« Happy Mother's Day | Main | Quote of the Day »

May 14, 2009

The Courage of Our Convictions

Social conservatism is a political or moral ideology that believes the government has a role in encouraging or enforcing traditional values or behaviors based on the belief that these are what keep people civilized and decent. A second meaning of the term social conservativism developed in the Nordic countries and continental Europe. Here it refers to liberal conservatives supporting modern European welfare states. Social conservatism is distinct from cultural conservatism which focuses on cultural aspects of the issues, such as protecting one's culture, although there are some overlaps.

The accepted meaning of traditional morality often differs from group to group within social conservatism. Thus, there are really no policies or positions that could be considered universal among social conservatives. There are, however, a number of principles to which at least a majority of social conservatives adhere. Social conservatives in many countries generally: favor the pro-life position in the abortion controversy and oppose embryonic stem cell research; support the death penalty, oppose same-sex marriage and other marriages social conservatives consider the establishment of to be contrary to traditional marriage, and the nuclear family model as society's foundational unit; oppose expansion of civil marriage and child adoption rights to couples in homosexual relationships; promote public morality and traditional family values; oppose secularism and privatization of religious belief; support the prohibition of drugs, prostitution and euthanasia; and support the censorship of pornography and what they consider to be obscenity or indecency.

Read that first sentence again, just for good measure:

Social conservatism is a political or moral ideology that believes the government has a role in encouraging or enforcing traditional values or behaviors based on the belief that these are what keep people civilized and decent.

Then read both paragraphs once more, slowly. Question for the day: how many self-professed social conservative bloggers advocate anything even close to this definition?

And if they don't, what has become of social conservatism? Does it mean anything anymore? As you may have guessed, this is leading up to something.

Several things, actually. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at May 14, 2009 08:06 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.villainouscompany.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/2899

Comments

You keep leading me on! You tease!

Posted by: airforcewife at May 14, 2009 10:29 AM

It is mostly because I am still thinking :p

I have been haunted by a single sentence I read several weeks ago at Maggie's Farm, of all places. I cannot get it out of my mind.

I will admit that I am afraid to write about it. For me, that is rare. Sometimes I am briefly afraid, but it doesn't stop me.

I don't have time to write this essay today, but I am going to try to get it done tomorrow morning. In the meantime, a few things to think about. It is a big subject.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 14, 2009 10:37 AM

And you have hit upon the crux of my personal problem with social conservatism. "...the government has a role in..." I apologize if anyone takes offense at this, but the government does NOT have a role in encouraging or enforcing any moral issues. Or at least, it shouldn't. I do not see anywhere in my copy of the Constitution powers enumerated to encourage or enforce any moral ethos.

Now, I am not saying we as individuals should not. In fact I tend to be fairly conservative in my moral beliefs and quite a traditionalist as well. But my objection is using the police power of government to MAKE anyone else conform to my moral standards. Would I like everyone else to live by my standards? Surely, but I will not coerce anyone to do so.

Liberals complain that Conservatives want to 'be in your bedroom', Conservatives complain that Liberals want to 'be in your pocketbook'. Both (in a manner of speaking) are right. I happen to believe that the latter is a greater danger than the former, thus I self identify as Conservative more often. But it does not invalidate the Liberal opinion that Conservatives are far more concerned with what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms than the government should be allowed. And please, be honest and concede that sodomy laws serve no purpose other than to criminalize sexual activity that is 'distasteful'. Technically there are many common sexual practices than man and wife can engage in that violate the laws of certain states within the US (and even Article 125 of the UCMJ).

And, again, to be clear, I'm not voting for Liberals because they are right about that... their position that the government belongs in charge of your wallet is far more offensive to me. But by the same token, I fear we (as in Conservatives) sometimes miss the beam in our own eye when we point out the compulsive power of government being misused.

But then again, I'm a dirty libertarian... what do I know. ;)

Posted by: MikeD at May 14, 2009 10:51 AM

I apologize if anyone takes offense at this, but the government does NOT have a role in encouraging or enforcing any moral issues. Or at least, it shouldn't. I do not see anywhere in my copy of the Constitution powers enumerated to encourage or enforce any moral ethos.

Ah, but are we talking the federal government or state and local governments? Because law does, in fact and in many ways, "legislate" morality.

What would the world be like if it did not? FWIW, I happen to agree with you about sodomy laws. But I will not go so far as to say government has no role whatsoever in attempting to shape public behavior.

What bothers me is that many if not most social conservatives are currently loudly insisting that they are "the party base" and that their principles are so wondrous that they cannot compromise them...

...except when they themselves compromise these principles every freaking day.

