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Pluralist society

Posted by Sen on April 4, 2010

This is in response to ‘Pluralist Society is an Unethical Rabble’ on another Bahai blog on WordPress, Owen’s Meanderings. Owen says he is

“increasingly reminded of that famous biblical story about Sodom and Gommorroh,” … the men and women who sit in government seats must take their share of the blame for the inequities within a nation. However increasingly I have realized that the person living in my street is likely to be twice a corrupt as a politician. … There seems to be very few people who have self-regulating ethical decision-making process. ..

They would say, “this is the way of a pluralist society, the secular society.” … so this rabble of millions of people require a watch dog over everything they do, … This rabble has no ethical education nor any commitment. They do not learn the lessons of yesterday’s generation, nor develop any new insights for today’s problems. … every time anyone of us need a watch dog to ensure we do the fair thing by others in our society, we are the fault for an inadequate governance in our democracy. If our need for a watch dog continues to increase as it seems to need, nations are eventually not going to be able to afford both progress and the watchdogs. At that stage, democracies will stagnate and fall. With luck, as dogs-eat-dogs amidst the chaos of nation-state failures, a transformed mind-set will be raised. But how many lives will need to be lost. ….There is no leadership out there in pluralist society, just a cacophony of voices asking, unfairly, for more for themselves.

I disagree profoundly.

Pluralism is here to stay: the alternatives required to eliminate it are too terrible to consider. That means that we have to think again about how the whole (‘society’) and its parts fit together, and where the ethics come from. If a society has one culture, as was once the case, that culture nurtures the virtues which the state needs. But no society now or in the future can have one culture, one set of common values, yet the state still needs most of its citizens to be law-abiding most of the time, it needs virtuous citizens. So how can we have virtuous citizens without common values?

I think we need to envision the sub-systems such as religious and ethnic communities and school systems (private, public, faith-based) as providers of virtuous citizens to the state. That means that the state has a stake in fostering those that do in fact produce virtuous citizens. But it doesn’t matter to the state what values produce the virtues. I think of ‘values’ as a ranking of virtues: for instance, Christian values give a high ranking to forgiveness, Sikh values give a high ranking to courage, the Boy Scouts movement gives a high ranking to helpfulness and preparedness, and so on. This diversity – the lack of common values – is an asset to the state, for in different contingencies different virtues need to be prioritised. An all-absorbing war does not demand the same set of social values to be practised as a deep recession, or a bouyant-to-bubbling surge of prosperity. Common values therefore are a liability, while a diversity of virtuous citizens are an insurance policy.

The lack of ethics Owen comments on is not due to pluralism in society, it is the legacy of the modern era in which the centralised and rationalised modern state itself tried to be a producer of virtuous citizens, by creating a common culture (national education, radio, a national language), by outright nationalism, or by making one or other ideology the state ideology.

All of these have failed, partly because mobility and freedom of choice mean that a mono-cultural society is now impossible, but more profoundly because the core business of the state is the security of all its citizens, which requires it to be the monopoly provider of coercion. I pay my taxes willingly – so long as I know my neighbour will also do so. He feels the same. We have established the state as a provider of coercion precisely so that we both know the other won’t cheat. So coercion is the core product, in the state’s core business, which limits the state to work according to a certain kind of logic. ‘Reasons of state’ really are different to “reasons of the heart” or “market logic” or “the logic of science.”

Now the product “virtuous citizens” — that is, citizens who are self-actuated to behave ethically, at least most of the time — demands the absence of coercion. Virtue, to be a moral virtue, must be freely chosen; and what the state needs is not just pliable citizens, but self-actuated citizens who freely choose to be ethical, and preferably altruistic. So we see that the path in which the state attempted to produce its own virtuous citizens was as much a dead end as the paths in which the state tried to manage the economy, or direct the workings of science. This has left us with the legacy of an “unethical rabble.”

