March 10, 2007

The problem of Prejudice


David Frum on the National Review Website has intervened in the recent discussion in the United Kingdom about homosexuality. He argues that a new bill coming up to the House of Lords which would outlaw discrimination against homosexuality in effect is a proposal to destroy people's freedom to discriminate as they wish with their own property. He even suggests that in forbidding the teaching of discrimination towards school children, the law has created an infringement on free speech. Frum's argument is worth considering because as he argues it makes the entire case for anti-discrimination laws on any grounds look very uncertain and very illiberal, indeed his argument would pull down not merely the recent laws about homosexuality, but laws protecting women and blacks against discrimination.

I don't want to take on the main thrust of Frum's argument here- I'm too tired and it involves a rigorous dissection of the relationship between the state and the individual, within a controversy that in the UK has been going on for weeks. But I do want to address one point, which in my view is a failing within Frum's argument and a failure frequently within conservative discussions of freedom. Frum presumes that an association which is not free to discriminate within its community is an association deprived of freedom and whose members are therefore deprived of the freedom to act- he is completely right. The problem with Frum's argument though is that it fails to appreciate that one is more or less free not merely in relation to the state but in relation to other organisations, no matter how voluntary their membership. Frum presumes that because I can leave a church or leave a church school, I am free with regard to that church or church school- and the truth is that I am not.

The problem is that Frum has a very absolutist conception of freedom. Its much better to reflect upon these things using Hobbes's conception of freedom. Hobbes said you were free to do anything so long as you weren't restrained- he even argues that you are free to murder in a state where the death penalty is imposed for murder, you just accept the consequences. In many ways Frum's definition of liberty is a much less logical one than Hobbes's. I am free to take my child who is homosexual out of a church school which teaches homosexuality is bad- but I have to take the consequences of my kid having a horrible experience being isolated and taunted by his fellows and moving schools. The law as Burke argued isn't the sole law within a state- there is also a law of prejudice and it is arguable that for example the freedom of a gay student is restricted in a church school, the freedom of someone who wishes to live in a community bound by the church (like say the Amish communities of North America) is restricted by Church members not speaking to him if he is gay- even though the freedom of the majority to discriminate is allowed.

The problem is that this is a very limited definition of freedom. Analysing the loss or gain of freedom in these cases is very complicated. It is something that needs more space to analyse than a simple column in this blog and it will be returned to here. Most of us would recognise that there is a graduation here- on the one hand a citizen should not exercise their freedom to hate homosexuals by not reporting a crime in which a gay person was attacked- on the other a citizen should not be forced to invite a homosexual into his home should he not want to. All that this item really says is that things aren't easy- if one for instance offers a service to the public, even with one's own property, there is a fairly good case that one should not, save on grounds of safety or permissable issues to do with age (18 certificate films come to mind) distinguish between members of the public. Freedom here is a much more complicated value than Frum has it as, because we are free in respect to other human beings as well as being free in respect of the state. The focus on the state's coercive role in this case isn't helpful to the debate because coercion exists in other forms than merely state action.

What I haven't dealt with here are the issues of the acceptability of prejudice, the acceptability of this particular prejudice or the issue of the state's relationship with Churches. This is a very limited argument. What I want to leave people with is the idea though that one is not merely constrained by the state but can be constrained by other (even voluntary) organisations. On that basis, there are times when the state is warrented to intervene to protect the rights of a minority within an association and the position of gays or the irreligious or indeed Jews or Muslims in Christian Schools might very well be one of those moments.

18 comments:

edmund said...

Does this argumet work the other way -does a gay empowerment organisation have to hire people who think homosexual sex shoudln hapen or not not hand out literatuer or povide information for school children that implies homosexuality is ok? Even more importantly would this somehow promote freedom rathe than reduce

If an attack on freedom becomes anything that might upset or not benefit people who hold a diffent view or practice a particular action. under this logic the existance of socialists who ridicule free markets is an attack on free marketers because this will inconvenience them. Or the existance of Dawkins-does dawkins statments on religion hurt the freedom of Rowan Williams clearly not.