And so I'm back to my original question: how many "social conservatives" really buy into social conservative ideology? It would seem some principles are more equal than others. What I see is that the loudest and most strident social conservatives are social conservatives when it suits them and libertarians when being a libertarian proves more expedient.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 14, 2009 10:59 AM

Moral issues such as theft? Murder?

You see, the limitations of government imply that we self-govern, or rule ourselves by our conscience. If we take God out of that, as the moral compass, and put in a bunch of people whose moral convictions are non-existant or whimsical, then there are no absolutes except what the Guardians say they are.

Whether you are an atheist or not, having an agreed-upon set of rules and consequences for things like theft and murder means that society condemns those crimes and will seek to deter the commission of them through due process.

Posted by: Cricket at May 14, 2009 11:15 AM

Um, where is the blockquote from? I'd like to see the remaining context to go with it....

First thought: It seems a bit of a stretch to say that "social conservatism", as initially defined, is a moral ideology if traditional mores are not consistent from person to person, much less amongst various groups. I would agree that it's a political ideology that has foundations within a general moral construct.
That said, I agree with the thesis of the first sentence. Government does have a "role in encouraging or enforcing traditional values or behaviors based on the belief that these are what keep people civilized and decent." I would prefer to say "safe and secure", because I've found that when people are safe and secure in their world, "civilized and decent" just comes naturally.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 14, 2009 11:58 AM

For me, the most logical line of thought seems to be that a person should have absolute authority to do what they will with their own body, but that right stops when it infringes upon the rights of someone else to their own body.

In a way, that extends to the pocketbook as well. There are taxes we must pay for the public good - the issue then becomes defining the public good.

The real overarching problem as I see it is that common sense is a necessity, and it is in precious little use at the moment.

Posted by: airforcewife at May 14, 2009 12:32 PM

Liberals complain that Conservatives want to 'be in your bedroom', Conservatives complain that Liberals want to 'be in your pocketbook'. - MikeD

Well, when you've legislated that what you do in your bedroom takes money out of my pocketbook, you ought not to expect me to sit idly by about what you do there.

If you want me to turn a blind eye to you drug use, you then can't force me to pay for your rehab and lost wages after you get fired from your job. As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

If you find the consequences of your behavior unacceptable, perhaps you best not engage in the behavior. It is not my responsibility to sheild you from them.

Because law does, in fact and in many ways, "legislate" morality. - Cass
Yes, and no. Are laws against murder legislating morality? Or are they merely legislating against the abridgments of rights by your fellow citizens? Can it not be seen either way.

But then take laws on certain inhaled drugs.

Tobacco: Conservatives oppose bans because "You can't legislate morality" while liberals support the bans because "It's harmful to yourself and those around you".
Marijuana: Liberals oppose bans because "You can't legislate morality" while conservatives support the bans because "It's harmful to yourself and those around you".

And yet, very few seem to see the doublethink and believe the other side is evil for doing exactly what they were doing.

This is where I have great sympathies for the libertarian side.

But I will not go so far as to say government has no role whatsoever in attempting to shape public behavior.

And this is where I have my sympathies with the social conservatives. I have no problem with two consenting adults having as wild of sex as the two of them like. But don't for that reason think that I will support them doing so on the sidewalk in front of an elementary school. Now you have involved decidedly non-consenting non-adults in your activities. And that's not kosher.

You want to call it legislating morality? Fine. I don't care. To me, morality isn't the issue. It's about the difference between consenting and non-consenting behavior. Does that make be a libertarian when it's convenient and a social con when that is more expedient? I can certainly see how some would view it that way.

What bothers me is that many if not most social conservatives are currently loudly insisting that they are "the party base" and that their principles are so wondrous that they cannot compromise them... - Cass
Not just from the Social Con Wing, but from the Fiscal Con Wing, and the Livid Terrior Wing...

The Fiscal Conservative has a great opportunity here.

The Social cons will want to spend money enforcing their standards which will piss of the Fiscal Cons by spending money and the Livid Terriors by being authoritarian.

The Livid Terriors will make the Fiscal Cons happy as spending goes down, but will piss off the Social Cons by the constant barrage of calling them statist pricks.

The Fiscal Cons may be able to make both happy as they can tell the social cons "We agree with you..." but keep the libertarians happy by includeing "...but we're not spending money on it. Talk to your state gov't".

...except when they themselves compromise these principles every freaking day. - Cass

Hypocrisy, it's a nasty thing. But as I've said before: The only way not to be a hypocrit is to not have any standards to start with. And if a hypocrit is standing between you and God, the hypocrit is one step closer to God than you are.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 14, 2009 12:47 PM

And before anyone jumps on me, "You" here is the global "you" not the individual "you".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 14, 2009 12:53 PM

And before anyone jumps on me, "You" here is the global "you" not the individual "you".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 14, 2009 12:53 PM


Dang. I was all set for a moral outrage over an imagined slight, and was ready to build it up into something global.

