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.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08552459555883204060 WCG

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

    Because it's the potential for atrocities – or, at least, oppression – that worries us? No doubt many such communities would work calmly and peacefully much of the time. But why would we worry about those occasions?

    Let's give some credit to the decency of religious people.

    Religious people like those who murder apostates, strap bombs to their bodies, and fly planes into buildings? But, in fact, I'm not worried about the "decency of religious people," I'm worried about the "decency of people."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07650180659001228746 Athena Andreadis

    Multicultural empires had no constitutions and no equal rights — they had de facto first- and other-class "citizens" usually classified by whether they belonged to the dominant religion. Inequality extended to schooling, (lack of) choice in professions, taxation… and the status of women was abysmal. In multicultural empires, the government routinely used some communities against others in "spontaneous" genocidal pogroms, religion being the most common incitement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08000353980872079468 OB

    Liberal language about "choice" and "force" is very misleading here.

    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.

    Yes but what follows from that? That everyone should just "shrug" and leave them to it? Not necessarily. It's at least possible, and arguable, that it's better to offer them escape routes, in case they want them.

    Besides, belonging to a community is still not the same thing as agreeing with all members of the community about everything – so "choice" is really not the wrong word, and neither is "force." Some "communities" force some of their members to behave in certain ways. It's no good blinking that fact.

    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.

    But not all of them. You keep treating them as uniform and equal – and neither of those is true. You're not addressing this, and it's crucial.

    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.

    May well be??! Is that all you want to say?

    Ophelia Benson

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08000353980872079468 OB

    Liberal language about "choice" and "force" is very misleading here.

    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.

    Yes but what follows from that? That everyone should just "shrug" and leave them to it? Not necessarily. It's at least possible, and arguable, that it's better to offer them escape routes, in case they want them.

    Besides, belonging to a community is still not the same thing as agreeing with all members of the community about everything – so "choice" is really not the wrong word, and neither is "force." Some "communities" force some of their members to behave in certain ways. It's no good blinking that fact.

    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.

    But not all of them. You keep treating them as uniform and equal – and neither of those is true. You're not addressing this, and it's crucial.

    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.

    May well be??! Is that all you want to say?

    Ophelia Benson

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08000353980872079468 OB

    Drat! Sorry – it told me there'd been an error and my request hadn't been executed, or whatever the formula is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Ophelia Benson: "It's at least possible, and arguable, that it's better to offer them escape routes, in case they want them."

    Yes. I've already indicated that this would be the case.

    How this could be best accomplished is, presumably, up to negotiation. More than that, it's up to experience with all the unforeseen aspects of a functioning social order.

    "Some "communities" force some of their members to behave in certain ways."

    Sure. Communities impose severe costs on their members, as well as providing benefits. But constraints, even coercion, is integral to any political order, including a liberal order. You and I, on balance, probably flourish better in a liberal order. Others don't.

    "You keep treating them as uniform and equal – and neither of those is true. You're not addressing this, and it's crucial."

    I'm not, because I'm doing no such thing. Recognizing the reality of communities is not the same as treating all as an undifferentiated mass. That sort of flattening is more commonly a liberal sin, in any case.

    May well be??! Is that all you want to say?

    Yes. How could I tell how something like this would shape up? I can hope it would not be as obnoxious as I fear, but then again it may well be. How can I guarantee the outcome of a political process?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15769134131308964105 rjw

    This has descended into self parody, I'm afraid.

    Any group autonomy must mean an abrogation of the rights of the individual. This quite simply isn't acceptable – and its also quite clearly unworkable.

    Can you now please justify why it is ok to utterly disregard and dismiss "liberal ideals" and "liberal concepts"? Why should we have to pretend we are not right? There is no epistemological grounding for any other view, so why should we consider abandoning the enlightenment to avoid offending brainwashed fools?

    I also wonder how on earth you think you would maintain *your* individual rights in this horror state? Why wouldn't you be shoved in the Turkish apostate punishment box?

    Why on earth would we not resist this dystopia with every fibre of our beings?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08000353980872079468 OB

    You and I, on balance, probably flourish better in a liberal order. Others don't.

    The 'others' who don't flourish better in a liberal order are the ones who want the 'right' to tell their putative inferiors what to do. The people who do flourish in a liberal order are the ones who want neither to tell others what to do nor to be told what to do. (Yes of course there is some coercion in any political order. There are laws, there is taxation, there is conscription into the military. But that doesn't mean all political orders are much of a muchness. There really are large differences in personal freedom among different political orders. It's cynical to minimize that fact.)

    One has to choose. It's better to choose the side, and the political order, that rejects the principle that some people are inherently inferior and subordinate, rather than the one that embraces it.

    Yes. How could I tell how something like this would shape up? I can hope it would not be as obnoxious as I fear, but then again it may well be. How can I guarantee the outcome of a political process?

