Thursday, 24 April 2008

Egalitarianism Riposte

In a clear but I think wrong-headed rationalistic defense of multi-culturalism, Professor Toddington in a seminar on Rights Discourse at the Univesity of Westminster, School of Law, on April 23rd, 2008, argued for an ethical epistemology based on J.S.Mill's premise of freedom. Toddington's version of Mill's freedom is that it is actually "the responsibility of egalitarianism to maximize the scope of personal efficacy." His partner at the forum, Professor Henrik Olsen (Copenhagen) argued pro the title of the talk, "Why Multiculturalists Should Seek to Abolish the Right to Freedom of Religion". I found their combined arguments so awesome and dangerous that I feel compelled to write not so much a refutation (if that were even possible I would pay for it) but a special pleading for the one right which they argue should be abolished. This note should be considered a philosophical riposte to the concept of egalitarianism.

First, why am I against egalitarianism? I am against egalitarianism because it is an ideal born out of the quasi-statistical invention of sameness of equi-probable events. That is, its lineage comes from the misbegotten export of a very useful mathematical concept (i.e., randomness where each and every thing is the same) purchased for the realm of social control. Egalitarianism is one of those projected particular symmetry ideas that says, "Forget all the differences we see in the world, and let us imagine a world where everyone has the same of something or where everyone should be treated the same no matter what the special conditions." This universalistic essentialism forgets about 23 centuries of criticism that says, "If things are the same as each other, then any choice about one thing over another is just as arbitrary as any another." These arguments are pre-Socratic and hark back to Zeno and Parmenides. In other words, a choice in a egalitarian universe is a vote for chaos--the undifferentiated that defies order. Less abstractly, I am reminded of Evans-Pritchard's classic of Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande when the most rational of anthropologists decides to conduct a personal experiment where he goes all the way--that is, he decides one day to organize his daily life according to the belief-behaviour system of the Azande, throwing an hen-bone (?) oracle in the morning and conducting his life according to what the oracle dictates. His conclusion is that he felt that there was no difference at all in his life, and it was perfectly fine to conduct his life according to the oracle. Personal choice (the action) always destroys any egalitarianism (the idea).

Second, egalitarianism not only assumes an ideal distribution of something, but that it is also inexhaustibly so. Consider Toddington's version of Mill's freedom premise above. Let's call this the state of the world at time 1. If we have infinite resources and infinite time, then of course, we have egalitarianism. But if resources are limited and time is limited, then we have...queues! And queues translated into social action results in hierarchies. Queues and hierarchies are everywhere in time 2; they are a way of managing conflicts of limited resources over time. Although both Professors say they address hierarchies in their book, the evidence of social hierarchies should demonstrate how distant the notion of egalitarianism is from justifying the multi-culturalism that "allows" hierarchies. Hierarchies are because resources are short of infinite and because we never have enough time to do our groceries and watch our favourite tele. These choices made for us by forming a queue and establishing a hierarchy are anti-egalitarian.

Third, to abolish the freedom of religion for the right to (suffer?!) multi-culturalism is a bit much to swallow. Toddington and Olsen have a non-mystical very rationalistic idea of what constitutes religion which is frankly...egalitarian, de-personalised and rather, dismissive, with a big value judgment. I suggested in open forum that perhaps we should consider the freedom of religion as the freedom to darkness. That is, instead of the freedom of expression, assembly and so forth. The deepest, superiorly & meekly mystical, and anti-rationalistic freedom is totally private. I can hear Professor Toddington and Olsen retort, "But then this is already covered by the right to privacy..." No, it is not. The freedom of religion is beyond privacy. Again, I can only compare it to a classical reference. Julius Cesar was called to bear witness against his wife for sacrilege--apparently, she had had sex with a guard during a particular religious festival on sacred vestal virgin ground no less, violating one of the sacred laws of Rome, punishable by death. Even her mother testified against her. When it was time for Cesar to give testimony, his response was, "You may not ask Cesar." Legal scholars have interpreted this remark as Cesar's arrogance of being above and beyond the law. However, I like another interpretation of this event and that is, that Cesar understood the heart of what it meant to be a Roman citizen--which in one rule was simply this: "As a Roman citizen, no one has the right to interfere with my body." He took this legal concept to another level. By his words, he jumped a couple thousand years, as if to say, "Not only do you not have the right to interfer with my body, but you also may not interfer with my mind." To abolish the freedom to religion is to provide the state with its ultimate compulsion not only over body and mind, but of spirit.

1 comment:

John Flood said...

See comment to Toddington and Olsen above.