Kymlicka, 1995, p.108). It states that laws and policies are always based on cultural norms and in practice liberal neutrality is unattainable. This may be because of a default predominant language within a nation, or simply because society uses certain days and dates for weekends and holidays, not accounting for minority religious beliefs. Differences must be corrected, argue multiculturalists, to avoid the implicit or unintentional favouring of one predominant religious belief or culture over others.
Galeotti (2002) argues for “toleration as recognition”, pointing out that mere toleration of religious beliefs may not be enough to tackle social problems. She advocates religions should tolerate other social groups as well as others’ “beliefs”, highlighting that “toleration” alone of gay/lesbian individuals is insufficient and their rights must be fully recognised, not merely their existences deemed permissible.
Kymlicka’s (1995) conception of liberal multiculturalism meanwhile calls for the complementing of individual human rights with group-differentiated rights, respecting various religious beliefs. Breaking down groups’ rights into three categories, he called for 1) the right to self-determination, 2) polyethnic rights and 3) special representation.
The right to self-determination (1) simply allows any self-identifying group of people to claim shared rights as a unit and does not make the same qualification that the ECHR does, demanding “cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” from people. Indeed it is not necessary that groups be religious at all in order to qualify for group rights.
Polyethnic rights (2) may provide exemptions for individuals from laws that conflict with their beliefs. For example, Skihs might not be forced to wear motorcycle helmets that would simultaneously preclude their wearing of a turban (Tierney, 2007, p.41).
Special representation (3) might entail minimum quotas or allocated seats in a legislature for minority religious beliefs to ensure their views are not crowded out. e.g. the allocation of special seats in the House of Lords to members of a religious community. This becomes problematic when only one faith receives ex-officio representation (Church of England Lords Temporal) and not all religious beliefs or minorities. If implemented within a supposedly democratic framework, minimum quotas may distort true democratic outcomes. Again it is also not clear why religious beliefs ought to be given special preference for representation over any other kind of belief.
Whilst Kymlicka calls for this range of “external protections” designed to respect groups’ belief-systems, he also demands that “internal restrictions” upon group members ought not to be tolerated. This limits groups’ claims against its members, whilst externally shielding groups from wider society and giving them no excuse to interfere in group affairs. The form that restraints on internal restrictions might take is much contested. For instance, it is highly debatable to what degree early education influences people’s thinking, but clearly secularists and liberal multiculturalists would argue that children ought be free to develop their own views – equipped with skills to think critically – even if this were in turn to reduce religious belief (Gervais & Norenzayan, 2012). Kymlicka would likely support such a position, arguing “individuals should be free to assess and potentially revise their existing ends”, allowing for individual autonomy in decision-making (Kymlicka, 1995, p.36). Debate may also be opened up over the issue of genital mutilation, male and female, with respect to cultures and religions that consider it their duty to exercise such rites on birth. This prevents the affected individual from expressing any choice on the matter and an economist might view it as a “barrier to exit” or “sunk cost”, designed to make it harder or less desirable to leave a religious group.
A strong argument in favour of respect may posit that where beliefs do not contravene the harm principle, utility may be expanded by accommodating certain religious practices. Exempted from laws and practices that conflict with their religious beliefs, individuals would be able to live closely in accordance with their beliefs, unencumbered by a predominant culture or legal framework within a society (Bogen & Farrell, 1978). A utilitarian argument for polyethnic rights might be proffered on the basis that the creation of certain special rights could be extended without reducing anybody else’s utility. Rawls (1993, p.5-6) may have permitted such inequality on the basis that it enhances the conditions of some without negatively affecting the worst off (or anybody else) in society. The case can therefore be made that respect and group rights should be extended to religious believers, provided individual rights are not sacrificed in the process. In practice this is tricky to implement, with much disagreement as to what individual rights exist and how they should be interpreted. For example, where the “right to family life” and “right to non-discrimination” are considered individual human rights, it is possible to argue that religious beliefs should not be permitted to prevent gay couples from enjoying the same right to marriage as straight couples. All the same, whilst we might tolerate a religious person holding the view that gay people ought not to marry, their attempting to put this belief into practice would constitute a Kymlickan “internal restriction” on members of their own faith and would breach the “external protections” provided to members of other groups. Such beliefs, religious or otherwise, may not be imposed on others but only practiced by oneself. Those who oppose same-sex marriage do not have to marry a member of the same sex, but they may not, according to this reasoning, prevent those who do wish to do so from legally marrying.
As mentioned in the introduction, liberal neutrality demands the toleration of a wide variety of beliefs. It is clear that many would not extend the right to hold a belief to the right to necessarily practice it (e.g. violent lesser-jihad), but what about the right to spread and preach such a belief in a liberal democratic society?
