Thursday, May 31, 2012

Morality and mindlessness

Today’s headline in the Washington Post:

Appeals court rejects Defense of Marriage Act
Federal appeals court says law discriminates against married gay couples

I’ll not say a word here for or against homosexual marriage: that is a matter for moral reasoning, personal preference, legislation, etc., not for a logician.   But it does fall within our purview to observe that the wording above is absurd, and a travesty of law.   Legislate for gay marriage if you wish, fine;  but to justify overturning existing law with such paltering tergiversation as that above, is to degrade your legal, moral, and linguistic understanding.

In exactly the same sense:
=> Laws against incest “discriminate against” married brother-sister pairs.
=> Laws agains polygamy “discriminate against” plural marriage.
=> Laws against bestiality “discriminate against” anyone who wishes to wed his pet goat.   (That last is no satire;  such things have happened.  One woman actually “married” the Berlin wall.)
=> Laws against burglary "discriminate against" burglars.
And so on.
An elementary logical point, but one increasingly beyond the grasp of an infantilized electorate.


See the Comments section below for Dr Massey’s thoughtful reply.
Yet I must observe that, strictly, he is changing the subject -- or rather, introducing a subject, since my original point, being strictly one of logic, was (as such and eô ipsô) independent of any particular subject-matter (in particular, of anything to do with sex per se).   The point concerns legal and moral reasoning; if we go wrong there, then we shall err in any particular case as well.

The point was first brought home to me in John Searle’s ethics class, at Berkeley, lo these many years ago.    The Right being considered on that day was not Marriage, but Free Speech.    Professor Searle wished to clear up the confused thinking that says, say, that banning or restricting access to movies that wallow in romanticized paraphilia is Censorship (bad);  likewise when a government, while nowise banning certain art, declines to continue to subsidize it (bad, very bad);  whereas mulcting someone for falsely crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre  is no infringement upon the sacred and intangible Right to Free Speech.
“What I want to say is” (said Searle, in characteristic phrasing) “that of course it’s an infrigement upon Free Speech -- a limitation of its exercise.  It simply happens to be one which, when all the countervailing factors are considered,  society has decided to approve.”

In similar fashion, various societies at various times may decide to infringe Free Speech by crimping treasonable speech, slander, blasphemy, "speaking evil of the dead" (a law of Solon) or incitement to riot.


Consider, further, this, from this morning’s New York Times:

Once again, it is no part of my brief, in this thread, to comment on the ins and outs, the whys and wherefors of public financing of education, let alone upon The Idea of a University and beyond.   But simply to point out that the following two quotations (from different public figures) that appear uncommented in the article, are in fact in direct contradicition:

“This is the code red we’re in,” he said. “We’re not cutting into muscle or tissue, we’re cutting into artery.”
 “Like anything in California, the delivery of higher education is not performance based. They’ve created new campuses and programs based on politics and not need.”

The former quote is rhetorically arresting, ratcheting the usual metaphor of “by now we’re not cutting fat, we’re cutting muscle [or bone]” up one eye-catching notch.  But the second quote suggests that there is in fact plenty of fat, and that if the surgeon is hacking up arteries, he must be impaired.

Note that, in the Labels section below, you will not find either “sex” or “education” (subjects on which we have elsewhere explicitly blogged), since this particular post concerns neither.


Or indeed, this, from the radio, just a moment ago.   (This sort of  offense against logic and bare empiricism  goes on all the time, all the time.  Mostly we filter it out;  but having just posted the above, my antennae were up.)

Husni Mubarak has just been sentenced to life-imprisonment.  The gravamen of the charges against him:  having ordered his security forces to fire on the Tahrir Square protestors with live ammunition.
Now NPR reports the same story but saying that the core of the case was that Mubarak “failed to stop the killing of protestors”.

Well, so failed we all.   -- Wipe from your mind all political preferences in this particular case, and notice the rank contradiction between the two characterizations.  
The former version of the charges is narrow;  the analogue might apply to President Hoover and General MacArthur for their assault upon the Bonus Army in 1932;  under the broader, we might all be in the dock.

1 comment:

  1. I've been saying for many years that the Church should seek for Marriage, as a legal and civil concept, to be disestablished. When that has happened, the so-called "gay marriage" debate effectively ends.

    Churches that do not want to recognize such unions, simply won't. Churches and Mosques (I kid, of course) that do, can and will do so.

    It may be legally convenient for the government to recognize the right of two people to mutually offer power of attorney. And whether those two people are sexual with one another is ultimately unimportant and uninteresting.

    I can reasonably imagine two men who are not gay and cohabitate long term who would like each other to make medical decisions for each other without calling in some distant fourth cousin. Those two should be able to file a partnership. It is not about "gay marriage", it's about the reasonableness of any two people being able to bind their lives if they choose. And, whether you agree with their lifestyle or not, it is reasonable to grant such a partnership to a gay couple, if they choose it.

    But the real benefit for the Church in disestablishing "Marriage" as a civil concept is that, barring that development, we will eventually see the State declaring that the Church may not restrict what she considers to be a Sacrament.

    The State does not have a Sacrament of Eucharist. The Church does. The Church will still have a Sacrament of Marriage when the State does not.