How does this post follow Hobbes definiton of freedom-it seems a lot further from it than Fruma's even (which i accept is different)

And the's a facutal error in this post.It suggests

"He even suggests that in forbidding the teaching of discrimination towards school children, the law has created an infringement on free speech."

He wasn't commenting on that specificaly he was commenting on teaching the idea homosexual sex is wrong was an infringment of speech-not discrimination on any groundx but a teaching of what actions are or are not wrong.. in the same way it's not "discrmination" to teach in schools adultury or incest is wrong. It may be a wrong thing to teach but it's clearly not discrion- the way say banning nazis from an anti-racist organsiation is (though clearly good discrimination!)

Gracchi said...

Confused wording I'm afraid- I'll reply more adequately in the morning but I was tired and I will get back to this.

james higham said...

...Hobbes said you were free to do anything so long as you weren't restrained...

Against that, Tiberius, is Tom Paine's news that the Blair government has criminalized 3000 new activities in his time as leader.

That's a whole lot of constraint.

Gracchi said...

Edmund. Ok to take on your first point. I don't think this argument rules one way or the other- it just says there are conflicts in the way we talk about freedom. The reason I brough up Hobbes was Hobbes says that you are free even if there is a punishment from the state before you and I think that is a useful way of thinking- there are punishments from voluntary bodies for leaving them in terms of losing social status, friends etc and those punishments are impingements upon freedom. Sometimes they are neccessary- sometimes they aren't.

His argument about freedom of speech is one that again I don't agree with- partly because there is a coercive element against a child in the class who say as a teenager feels he is gay. That's the argument.

If he had phrased it in terms of conflicts of rights and described why it was right in this case for the rights of the voluntary association to be prioritised over its heterodox members that would have been fine (I might have made a different criticism but not this criticism) but he didn't. He said that it was a matter of freedom whereas freedom for the voluntary association means coercion upon its members.

James I have lots of problems with Blair- terrorism leglislation for a start- so I can see what you mean. I haven't scanned Tom's list in detail so I can't comment on whether I disagree with all 3,000 new offences (I can imagine for example that some of them are developments in response to the internet which I would back) but the general trend of what you say is something I recognise, then again this argument isn't about Blair.

Vino S said...

Persumably the idea that companies and churches can discriminate against gay people if they want is part of the idea that private proprty owners should be allowed to do what they like with their private property. However, I don't think that private property can or should have total autonomy from the laws of the land it is in. To use a different example, i assume that most people would say that - if the law of the land forbids the smoking of canabis - then someone can not do it on their own private property. Their private property rights do not trump public policy. I do not see much of a distinction between that and saying - the law of the land forbids discrimination in the provision of employment and the provision of goods and services for gay people and so a private company can not start doing so.

edmund said...

I'll probably return to Gracchi's points when I have more time.

Vilno S let's take Trotskyism something that I'm sure is less popular in the UK than the idea that homosexuality is wrong Does that mean that an anti-trotis goven should be allowed to ban people from in any way acting out thier Trotskyite ideas eg by foudning Trotskyist groups, or groupos that exclude non Trotskyists . Woujld this not be a restriion on freedom?

And trotyskism is arguably in favour of violent revolution - so theres a whole set of arguments in terms of defeding liberal democracy and order that don't exist fro this legislation

I don't think this is necessarily a case of simple property rights (thogh it could be ) rather of the ptonetialy very diffetn point of freedom of association. That is why this bill would have been anathama to the Atlee goven who had very little respect for property rights. Indeed the idea that government should not seek to absolutey control people's atittudes, associaon or teachintgs i stries me as the core traditional diffence between liberal and totaliaran socialism.

INdeed this is more true than elections. The Soviet Union had elections-however only parties with acceptable views were allowed to organise and run in them! The end of democracy was a subset of the oppostion to freedom of associaotn not vice versea.