It is the cultural providers, with ethnic and religious communities in the lead, who have the continuity to pass on the lessons of one generation to the next, who offer the role models and mores to elicit not just virtue but also altruism. To assist them, the state needs to see clearly why it needs them, and the state has to embrace multiculturalism, and see the leaders of civil society as its partners and the suppliers of its most crucial resource: virtuous citizens. It needs to work with the ethnic, ethical, and religious communities on the basis of that need; that is, not because one ethnicity is the leitcultuur and must be protected, or one religion is favoured for historical reasons, but for transparent and equally applied “reasons of state.” Something like the “lemon test” must be formulated for government partnerships with the communities in civic society. Such a model of pluralist partnerships between the state and civil society also requires that the ethnic and religious communities bury any hatchets there may be between them. And it requires an input from the various communities of interest to the legislative process.

Baha’u’llah writes:

“O people of God! Give ear unto that which, if heeded, will ensure the freedom, well-being, tranquillity, exaltation and advancement of all men. Certain laws and principles are necessary and indispensable for Persia. However, it is fitting that these measures should be adopted in conformity with the considered views of His Majesty … and of the learned divines and of the high-ranking rulers. Subject to their approval a place should be fixed where they would meet. There they should hold fast to the cord of consultation and adopt and enforce that which is conducive to the security, prosperity, wealth and tranquillity of the people. For were any measure other than this to be adopted, it could not but result in chaos and commotion.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 92)

“The purpose of religion [in general, not one particular one!] … is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. … It behoveth the chiefs and rulers of the world, and in particular the Trustees of God’s House of Justice [i.e., the leaders of the Bahai community], to endeavour to the utmost of their power to safeguard its [religion's] position, promote its interests and exalt its station in the eyes of the world.”
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 129)

Abdu’l-Baha writes:

“Universal benefits derive from the grace of the Divine religions, [note the plural] for they lead their true followers to sincerity of intent, to high purpose, to purity and spotless honor, to surpassing kindness and compassion, to the keeping of their covenants when they have covenanted, to concern for the rights of others, to liberality, to justice in every aspect of life, to humanity and philanthropy, to valor and to unflagging efforts in the service of mankind. It is religion, to sum up, which produces all human virtues, and it is these virtues which are the bright candles of civilization.”
(The Secret of Divine Civilization, 98)

I should add one caveat about this pluralist model of state-community relations. It is not the same as the millet system which applied in the late Ottoman empire, and similar systems elsewhere, in which the state delegates some of its coercive and judicial powers to sub-communities. In those systems, Jews would enforce Jewish law on Jewish subjects, Christians on Christian subjects, and the various communities would also be taxed as communities, paying through their community leaders. The postmodern state has to treat citizens as individuals and not as members of a community, for two reasons: because people today can enter and leave communities and be members of multiple communities — a freedom they will not surrender — and because a non-ideological state exists to foster the development and serve the purposes of the individual.


One postscript to this:

The family was omitted above, but it is certainly to be included among the (potential) providers of virtuous citizens, so the state has an interest in fostering ‘productive’ families. By ‘family’ here I do not mean a man and woman bound in the sacrament of marriage (or equivalent definitions in other traditions): the state must define the family, for its purposes, according to its own needs : the family is the smallest level of association that produces citizens for the state. That includes solo parents, same-sex couples raising children, triangles and communes and polygonous arrangements – all weighed solely on their success in raising virtuous citizens.

~~ Sen McGlinn

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12 Responses to “Pluralist society”