John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle” effectively argues that the restriction of liberty (religious or otherwise) may be justified if it prevents the harming of others. But the lack of an uncontested definition of what may be classed as “harm” leaves individuals with differing views of what should and should not be tolerated. Mill argues that if “society is of the opinion” that something constitutes a harm, then it should be treated as such (Riley, 1998). He does not specify whether this means society as a whole, or merely a majority of society, however, leaving much unanswered.
A demand for respect has led some to conclude that offense constitutes a “harm” and the state ought prevent “offensive conduct” (Feinberg, 1985, p.1). But whilst Feinberg’s “offense principle” may be used by religious believers against those who would disparage their beliefs, annoyances stemming from religious practice may also lead to claims against religious believers on the very same basis. For instance if limits on noise pollution existed for private households and businesses, under the principle there would be no reason to exempt religious institutions and activities (e.g. a Mosque’s call to prayer) from complying and subjecting themselves to limitation, as such activities are large and “other-regarding” (Feinberg, 1985, p.308)
It is not necessary to like a belief in order to tolerate it. Forst (2003) in fact argues that toleration implies both disapprobation and the freedom to hold a belief nevertheless. “Equal respect” of a belief, Forst argues, should meanwhile be afforded all those beliefs of which one does not disapprove (Macedo, 2012, p.818). Kukathas (2003) understands toleration to be “an undemanding virtue since it requires little more than indifference”; a virtue which “does not require respect or empathy or admiration or even much concern for others. It certainly does not require taking the tolerated individuals or groups seriously”.
Kukathas (2003) argues for toleration rather than respect, but is willing to tolerate religion at times while Kymlicka, who argues for respect over toleration, cannot (e.g. in the education process). Kukathas argues a liberal state should tolerate rather than show respect for certain cultures, his position implying less that exemptions from laws should be offered for groups – and more that laws requiring such changes to be made ought not to exist in the first place. State intervention, Kukathas reasons, is a slippery slope (Festenstein, 2005, p.103).
By arguing that even illiberal cultural groups be allowed to exist as long as their members have a right to exit, Kukathas implies Islam’s strict policy on apostasy should not be tolerated. But skeptical of state intervention, he fails to propose any meaningful solution as to how to tackle beliefs unworthy of toleration, similar to John Locke three-hundred years earlier, who argued for the toleration of religious faith, hoping for political authority to be restricted to “civil interests”, with spiritual matters left to the Church (Locke, 1689). But Locke ignored the prospect of religions being a force for harm, reasoning “faith depends on inward assent and cannot be coerced” (Macedo, 2012). Similarly, Kukathas’ failure to explain how he would deal with intolerable beliefs seriously weakens his argument for largely formal liberty. In his distrust of the state, Kukathas places too much unchecked power in the hands of religious institutions. Barry (1997, p.5) argues that in the same way the state protects children against pedophile behaviour, it has a responsibility to protect children’s other interests as well.
A failure to protect individuals such as young children against the religious beliefs of others risks propagating and perpetuating harmful/violent power structures. A secularist might argue that not only should “internal restrictions” therefore be diligently monitored and prevented, but external protections ought not to be offered at all, as they may reinforce or lend implied legitimacy to religious beliefs.
But Kukathas may have a point about slippery slopes. Whilst it is not hard to appreciate how the constant threat of eternal judgement and damnation may prevent freethinking and rational thought, causing harm to a child’s development, both banning parents from sharing their beliefs with their children and taking children away from their parents as Engels advocated seem as illiberal as the effective freedom from religion that secularists seek for children (Weikart, 1994). In lack of a solution, I do not accept that the right to “exit” constitutes effective consent as societal pressures, in addition of the inability of children to truly exit at all, lacking information about alternatives or the familial support to do so, leaves many individuals without much true freedom in the matter. This means individuals accrue sunk costs in terms of the amount of time they devote to studying religious texts, resulting in cognitive dissonance should they ever want to leave – providing a powerful psychological constraint on freedom that Kymlicka’s sought protection against “internal restrictions” would not cover (Festinger, 1962).
Kymlicka’s conception of liberal multiculturalism has other drawbacks, namely forcing people to support types of life they do not value or may outright oppose. In all fairness, this argument could be applied to any policy or tax, making it more a criticism of the state than multiculturalism. But this line of thinking again serves to highlight that protections only offered to religious beliefs unambiguously discriminate against atheist philosophies. A lack of religious faith does not mean a lack of normative views about good and bad, or morality – but lacking a codified “religious” style institution, what special protections would be extended to atheists? Where does this leave the antitheist who perceives religions as harmful? Surely within a democratic system, the prevalent opinions ought be allowed free rule – whether it is organised or massively decentralised.
