Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Apr/14

15

The end of liberal universalism

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Ross Douthat nails it in his most recent column, Diversity and Dishonesty:

It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

As I have stated before, to a great extent neutrality in matters of ideology is a transparent fiction, at least at its root. Consider this recollection by a transgender individual, Fear and Loathing in Public Bathrooms, or How I Learned to Hold My Pee:

Every time I bring up or write about the hassles trans and genderqueer people receive in public washrooms or change rooms, the first thing out of many women’s mouths is that they have a right to feel safe in a public washroom, and that, no offense, but if they saw someone who “looks like me” in there, well, they would feel afraid, too. I hear this from other queer women. Other feminists. This should sting less than it does, but I can’t help it. What is always implied here is that I am other, somehow, that I don’t also need to feel safe. That somehow their safety trumps mine.

I happen to agree with the women on this. But I also think that there’s probably an aspect of hypocrisy here, which the author implies. The same feminists who wish to reorder social norms to their convenience balk when the tables are turned, and they’re the ones who are in the position of defending a conservative normative status quo. The radicalism of many ends when their own comfort zone is impinged. Change is for others.

1 comment

  • Handle · April 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Precisely right. Rozin and Haidt have written about moralization and demoralization. Moralization is when the perception of some behavioral choice transforms from that of a mere and benign preference or mild vice to a despised violation of community norms and an indicator reflective of an immoral character. There is a strong overlap between rhetorical and psychological modes, with a dash of moral philosophy, which usually involves a healthy dose of sophistry and self-denial.

    Whatever the prevailing social order, the individual wants to relax constraints if those rules impinge on a personally desired liberty, and to impose general coercion if the individual is uncomfortable with tolerance.

    So, in the first case, you see the rhetoric of moral relativism when advocating for relaxation, and in the latter case one observes the signs of almost-Puritanical moral universalism.

    The second-order moral judgments are the ones that are judgments about other people’s moral judgments, and are almost always felt and perceived as a kind of psychological-level moral universalism.

    Tolerance of Desired Tolerance is Good
    Intolerance of Desired Tolerance is Bad
    Tolerance of Desired Intolerance is Bad
    Intolerance of Desired Intolerance is Good

    It’s pretty clear that Harvard and Brandeis are indeed moral universalists when it comes to these second-order judgments, and that they are perfectly willing to act upon them and enforce their preferences, but they (pace Korn) do not yet feel sufficiently emboldened (or with enough legal room for maneuver) to admit what they believe and explain why they do what they do.

    They are definitely hiding this ball from the public; it’s not quite clear whether they are hiding the ball from themselves too.

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