  1. owen59 said

    Hi Sen, love the comment. I’ve pasted this on the original in my blog but with a few secodn thought changes. Yes, I wouldn’t be drawing so long a bow as to say that, somehow, pluralism should or even can be eliminated. If I understand the above, you are saying that pluralism requires a process for moral training. I am saying that the pluralism I see in real life is unable to provide moral training and, in fact, is increasingly avoiding it, with the outcomes that I mentioned. And, having worked with NGO’s at Federal government level in Australia, I know full well that pluralist governance is more about leverage and less about communal problem-solving, so the strong get more, and the weak miss out more. Even supposed moral gatekeepers such as the takers of the hippocratic, at an organisational level are more interested in maintaining their place in society than in solving health problems for a society. Yes, the diversity of opinion and capacity is a feature of life we must be sure to harness as well as allow run free within certain constraints (big questions here), in part so that new innovation develops that the whole of society can benefit. However, I don’t see this happening in the increasingly immoral pluralism that currently exists. Indeed if it wasn’t for those small islands of moral training that you mentioned, and the weak social conscience it supports, we would have already failed much more seriously. It is yet to see if there is yet 10 good men in human society to shore up the appropriate behaviour of the masses, enough so that there is not heavier destruction in the future. Pluralism as it exists doesn’t give us the leaders that, I think most people want. Nor do I think the great men and women of the 20th Century to know have shone a very strong light or provided a very strong example. I, however, only blame them as far as I blame the people who have not been able to act more morally in any community and who have supported their rise. Indeed, I recognise that some leaders rose through the brambles of nations on the verge of self-destruction – Mandela is one of those, Ghandi another – but I think you can see that even pointing them out, points as much to the failure of the pluralist voices, than their success. Even Afrikanners bowed before the whip of their own consequences when they felt it applied to their backs, but they did not do so per force of their moral training. And so they and others are able to perpetuate their hatreds throughout the world, because the leaders have been inconsistent and have not anywhere near fully exemplified the act of leadership to fulfil the need of a languishing world. Rather the outcome of the pluralist bun fight is to give us people who are largely orientated towards the most powerful institutions, rather than the best problem-solvers for the whole nation or world. These leaders therefore, cannot greatly improve the society, but reinforce the moral ineptitude. Therefore I do not seek in them my leadership but rather, as you have so succinctly demonstrated, that sole wholesome example of moral aptitude and consistency: Baha’u’llah.

  2. Sen said

    The problem is that the diagnosis of moral decay, without new thinking about the basic structure of society, leads to retrograde responses which are logical within the mind-set of the modern state. If the state has failed to produce an ethically mature population (which it has), then the state must do more of the same harder. So in the Netherlands for a time (when Balkenende first came in) we had an appeal to “Dutchness” and emphasis on the integration of migrants to it, classes on ‘respect’ in state schools, etc… Something similar lasted longer in the UK. There’s talk about flying the flag more, holding citizenship ceremonies, tighter supervision of the faith-based schools. The state is quite inept at teaching morals, since the state itself exists to coerce people (nothing against that – that’s the service it provides to society); the modern era has been characterised by the centralisation, rationalisation and enormous empowerment of the state, which has overshadowed other aspects of life and civil society – partly out of ambition and partly because the institutions of religion and ‘soft’ social order (respect) were feeble and failed to adapt to changes such as urbanisation and cultural and ethnic pluralism rapidly enough. That left a vacuum of moral authority in the lives of the polyglot urban masses, which early sociologists identified and which the nationalist state tried to fill. Its moral credibility went down, in Europe, in two world wars and the exposure of colonialism’s deep immorality.

    I do not think that finding leaders can be a solution, if the problem is the lack of ethical grounding and altruism in the (potential) followers.

    Nor is turning to Baha’u’llah a plausible solution. What you are suggesting is in fact a return to the pre-modern state in which one strong religious culture and its institutions provides the value system, and teaches the virtues in the value system. But I do not believe that uniformity in religion is possible, and I do not believe it is what Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha intended, or what Shoghi Effendi expected to happen. Rather they looked forward to a revival of religions. On this blog see:
    The future of religions
    All Bahai?
    Entry by troops when?
    One morning in Shiraz
    Foundations for interfaith sharing
    Stark choices

    As I said in the posting, a partnership in which the state fosters the institutions and activities in civil society that teach virtues – without concerning itself with differences between value-systems – requires that the religious and ethnic communities bury the hatchet. If the Bahais want to participate in such a partnership, saying “there’s no solution until everyone becomes a Bahai” is not going to be fruitful. It will also be self-defeating: in a religiously plural world where we value our freedom to believe and not to believe, a community that says things like that is repugnant to most people. We (and the other religious and ethnic communities) must ourselves accept the pluralist bargain, we must see ourselves as — for socio-political purposes — suppliers of virtuous citizens alongside other suppliers. The religious and ethnic communities must vie with one another service, not wring their hands and say “there’s no solution until they are all like us.”

