109 responses

  1. L. Junius Brutus
    January 19, 2011

    Adam: “Would it be fair to say that you would add to Beetham’s list of criteria that, in order for the exercise of power to be legitimate, it must also be done in accordance with “universal principles of justice and natural law”?”

    I would not use Beetham’s list of criteria at all, but I definitely do think that universal principles of justice should be a criteria for legitimate state actions. As for natural law, that issue is a bit more complicated.

    “As for the legitimacy of the Nazis, I believe that was called into question the moment they exercised power in respect of a people that did not consent to Nazi government “

    It is somewhat disturbing to me that of all the things that the Nazis did, it is attacking another country that is the very worst action. It suggests that the Nazis would have had more legitimacy than, for example, the French government (which, by your standards, would lose its legitimacy if it attacked the legitimate German Nazi government), if it decided to intervene to stop the rise of German Nazism in 1934.

    “Even Beetham acknowledges that legitimacy is not a binary condition.”

    You put way too much trust and faith in one single individual, rather than in his reasoning and arguments. Evaluate them instead. It’s not a “And the Lord saith”, for him, or anyone else. Any individual could be wrong, even very intelligent people.

    “Ah. Then I misunderstood you. If cultural relativism is just a prohibition on judging other cultures and expressly criticising them, then I actually agree with you. “

    I did not make up the term “cultural relativism”, others have preceded me. If you want to learn more about it, see Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on cultural relativism: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/ (though it calls cultural relatvism “moral relativism”, it discusses the same thing)

    “If all you’re saying is that you should be allowed to call Rwandan genocide wrong, I’m sorry I butted in!… I was under the impression that you were using your dismissal of cultural relativism as a justification for intervention in the government of a sovereign nation otherwise legitimately governed. It seems that I misunderstood what you meant by cultural relativism, so yeah, I can see why that led to confusion.”

    It’s half of what I’m saying. I actually do believe that we should call the Rwandan genocide wrong, which is not something that my interlocutor believed – as he has the “manners and tolerance” that I do not. I also believe that we should do something about atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide, although opposing that does not make one a cultural relativist. I would recommend reading and re-reading Eastside Jim’s posts, as they are absolutely fascinating. He is a cultural relativist through-and-through, as he clearly thinks that neither I, nor anyone else, should call what any society does “wrong”, but he cleverly inserts that, aside from criticizing that society, we should not “intervene” – perhaps because he thought that this would appear more rational than railing against any criticism of barbaric practices. Or maybe he thought that criticizing a society is a prelude to military intervention, and that he therefore had to “defuse” any criticism of any society, lest it lead to military invasion. Personally, I can’t think of any reasonable basis to support cultural relativism, so I’m still befuddled by him, and anyone who would say such things.

    Notwithstanding state sovereignty and the idea that this idea has become less popular after the Iraq war, one simply cannot stand by and let an innocent population be slaughtered, or enslaved, or segregated. And if the orthodox doctrine of state (or popular) sovereignty objects to that, then I object to it. As I have stated, I object to the idea that when one man butchers another, no third man is allowed to object, or intervene.

    “But I don’t know what the source of that authority is, and under what right it may be enforced. How do we even know what is universally just or naturally legal (if you’ll permit me to torture those phrases). That’s the real point of my question to you. Where does natural law and universal justice come from? Where these are disregarded by an otherwise legitimate government, is it right to exercise power to enforce them?”

    Oh, now that’s a question. I do not presume that you are asking me to resolve a 2000-year old debate (referring to Cicero, not Christianity, and even he was not an original philosopher). And of coures, this is not mathematics, you should not expect advocates of such principles to provide ultimate proof to you, or an ideology that demonstrates ideas without having assumptions, but rather, to make these ideas plausible, and to provide a firm rational grounding for them. As you have probably noticed, some people do not have a firm rational grounding for their ideas. I would argue that ideas that find greater support in reason and rationality are superior to ideas that do not. Thus, you might ask: “Brutus, why are your ideas better than the ideas of the Pakistani butchers of innocent people?” And I’ll say: “Because my ideas are based on reason and arguments, while their medievalist ideas are based on absolutely nothing but fanaticism: they would kill anyone who dared to argue with them, instead of providing arguments.”

    That question can be better answered regarding universal justice: both people who are unjust and the people who have injustice inflicted on them, agree on what injustice is. Even the thief does not want someone to steal from him, notwithstanding his wholehearted approval of stealing when it involves him stealing things from other people. So basically, we have double standards here, and that is not particularly rational, but rather, self-serving.

    As for natural law, I did not really advocate it, rather, I mentioned it as a counterpoint to legal positivism. I can’t say the Nazis were right, or that the Allies were wrong in prosecuting them without any positive legal basis whatsoever, but natural law is a difficult concept. It is based on the idea that a bad law is not really a law, because a higher law ‘invalidates’ it before it even goes into effect. I certainly don’t believe in obeying hideously bad laws, but I can’t argue that they are not law. Again, it’s a difficult issue, and I haven’t thought or read about it enough to say something meaningful or interesting about it (and I would hate to pretend to know things that I don’t know, like “Spanish inquision” guy). I do consider bad laws to be illegitimate, thus, I refer to Iran executing gay people as murder, rather than as legitimate executions.

    “That’s fair. It was wrong of me to bring up that subject, fail to justify my criticism and then hold you to a different standard. It’s not the topic of this thread, though, and it is a guaranteed derail. And we are anyway talking at cross-purposes. But, seriously, if you’re interested in discussing this rather than simply humouring me, I think we should take it elsewhere.”

