"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The fun continues on Young Republic (following on from this previous post):


Me:

>Your proposition is that laws should be enacted based on the "harm
>principle". Conservatives generally reject this proposition because it
>draws too small a circle and fails to outlaw many acts that are obviously
>immoral to the majority of human beings, Christian or non-Christian,
>religious or secular.

I don't know what world you live in, but it definitely isn't ours.

Oddly enough, anthropologists have found that morality varies greatly among different cultures. In fact, the only universal taboo is incest.

But I guess all of the other cultures we don't like are decadent, corrupt and immoral so we can ignore them.


>A better proposition is that laws should be enacted based on humanity's
>conscience.

200 years ago, humanity's conscience told it that slavery was acceptable. 500 years ago, humanity's conscience told it that it was acceptable to sequester women. 1000 years ago, humanity's conscience told it that witches were evil and had to be hunted down and persecuted.

Even today, many (most, at some subconscious level) people's conscience tells them that people of other religions/races are inferior.

Funny how our unchanging conscience varies so much with time.


B:

If you want to argue that it's all about the conscience, then I would hope you can substantiate some form of universal conscience, something everyone would agree on i.e. that incest is universally reviled and a stain on our conscience (and if we don't know about it?). If not, it just sounds like another rendation of Universal Absolute Morality and we know how that
one turns. Alternatively, if we accept that what we term 'conscience' is very much framed and nurtured by our own particular social and cultural norms i.e. positive morality, then we have the same original issue that the post-modernist brings up. Since they each have their own subjective value. And given that, how do we best accomodate all the prevailing viewpoints
without infringing on the capabilities of the minority to live as they will? That's where Liberalism comes in, building a workable system of tolerance. All the rest is fluff and strawman argumentation about Liberals and Liberalism.


A:

I do not believe that laws should be based primarily on the harm principle. So pointing out the harm in incest is irrelevant. Incest should be outlawed because it goes against society's conscience. And, in a way, going against conscience is harmful because it destroys one's very soul.

If you and your liberal friends really believed in the harm principle, you would be trying to enact laws preventing women over 40 from having children. But you are not. Because your beliefs are inconsistent. Which is really typical of liberals - always trying to point out inconsistencies in the Bible and in Christian beliefs (there are none, of course, except when one insists on superficial interpretations) while ignoring their own inconsistencies.


A:

If incest is outlawed (according to liberals) based on the harm principle, it is because babies born of an incestuous relationship tend to be physically or mentally handicapped in some way. Hence, the harm. I am arguing that the harm principle doesn't make sense all the time because if you banned incest on those grounds, you would have to ban other actions that resulted in the same harm (or had the same risk of resulting in those harm), ie. women above 40 giving birth. I am absolutely not, as D seems to have misunderstood, advocating us banning women over 40 from having children. I am saying that the harm principle would require us to do that in order to be consistent, and that is precisely why the harm principle makes no sense whatsoever.

Incidentally, you never see any liberals arguing that incest with contraceptives should be made legal. Probably because their deepest conscience forbids it. Nothing could justify one sleeping with his mother. Not even contraceptives. (Ask, for example, a liberal to announce to a public gathering of 100 people that he thinks it is okay for one to sleep with his mother. He wouldn't dare.)


You misunderstand and misrepresent me, Gabriel. At no point did I assert that humanity's conscience was unchanging. It is changing. That is the natural result of man's fallen nature.

However, my point is that the prevailing conscience should nevertheless be the basis for the law simply because it is the safest and the most democratic course for society. A Christian bases his conscience on the Bible and makes his case for it. A Muslim on the Koran and makes his case for it. And the liberal on the harm principle and makes his case for it. And the resulting outcome from democratic processes is the law.

My point is that just as you think the Bible is not the basis for universal truth, I also think the harm principle is not the basis for universal truth (I have illustrated why I think so in another email, where I pointed out the inconsistencies of the harm principle). And since we are neither of us convinced by the other party, the safest option for us as a society to take is to make the prevailing conscience the law. The prevailing conscience, of course, during the puritan revival in England was very different from that during the hippy age in the states. But it is, nevertheless, the most sensible route for society. Now that doesn't stop me from advocating Biblical values because I genuinely think they are right. You have the right to oppose me of course, since we are a free society. But so have I the right to oppose your harm principle even if you think you are genuinely right. This is all part and parcel of natural debate in society. And the person who ultimately convinces society that his standard of morals is more, well, moral will win the day. And I think that is a sensible route for us to take.


C:

A [on incest]:

Would you care to read what has just transpired on this list on this topic? I have changed my mind and now think that, subject to provision for undue influence (caveat how that would be enforceable), the genetic consequences of incest are not a reason for criminalisation. Apparently, though, I do not exist, nor does Gabriel who in front of your very eyes persuaded me to this point of view, because "you never see any liberals arguing that incest with contraceptives should be made legal."


Me:

>If you and your liberal friends really believed in the harm principle, you
>would be trying to enact laws preventing women over 40 from having
>children. But you are not. Because your beliefs are inconsistent.

???

A slightly increased likelihood of birth defects does not equate to definite harm. Going by your logic, abortion should be banned as well. As would driving cars (pedestrians being knocked down - ooh, harm!!!)


>Which is really typical of liberals - always trying to point out
>inconsistencies in the Bible and in Christian beliefs (there are none, of
>course, except when one insists on superficial interpretations)

Unfortunately, due to man's fallen nature, it is impossible to interpret the bible non-superficially. Pity, that.