Posted by: Cricket at May 14, 2009 01:02 PM

Hey, World Flame War MMMDCCCLXXXVIII was started over less. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 14, 2009 01:24 PM

if a hypocrit is standing between you and God, the hypocrit is one step closer to God than you are.

If you're saying that people who use the 'hypocrisy' of some as an excuse for saying faith is worthless as a moral guideline, then I agree.

But there are many moral atheists in the world. Some of them, ironically, do a better job of living up to Christian ideals than most Christians :p

Posted by: Cassandra at May 14, 2009 06:12 PM

Here you go, Sly. Not my day for hyperlinks:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_conservative

Posted by: Cassandra at May 14, 2009 06:29 PM

But there are many moral atheists in the world. Some of them, ironically, do a better job of living up to Christian ideals than most Christians :p

Of that, I have no doubt.

If you're saying that people who use the 'hypocrisy' of some as an excuse for saying faith is worthless as a moral guideline, then I agree.

Actually I do go a bit further.

Those who proclaim that "Your morals are invalid because you are a hypocrit" must then subscribe to the philosophy that there is no such thing as morals, because someone, somewhere, sometime has failed to live up to them.

Too often it appears that hypocrisy is *the* worst sin, *the* unforgivable act. Murder someone: We forgive you, your momma just didn't love you enough. Rape someone: It's not your fault, the real culprit is the social structure that supports male denigration of women.

But Heaven forbid you are a Christian and someone besides your husband has seen your boob. Then you and your entire family deserve to be dragged through the mud, humiliated, tarred and feathered, shunned and put in stocks on the town square by ABCNNBCBS.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 14, 2009 07:08 PM

Whose definition of social conservatism is that? I consider myself a social conservative, but I tend to agree with whoever it was that said our form of government was only effective for the governance of a relatively moral populace.

Posted by: camojack at May 15, 2009 01:13 AM

It's from Wikipedia so I'm not sure, camo.

It jibed with my sense, growing up, of what a social conservative was. Certainly until the complete explosion of the Internet a few years back I think it's fairly accurate. If you go up to various Christian Right website, you find that they are in favor of the government setting limits on personal behavior and actively lobby for 'family friendly' laws (which have the effect of making things like pornography, prostitution, solicitation, etc. illegal).

Heaven forbid you are a Christian and someone besides your husband has seen your boob. Then you and your entire family deserve to be dragged through the mud, humiliated, tarred and feathered, shunned and put in stocks on the town square by ABCNNBCBS.

Well, no one is going to like me for saying this, but there is a certain logic to this. I don't agree that it's moral, but the problem is pretty simple: much of the social right absolutely does want government to limit or restrain personal sexual conduct. So it is perhaps not unreasonable for the Left to say, "Don't advocate laws that criminalize my behavior based on the rules of your faith and then openly flout it yourself."

From an intellectual consistency and integrity standpoint, it's not an unreasonable point to make: why should I have to live by your rules when you obviously don't?

On the other hand, from an intellectual consistency viewpoint I find this man's arguments very hard to find fault with:

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?pageId=96305

But that gets back to that whole not following our own rules when doing so brings us perilously close to an inconvenient truth bit. When it's someone else's morals we're considering, we tend to see only black and white. Few of us extend that standard to our own conduct.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 15, 2009 05:25 AM

Social conservatism, defined as above, comes from the era before the American Revolution. The government's role in enforcing moral standards is solidified by the King, the nobility, and the Church. Thus, the standards don't change broadly -- and indeed the exceptional periods in which ideas about morality were changing rapidly, as in the Reformation, show continual bloody warfare. (Consider the Covenanter movement in Scotland, which was wholly devoted to opposing "innovation" in religion being imposed by the Church of England).

In the modern democratic state, America or European, the government can not be trusted with the authority to impose social controls. This is because there are so many competing notions as to what is moral that the result of an election could be to overthrow a whole set of moral laws, and construct a new one. It is too dangerous a power for this form of government.

In the early period of the Republic, we nevertheless employed it because there was a common culture -- Christian, European -- strong enough to force agreement from newcomers. The culture could provide the safeguard that the structure of government could not. That has ceased to be true.

This is why "social" conservatives have become "cultural" conservatives as defined above. The only way to create a situation in which the government can again be trusted with the power is to create a new agreement within the culture. Lacking that basic agreement, it is simply too dangerous to consider.