Furthermore, the opportunity cost of educating about and policing polyethnic rights as well as implementing special representation may prevent the spending of taxes on potentially more utility-enhancing things, undermining the utilitarian argument for Kymlicka’s notion of religious “respect”. The opportunity cost would take the form of either further taxation, or a loss in public services, as money is redirected from elsewhere within a nation’s budget to subsidise accommodations for religious beliefs.
Bryan Barry argues multiculturalism is one of the biggest threats to egalitarian liberalism and progressive values, rejecting multiculturalism on the basis that it involves taking seriously the idea that humans are not morally equal, because that is what some cultures believe. Multiculturalism denies that there is a common or universal or Kantian standard of basic human equality against which claims can be established, claiming values can be defended on the basis that they form a part of ones culture (Barry, 2002). Barry believes this to be wrong headed and I agree. Cultural relativism was and still is used occassionaly to justify slavery, marital rape, racism, sexism and homophobia. Yet the more free and educated nations become, the more their public laws and “moralities” seem to converge upon common standards, suggesting some universality.
In summary, I believe freedom from religion should be given the same degree of importance as freedom for religion. Beliefs which do not harm others should be tolerated, but as much as intervening in family-life is a slippery slope, so is the provision of religious exemptions.
- Barry, Brian (1997), “Liberalism and Multiculturalism”, Ethical Perspectives, Volume 4, Issue 1, April 1997
- Barry, Brian (2002), “Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism”, Harvard University Press
- Bogen, James & Farrell, Daniel M. (1978), “Freedom and Happiness in Mill’s Defence of Liberty”, The Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 28, No. 113, October 1978, p. 325-338
- ECHR (2011), “In the European Accord of Human Rights: Eweida and Chaplin v. United Kingdom”, Application nos 48420/10, 59842/10, Submission of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Accessed 11/04/2013
- Feinberg, Joel (1985), “Offensive Nuisances”, Offense to Others: The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, Oxford University Press
- Festenstein, Matthew (2005), “Negotiating Diversity: Culture, Deliberation, Trust”, Polity
- Festinger, Leon (1962), “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, Stanford University Press
- Forst, Rainer (2003), “Toleranz im Konflikt: Geschichte, Gehalt und Gegenwart eines umstrittenen Begriffs”, Suhrkamp Verlag
- Gervais, W. M. & Norenzayan, A. (2012), “Analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief”, Science, Volume 336, p.493-496.
- Galeotti, Anna Elisabetta (2002), “Chapter 3: Toleration Reconsidered”, Toleration as Recognition, Cambridge University Press, p.85-114
- Kukathas (2003), “The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom”, Oxford University Press, p.1-304
- Kymlicka (1995), “Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights”, Clarendon Press, eBook Edition
- Locke, John (1689), “A Letter Concerning Toleration”, William Popple’s Translation, Accessed 09/04/2013
- Macedo, Stephen (2012), “Chapter 51: Toleration”, A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, Second Edition, Wiley-Blackwell, p.813-820
- Rawls, John (1993), “Political Liberalism”, Columbia University Press, p.5-6
- Riley, Jonathan (1998), “Chapter 6: Applications”, Mill on Liberty, Routledge, p.111
- Sadurski, Wojciech (1990), “Joseph Raz on Liberal Neutrality and the Harm Principle”, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Volume 10, No. 1, Spring 1990, p.122-133
- Tierney, Stephen (2007), “Accommodating Cultural Diversity (Applied Legal Philosophy)”, Ashgate Publishing, p.35-78
- Weikart, Richard (1994), “Marx, Engels and the Abolition of the Family”, History of European Ideas, Volume 18, No. 5, pp. 657-672
This essay is based on the teaching of Kings College London’s Rod Dacombe and his module, “Introduction to Political Theory”. The author wishes to thank Dr Dacombe, the university’s Department of Political Economy and Filipe Faria in particular, who led the seminar sessions for the module (4SSPP104). Originally written in April, 2013.
Amy Chua: guilty of religious and racial stereotyping? Yes. Guilty of irresponsibly grouping various cultures together and proclaiming them destined for success, or in some way superior? Yes. Guilty of citing statistics about the concentration of wealth in Jewish families or the number of PhDs obtained by Nigerians that actually tell us very little, with a multitude of confounding factors fucking any extractable causality? Yes. But a supporter of eugenics, as some have charged, she is probably not… and broadly accurate in her prognosis of what factors make for success, she quite arguably is.