    Baha’u’llah is NOT the sole wholesome example of moral apititude. Abdu’l-Baha says:

    … the breezes of Christ are still blowing; His light is still shining; His melody is still resounding; His standard is still waving; His armies are still fighting; His heavenly voice is still sweetly melodious; His clouds are still showering gems; His lightning is still flashing; His reflection is still clear and brilliant; His splendor is still radiating and luminous; and it is the same with those souls who are under His protection and are shining with His light.
    (Some Answered Questions, 152)

  3. Stella Ramage said

    Hello Sen. Terrific defense of pluralism. And I very much like your teasing out of the definitions of ‘virtues’ and ‘values’ – very helpful.

    However I find the vision it raises of all these assorted organizations churning out diverse ‘virtuous citizens’ in the service of the state a bit chilling.

    You embrace the notion of diversity of ‘virtue’ as giving a kind of hybrid vigour in the face of all possible adversities that a state might face. But doesn’t this view of ‘virtue’ presuppose that the term has some fixed definition separate to a dynamic context?

    For instance, to give a hackneyed example, the virtue of ‘courage’ in a band of freedom fighters against an oppressive regime might be indistinguishable to the vice of ‘rebelliousness’ as viewed by the state police charged with bringing in (the same) bunch of ‘terrorists’.

    You seem to assume the benevolence of states towards citizens as a given. I take a more cynical, Marxist view: isn’t the virtue that states most like to see inculcated in their citizens that of ‘docility’?

    However, if we go along with your Boy Scouts and Sunday Schools as archetypal saccharin-flavoured good-citizen-producers – must we then reject the kind of citizens produced by street gangs? (virtues = loyalty? staunchness? toughness?) – or those produced by religious fundamentalism? (virtues = optimism? conviction? transcendent vision?) … there are real virtues there, I’m not denying that at all, but whether the ‘state’ (definition please?) is likely to accept those virtue-laden citizens into its motherly bosom is another question entirely.

    So what this boils down to is two – OK, three – questions:

    (1) What makes you think any ‘state’ has the best interest of its citizens at heart? [p.s. Is anyone attending to e.g. West Papua/Irian Jaya and its horrific oppression by Indonesia that is totally below the radar of western news broadcasts?].

    (2) If you define virtue in terms of what benefits the ‘state’, where does that leave you in terms of (1)?

    (3) If you define virtue in terms of merely what benefits the state, where does that leave you in terms of a more transcendent definition of religious meaning – not merely an earthly definition of heaven on earth, but as a heaven that totally transcends any earthly considerations at all of human notions of mere physical ‘flourishing’?

  4. Sen said

    Hi Stella,

    I also find this a chilling vision. That’s because I am trying to formulate criteria for the state’s interraction with civil society institutions that do not involve the state endorsing or condemning one culture or belief. This model is not intended to be a meta-theory, just a political theory.

    Each sphere of life has its own models and explanations of the other parts of life. For example, economists have economic models of art, religion and politics that show how those aspects of life interract with the economy, but will not make much sense to the artist doing art or the believer doing worship and service or the politician politicking. They know their own motivations and rationales, and economic considerations are generally a secondary issue.

    Ditto for religion: it has its own religious and transcendent definitions of politics and power, which tell the religionist why the state exists and why and how he or she should interract with the state. In my model, the state is manifesting the sovereignty of God and serving God’s creation, which is obviously not what most political actors feel from day to day.