Posted by: Grim at May 15, 2009 06:30 AM

"In the modern democratic state, America or European, the government can not be trusted with the authority to impose social controls. This is because there are so many competing notions as to what is moral that the result of an election could be to overthrow a whole set of moral laws, and construct a new one. It is too dangerous a power for this form of government."
I was content to remain in Read Only mode on this one, - one handed typing coupled with a where to begin question and an increasing reluctance to cast the first stone tends to suppress my desire to yap- but I've got to agree with Grim on this one.

And since we live in such a diverse culture with so many competing notions of right versus wrong, sin versus virtue, the needs of the many versus the needs of the individual, etc. I have come to think that the best approach to many of the societal issues in our nation -problems, some might say- would be to focus on the fiscal aspect of governance. I suppose that I'll call myself a fiscal conservative with a hidden agenda <insert Darth Cheney laugh here>.

When, dare I say, most of us, suffers an unexpected event that requires an adjustment to our financial situation, the first, most obvious tack, is to modify our behavior and adjust our balance sheets on the spending side. This concept, while obvious to the individual/family-unit/small-business and until recently corporation, is foreign to governments large and small.

From the local school board on up through the Federal government, the reflexive action to address budget shorts in this time of high unemployment and decreased spending on the part of the private sector is not to look for areas in which the government in question can trim spending. Nope, the only action government ever seems to settle on is the action of raising revenue. Growing the government entity. Placing a larger burden on those taxpayers and small businesses, er... I mean revenue streams, with the promise of enhanced government services to a targeted voting block in order to buy the political cover needed to take more from those others.

It may only be my imagination, but the U.S. taxpayer and small business person, aka the gub'ment's cash cow, is looking mighty lean and put upon these days.

So if I were in a position to influence others or just to look for ways to attack the mess we have inherited from our government (you really can use that boiler-plate phrase in almost any context =;^} ) and like-minded snake-oil sales types in finance, I would look towards trimming the government's budgets, which would, in turn, trim the government's size, influence over and intrusion into areas great and small. Particularly in areas where the government's nose need not go. And I need both hands operating at 100% capability to even think of starting on that list...

"There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests."

James Madison
The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection
From the New York Packet.
Friday, November 23, 1787.
AKA The Federalists Papers, Federalist Number 10

Hmmm, I wonder which of the two methods is more prevalently used today?

Yikes! Look at the time! I really miss typing with both hands but it looks like I can still consume a fair share of bandwidth with only one.

Posted by: The-Manchurian-bubba_hun at May 15, 2009 07:56 AM

I agree with much of what you're saying, but I disagree with your conclusion.

I heard something interesting on the radio yesterday to the effect that no society is value neutral.

The question, properly framed, is not, 'Should government be in the business of legislating morality?', but 'Whose values will prevail and be enshrined into law'?

Posted by: Cassandra at May 15, 2009 07:58 AM

"There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests."

And is there no middle ground? Must we go whole hog and destroy? Or is there some degree of restraint - some equilibrium point or points (since I realize this point must be flexible in response to internal or external threats) - that promotes social stability while not unduly eroding liberty?

Libertarians tend to argue that any restraint at all is evil. I don't believe that. The social compact, after all, is an agreement to surrender some part of our liberty in exchange for protection against our neighbors.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 15, 2009 08:02 AM

Even when we do surrender 'some part of our liberty in exchange for protection against our neighbors,' there is still a system of checks and balances. We watch the watchers to make sure that no one is hurt, but at some point predatory behavior is not to be allowed.

The removal of things like guns, and establishing thought police serve to show that we are not headed for liberty but anarchy, and how dare we protect ourselves against progressiveness!

Posted by: Cricket at May 15, 2009 08:34 AM

"'Whose values will prevail and be enshrined into law'?"
That is the question. Those values outlined in the Constitution? The values of the working schlubs who fund the enterprise? Those who seek to conserve the heritage of equal opportunities -not necessarily outcomes- for all citizens? Some other set of values like European socialist values?
"And is there no middle ground? Must we go whole hog and destroy? Or is there some degree of restraint - some equilibrium point or points (since I realize this point must be flexible in response to internal or external threats) - that promotes social stability while not unduly eroding liberty?"
That, IMHO, depends upon the point of contention, the context and definition of the terms equilibrium and unduly eroding liberty.

I dare say that there is a lot of wiggle room between a politician's usage of those terms and the resulting sausage of legislation obfuscated in dozens, hundreds or thousands of pages of double-speak.

To toss out two off the cuff examples;
Free markets and a centrally planned economy in a state of equilibrium is a phrase I would not be shocked to hear coming from the halls of our Federal gub'ment and the major media.
Also limiting access of the citizenry to firearms, for instance, ugly, black, scary looking assault(YMMV on the definition of assault) weapons is claimed to be in the interest of a safer nation and does not, according to the proponents, unduly erode liberty.