    This thread is pretty much dead, so I’m not sure that Jim & Tim will mind this discussion. Actually, the interesting thing is that cultural relativism is somewhat related to the topic of this thread: namely, what right to we have to criticize Canada’s policies? That’s the way they do it, who are we to criticize it? (Let’s for a moment disregard the fact that this assumes that the right to critcism apparently depends on geography and nationality.) As you probably know, I think we have every right to criticize Canada, and any other society, and not just a legal right, but also a moral right. I am no way deficient in tolerance or manners because I criticize Canada’s policies, or Iranian stonings, or Pakistani butchery.

    As an aside, the pernicious thing about cultural relativism is that people are often introduced to it with benign examples, but the logic of it leads them to justify true atrocities. If you read Stanford-Plato, you’ll see that Herodotus has a ‘culturally relative story’ (I’m not recounting this exactly as he records it), in which the Persian king summons two groups of his subjects: Greeks and Indians. He asks them how they dispose of their deceased. The Greeks say: we bury them. The Indians are absolutely horrified. You have to burn people who are dead, that’s the way the Gods want it. Herodotus concludes that neither group is right or wrong. Now, one might accept this when it comes to burying rituals, since it hardly makes any difference, except in the minds of the individuals doing the deed. But I certainly hope that people will not accept cultural relativism when it comes to grave matters (no pun intended).

  2. L. Junius Brutus
    January 19, 2011

    Graham: Because somone has an affect you don’t like doesn’t mean they have “gender problems”.

    True, because not all acts involve extreme effeminacy. However, I do wonder about supposed guys who act like girls.

    “Unbelieve able, you would castigate someone just for having a voice you don’t like. You do hace the right to decide whom to respect, but your basis for doing so is incredibly supeficial and comformist.”

    I am anything but conformist, Mr. South Park Goth, but that does not mean that I can’t criticize ridiculous behavior when it happens to be non-conformist.

    “And they’re not acting “like a girl” anyway since these traits not exclusive to females. ”

    “Like a girl” refers to how females generally are, and thus is not invalidated by the fact that some people choose to emulate females.

    “Yes. Shocking as it may be to you, people are allowed the choice of how to groom themselves, and they may not make a choice that pleases you. Hard for you to accept I know. And your example would be heterosexist, obviously, since the hetornormal standard for women is to be feminine.”

    Really? Explain to me how proper grooming has anything to do with heterosexuality (which you apparently don’t like very much).

    “Try to keep up and really ocmprehend things, instead of just saying “whatever”; that makes seem challenged.”

    What was that? Did you mean to say ‘mentally challenged’?

    “I mean we can’t even handle Janet Jackson’s breast.”

    Who can?

  3. Graham
    January 19, 2011

    “True, because not all acts involve extreme effeminacy. However, I do wonder about supposed guys who act like girls.”

    Well, there are very effeminate men who nonetheless are not gender dysphoric. Better to just get on with your life instead of wondering about them.

    “I am anything but conformist, Mr. South Park Goth, but that does not mean that I can’t criticize ridiculous behavior when it happens to be non-conformist.”

    If you’re so non-conformist then come up for some better criteria for judging people besides the pitch of their voice and stop calling neutral variations of human behavior “ridiculous”.

    ““Like a girl” refers to how females generally are, and thus is not invalidated by the fact that some people choose to emulate females.”

    They are not emulating females. They are dressing how they want to, and acting how they are predisposed to act. The fact that it happens to be more feminine does not imply that their preference to do so is volitional, or that they are consciously imitating women.

    “Really? Explain to me how proper grooming has anything to do with heterosexuality (which you apparently don’t like very much).”

    Well what is proper grooming? Is the proper grooming for females what you decide it to be, or what is understood to be proper for them? What is proper or improper for women, not just in grooming but in every arena, has changed a great deal over the last century or so, and for that matter throughout history.
    What you are calling proper grooming has nothing to do with heterosexuality in some biological or natural sense, but expecting all women to adhere to it is buying into the heterosexist conceit that certain behaviors and traits are proper for men and some for women. This used to extend to almost every area of life including careers…ever heard of “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen”? Do you think we should return to that?
    And I’m fine with heterosexuals, for the record. I take that back, I’m fine with some of them, and have problems with others. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are both just neutral variations of human sexuality IMO,so I don’t have any feelings, positive or negative, about heterosexuality.

    “What was that? Did you mean to say ‘mentally challenged’?”

    No, I meant “that may seem challenging”

    “Who can?”

    Likely a straight guy, with glee.

  4. Graham
    January 19, 2011

    And you still haven’t answered how this makes Canada any different from the USA. They have this organization, we have the FCC, what is the difference? The only difference I can see is that Canada is trying to be über-PC by stamping out expressions of racism/misogyny/homophobia, while here in the USA we we’re trying to be puritanical by censoring raunchy sex-related content.

  5. Timothy Kincaid
    January 20, 2011

    okay… this thread has devolved to a cut and paste spat. Why don’t we call it a day and leave the playground.

  6. Adam
    January 20, 2011

    Brutus: Thanks for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I can’t really respond to the points you’ve raised until I’ve had an opportunity to study the meaning and implications of moral relativism in depth, and I just don’t have that kind of time at the moment! Thanks for the source, though, and for taking the time to discuss the matter.

  7. Lorenzo from Oz
    January 20, 2011

    If freedom is subordinated to the right not to be offended, then we do not have freedom. People are, after all, offended by two men, or two women, walking down the street holding hands or kissing.

    These things are always about power: who has the power to make their sense of “being offended’ count and who does not. Really, we should not go there. Queer folk particularly should not go there.

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