    The primary virtues seem to me to be self-defining and distinct from one another, as if each is a primary colour. Children know what “fair” and not-fair are, apparently without needing to be taught. We could explain to someone about Fair, and about synonyms used in different contexts such as “justice” but if the person themselves lacked a sense of justice, would they learn anything? We can’t explain what one virtue is by saying it’s halfway between two other virtues, or that it’s a bit more green than bravery, or hotter than honesty. They are like elements used to be in Chemistry: basic building blocks that are not reducable to one-another or component parts.

    I do not say anything in this posting about the quality of the state concerned, except to say “what the state needs is not just pliable citizens, but self-actuated citizens who freely choose to be ethical, and preferably altruistic.” I think this is true for quite bad states: they must recognise that their mechanisms of law and enforcement, or arbitrary power, can only be effective if most people, most of the time, do the right thing by their fellow-citizens. Only a very oppressive state would in fact be threatened by altruism. I think that’s a strength of the model. If an authoritarian or somewhat oppressive state recognises that it’s own continuity does require it to define, inculcate and enforce one ideology, common values, or a leitcultuur, it can be that much less oppressive.

    Certainly street gangs and fundamentalist churches are schools of virtue, but all the civil society bodies are going to be somewhat mixed, from the point of view of producing virtues. Some fundamentalist communities are schools of hate and fear as well as of virtue. A street gang might produce straight virtues, such as courage and solidarity, but do it with practices that are too costly for the state to accept. A motorcycle gang might produce straight virtue, and without excessive negatives, but be so structured that state support would reduce its credibility or pollute its ‘produce’ with greed, rather than helping it to produce more virtuous people.

    I don’t think that ‘docility’ is a virtue, I think of it rather as a learned behaviour in relation to someone else. Often it proves to be a calculated position, which the ‘docile’ abandon when the opportunity presents itself, as we have seen in the last few days.

  5. Larry Roofener said


    As one who visits and reads your Blog frequently, I continue to appreciate your ability to stimulate thought on numerous topics and your invitation to provide comment.

    You mention that “values produce the virtues” and that you perceive “values as a ranking of virtues”. Could it be the reverse? Should not virtue provide the bases for the values? Should not ethics (individual and social) be the result of virtue?

    Further considering the concepts of “virtue” and “values”, I would like to comment that I perceive “virtue” appearing to be more identified with the Divine influences and associated with things that are more universal and eternal. In the Baha’i Teachings, acquisition of virtue is associated with the individual’s spiritual reality and development. “Values” seem to be more culturally or socially based and influence the individual through those means. Values appear to be more temporal and subject to change. In Their writings and utterances, Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha both refer to “virtue” as those “names”, “attributes”, “energies”, “merciful gifts”, “powers”, “forces”, and “requirements” that the individual must acquire to realize spiritual progress in both this earthly life and in the realm(s) beyond. Considering this, it seems that virtue is directly related more to spiritual reality.

    Baha’u’llah says: “Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing (God) hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man … He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes … These energies with which … (God)… hath endowed the reality of man lie … latent … within him … The radiance of these energies may be obscured by worldly desires even as the light of the sun can be concealed beneath the dust and dross which cover the mirror. … It is clear that … unless the dross is blotted out from the face of the mirror it can never represent the image of the sun nor reflect its light and glory.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 65-66)

    ‘Abdu’l-Baha is reported to have said: “… (I)t is necessary that in this world (man) should acquire these divine attributes. In that world (beyond) there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and the love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him. … That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore, man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. … By what means can man acquire these things? How shall he obtain these merciful gifts and powers? First, through the knowledge of God. Second, through the love of God. Third, through faith. Fourth, through philanthropic deeds. Fifth, through self-sacrifice. Sixth, through severance from this world. Seventh, through sanctity and holiness. Unless he acquires these forces and attains to these requirements, he will surely be deprived of the life that is eternal. …” (Promulgation of Universal Peace, p 226)

    Considering the words of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha, virtue is described as a spiritual reality. Is not virtue not the “power”, “force”, or “energy” that can cause something to be, rather than the result or effect of something else, i.e. values?