Being the curmudgeon is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. =8^} But right now, my good hand is whoa out so I'm gonna hush for a while.

Posted by: The-Manchurian-bubba_hun at May 15, 2009 08:53 AM

*<inserts Darth Cheney laugh here> as El Curmudgeon heads off to put Honey Do list into a state of equilibrium*

Posted by: The-Manchurian-bubba_hun at May 15, 2009 08:56 AM

I read the WorldNetDaily post you linked to and was struck by this:

We are blessed with three beautiful daughters and we have done our best to instill in them a standard of modesty which first of all glorifies the God we serve, also shows the respect they have for themselves, avoids defrauding the men of all ages around them and protects them from lustful predators

I'm a little taken aback by that last compound phrase. "Avoids defrauding the men of all ages around them." Does that mean that if a woman wears a string bikini to the beach she's implicitly promising to put out to whoever grabs her first? "Protects them from lustful predators." I'm really, really hoping that what he means is a modestly dressed woman is less likely to be of interest to a guy looking for a one-night stand (although if so I'd say our author lacks an understanding of some of the more interesting byways of sexual predation). As opposed to him meaning that a woman who is raped asked for because she didn't dress modestly enough - which would make me throw up on my foot.

Having got that out of my system, I did think this was an excellent thought and the last sentence a powerful formulation:

The beauty pageant process and culture have many other foundational flaws as well, not the least of which is telling our daughters that if she doesn't look like Miss America she is somehow flawed, imperfect and not physically attractive. Men, how many times have we heard our lovely wives and daughters put themselves down because their figure didn't match some ridiculous standard of perfection? It is another example of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.

This is a most feminist message (old style feminism anyhow): a woman's value does not rest on her physical appearance.

I also liked this idea although I would put it very differently:

If we had churches full of women who would hold their standards high and refuse to let themselves or their daughters be displayed to satisfy the lust of men, young men would be forced to grow up, seek and win a wife and enjoy her as God intended – in the privacy of their bedroom.

I would say that if girls and young women were taught self-respect they would be better able to resist the temptation to to use their bodies to buy affection, attention, and popularity. (The author always refers the actions of women back to their impact on men. I think that's part of the cause of inappropriate sexual behavior on the part of girls and young women, not part of the cure. In my generation, young women were mostly told that boys would try to pressure girls into sex and then taught how to resist. No one bothered to provide any help in figuring out what the heck to do when it wasn't just the boy who was in the throes of lust.)

All of which seems far afield from your original question but seems to me to tie in although I'm a little fuzzy on exactly how to express that connection. Perhaps it's along the lines of where social conservatism draws its lines. An issue much discussed around here lately is: If public morality is important, why are social conservatives happy as clams to link to a semi-nude picture of a minor - and to burn a BigNum of electrons discussing whether a 21-year-old has real breasts or not.

Here's another example: If a stable family unit with two parents and their children is the crucial building block of society, why are social conservatives more accepting of babies born out of wedlock to teenagers than they are of two homosexual women who want to get "married" and raise children together? A two-parent household is more likely to be a financially stable household which gives the children the best shot at a decent education and a productive future. The unwed mother, on the other hand, is likely to sink into poverty, fall behind in her own education, and raise a child who will repeat her own mistakes. (Yes, there are exceptions but the overall statistics for young unwed mothers are very bleak.)

My thoughts on this are obviously only half-finished. I look forward to the next installment.

Posted by: Elise at May 15, 2009 10:31 AM

I haven't worked my way through the WND article just yet, so I'll have to come back to that.

But I will say this, if the logic is sound that hypocrisy invalidates a moral standard, then for every single moral standard there is, I can find someone, somewhere, sometime who espouses it but has failed to live up to it and therefor their are no morals at all.

None.

We are animals no different than a lion. A lion doesn't live by a moral code. A lion does not sin. It does not murder when it kills its prey, it does not steal when it takes food from another animal. It does not assault when it attacks another lion. It does and should be able to do whatever it can get away with.

Are humans then to be no different? That we can, and should be able to, do whatever we can get away with?

So no, I don't accept that there is a certain logic to the dismissal of morals due to hypocrisy.

Perhaps this is just because I don't want to accept the truth, but then again, I also like this passage from Terry Pratchett's Hogfather

Death: HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO *BE* HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?
Death: YES. AS PRACTICE, YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: YES. JUSTICE, MERCY, DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
Susan: They're not the same at all!
Death: YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER, AND SEIVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE, AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET, YOU TRY TO ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD. AS IF THERE IS SOME... SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE, BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?
Death: MY POINT EXACTLY

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 15, 2009 11:57 AM

I don't think there is necessarily a whole lot of virtue to the idea that if an advocate of a particular moral code or idea doesn't live up to it, that invalidates the idea or moral code. IOW, personal hypocrisy doesn't render the general precept false or prove it 'doesn't work'. It may work in the majority of cases or it may only be better than the alternatives.

