Posted by: jackslife | September 9, 2009

The Politicization of Virtue

There is a really interesting post up on the Crunchy Con blog right now, where Rod has reprinted an email from one of his readers.  Some great points are made about how simplistic and reductionist the arguments have become from all sides in modern debate.  If you disagree with same sex marriage you are a bigot and homophobe, if you favor Obama style healthcare you are a socialist, and so on.  I fear for our culture when this kind of thing is the norm.  Fox News and Keith Oberman seem to have conspired to destroy free thought and rational discourse, and we have largely just accepted it.  We have swallowed the Soma and mindlessly parrot the catch phrases that we hear on the radio and television.  I wouldn’t be so concerned if it weren’t for the fact that even people who I consider to be otherwise intelligent people are as guilty of this kind of debate as anyone else.

From the post –

The politicization of virtue has been disastrous for the social and political life of the Western world. What I mean by “the politicization of virtue” is this: fifty years ago, if you described someone as tolerant or kind or generous or open-minded, you were not making any kind of definitive statement about his public or political views. You were talking about how he interacted with the people around him, how he related to his wife or his kids or his colleagues or his friends. But now we ascribe character traits to people not on the basis of how they behave, but on the basis of what they think. Open-minded, for example, no longer describes a person who is willing to change his mind when he encounters new data or new explanations; in modern parlance, like “tolerant”, it now denotes agreement with a particular set of political and cultural ideas. Imagine how your average liberal would react if you told them you were tolerant and open-minded, but were pro-life, anti-gay marriage and in favour of school prayer. They would doubtless suggest that you were not actually tolerant and open-minded, even though there is no logical incompatibility between authentically possessing the first set of attributes and espousing the second set of political views.

I find this to be a very interesting paragraph.  I have thought about how the term “tolerant” has become a value judgment.  Tolerance means that you accept a specific behavior as being unequivocally good. It’s not enough that you accept that someone be allowed to engage in homosexual behavior, you have to openly endorse that behavior and any position associated with it, or you are intolerant. When applied equally to all situations, how is this a virtue? You wouldn’t be allowed to have a rational objection to any issue. I know this is not a new argument, but I would also point out that the same people who levy accusations of intolerance are generally some of the most intolerant people on the face of the earth. They can’t even abide the thought that you would hold an opinion in opposition to them.

This example is clearly just one side of the problem.  Both sides have their one word dismissals that they use to label others as not being worth the time or effort of rationally conversing with.  There are also a number of good points in Rod’s post, so read the whole thing.

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Responses

  1. Ah, so very thought-provoking! My mind is swimming with images of ill-fitting boxes, labels that just won’t stick, and all that space between the right and the left.


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