  6. Sen said

    You are correct, that individual virtues are logically prior to any ranking-of-virtues, which is a value system. However virtuous people are born and grow up in a social group that has a value system, a culture, an infrastructure of education (and perhaps negative aspects as well). My argument for the political expediency of pluralism, is that it does not matter to the state which cultural or religious group is teaching the virtues and raising the children, nor does it matter particularly what belief or culture shapes them, for we can assume there are no cultures or beliefs that praise lying, cowardice, and injustice. (In the short term, theoretically, there might be – but they will destroy themselves).

    ~ Sen

  7. Stella Ramage said

    This thorny and fascinating issue of the relationship between the individual and the state has a venerable philosophical ancestry dating back to Plato – doesn’t sound like we’re going to solve it any time soon! But I’m very drawn to your undogmatic pragmatism, Sen, as you work out this ‘model’ of a pluralist state in a ‘let’s think what works’ kind of way.

    I take your point (grudgingly, for now) that virtues can/should be considered not as mere Humpty-Dumpty words but as ‘real’ non-negotiable building-blocks of social behaviour (children really do seem to have an in-built sense of ‘fair’, though there’s a strong argument that that’s come about through evolutionary pressure rather than otherworldly influence).

    OK, so in your model the state would encourage and support any and all institutions that undertake to instill virtues (of any kind) in children, but not itself undertake this role. Is that right? Does this mean no secular state schools, only faith-based or special-interest schools? Yikes! And isn’t there still a problem of tribalism? By which I mean a deep-seated tendency (also a product of evolution no doubt)to extend ones net of virtue only over one’s own circle? So you’re kind and compassionate and hard-working within your own community, but you still think those Protestants over the road are a bunch of ne’er-do-wells. (In this regard I recently heard a Professor of Religious Studies here at Victoria University report on a recent visit to Samoa after the tsunami. He was appalled by the blatant partisanship displayed by the various Christian denominations in the scramble to provide aid in the aftermath – and the shocking waste of lives and money achieved in the process.)

    So in order for any virtue to operate properly in an unconstrained way, it needs to be harnessed to a notion of universality so that it cannot be hijacked by (conscious or unconscious) partisanship. Is there a role for the state in the ‘policing’ of that? (I don’t like that word but I can’t think of another one.) Is there perhaps also a special role here for the Baha’i Faith – which although it holds no monopoly on virtues in general, does have a special relationship, surely, to the promotion of universality in human affairs that Mormonism (for instance) doesn’t.

  8. Sen said

    … virtues can/should be considered not as mere Humpty-Dumpty words but as ‘real’ non-negotiable building-blocks of social behaviour (children really do seem to have an in-built sense of ‘fair’, though there’s a strong argument that that’s come about through evolutionary pressure rather than otherworldly influence).

    I don’t see it as either/or. When we say there was a big bang and stuff spun out and evolution happened and here we are, and when we say I know God is my creator and equally the creator of all creatures, we’re talking in two different modes to say different things. Even within the language of science, what came first: if humans did not have that capacity to empathise, there would be no sense of fair and a very different kind of human biological and social evolution – which we might not be willing to recognise as human.

    OK, so in your model the state would encourage and support any and all institutions that undertake to instill virtues (of any kind) in children, but not itself undertake this role. Is that right? Does this mean no secular state schools, only faith-based or special-interest schools?

    No, because schools serve many purposes as well as teaching virtues, and because in state schools and private schools, the teachers teach virtues, some consciously based on their own value-system, some as the expression of their own characters, and not all well. There are explicitly Christian teachers in state schools, and atheists in the Catholic schools nowadays. What my model does mean is that the state and the state school administration does not expect its policy and institutional structure to train the population in virtues, let alone teach any particular value system, even as it recognises that the virtues or lack of them of each member of the staff can have a profound effect. A system, and particularly a political system, cannot substitute for a person. On the other hand, there are virtues such as punctuality and courtesy that are inherent to education in itself, they are part of the internal logic of the education project. They have to be promoted by explication, reward and punishment, to the extent that they are needed in education by education. Where I dig in my heels, is when the state or some sociologist says that society needs X or Y virtue or value, lets tell the schools to teach it.