Thus it's appropiate this law has been brought in by a goven that probaly includes more former Trotskyists (and Stalinits perhpas though that'd be more dubous) than any prevous UK government.

edmund said...

Gracchi on your point about hobbes i genuinely am baffled by what you're saying. Woudln't under Hobbes definiton niether be restricions on freedom rather than both being? This is scarecly suprisng since he constructed a definition of freedom compatibe with an absolutist despotism controlling worship ect through its own whims but i don't see how it beras on the case i may have misssed something.



Edmund. Ok to take on your first point. I don't think this argument rules one way or the other- it just says there are conflicts in the way we talk about freedom. The reason I brough up Hobbes was Hobbes says that you are free even if there is a punishment from the state before you and I think that is a useful way of thinking- there are punishments from voluntary bodies for leaving them in terms of losing social status, friends etc and those punishments are impingements upon freedom. Sometimes they are neccessary- sometimes they aren't.

His argument about freedom of speech is one that again I don't agree with- partly because there is a coercive element against a child in the class who say as a teenager feels he is gay. That's the argument.

If he had phrased it in terms of conflicts of rights and described why it was right in this case for the rights of the voluntary association to be prioritised over its heterodox members that would have been fine (I might have made a different criticism but not this criticism) but he didn't. He said that it was a matter of freedom whereas freedom for the voluntary association means coercion upon its members.

James I have lots of problems with Blair- terrorism leglislation for a start- so I can see what you mean. I haven't scanned Tom's list in detail so I can't comment on whether I disagree with all 3,000 new offences (I can imagine for example that some of them are developments in response to the internet which I would back) but the general trend of what you say is something I recognise, then again this argument isn't about Blair.

edmund said...

whoops pasted some of your stuff-i'll repost

edmund said...

Gracchi on your point about hobbes i genuinely am baffled by what you're saying. Woudln't under Hobbes definiton niether be restricions on freedom rather than both being? This is scarecly suprisng since he constructed a definition of freedom compatibe with an absolutist despotism controlling worship ect through its own whims but i don't see how it beras on the case i may have misssed something.

edmund said...

Dear Gracchi I would say my definiton (which I think is the one Frum was taking for granted as obvious) is dervied from hobbes tuype. it says though that not only restraint and force (physical poian,mainig or death) are restins on freedom but also the threat of them are threats to freedom. Thus if my neighbour refuses to build a fence for me on my land it's not prime facie a restraint on my freedom , if he threnats to stop me or knock it down if it buidl one it is.

edmund said...

to take the logic of this strange definition of freedom whereby

h"ere are punishments from voluntary bodies for leaving them in terms of losing social status, friends etc and those punishments are impingements upon freedom. Sometimes they are neccessary- sometimes they aren't."

let's take relatinsips as an example of this logic . if a woman refuses to go out wit a man- or if a woman breaks up with a man because his cheated her ,is she in any way impacting on his freedom? if she refuses tgo be freinds any more is she impacting wiht his freedom?

is it then a question of his freedom to be freinds and/or have sex vs her freedom ont to - both sides have freedom and it's simply a question of weighing up the rights, there is not a fudnal diffence in right between the right to be fiends iwht some/sleep with someone and the right not to if you personaly don't chose to ?

I would submit that whatever one's view of the circumsnce there is a reaosn that impacts on teh woman' side in this case ( obivously it don have to be because he chated on her it could be she just doen wnat to-but hte point would stay the same) , it is that when two peol do something together yiu have a right not to take part in something or towhat you want yourself in a way 0ou don't have a right to expect the other person to do someting or not do something that doesn coerce you

I call this right (expecation might be a better word) freedom what do you call it?
.

edmund said...