    The 'political process' in question was slavery. We already know that slavery is 'obnoxious' – it's not something that anyone should be tentative about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Ophelia Benson: "There really are large differences in personal freedom among different political orders. It's cynical to minimize that fact."

    And it's naive to assume that everyone wants just the particular sorts of freedom (and there are different and conflicting sorts) you and I enjoy. Even within the liberal tradition, there is plenty of room for disagreement here.

    "The 'political process' in question was slavery. We already know that slavery is 'obnoxious' – it's not something that anyone should be tentative about."

    In that case, you shouldn't have too many worries that a political process figuring out what degree of interference in communities is acceptable will produce any tolerance of slavery.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17421420520561905420 YamaZaru

    I'm not even going to address the slavery issue, I think you've made the consequences of your position clear even if you don't see them. About the stability of this multicult model:


    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.

    The part of my reply you didn't quote: “Besides, the demands of modern global capitalism would force all these issues to the surface; the way goods are produced/traded across the world is too ingrained and widespread to allow communities to slide back into the isolation required to keep conflict from arising.” I would say the kind of setup you're advocating works "best" in tributary systems and certainly doesn't comport well with the way commerce and communication is growing worldwide. The days of social stasis for generations under the realm of tributary empires is long past, a dynamic system like modern capitalism (or anything comparable we could come up with relying on technological innovation and globalized production) would turn multiculturalism into ethnic and religious strife in no time.

    Sure. Communities impose severe costs on their members, as well as providing benefits. But constraints, even coercion, is integral to any political order, including a liberal order. You and I, on balance, probably flourish better in a liberal order. Others don't.

    And

    And it's naive to assume that everyone wants just the particular sorts of freedom (and there are different and conflicting sorts) you and I enjoy. Even within the liberal tradition, there is plenty of room for disagreement here.

    You're talking about what kind of freedom and choices people may want. “People may want” tells me you're putting some importance on what people decide is in their interests. How can you use individuals' desires as justification for subsuming people within governmental systems in which they may not have any input?? It's obvious if they have only the choice of several fractious subgroups ruled by capricious religious law, they don't have much choice at all. You also argue that they may “flourish better” in one of these religion ruled subcommunities… how are you going to determine that?? I suppose you could ask for their individual input, perhaps have them confirm their interests by voting for them, taking active part is forming the parts of the community that affect them, etc- but to do that is to undermine your group rights argument back in an individual direction! I just don't see how this washes out…..

    Again, forming a religious subgroup where one can follow one's religious dictates is better served in the individual rights model- and it does a much better job of assuring that those joining the subgroups are there voluntarily, i.e. getting what they WANT and being able to determine where best they “flourish”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17421420520561905420 YamaZaru

    Out of space on the previous comment but I wanted to add this…

    Taner, look, I'm very amenable to talking about autonomy- I'm an avid scholar of anarchosyndicalism/democratic socialism and the like. These are traditions that saw increasing autonomy in a different sense than this pomo multiculturalism- folks like Rudolf Rocker saw it as taking the good points of liberalism to their logical conclusions. The important thing is that many in that tradition saw autonomy as bounded by two other factors that were equally important- democratization and federation. Autonomy was fought for in order to maximize individual input on the policy decisions that affected them (democracy), and it was acknowledged that a large part of decision making would necessarily affect wide areas and multiple communities and thus having a system of federation, perhaps a series of progressively higher regional or industrial democratic councils, would be needed to counteract any tendency to devolve into local insularity (thus the federalism).

    This is all completely at odds with the idea that community autonomy consists of dooming most of the members of any subgroup to governmental forms outside of their input and, even worse, based of tenets of a superstition. I bring it up just to say that I understand the negative aspects of modernity that well-meaning “postmodern multiculturalists” are reacting to: capitalist rapaciousness, imperialism, increasing commodification of life and the destruction of local production etc. It's just that those are better overcome by extending the democratic and rational principles of liberalism, by trying to maximize the extent of each individual's ability to choose what kind of life they want to lead. The pomo multicult proposal is a step backward.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06265111906760279429 Greg Myers

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06265111906760279429 Greg Myers

    On Mar 10, 2010, at 5:50 PM, Greg Myers wrote:

    But in practice, communities without a prior commitment to liberal democracy often fall into conflict. A recent case in point:

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/article;jsessionid=EEFA2B49C1785D726E9DA2BC752BA682.w6?a=562621&f;=19

    Christians and Muslims killing each other because their ideas of community are incompatible.  Yes in theory, some Christian and Muslim communities are compatible.  But those are precisely those who have laid aside the ideas of exclusive truth and god-ordained privilege.  