I absolutely do understand someone saying, "Considering that I don't even agree with you in the first place, why on earth should I accept you imposing your moral code on me when you so obviously don't follow it?" There, personal hypocrisy with respect to the precept doesn't render it invalid, but does make you a less persuasive advocate (especially if you do as so many conservatives and simply say "this is wrong" while not providing good arguments for your position.)

Different objection entirely.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 15, 2009 12:05 PM

Hm.

I heard something interesting on the radio yesterday to the effect that no society is value neutral.

The question, properly framed, is not, 'Should government be in the business of legislating morality?', but 'Whose values will prevail and be enshrined into law'?

There are two separate claims there, one of which is correct and one of which is not, necessarily.

It is true that no society is value-neutral. Any society necessarily requires the adoption of a set of accepted modes of interaction. Yet it does not follow that one of us must impose our values and enshrine them into law.

For example, in America today, what we have done is created a society that has two basic operating principles:

1) Anyone may normally do anything he wishes, so long as it affects only his own physical body.

2) No one may normally do anything that affects the physical body of others without their express consent.

These principles have plenty of exceptions, but the point here is that the exceptions must constantly be explained and defended. The exceptions -- drug laws, say -- are under continual and unending challenge because they violate one of these two basic principles of the American social model. Laws which do not violate these principles go unchallenged.

This setup intends to respect the variety of morals in play. It allows you to make decisions for yourself, so long as they don't affect anyone else. If they do, you may still usually do what you like, provided you get permission from all parties involved.

That intends to be value neutral, or as value neutral as possible. The whole point is to let people decide for themselves, and live by the values they prefer.

As a matter of fact, however, these principles have a titanic effect on the social fabric of America. It becomes impossible to restrain certain forms of destructive behavior, as serious as abortion or as pervasive as rudeness.

At the same time, it tramples on individual liberty when there is even the slightest effect on anyone else, such as secondhand smoke in a bar. Liberty is restrained because no one will accept an infringement on their liberty.

That doesn't mean that we are making these laws to enshrine a certain sector's moral code, however: it appears that the majority of Americans dislike the practice, but at the same time want it to be legal. Why? Because it satisfies the first principle (assuming, of course, that the baby has no person deserving respect); and the ideal behind the principle is that people should be as free as possible to make their own moral decisions. The question of whether the majority approves of it isn't the issue. The very fact that it is a moral question is why, according to these principles, it should be private.

That approach has serious moral consequences, even though it is designed to avoid moral consequences.

Posted by: Grim at May 15, 2009 12:20 PM

Liberty is restrained because no one will accept an infringement on their liberty.

You nailed it.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 15, 2009 12:23 PM

"Avoids defrauding the men of all ages around them." Does that mean that if a woman wears a string bikini to the beach she's implicitly promising to put out to whoever grabs her first?

I do want to address this, though.

The simple answer is No, that is not what it means. Not by any stretch.

Remember Jesus' admonishment in Matthew 5:28 "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." The guy doesn't have to assault her physically to commit the sin. And she need never to even be made aware that he has sinned. So the fraud is not meant to be about "not selling what is advertised".

But as Christians, we are called not only to not sin, but also not tempt others to it as well. And this is where the fraud can occur. We profess that we will not tempt others to sin, but then we do it anyway.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 15, 2009 12:23 PM

There, personal hypocrisy with respect to the precept doesn't render it invalid, but does make you a less persuasive advocate

First, it's still ad hominem.
Second, it doesn't allow that the other person's response is "Yes, and I accept that I deserve punishment for it too."

There are a few murderers, I'm sure, that they shouldn't be punished for their crime, but there are quite a few that would tell you they deserve to be in jail, too.

Third, I understand ignoring and/or dismissing the opinion, but it still doesn't justify being treated as the scum of the earth and the lowest of the low.

I mean, Tookie Williams was treated better by the left than Ms. Prejean has. *He* deserves forgiveness, after all he wrote a children's book. *She*, however, is a "dumb bitch".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 15, 2009 12:37 PM

...that say they...

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 15, 2009 12:38 PM

Hey - you're arguing a point I argued in one of my posts earlier :p

So I don't need convincing. People aren't always logical, and I still maintain (especially in the case of someone who hasn't exactly shown contrition) that in the real world, having violated a rule you seek to impose on others won't help you win any arguments.

In Prejean's case, she didn't marry a gay person :p

But the point is that there is an assumption her stance is religiously sourced. When people see evidence that she selectively applies the dictates of religion, they are going to find her less convincing.