>You misunderstand and misrepresent me, Gabriel. At no point did I assert
>that humanity's conscience was unchanging. It is changing. That is the
>natural result of man's fallen nature.

Right. So although humanity's conscience keeps changing and we have no idea, due to man's fallen nature, what an appropriate conscience would be (indeed, dare I say, one corresponding to divine sanction and morality), it is still "a better proposition [enacting] laws... based on humanity's conscience" than based on the harm principle, which would provide a more invariant base
of law from which to work.

In fact, if man possesses a fallen nature, since "In [creating] their own ideas about what laws and morals should be, liberals have a tendency of going against the very nature of humankind", we can conclude that the liberals you so despise are in fact coming up with laws you would approve of (vis a vis any current/hypothetical ones derived from humanity's conscience). Bravo!


>my point is that the prevailing conscience should nevertheless be the basis
>for the law simply because it is the safest and the most democratic course
>for society.

Democracy and majoritarianism aren't the same. In the former, the rights of minorities and individuals are safeguarded. As for safe, how something that will likely lead to different sections of society fighting to marginalise and annihilate each other, and which is subject to great variance across space and time can be called safe is totally beyond me.


>My point is that just as you think the Bible is not the basis for universal
>truth, I also think the harm principle is not the basis for universal truth

Good for you. The thing is that most people, regardless of religion, accept at least some form of the harm principle in determining laws (note the distinction between "laws" and "universal truth" - your "universal truth" can have been that the world was spawned on the back of a Giant Turtle, but this doesn't mean that the law should forbid us from drinking turtle soup [yum...]).


>And since we are neither of us convinced by the other party, the safest
>option for us as a society to take is to make the prevailing conscience the
>law.

I'm sure you will agree that if the prevailing conscience dictates that fundamentalist christians should be burnt at the stake, you will agree that this is very "safe", even if it will lead to religious riots, international condemnation and general mayhem as our society is riven by internecine conflict.


A:

When I said no liberals argue that incest with contraceptives should be made legal, I meant no liberal in a significant political position argues it as a genuine policy option. A lot of incest has been reported in the United States, and some of it goes on with the use of condoms. But nobody is championing their "rights" for some strange reason.


>Democracy and majoritarianism aren't the same. In the former, the rights of
>minorities and individuals are safeguarded. As for safe, how something that
>will likely lead to different sections of society fighting to marginalise
>and annihilate each other, and which is subject to great variance across
>space and time can be called safe is totally beyond me.

The reason we protect minority rights is because the conscience of the majority thinks it immoral to not protect minority rights. So that still fits perfectly well into the proposed framework.

Also, I do not consider the "right" of an incestuous couple to have protected sex a "minority right" worthy of protection. And neither do most people. I would like to see a liberal put his money where his mouth is by making a genuine attempt to convince the electorate that incest with contraceptives should be protected. It is easy to rant and rave with beautiful theories on an email group. But that's generally where it ends. The liberals will not make any attempt to try to translate their theories into legislation.

I propose two reasons for that: 1) the liberals don't genuinely believe in what they rant and rave on email groups about, their deepest conscience tells them that incest is still inherently wrong no matter the circumstances; 2) they know they don't even have a minute chance of convincing the electorate because their theory is at odds with the conscience of the electorate (which still vincidates my original proposition that conscience should be the basis for the law, not the harm principle).

If the first reason is right, then the liberals are hypocrites. If the second is right then the liberals are living in their own world and their views are alienated from the public's views.


It is not quite accurate to say that I don't believe in the harm principle in any form. I believe that the harm principle is a poor principle upon which to solely base morals and, in turn, a poor principle upon which to solely base laws.

The harm principle can play a role, but only inasmuch as it is part of the conscience to begin with. The harm principle is only a subset of the conscience, meaning, there are acts that the conscience dictates against but the harm principle does not, but all acts that the harm principle dictates against, the conscience also does.

So my point is, as pointed out before, the harm principle draws too small a circle. It ignores the conscience on many matters (such as incest) and hence, is not the best concept to use when we think about the law. Instead, if we use the conscience as the basis for the law, the harm principle would be included but so would acts that society's conscience obviously prohibit (such as incest with or without contraception).


B:

The real problem I have with your laws and morality based on conscience bit is that it's hollow, like Intelligent Design. What is it principles, how is it formulate, who formulates it, how does it translate into law, why should it be given such a primacy etc. It doesn't say anything. Change it to any word and it might still fit.


C:

A,

It's possible to think that incest should be legal without thinking the issue particularly significant or deserving of the resources that would be required to campaign for its legalisation. Ultimately, the number of people involved in incest is so small and often so unascertainable and so controversial, it's not surprising it doesn't garner a whole lot of support. Whether or not those who support the cause are sincere.

People have opinions without being willing to expend effort on political action all the time - or is everyone actually really insincere about the convictions (which often reflect how they make decisions in other spheres of life, or treat their friends and acquaintances)? We don't meet incestuous people very often, but I'm willing to bet the people who think incest is okay would treat any incestuous people they meet better than would people who think incest isn't okay. Or does that count for nothing?

Moreover, I continue to have reservations about the efficacy of restrictions on incest in preventing abusive sex from taking place, a form of doubt which has nothing to do with the immorality of incest per se. You might of course choose to regard this as merely my 'disguise' for my 'innate conscience' telling me that incest is simply wrong, and everything else I claim to say and think and feel is merely an escape from some ineffable inner guidance which you can understand and interpret far better than I can. I might then be tempted to tell you to fuck off, you patronising dick.


The full extent of the interlocution can be viewed on Young Republic.
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