Ethics: December 2005 Archives

Discrimination as Hate

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The Syracuse University Daily Orange has an interesting article about the LGBT group making a list of bathrooms that would be more favorable for transgendered people [registration probably required], particularly so that they know which bathrooms are single-occupant and which have offensive graffiti. I don't want to get into the general issue of why this is or isn't a good idea or what we should think about the transgender phenomenon as a whole. I've commented on some aspects of those things previously. (It's not clear in the article, but I don't think anyone here is advocating making all bathrooms co-ed, since that would surely make many more people uncomfortable going to the bathroom than the current situation.)

What struck me as very strange, though, was a quote from a student:

The directory is a good idea because people should not feel nervous about going to the bathroom," said Sarabeth Schoeneck, an undeclared sophomore in the College of Human Services and Health Professions. "SU claims to be "no place for hate, and people being discriminated against in the restrooms is a form of hate," she said.

This seems to me to be a huge mistake. I think I have a pretty clear idea of what hate is, and I think I could give plenty of examples of when discrimination stems from hate, but the mere fact of discrimination is simply not hate. Sometimes discrimination occurs unintentionally. Sometimes it's from something like residual racism, where someone might have an immediate response of fear or discomfort because of someone else's race even if they rationally cannot stand the fact that they have such a response and really try to overcome it. Yet it might unconsciously affect some of their decisions and actions. Anyone who thinks that sort of discrimination is hate is morally insensitive.

What's even worse is confusing institutional discrimination with hate. Many authority positions are occupied disproportionally by white males, and white males tend to have disproportionally white male friends, both for largely innocent reasons with respect to their own choices. Given these realities, the practice of favoring people you know in hiring has a disproportionate effect on racial and gender lines. Those who aren't white males will tend to be less likely to be hired. That's a simple statistical fact, and this one practice will offer resistance to overcoming discrimination. So an institution or an overwhelming tendency in society can promote discrimination without any intentional discrimination. That seems to me to be exactly the sort of discrimination you might call this. How, then, is it hate? I think we're just so unaccustomed to seeing real hate in these matters that we have to invent it to have something to talk about. What's ironic is that most people making claims like this wouldn't know real hate if it bit them on the leg, and yet it's pretty common in academia. But hatred of those whom it's politically correct to hate doesn't count as hatred, while mindless processes and attitudes people are desperately trying to overcome do.

Adrian Warnock has a post about the Southern Baptist Convention's recent decision not to hire any missionaries who practice speaking in tongues and to require current missionaries to refrain from doing so in public. This decision seems to be getting a lot of bad press, and I think the reasons for criticism are almost all faulty. I don't agree with the details of their decision, but I think the charges of hypocrisy, inconsistency, and disobedience to the scriptures are false charges.

First is the charge of disobedience to a direct command in I Corinthians 14:40. "Do not forbid speaking in tongues" (ESV). If the SBC has told their missionaries not to speak in tongues, doesn't that amount to forbidding speaking in tongues? It does seem as if it violates a direct scriptural mandate. However, if cessationists have the correct hermeneutic, then not following the command not to forbid tongues is like most evangelicals' not following the command that women wear head coverings and like everyone's not following Paul's command to Timothy to bring him his cloak. Given cessationism, it's simply wrong to expect this command to apply today, and thus what the SBC did is not a deliberate violation of scripture. I'm no cessationist, but the SBC is. Challenge their cessationist view, but don't pretend they're deliberately violating scripture unless you can show that they see this command as applicable today. As far as I've ever known, their hermeneutic doesn't take it to apply today. Maybe theiur hermeneutic is wrong, but charging them with disobeying a direct command doesn't, in their interpretive system, making any more sense than complaining that you're not sacrificing goats or calves, which violates numerous direct commands in Leviticus.

Paul Baxter and I have been discussing pacifism and just war theory a bit in the comments on this post, and I've discovered that I've never posted my reflections on just war theory and Iraq. I should have a later version of all this somewhere, but maybe it got lost in a hard drive failure or something, and I can't find it online anywhere. So what I've got is something I wrote on April 4, 2003, just after the allied forces began invading Iraq. I'm not changing anything here, so this reflects my thoughts at the time. I've learned a bit more about just war theory since then, and there have been plenty of revelations in the followup to the invasion, but this concerns simply what just war theory would support given what we knew at the time. I'm not sure I'd still endorse eveyrthing I say in this, but I think it represents my thinking in most of its details even after all we've learned. [Update: I did find one later treatment of this lifted from my lecture notes with bad formatting. I'm not sure why the Ektopos internal search engine couldn't find that post. I had to use Google.]

From this point on, everything is from my previous piece.

The war is on now, so objections won't stop it, but I've had some thoughts about the objections given in light of a just war theory, and they're worth detailing and examining. One issue is how Christian just war theory is, and the other is how this war stands up in light of traditional just war theory. Some claim that just war theory is a pagan notion imported into Christianity with the Romanizing of Christianity. Some just say that just war theory wouldn't allow this war. These two issues intersect in a couple ways, and I wanted to set forth some things to think about in relation to them.

David Bernstein points out something really stupid about the universities that won't allow military recruiters on campus because they don't approve of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". The claim is that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is discriminatory, and therefore universities with anti-discrimination policies can't allow recruiters on campus. It's not discriminatory in terms of whether it allows gays into the military, but it is discriminatory against those who are openly gay. If it's wrong to discriminate against people because they talk about their sexuality, then this is a wrongful policy.

Bernstein simply accepts that this is correct. What troubles him is that military recruiters are targeted for a boycott, when they're simply following orders, orders handed down not from superior (military) officers but from the civilian government. Why isn't this a boycott of the government that instituted this policy rather than a boycott of those who merely are forced to carry it out? This really does make these university policies seem really stupid. In one respect it's a little like shooting the messenger.

He also makes a comparison I hadn't thought about. The evil our military is currently engaging is much more serious than the evil of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". These university policies undermine our efforts to combat that evil. Doesn't that mean they're doing more harm than good by focusing on eliminating the lesser evil? Anti-discrimination is an important moral consideration, but is it absolute in a way that it ignores even more significant moral considerations?

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