As opposed to if she'd behaved more modestly, in which case they'd just call her a joyless, moralizing scold who was incapable of understanding or appreciating what she was asking others to give up ;p

That's why I have always maintained that being forced to defend her behavior was an unhelpful distraction that committed the cardinal sin of taking the ad hominem seriously.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 15, 2009 12:44 PM

Oh, I wasn't saying it wasn't understandable. Many logical fallacies are certainly attractive. Just that I think the scale of reaction is all out of proportion.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 15, 2009 01:02 PM

But as Christians, we are called not only to not sin, but also not tempt others to it as well. And this is where the fraud can occur. We profess that we will not tempt others to sin, but then we do it anyway.

Okay, makes sense. And it's a concept we've sort of enshrined in law via "conspiracy to commit" statutes. It seems to me that the problem, though, is who gets to define temptation. If the person who commits the sin gets to decide what is and is not temptation, that makes me pretty uncomfortable.

Posted by: Elise at May 17, 2009 11:34 AM

Question for Grim:

Grim: It is true that no society is value-neutral. Any society necessarily requires the adoption of a set of accepted modes of interaction. Yet it does not follow that one of us must impose our values and enshrine them into law.

I'm not sure. Well, I agree that one of us doesn't impose his or her values, but that doesn't preclude one group imposing its values on the rest of us.

Grim: That intends to be value neutral, or as value neutral as possible. The whole point is to let people decide for themselves, and live by the values they prefer.

...

That doesn't mean that we are making these laws to enshrine a certain sector's moral code, however ...

The idea that we should let people decide for themselves is a moral one, so it does in fact impose a moral code. It is a very unobtrusive code, but it is a moral code nonetheless. There are many societies who do not make that assumption, and their legal codes are very different from ours (e.g., Saudi Arabia). You seem to recognize that in your final line:

Grim: That approach has serious moral consequences, even though it is designed to avoid moral consequences.

So, I'm wondering how you square your last line with the assertion that one of us isn't imposing his or her values on the other? Am I failing to understand part of your argument?

Posted by: lumpy at May 17, 2009 12:45 PM

Argh. The bit "That doesn't mean that we are making these laws ..." should be italicized as well. It is part of the quote from Grim's comment.

Posted by: lumpy at May 17, 2009 12:47 PM

Just in general, ALL legislation is moral in nature. Laws are an assertion of one moral choice over another. For example, speed limits are a moral assertion that safety or fuel economy is a moral issue (i.e., if you don't drive safely/economically, as we define it, we will punish you). Tax laws assert a number of things, including that it's right of the government to force people to give up a certain amount of their property, which is certainly a moral issue. They can assert other things, like that certain activities should be discouraged (smoking, drinking). Every time a law is passed, our society is making the statement that certain or all individuals should or should not do something (murder, steal, speed). That word "should" makes it a moral assertion.

One commenter above said it didn't have to be moral, that laws are there to preserve individual rights, but the idea that individuals have rights is a moral assertion, one that many countries don't make.

The idea that one "can't legislate morality" is true in that passing a law doesn't create moral individuals. However, if it is intended to mean "don't use morality to make legislation" it is not only incorrect, it is asking us to do the impossible. ALL legislation is an attempt to get people to behave in a certain ways and not in others, and it is ALL based on moral values. In fact, the very idea that we should have laws is itself a moral value. Other species seem to do well without them.

Posted by: lumpy at May 17, 2009 01:01 PM

In fact, the very idea that we should have laws is itself a moral value. Other species seem to do well without them.

I don't agree with the last sentence here. Other species do have laws. Some have laws that are simply burned into their DNA - ants take care of their queen, for example - and of course the ants don't get to choose whether they obey those laws. However, it's my understanding that more advanced social animals have a set of understandings about what is and is not acceptable behavior and that an individual who fails to abide by those "laws" can become an outcast.

We can drift into an argument about whether such animal expectations are "laws" in the sense you mean but to me the important fact is that all social groups need behavioral guidelines. That seems to me more pragmatic than moral.

Posted by: Elise at May 17, 2009 04:22 PM

the important fact is that all social groups need behavioral guidelines. That seems to me more pragmatic than moral.

I think it's both. Most moral 'laws' are, at heart, pragmatic or utilitarian. They seek to limit harm in some way.

Conservatives have lost their way because a large number of us believe something that makes no sense: that people DO need moral guidelines, but that government ought to stay out of the business of upholding moral guidelines. That's pretty dumb - just as dumb as the folks who insist on a market with no regulation.

Idiotic. As long as there is profit to be made, the lure of profit will cause some people to infringe on the rights of others. Classic free market theory assumes two things which manifestly do not exist in the real world: perfect information and that everyone pays the true cost of a good or service.