I repat for the x time that "He even suggests that in forbidding the teaching of discrimination towards school children, the law has created in infringment on free speech"

where does frum say this or is that what you were talking about when you said "confused wording"

edmund said...

how is there coercion in this -partiu as Frum was taling about teaching the Chriain, muslim, jewish ect belif that homsoex sex is wrong

"His argument about freedom of speech is one that again I don't agree with- partly because there is a coercive element against a child in the class who say as a teenager feels he is gay. That's the argument."

does that mean if anti-racism is taught that's coen agianst racism/ that if darwinsim is taught it's coercion agianst creationism? If French is taught tha's coercion agianst a child who doesn want to speak foreign languages?

Gracchi said...

To your last point yes- which is why I think that posing this argument in terms of freedom of speech instead of thinking about the limits of freedom of speech that we would impose is sensible. Frum's problem is that just allowing one value called freedom to predominate is a problem in itself- freedom is a value but it has to be held in tension with other values.

Ok let me be careful about Hobbes- for Hobbes neither banning homophobia being mentioned in a class nor banning murder are restrictions on freedom. He argues that you are still free to say things about gays and free to murder, its just that there are substantial disincentives- the punishment that you will receive which persuade you not to. Now there are disincentives on behaviour say in society which operate in the same way- picking your nose doesn't win you friends- if we use the language of freedom to say that you aren't free to murder then you aren't in some similar sense free to pick your nose. The issue therefore is that there are some situations in which the state is not the only actor which places limits on what we can do in civilised society. If you accept that then the next step I'm inviting you to accept is that the state has some role in regulating our actions against each other which have impacts on freedom- say for example that if there is a social prohibition on speaking to black people amongst whites, the state can act on the other side to balance out the issue.

Now that seems to be a case here- where homophobia leads to people feeling bad about their sexuality and consequently to them not having the freedom to feel comfortable in it. Within an institution like a school where people are directly coerced to attend, you might argue that the state has a role to play in helping the homosexual child against the homophobic community.

Frum dressing this up in the language of freedom is incorrect because what he is arguing for is the freedom to oppress- and like in your example about blacks and whites he wouldn't neccessarily accept that in other cases. He needs to be more honest in what he is saying and dress it in appropriate language before a discussion can even begin- because to say that this is an unambiguous issue about freedom is just wrong.

edmund said...

Gracchi I agree absolutely that freedom is not the only value-i'm not a complete extreme libertain as you can see by my comments on gun control on Sinclairs musings. What i object to is relabeeling the prohibition of inconvenice as if it somehow was promoting freedom. by pretending free acitonw we dislike are not freedom we rob the term of any meaning. in other words sometimes we must pass policies that are illibral and reduce freedom -but we should pretend thye increase it when thye don't. Freedom is one value the goven should take account in it. Unless there are other very good reasons something that reduces freedom should not be passed.

I think your examples actualy prove my point-it's ridiocu to say you're not "free" in this country to pick your nose in the same way you're no free to murder 3 year olds or even take heroin. In the former case you will not have force used agianst you leglay ,in the latter you will.

Again the race ag you make htough emotive is clearly one of freedom

( i would point out one of the reasons a free society is superior to a slave one is that such social conveio would find it very hard to surivie unless the governmetn enforced it- ie it would be lack of freedom that would be its best hope not lack of-the histoyr of apartheid which is analagous helps shows this very well)
Is

It sounds likie on Hobbes you agree that he would regard neither as freedom - in other words his definions is irrelvne to this debvate because it's so absurdly (and deliberrately) limited

What i'm saying is there is a diffence between things people do we don't like secured by physical force or the threat thereof and thing we just ond like. ~The former are imposed on us or other people and redue our freedom the fromer arise out of the non ceorced actions of other people and hence do not.

ON chidlrne i think the point is in large part what your basis for hte rearing of children is -do you thimk their parents are to rear them in their values (as long as this does not invivle recomdeing anythging illegal) or do you think the collective should attmept to rear them as it's own and override any parnes values - thus they should be taught the relgious and ethical belief of whoever contols the government rather than what their parents selet for them.