    Unless the state is willing to define what Muslim and Christian (and for that matter libertarian and Anarchist, etc.) beliefs a community can hold, you will have conflict. Fundamentist anything will have to be outlawed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08000353980872079468 OB

    And it's naive to assume that everyone wants just the particular sorts of freedom (and there are different and conflicting sorts) you and I enjoy.

    I'm not assuming that. I'm claiming that it's wrong to assume that no one wants them.

    In that case, you shouldn't have too many worries that a political process figuring out what degree of interference in communities is acceptable will produce any tolerance of slavery.

    How does that follow?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Greg Myers said: “Fundamentist anything will have to be outlawed.

    To suggest that some ideas should be outlawed is beyond the pale. I think atheists should be careful lest atheistic liberalism morphs into atheistic fascism.

    As for secularism, I suspect some atheists think it’s the idea that religious groups shouldn’t influence the government according to their standards, but that atheistic groups may do so, for only they know what is best for everybody.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Ophelia Benson: "I'm claiming that it's wrong to assume that no one wants them. "

    I don't understand this comment. Lots of people want different things. Most will not be fully satisfied. So?

    How does that follow?

    If it's a matter of knowledge rather than open disputation, presumably the lawyers and political philosophers drawing up a multicultural constitution will act accordingly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08000353980872079468 OB

    Taner, that's just glib. This is not a subject to be glib about. I give up on trying to comment directly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    YamaZaru: "I'm not even going to address the slavery issue, I think you've made the consequences of your position clear even if you don't see them."

    On the contrary. If liberals have resort to extreme possibilities like slavery, which is nowhere on the table when multicultural possibilities are actually being discussed, that exposes a serious weakness in the liberal position.

    "The days of social stasis for generations under the realm of tributary empires is long past, a dynamic system like modern capitalism (or anything comparable we could come up with relying on technological innovation and globalized production) would turn multiculturalism into ethnic and religious strife in no time."

    Now there is an argument that has some real bite. You may be right.

    On the other hand, you may be wrong. Again, multicultural ideas are not just philosophers' playthings. Some versions are in play in real political situations. And no one that I've run into, even among those nostalgic about multiethnic empires, propose to replicate that system today. (It's just a historical example.)

    And in such cases, it is hard to see that giving some recognition to community autonomy would invariably lead to strife. Would, for example, allowing some European Muslims to arrange their family law to conform to sharia produce violent conflict? That seems a bit of a stretch.

    “'People may want' tells me you're putting some importance on what people decide is in their interests. How can you use individuals' desires as justification for subsuming people within governmental systems in which they may not have any input?

    No input is surely an exaggeration. In religious communities you get plenty of talk about virtuous submission to divine law. But you also have disputes about what the divine law exactly means. You have people deciding that God cannot have wanted them to be miserable. If there is a secular alternative, some exit. An orthodox Jew moves from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. But many remain, making use of (usually informal) political levers they find within their own community.

    It's not hard to find people, such as women who are also Islamist activists, who argue that they find plenty of opportunities for input to their communities.

    I'm inclined to take their word for it, unless we want to start accusing them of false consciousness or something.

    "forming a religious subgroup where one can follow one's religious dictates is better served in the individual rights model"

    This makes it hard to understand why there is so much religious opposition to a liberal secular order. And why such opposition often enjoys support from ordinary believers, and not just religious leaders who face emasculation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    YamaZaru: "I'm very amenable to talking about autonomy- I'm an avid scholar of anarchosyndicalism/democratic socialism and the like. . . The pomo multicult proposal is a step backward."

    I agree with all of this. If I were writing about what I might like, rather than just poking at standard liberal arguments, I might end up saying things close to what you suggest. I sometimes describe myself as a democratic socialist, partially because I enjoy the horror that produces of the face of Americans.

    But, let's be honest: this is all very utopian. It's so far from political ideas realistically in play today as to mainly be a subject for pleasant dreaming.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06265111906760279429 Greg Myers

    Dianelos Georgoudis writes
    To suggest that some ideas should be outlawed is beyond the pale. I think atheists should be careful lest atheistic liberalism morphs into atheistic fascism. I am not talking about atheism, I am talking about limits to what people can do (in God's name, the name of reason or any other justification). Genital mutilation? Honor killings? Child marriage? Debt slavery? Community stonings / lynchings / whippings? The list goes on.

    If we allow local communities to set their own rules without limit, we will have all of the above and more. The question is the usual – are their limits to the freedom granted to an individual or community? The answer is always yes. Fundamentalism is that perspective that holds that a group or community has absolute privilege when it comes to knowing and expressing truth. I'd rather live in a world that recongizes that there is no path to that kind of aboslute certainty.

