More on multicultural dystopias

I was putting in a comment in reply to YamaZaru, but it ended up exceeding the character limit. So I’ll have to post this as a separate entry.

“You don’t want liberal ways “forced” upon anyone, but instead are consigning many of the members of these subgroups to having ways they didn’t choose “forced” upon them.”

Liberal language about “choice” and “force” is very misleading here.

No one chooses who they are. Our choices take place in a context of unchosen circumstances, and unchosen but organically acquired loyalties. Particularly conservative religious people (a pretty large chunk of the human species) are very much embedded in unchosen traditions and communities. It’s not so much that they are forced into anything as that belonging to a community is an integral part of who they are.

“since judging by the history and epistemological nature of religion these religious subgroups won’t exactly be participatory democracies!”

A good number of secularists seem to have a model of religion as an authoritarian, top-down imposition. Devout religious people who perceive themselves as freely living their faith do not see things the same way. Not because they are brainwashed, but because they routinely experience their community as a place full of negotiation and give-and-take.

Religious people are agents. They are shaped by their traditions, but they shape their traditions in turn.

“Besides, it’s under social liberalism that people already have the right to form voluntary communities, in which they can have decisions made for them by some religious leader.”

Again, many secularists seem to picture the role of religious leaders in a community as a kind of scaled-down dictatorship. People on the inside don’t usually see things that way. And even from the outside, it’s not difficult to observe how religious tradition serves to constrain leadership and channel it in a more consultative direction.

For example, traditionally, a Muslim religious scholar enjoys his authority in the community because of his perception in the community of piety, moral uprightness, and wisdom, along with expertise in the law acknowledged as divine. He is not appointed by the government. And if he pisses off the community there are ways to get rid of him.

Yes, communities can be oppressive places. But that’s largely because everybody is collaborating in making you toe the line. It’s not a matter of sheep passively obeying externally-imposed authority.

(That, for someone like me, makes tight-knit communities even worse. But my perspective is not the only one that counts.)

“Can you really be advocating that slavery and oppression should be allowed within separate enclaves?”

Why is it that to so many liberals, community autonomy immediately suggests atrocities?

I haven’t run into anyone suggesting complete independence for communities. Some autonomy and recognition of communities as the context in which many people make sense of their lives does not have to mean that anything goes.

Take, for example, liberal individualism. Yes, there are libertarians who want perfect inviolability for persons and their property, and who take free market exchanges to be the model for all acceptable social interactions. But that extreme is not the only, nor the most popular, form of liberalism. We are not islands, not anything goes, and many forms of interference with individual choices are perfectly acceptable.

Why not grant communitarians the same flexibility? Just because someone favors communities, and approaches the prospect of interfering in the internal affairs of a community with some reluctance, does not mean that they thereby think that anything goes, that communities should be completely immune to intervention.

Indeed, given the much fuzzier boundaries between communities than persons, I would expect any sane communitarian view should make plenty of allowances for interference. Slavery, for example, may well be a point where enough is enough. How you draw these lines would be an interesting political exercise, and would effectively be a full-employment act for lawyers and political philosophers. It would be difficult, I imagine. I’m not about to jump to the conclusion that it would be impossible.

“If criticizing a religion is “dangerous” or “the equivalent of speech inciting violence” that is the fault of the religious themselves- to say otherwise paralyzes any ability to have meaningful public discussions. This would be an unavoidable problem even in the pomo multicult society: when member of religious subgroup X advocates social policy Y on the basis that his holy writ says that it must be so, how are the other subgroups (or any members of society not already members of his religion) to possibly evaluate or address his claim?”

A multicultural approach would accept that religion-based ideas would dominate the internal affairs of many (not all) communities. But that is very different than having religious public policy in the sense of being applicable to all communities. That would often violate the basic requirement of respect between communities.

Multiculturalists are trying to achieve a social order that keeps the peace while recognizing communities. This is far from a advocating a kind of community-based anarchy where anything goes. Communities have to play nice with each other. And it will, I expect, be obvious to all that proposals for public policy that make one holy writ apply to all communities have no prospects of success.

“only an iron-handed government ruling over and above the subgroups would be able to keep these policy disagreements between subgroups from arising since most religions have explicit doctrinal commitments to spread their faith/stamp out “evil” practices etc.”

That’s not what the history of multiethnic, multireligious empires suggests. Sometimes the imperial forces have to stamp out intercommunal conflict, yes. But most of the time, people are practical, have a healthy respect for other communities, and get along. They get along even though they regularly interact with the infidels in the neighboring village, and only encounter imperial officials when they come by to levy taxes or draft soldiers.

“Even at best we’d end up with various religious grouplet leaders agreeing not to criticize each other, share power amongst each other and kill any atheists that upset their power-sharing applecart.”

Under a multicultural regime, atheists would be at a disadvantage. The notion that we would then be rounded up and killed is, well, overheated. Let’s give some credit to the decency of religious people.

A Primer in Religion and Morality
Quote of the Day from Sean Carroll on Some People Who Mock Religion
Fan Mail from a True Christian
Debate Course Starts Today!
About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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