My answer is overwhelmingly the former not the latter. Partly I think this is because if the govetr takes over the buisnes of brainwashing the next generation and excludes parnetal right to rear their values liberty is a) somewhat maiinges since it will oinly last till the brainwashed children are left as the oly generation and b) I don't actualy bleive that a society will exist whre the governmentr rigidly indoctrianates the next generatino on all matters and is free.

Thus the question is do we allow people to disapproe of homosexuaity? if we do then we let them send thier chir nto schools . If we don't the n

Indeed if your problm is some kind of "coercive" elemnt isn't that much more true for aprneal child rearing where hte powers are much more clear and concertrated and a school Thus if you wnat to elint teaching of "!homophobia" you should insit on taking away the children of "homphobic" parents

And does that mean the kids of chirn, muslims, orthodox jews ect should be taken away from thier pantes???

AS for your "freedom of oprresion" point does this work the othre way surely if people are saying homoseiaity is great and homoswe sex is a great thing and that poepole who disagre with this are bad people and people don't give such people jobs (european commision say.....) . In other words both that people who have homosexul sex are immoral or that pelole who disapprove of it arde imoral are equally "oppresive" / excluding ect ect. jut of diffent perspectives, acitons and people.

the diffence is it's the latter perspetive which is going to be enforced by the law and ban disagremnt even to the extent of bnaning dissent in the classroom, forcing a chiran publish in compnay to hire a radicla gay rights activist ect ect that stirke me as oppresion. Peo;le refuing to buy from someone who opposes homoseia is not or an attack on freedom at least , forcing him to hire homosexuals is , and the same goes for homosi - allowing someone to not sell to homosexual is not oppresing homsoeal, banning homosexual sex is.


all our debate suggests by the way that actualy the main point of Fruma's actua; post-that this law and the ideolgy behind it is incpi wht freedom of chriaty ect is completely right - your point ust apears to be "yes good"

I'm interested in your response on my friendship/ sex point.

edmund said...

one thing i din' address becasue i wanted to ask you in a different post i reproc your comment here

Now that seems to be a case here- where homophobia leads to people feeling bad about their sexuality and consequently to them not having the freedom to feel comfortable in it. Within an institution like a school where people are directly coerced to attend, you might argue that the state has a role to play in helping the homosexual child against the homophobic community.


what's "homsoph ihere" all Frum was talking about was parti teaching the tradiitonal chrina view that homosexua sex is wrong-is htat what you mean? would i relaly want you to explai nexactly what you mean by your post not to have comfot in it- is hte argu that everyone has a right never to have thier sexual prefences attacked by anyone else so if you challenge adultury';s you are someho intefening with people's freedom and sexuality? sorry if i sound aggresive just wnat ot understand your logic.

there's alos the quesion of in what sense a kid can be meainglully "gay" whatever tha means in fact ( how many toime have you had to have gay sex?) ...it sik me a lot more are likely to have adulturious parents.

incideentaly

edmund said...

one thing i din' address becasue i wanted to ask you in a different post i reproc your comment here

Now that seems to be a case here- where homophobia leads to people feeling bad about their sexuality and consequently to them not having the freedom to feel comfortable in it. Within an institution like a school where people are directly coerced to attend, you might argue that the state has a role to play in helping the homosexual child against the homophobic community.


what's "homsoph ihere" all Frum was talking about was parti teaching the tradiitonal chrina view that homosexua sex is wrong-is htat what you mean? would i relaly want you to explai nexactly what you mean by your post not to have comfot in it- is hte argu that everyone has a right never to have thier sexual prefences attacked by anyone else so if you challenge adultury';s you are someho intefening with people's freedom and sexuality? sorry if i sound aggresive just wnat ot understand your logic.

there's alos the quesion of in what sense a kid can be meainglully "gay" whatever tha means in fact ( how many toime have you had to have gay sex?) ...it sik me a lot more are likely to have adulturious parents.

incideentaly

edmund said...

apologies for double posting!