    Dianelos Georgoudis writes
    As for secularism, I suspect some atheists think it’s the idea that religious groups shouldn’t influence the government according to their standards, but that atheistic groups may do so, for only they know what is best for everybody.Just the opposite – given that there is no way of knowing truth in an absolute way, the aim is a society where tolerance is balanced with basic rights and freedoms.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06265111906760279429 Greg Myers

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06265111906760279429 Greg Myers

    YamZuru writes

    Would, for example, allowing some European Muslims to arrange their family law to conform to sharia produce violent conflict? That seems a bit of a stretch.

    A stretch? It is a fact. In England, the government allows sharia law – and women as a result lose their rights – for example, they cannot divorce their husbands, except after a lengthy, exclusivley male process. Women have significantly fewer rights under sharia law – resulting in violence to women. And now many are pressing for an expansion of sharia law in England – including cutting off hands for theft and stoning women for underage sex.

    So when someone from outside the community ends up mutilated (or a "perpertrator" gets extradited and goes unpunished), you can expect violent clashes – as is seen in various counties where religious hatred is stirred up for political or ideological reasons.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Greg Myers said: “ Genital mutilation? Honor killings? Child marriage? Debt slavery? Community stonings / lynchings / whippings? The list goes on.

    These practices, including female genital mutilation, are already outlawed in all civilized countries, from the US to Egypt. Moreover many fundamentalists are against such practices. So I am still wondering about what you meant by “Fundamentalist anything will have to be outlawed.”. Maybe a concrete example would help make your point clearer: What would you say will have to be outlawed in the US, where there are a lot of fundamentalist somethings?

    Greg Myers said: “ If we allow local communities to set their own rules without limit, we will have all of the above and more.

    I don’t think that anybody here is suggesting to allow local communities to set their own rules without limit. Certainly not Taner. As far as I understand him, his point is that as long as religious communities (or any kind of community for that matter) obey the laws and do not violate society’s generally accepted norms of decency – they should be left alone, even if secular liberals dislike some of their practices or ideas. Surely that’s reasonable.

    I think that one thing a liberal society should do is to set minimal standards of education for children, not in order to conform these children to its norms, but in order to give them the opportunity to think and choose for themselves. And one thing all children should be taught is the value of tolerance for those who think differently. Such tolerance I daresay would benefit atheists too.

    Greg Myers said: “ Just the opposite – given that there is no way of knowing truth in an absolute way, the aim is a society where tolerance is balanced with basic rights and freedoms.

    Well, that’s not the sense I got from reading some of the posters here. For example rjw above writes: “ Why should we have to pretend we are not right? There is no epistemological grounding for any other view, so why should we consider abandoning the enlightenment to avoid offending brainwashed fools?” So, apparently, “we” know what is right, and everybody who holds a different view is a brainwashed fool. I think that’s precisely the attitude which Taner argues is harmful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06265111906760279429 Greg Myers

    Dianelos Georgoudis writes:

    These practices, including female genital mutilation, are already outlawed in all civilized countries, from the US to Egypt. Moreover many fundamentalists are against such practices. So I am still wondering about what you meant by “Fundamentalist anything will have to be outlawed.”. Maybe a concrete example would help make your point clearer: What would you say will have to be outlawed in the US, where there are a lot of fundamentalist somethings?
    Discrimination based on gender is against the law in Britain, but the Sharia courts (now accorded official status) ignore these laws. Multi-culturalism requires that you abandon an attempt to apply the same law to all. The very protections you hold up as defense against atrocities are the very restrictions many multi-cultural groups chafe against. Today, the UK gives in on gender rights in the name of multiculturalism. Next year, will it be genital mutilation? Lashing? Stoning?

    And again, if someone from another cultural transgresses the rules from another culture (for example, draws an unflattering cartoon of the Prophet), will violence not be likely?

    Well, that’s not the sense I got from reading some of the posters here. For example rjw above writes: “ Why should we have to pretend we are not right? There is no epistemological grounding for any other view, so why should we consider abandoning the enlightenment to avoid offending brainwashed fools?” So, apparently, “we” know what is right, and everybody who holds a different view is a brainwashed fool. I think that’s precisely the attitude which Taner argues is harmful. Well, isn't that the basis of multiculturalism? As much as you'd like, you cannot prove (logically or empirically) that your supernatural claims are valid. So essentially, we are left with the position of having to tolerate a wide range of conflicting truth claims. You either grant that there is no proof for your supernatual worldview, and so agree to not try to make your claims binding on anyone else (including not forcing people to stay in your group), or you resort to various forms of persuasion, coercion and violence to enlarge your circle.

    If the first, you are a liberal. If the second, you are a fundamentalist.

    Have the empires through the ages (religious and secular) resorted to persuasion, coercion and violence to enlarge their circle? Yep – which is what makes this a Utopian discussion. But rolling back the personal freedoms and individual rights to accommodate a dizzying variety of fundamentalist religions is no step forward.


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