Thursday, November 04, 2004

Progress: Descriptive and Normative

To respond to Scott:

1. I don't think I'm conflating academic v. normative conceptions of progress. In fact, what I'm trying to do is point out that we tend to conflate the descriptive "is" (i.e., the way in which society has changed) with the normative "ought" (i.e., ours is a better society than it once was because of some moral ideal that we're closer to and should get closer to). If Posner's right, and "we're all Realists now," then we are guilty of doing the one thing Realists ought not do: confuse "is" and "ought."

I readily admit, however, that individuals have normative ideas that inform their politics--what society ought to look like. And I understand that we want to call the process of moving toward the perfection of that norm "progress" (a term, at any rate, laden with lots of morally questionable, German-idealist baggage). If we choose to define our terms with such clarity first, then I'm happy to debate the premises (e.g., have we chosen the right norms?). I take issue, however -- and this is not a direct response to anything anyone posted, this is an argument arising out of my own observation -- with the idea that any objectively-identifiable "progress" actually exists.

2. Again, I disagree with the characterization of those who are against gay marriage. Sure, there are plenty of folks who live in homogenous communities. (I assume when I say that that we're all thinking of, say, the rural south, where backward Creationism reigns supreme? I would venture to say that the population of Greenwich Village is just as politically homogeneous as the population of, say, towns along the Florida pandandle; but never mind.) But I think it's simply wrong to say that the anti-gay marriage crowd is full of people who are, as Scott might put it, uneducated in the full diversity of human life--the assumption is, it seems to me, that if there's not some mental defect or academic-education defect, then, really, it's a defect of experience. What we need to do, as Scott puts it, is "humanize" the issue . . .

I'm not so sure. Again, I'll go back to my previous comments: we're probably not talking about a lack of "education" (loosely defined); we're probably talking about one group of voters that is willing to distinguish "moral issues" (I called this private morality in a previous post, to avoid Matt P.'s critique ) from "political issues" (which I termed "legal sanctions" -- again, to get myself out of the problem Matt P. raised).

I'm making an assumption here, and I don't think it's unreasonable: I'm assuming that people vote for and against these measures for different reasons. I don't think anyone believes that the Republican (or Democratic) Party is monolithic: again, good Realists that we are, we all recognize that individual Americans make individual choices. Sure, there may be some individuals out there who think of the gay-marriage "thing" the same way they would think of, say, the possibility that the U.S. government will adopt Swedish as the new official language: too outrageous to contemplate. But there are others who may vote against gay marriage because, despite having friends who are gay, they just don't believe that that's what marriage is; or because they think that there's problematic evidence about adoption and don't want to see the issue pressed that far; or because they adhere to strongly-held religious beliefs that compel their vote, regardless of the compassion they feel for fellow-citizens. Imagine an individual voting for an abortion ban even though a daughter or close friend had an abortion: not too far-fetched. People are capable of voting on firmly-held principle (especially if informed by religious conviction), even when the "human element" may tug on them to vote based on sympathy.

I'm not saying the point isn't valid -- sure, I do think there are plenty of folks who live sheltered or isolated lives and can't see the other side (my Greenwich Village friends, for example, probably wouldn't know an Evangelical Christian from a Zoroastrian--wait, no, they'd probably recognize the Zoroastrian), and who would be persuaded to see things your way if they had the opportunity to be exposed to different points of view/people/movies/books/radio stations/cities/restaurants/etc. But I will simply not make what I think is the condescending claim that I hold the enlightened position here and that the folks who voted "yea" in Ohio for the anti-gay marriage ban are just sheltered/ignorant/silly. Yes, I disagree with the vote; but no, I don't think that I hold a monopoly on reason. Frankly, if I'm going to be consistent, I would have to admit that I, too, should have my mind open enough to be persuaded of the other point of view -- shouldn't I?

(And really, what does justice mean, anyway?)