    And isn’t there still a problem of tribalism?

    I tend to distrust anyone who upholds universal ideals and does not show love for his family, relatives, local community and nation. The virtues are concrete where we practice them, which is, with the people we interract with most. “I would be unprejudiced towards gypsies (if any lived here)” is cheap. So, family first (which is not the same as ‘my family right or wrong’), then the wider circles, recognising that the well-being of every individual and unity of society is served by the unity and security of the whole. I think there are two objectionable features to tribalism, one is limiting empathy to the right kind of people, the other is mixing self-interested motives with ethical motives. Giving aid to boost the image of your own ‘tribe’ (religious community, family) is to put extrinsic benefits for onself or for an organisation on a par with the intrinsic value of another person.

    So in order for any virtue to operate properly in an unconstrained way, it needs to be harnessed to a notion of universality so that it cannot be hijacked by (conscious or unconscious) partisanship.

    I think the universality should come from the non-negotiable, non-comparable value of the individual human person, and not from conditioning the local practice of virtue on its also serving a collective bigger than one’s own community. In a way this is a circle that you can go round either way, because if you think if the bigger collective as humanity as a whole, you can transcend the nationalist approach in which ‘the good of the nation’ constrains the communities’ practice of their values. I prefer to go the other way round to universality, via the universal value of the individual, because, ethically speaking, what’s so great about humanity? It fights and pollutes and overwhelms the other inhabitants of a small planet. What’s great about humanity is that each one is a human. This valuation of the individual is something that all the ethical monotheisms, and Buddhism and some others, have in common. Bahai has worked out that this entails the unity of the human race, and that that principle should be embodied in all social structures and by removing all prejudice from ourselves, but Bahai is not entirely unique in that.

    Maybe a third objectionable aspect of tribalism is when you fail to give fair credit to virtues outside your own sphere

  9. cj said

    Sen, you wrote: (I do not know how to get the quotation boxes using HTML tags; instruction would be welcomed.)

    “One postscript to this:

    The family was omitted above, but it is certainly to be included among the (potential) providers of virtuous citizens, so the state has an interest in fostering ‘productive’ families. By ‘family’ here I do not mean a man and woman bound in the sacrament of marriage (or equivalent definitions in other traditions): the state must define the family, for its purposes, according to its own needs : the family is the smallest level of association that produces citizens for the state. That includes solo parents, same-sex couples raising children, triangles and communes and polygonous arrangements – all weighed solely on their success in raising virtuous citizens.”

    I am presuming there is a great deal you have not yet said on this topic.

    Sociology of the family, is the academic classification of what you are speaking to here. And the sociological purpose of the family is to have and to socialize (raise) children. The family arrangements which you have listed, are likely all a valid way of raising children once the children are born, but fail to address the courtship issues (process by which people choose sexual partners for the purpose of forming a family). I would also posit that few women would be actively willing to conceive and bear children for the purpose of providing healthy babies for those whose family structures preclude intra-family reproduction.

    The breadth of diversity in courtship norms between these diverse groups, would fail to address the individual human rights of the individual involved. Equality between the sexes (human rights) if considered; would have us skeptical as to how exactly both human rights of women ,which start with the acknowlegement of the necessity of sexual consent, are entirely incompatible with the diversity of courtship practices such an intermixed diversity of family structures would require.

    There are cultures where women are considered sexually available unless fully covered. There are cultures where naked women are considered usual in public places. There are places where saying “no” is required of virtuous women and physical behavior is the determinant of sexual consent. There are places where marriages are arranged sight unseen…..

    With so much diversity in the signals that go with the courtship process, how exactly is the state going to regulate sexual mate selection. How are individuals going to manage to find people of similar enough courtship rituals that they are not chronically at risk of sexual assaults. And given the mobility of these diverse peoples, how are individuals going to establish the truthfulness of any suitor.

