Thursday, February 26, 2004

A retraction, and more criticism

NZPols is right - I misrepresented her yesterday by attributing to her views that belonged to the author of the article she was talking about, and I apologise. That said, now that she's actively defending them, I can slag her off anyway, and I stand by my criticisms. The key problem with the argument that

courts pushing these issues before society is ready will result in a majority backlash which will hurt minorities even more

is that is never time for change. There is always a backlash when people stand up and demand their rights. That doesn't mean we should deny their claims because "it's not time yet" or "the majority will never go along with it". Doing that simply legitimises and perpetuates continuing oppression. Worse, it undermines the ability of the courts to act as a neutral arbiter, and thereby encourages defection from the social game.

Sometimes the state has to force people to respect the rights of others. It's that simple. If the state cannot or will not do that, there's no point in having one, and we might as well all get guns and start killing one another.

(As for why this is about utilitarianism, just look at the language - NZPols is explicitly counting hedons, comparing current and pessimistic future states, with the result that the "best" mechanism to ensure that minorities are not oppressed is, apparantly, to continue oppressing them. I say "pessimistic" because other possible future states are discounted - in particular, future states where the government acts to enforce a court-ordered end to oppression (as happened notably with Brown vs Board of Education - President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to ensure the court order was respected). And of course, it takes no account of what people actually want - I think that the scenes in San Francisco show that plenty of people prefer uncertain freedom with the possibility of a future backlash to continuing oppression any day of the week. It may not be best for them in the end, but that choice is ultimately theirs to make - a principle that utilitarianism simply gives no recognition to).