Sunday, October 02, 2005

Juicy political and social discussion

Below I had taken a political test which labeled me as a Democrat. Jill at Yellow Snapdragons also mentioned this test at Political Compass. I'm not going to post my scores. The test basically said I was significantly a social liberal with very centrist economic impulses, which I guess is pretty much how I think of myself. What was most interesting from the test were the questions that were really hard to answer. Here are some:

STATEMENT: 'No one can feel naturally homosexual.'

Wow, how to answer this one? I can guess where they are headed here. If I believe being gay is natural, then I am socially liberal, because if it is somehow a biological fact, like skin color, then it is illogical to discriminate based upon this fact. Usually conservatives think that being gay is not biological but, in the extreme, some sort of spiritual or moral disease. I, however, disagree with the whole basis of this discussion. I don't know if being gay is biological or not, and honestly I really don't care. First of all, no one has any real idea concerning complex behaviors like love, sexual desire, etc. what being natural or unnatural means. I am in an entire seminar right now to discuss whether or not language is innate. However, the reason I don't care if homosexuality is genetically specified or not is that I don't see it as very important to my moral or political views. What is it supposed to mean? If I discover my friend is gay not because it's in his genes but because he just thinks men are hot, it's now OK to discriminate on housing, marriage, adoption, employment, etc.? I think not. I can't fathom that a person who is honorable, strong, righteous, intelligent and kind is in any way more or less so if the partner beside him is a man, a woman, white, black, red-head, blonde, etc. So, I am arguing that I would be more of a social liberal if I think that being gay is not biological and yet still it is a right that I should fight for. The statement is also of couse highly ambiguous. Is it a question of how people feel – people feel lots of true and untrue things – or a question of whether they are or are not naturally homosexual?

STATEMENT: 'There are no savage and civilised peoples; there are only different cultures.'

I think I agreed on this one, but it truly isn't clear. As always, these are very imprecise terms being used. It certainly is possible for a people to become corrupted for a given time. Let's think of Nazi Germany, where, as a whole, the culture had fallen off the deep-end. This might be an example of a "savage" people, if you allow all of the caveats that are obvious. The Holocaust was not just another morally-equivalent cultural practice. So people for a time can screw up. Let's accept that. But of course Nazi Germany is not usually what people have in mind when they are talking of savage versus civilized peoples. Instead, it usually has to do with a certain level of technological sophistication. And here I can basically agree with the statement. If I have a servant boil some tea for me and bring it to the drawing room, I don't know if I am particularly more civilized in an interesting way than some one in New Guinea who is boiling some roots for himself next to his straw hut. He'd probably be pleased to have someone make his tea in the new kettle from Williams-Sonoma as well.

STATEMENT: 'You cannot be moral without being religious.'

Here is another where I question the assumptions. I assume what they are going for is the very common belief that only those who have God in their hearts can be truly moral. Think of Dante's Inferno here where the pagans that he admires most as great men – Socrates, Virgil, etc. – are still in the first ring of Hell because they weren't Christian. (As aways, C.S. Lewis has some nice things to say about this in his Mere Chrisitianity.) If this is what they are talking about, then I can mark down an easy "Disagree." But what does it mean to be religious? Being religious is more than having a membership card to a certain organization. You may wish to read my Koala Brothers and Moral Philosophy essay here. If being religious means questioning your purpose in life, trying to fulfill that purpose, wondering from whence we came and where we are going, then it might truly be necessary to be religious to be moral.

STATEMENT: 'In a civilised society, one must always have people above to be obeyed and people below to be commanded.'

If I am in a battle situation in the army, then someone needs to say go and others need to go. The odds are that we all die without this. But does this mean that there is a permanent group of people who are commanders with others simply to serve them? No.

STATEMENT: 'Mothers may have careers, but their first duty is to be homemakers.'

OK, they are going for a certain "conservative" viewpoint here, but yet again this isn't obviously right or wrong on reflection. If this is the traditional old thing that a woman's place is in the home, and the man's job is to earn money and glory in the public world, then you can just disagree. But what if this question is: what should parents, any parents, hold most dear – the home or the job? Then, the answer is in fact the home. Many fathers and mothers could make more money if they abandoned their children and focused all effort on their public lives. But this is the wrong thing to do. There are times all parents sacrfice for their children. If that is the meaning of the statement, then I agree.

STATEMENT: 'It is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate some criminals.'

Yes, it is. Some people are too far gone. The next question, though, is do we know which ones they are when we start? It's the same question for the death penalty. Yes, there are some crimes which deserve death, but am I the one to make that call?

STATEMENT: 'The businessperson and the manufacturer are more important than the writer and the artist.'

I don't know if I agree or not here. If we are talking about DaVinci versus Bill Gates, then I'd go for DaVinci. (I think Gates would too, by the way. He's the one who got one of the DaVinci codexes on display in a Seattle museum.) But if the business person and the manufacturer are standing in for the activities of creating housing, growing food, essentially providing us with the necessities of life, the jobs we need to stay alive, then I'd go with the manufacturers. Again, on the other side if writers and artists are standing in for concepts like spirituality, freedom, questioning authority, etc., then I'd go with the artists again.

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