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Monday, May 04, 2015

Normative Pluralism

Once again, upgraded and adapted from the Moot:
Reasonableness demands more than that we apply legitimate standards of justification to warrant beliefs that drive our choices, but that we recognize there are different kinds of decision justified by different forms of belief warranted by different sorts of legitimate criteria. Moral beliefs (from the Latin mores, meaning something like "community-standards") consolidate membership in a "we" which inevitably excludes various "theys" -- while ethical beliefs (from ethos, projections of character in rhetorical occasions) solicit imagined, logical, eventual universal assent, a "we" from which no "they" would rightly be excluded -- and political beliefs (from polis, city, the space of urbanity, publicity, plurality) assume that the "we" who share a time and place are ineradicably diverse in their histories and hopes and that reconciling our wants and solving our shared problems demands interminable efforts at compromise with "theys."

I think it is as profoundly misguided to confuse the ethical universalism of our normative ideals with the provisional compromises of political reconciliation and problem solving (a confusion that yields aesthetic politics more concerned with making beautiful spectacles of pure idealism than progressive change) as it is to confuse the membership policing of moral parochialism with the political reconciliation of worldly diversity (a confusion that yields imperial politics more concerned with imposing conforming on diversity rather than compromises among the diverse to solve shared problems).

I am not denying that moral, ethical, political, aesthetic, legal beliefs and decisions inform one another -- of course, we all weave them together in our worldviews -- but I deny emphatically that they are or should be reducible to one another. I suspect that self-congratulatory refusals to make political compromises in the struggle toward progress, as well as self-righteous assignments of absolute complicity in evil arising from expedient compromises are rooted in a moralizing or logical disavowal of politics as such. While such disavowals seem to make heartbreaking struggles seem easier and complex realities seem simpler, this is a form of laziness and self-deception that is the furthest thing from admirable in my view.


High Arka said...

What happened if they gave a war, and nobody came?

Somebody has to make the tough decisions...otherwise, who will?

From Milton Mayer, "If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it."

Your full response took a bit longer: Parting the Veil

This one doesn't have many readers, but if you're nervous about responding there, just do it here; comment notification is turned on.

Dale Carrico said...

You seem to avoid tough decisions rather than to make them -- voting is always a tough thing precisely because people are imperfect, diversity is ineradicable, and history is interminable. Why do you seem to assume that voting precludes rather than being a part of lots of kinds of political engagement? Why do you seem to assume that anyone who votes will therefore turn out to vote for Nazis? It is easy to vote for someone and then complain to them if they become a war-monger and educate, agitate, organize to stop the war, resist the war, topple them from power for their war-likeness, and so on. One votes for Nazis because one is an asshole or because Nazis are the only ones on the ballot. If every party looks like the Nazis to you, because no party is perfect, then you need to check your eyesight. I'm not nervous about responding to you, as is evident from my responses to you, it's just that I am not moved to seek out what you say otherwise because it isn't really my cup of tea. So long as you keep raising issues here, I respond to them in the pedagogical spirit I cannot easily shake.

High Arka said...

Dr. King, you seem to avoid tough decisions rather than to make them -- the kind of rabble-rousing you're engaged in will only bring about change too fast. The negro is not yet ready for full integration. If we just vote for slightly more moderate candidates each time ~

Mr. Gandhi, you seem to avoid tough decisions rather than to...

Dale Carrico said...

Both King and Gandhi fought for more voting and more enfranchisement. I teach King and Gandhi (among many many other activists and theorists of nonviolence) to undergraduates. I was trained in nonviolence at the King Center in Atlanta as part of Queer Nation. I am an advocate of nonviolent revolutionary struggle. Literally nothing I have ever said to you is incompatible with any of that, indeed my stance on voting is informed by these commitments. Your "intervention" is impertinent and nonsensical. By all means try again -- or learn the lesson.