The question is not whether there should be regulation of either markets or morals, but how much regulation is optimal.

Sadly, "optimal" depends upon your goals. Those who want to maximize freedom will find a different optimal level than those who want to maximize collective well being or limit risk. The interesting thing here is that conservatives and liberals don't come down on one side or the other with respect to freedom or well being/risk: they selectively opt for freedom where it conforms to their values and protectionism/control where that brings about a result they desire.

And that is why I'm rapidly losing patience with the hot air being expended on both sides WRT how superior one or the other is.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 18, 2009 09:06 AM

The interesting thing here is that conservatives and liberals don't come down on one side or the other with respect to freedom or well being/risk: they selectively opt for freedom where it conforms to their values and protectionism/control where that brings about a result they desire.

Yup. In addition to a moral sense humans also have a remarkably well-developed ability to tell themselves little stories to make what they want and what they feel seem perfectly reasonable, even desirable, even moral. Rationalization, reverse engineering a moral code, call it what you want. Besides being maddening, this can also be deadly in a democracy. A consistent ideology provides a framework for a viable government. An inconsistent ideology does not.

To put it in very simplistic political terms, this lets Republicans vote for what they like in Democratic proposals and vice versa. Since everyone likes to get stuff and no one likes to pay for it this is not a good situation. For example, Republicans will vote for pork but not for taxes. Democrats will vote for new Federal programs but not to get rid of old ones. Perhaps bipartisanship is over-rated and we'd do better with two internally coherent competing political philosophies.

Posted by: Elise at May 18, 2009 11:29 AM

Bingo.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 18, 2009 11:49 AM

Wow, those were great paragraphs. I've rarely read anything that so clearly stated my political beliefs.

Thank you.

.

Posted by: Joe Doakes at May 18, 2009 03:43 PM

If the person who commits the sin gets to decide what is and is not temptation, that makes me pretty uncomfortable.

Well, from the standpoint of Christianity, the sinner isn't the one who decides, but rather God.

I don't know that that would make you any more comfortable though.

But that I believe that such should not be enshrined in law hopefully will.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 18, 2009 03:49 PM

"Perhaps bipartisanship is over-rated and we'd do better with two internally coherent competing political philosophies."
And term limits.

Posted by: bt_tro-da-bums-out!_hun at May 18, 2009 03:58 PM

Well, from the standpoint of Christianity, the sinner isn't the one who decides, but rather God.

I took Elise's statement to mean, it would be pretty creepy for her to be at fault because a whacko gets turned on by the fact that she's not wearing a head to toe burqa.

Once again, I'm late to the party.

YAG sayz:
Well, when you've legislated that what you do in your bedroom takes money out of my pocketbook, you ought not to expect me to sit idly by about what you do there.

If you want me to turn a blind eye to you drug use, you then can't force me to pay for your rehab and lost wages after you get fired from your job. As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

And I think it's a piss poor libertarian (or one who doesn't understand the concept beyond the "if if feels good do it" phase) who would expect you to. Let me put it in these terms:

I think motorcycle helmet laws are dumb. I think if a moron wants to put his brains on the pavement when he takes a header of his motorcycle, rather than keep them in his skull... that's his business. And I'd make a signed informed consent waiver as part of the licensing of motorcycle driving permits. You get your license to ride a chopper, you sign a statement that if you suffer a head injury while riding without a helmet, the state will pay exactly nothing for your medical treatment.

You make a compact with the citizen that in exchange for their freedom to do stupid things to themselves, they forever give up the right to hold society accountable for their stupid decision. Use drugs? Fine. Lose your job because you were too stoned to go to work? Sucks to be you citizen. Good luck.

I've been told this attitude is heartless. I disagree. It is the utmost of compassion. You do not let anyone do anything self destructive unless and until they sign off their right to hurt anyone else through their behavior. It is compassionate to society. And in this particular case, the good of the many outweighs the good of the few.

Posted by: MikeD at May 19, 2009 04:31 PM

Well MikeD, that statement wasn't being directed at you personally.

But thanks for clearing up Elise's comment for me. And that is a very good point. Some people are turned on by red shoes and you can't exactly be aware of every persons proclivities. But there are some things that are also just as clearly on the other side of the line such as Elise already pointed out.

Where the line is and where our responsibility starts, well, I'm gonna cop out and say "that's above my pay grade". :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 19, 2009 05:18 PM

Post a comment

To reduce comment spam, comments on older posts are put into moderation 5 days after the last activity. Comments with more than one link also go into moderation. If you don't see your comment after posting it, try refreshing the screen. If you still don't see it, your comment is probably in the moderation queue.




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)