    Current levels of diversity, here in the West where mobility and freedom of choice are well established have generated disproportionate numbers of children living below the poverty line due to serial polygamy resulting from the unmatched expectations of family structure within these various families. ie: unilaterally open marriage, expectation of matrilinial material support for the children, divergent career choices… Virtuous children (even if the state did manage to develop a list of virtues and each of us needed to teach our children a given number of these virtues) require a great deal of personalized care and education, and significant material support over an extended number of years.

    If you would, I would appreciate useful references to assist with sorting out some of these sexual partner selection issues within a mobile and diverse range of possible family structures.

  10. Sen said

    I don’t think the state has much role to play in courtship and partner selection. The state has an interest in self-supporting and reasonably stable families, but which families they are, makes little difference. Mate selection is governed by biological factors (women’s preferance for men who are not closely related appears to be physiologically explicable, for example), and by cultures. Why would the state intervene, if cultural mechanisms function well? If it must intervene (and I see no need), it should be to increase the capacity of cultural groups to guide individuals to good courtship practice and sensible partner selection.

    A population is not divided simply into vertical pillars, each representing the various generations of one cultural tradition. There are also horizontal cultures, representing generations. The teenage and young adult group is most relevant to partner selection. In a multicultural society, the young people of different ethnic/religious cultures who are geographically close share a youth culture: they know for example what the norms of behaviour in a night club or at school are, while their parents may not. The risk of mixed signals between young people is therefore reasonably low, while the risk of misunderstanding and mixed signals when both the youth and their parents are involved is much higher. This is the stuff of sitcoms.

    In the same way, those in the local gay sub-culture must be attuned to the norms of that culture, while those in their family or ethnic background are not. So a society containing very diverse norms and codes of communication in relation to partner choice can work with little friction, since those actually involved in each particular partner choice generally have sufficient commonality to avoid disasterous mixed signals. That doesn’t make partner choice plain sailing, but then it never has been.

    On the other hand, the security of citizens is the core task of the state. This must include laws and enforcement regarding non-consensual sex, free consent to marriage, the age of consent and protection for minors. Arguably, the forbidden degrees of marriage are also a state interest, since in the long term there are public health implications. Different ethnic and religious cultures have various norms for these, but this need not lead the state to prefer one above the other. For example, the fact that the Bahais and Christians and Muslims have three (or more) different ages for maturity does not require the state to choose one: its own interests require a minimum age of marriage and consenting sex that is higher than any of these religious communities, and probably higher than any existing ethnic community. The state today has an interest in seeing the mass of its population reasonably well-educated, and not starting families until they are self-supporting. Diffent cultural groups may have different expectations concerning custody of children, but the state need not adopt one or other of these, it can apply its own standard based on its own interest, by having a judge decide what arrangement will be best for the child – will be most likely to produce a productive and virtuous citizen for the state.

    I do not think that cultural diversity is linked to serial polygamy. The United Kingdom and homogenous Denmark have very similar divorce rates, and Denmark’s rate is 8 times that of Mexico. The UK and Italy are both immigration countries, but the UK’s rate is 11 times that in Italy. It would appear that serial polygamy is culture-specific, rather than being causally linked to diversity. That is, if one was able to create a local population which mixed the whole world population of cultures in proportion, I predict that the divorce rate would be the average of present national divorce rates, and in any case not higher than any existing national rate (which would be the case if cultural diversity caused divorce).

    Don’t worry about layout coding, I take care of it if I think it is necessary.
    The code for a block quote is blockquote and /blockquote. Both these commands have to be inside pointy brackets (above the comma and full stop on your keyboard), but if I use these, they are interpreted as code and disappear.

    On many bulletin boards, the code is [quote] .. [/quote] but that doesn’t work here.

  11. cj said

    Divorce rates apply only to those couples who choose to legally marry in the first place. Most of the family structures listed are exclusive of a current or necessarily past marriage.

  12. cj said

    Please reference this report for some current family structure demographics.

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