In her book, “The Triple Package”, Yale Law School Professor, Amy Chua, argues that a combination of three-factors make for success: superiority complexes, complimented by a sense of insecurity and superhuman impulse control. Although the book has been subject to much criticism, Chua’s only real crime is to assume that these factors are socially conditioned. Psychological complexes and insecurity (situational anxiety) almost certainly are, to a degree… and her observation that “although rarely mentioned in media reports…studies said to show the demise in upward mobility largely exclude immigrants and their children”, is both interesting and hard to dispute.
Whilst the New York Post might think the book “a series of shock-arguments wrapped in self-help tropes…meant to do what racist arguments do: scare people”, perhaps what Chua really seeks is to instil a sense of insecurity in ordinary Americans, so that once again, as the founding fathers did, the United States might put its almighty superiority complex to good use. Contrary to most critics, my biggest beef with the book is the redundancy in Chua’s argument and the continual insinuations the argument is unique and has not been made a hundred times before.
To have a superiority complex, one must definitionally and necessarily be plagued by internal insecurity. When Chua therefore comments “that insecurity should be a critical lever of success is another anathema, flouting the entire orthodoxy of contemporary popular and therapeutic psychology”, she is in no uncertain terms wrong. But whilst painful to read, full of reductionist generalising and undoubtedly written by somebody themselves harbouring a huge superiority complex, the book’s underlying thesis is sound.
Student politics? That’s gay. Neither in the pejorative, nor merry, cheerful, jolly sense of the word, but quite literally in terms of orientation. When it comes to student politics, at least on a national level, LGBT individuals appear to be largely over-represented. But in 30 years time will Britain be better off for it?
A range of evidence exists suggesting that LGBT people are indeed over-represented in student political movements. In Scotland, data from the Scottish Youth Parliament shows that whilst just 6 per cent of people in Scotland admit to being LGBT, 13 per cent of the Youth Parliament there openly identify as such.
In England, where census data officially puts the number of LGBT people significantly lower, the situation appears even more pronounced. One university’s Labour Students chair put it to me that ‘a majority of the people’ actively involved in their society were gay, whilst another regional Young Labour chair admitted his committee was ‘majority-gay and bi’. The only respect in which his committee differed from the norm, he stressed, was in that almost 40 per cent of members were of some ethnic minority background. Indeed, the real diversity issue in student politics today appear not to be sexuality so much as gender or race.
The National Union of Students has seen more than its fair share of gay, Labourite men in the last decade, with Wes Streeting and Aaron Porter at the helm; themselves preceded by Andrew Pakes and current Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Stephen Twigg. Porter, prior to becoming president, was the third consecutive gay NUS vice-president for education – and for the last five years running, the position of NUS vice-president for welfare has been occupied by gay men.
Perhaps LGBT people are simply more visible within politically ‘correct’ or sensitive organisations, and it is outside the political arena that LGBT people are under-represented in public life. But might there be other factors at play?
Whilst specific initiatives exist to train young LGBT individuals for positions of influence and leadership, these, such as the Out for Undergraduate Leadership Summit which had its inaugural meeting this year in Washington D.C., are a relatively new phenomenon.
Garrett Hall, organiser of the summit, explains: “Prominent, out, LGBT leaders are critical to the movement because they provide role models and mentors for many aspiring change agents who historically have not seen role-models who share their life experiences. Especially in a community where one can ‘choose’ to be visible, it is incredibly important that role-models are visible to help the next generation mature and grow.”
Students selected to attend the O4U summit do so on the back of a scholarship provided by the organisation and their sponsors, including banks like of J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Barclays, as well as consultancies McKinsey, Bain and BCG. Students in attendance included athletes, journalists, app developers, charity founders, company owners and creators of biomedical devices.
The arrival of initiatives such as this, with fewer than 25 students in attendance, and several years late on the scene, can hardly be considered the reason for the current state of student politics.
Might it be that gay students get bullied more than normal students and bullied students look for alternative means of exerting influence over their peers, resulting in increased involvement in student politics? If this is the case, then why do we not see equally disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities involved in politics? Are gay students more competitive and driven towards positions of perceived power? Might it be that some existing prominence of gay individuals within youth politics is having a magnetic effect in attracting others in a way that seeing someone of the same race or ethnicity does not?
Whatever the reason, an abundance of LGBT influence cannot be a bad thing. It is highly unlikely to lead to anything other than more proper and full equality, both legalistically and culturally. The greater understanding of social issues that personal stakeholders bring to politics may yet result in a better generation of politicians to come.
This article by optank editor-in-chief David Wilkinson was originally published in The Independent. Although the hypotheses rests upon gay people being more likely to run for political office, the truth, of course, may be much more benign. People perhaps simply prefer voting for fabulous candidates.