Discrimination

Kristor at VFR

writes this post:

I would like to enter a word of support for discrimination. You can’t run your life without it. The doctrine that we should not ever discriminate among people would entail that it is offensive and biased for a woman to withhold her sexual favors from anyone at all, or to favor her own children over those of other women. Likewise, it would be offensive and biased for her to prevent anyone who wants to from staying in her house and eating her food. These are absurd examples, to be sure, but they serve to illustrate the general principle that it is not possible to organize social activity except by discriminating among people.

If it is wicked to treat some people as citizens because they were born here, and others as aliens because they were not, then in order to avoid that wickedness a nation would have to treat everyone in the world as its citizens, entitled to vote in its elections, reap all its civil benefits, etc. But then “citizen” and “nation” would become empty terms, and that society would vanish along with the lines and definitions and distinctions that had differentiated it from its neighbours. Thus suspicion and distrust of abnormal people, inclining us all to discriminate against them and favor those we recognize as fellows, is the only way societies survive.

To have a nation, a society, a firm, a church, any organization at all, you have to draw lines. Furthermore, you have to empower people differently, or dignify them differently. For example, if there is to be any leadership whatsoever, leaders must be somehow disproportionately empowered. Ditto for citizenship, or membership in a group or club: one must pay one’s dues, the membership cannot be free or it is void. In the world as it is actually constituted, nothing is free (with the exception of God’s love for creation, which, being infinite, can be provided to creatures without any cost to God). Ditto also for mate selection, which is an act of discrimination for one person, and against all others.

One of the inescapable elements of discrimination is a moral or aesthetic judgement that some people or things are better than others, in at least some important respect. It would be perverse to dignify someone as a leader if you thought he was not likely to do better at it than the average bear. It would be stupid to turn for counsel to the village idiot. The same holds on the playground when boys are picking sides, and in triage on the battlefield. Discrimination can really hurt. But you can’t run a society without it. And it does work in practice, too, because some people really are better than others, at job x, or in terms of characteristic y.

So it is a fantasy to think that we can make life equally nice for everyone. The world doesn’t work that way.

Note that none of this is to say that in deciding someone is not right for citizenship, or for cohabitation, or for our soccer team, we are deciding also that they are ipso facto actively bad, and that we are justified in persecuting them. That inference is not justified; that only one runner wins the race does not entail that his competitors should henceforth be kept off the track. To decide that a person or class of people are actively bad, or dangerous, requires a further determination. But we can’t shrink from making that determination, either, if we are to survive. For some people truly are bad or dangerous, and if we are to survive we must harass and persecute them: the serial killer, the enemy in wartime, and so forth.

Many members of this community are either Christians, or used to be, or are sort of Christian, or something; at any rate, they hold in high esteem Jesus’ injunction that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. This saying at the core of the faith, and thus at the core of our civilization, had always been a stumbling block for me, because it seemed as though it contravened the whole order of the universe, which operates on gradations in value and worthiness, on differences; and that it contradicted also the entirety of Biblical religion, in which God is (among other things) a Judge discriminating the relative merit of everything that happens, right up to the differences among the choirs of angels.

The best interpretation I could come up with was that Jesus’ first great commandment that we should love God with all our being meant that I should have no love left over for myself. This would not be the death of me, because in loving God I should also love his will for me, which provides for my best good. That is, I should be more inclined to do His will, and so to prosper. Loving God instead of myself would be good for me. How then should I love my neighbour? Just as I should love myself: not at all. If I love God with my whole being, then I will do what is best for me, and I will also do what is best for my neighbour, because God wills what is best for both myself and my neighbour.

I recently read a comment by a fellow named Sage McLaughlin that, “When we are told to love our enemies as ourselves, this does not mean we are to treat them the same way we treat ourselves–Christ did not say, “Don’t have enemies.” He takes for granted that we shall have foes, but demands that we love them as human beings and that we hate the disfiguring effects of sin on their immortal souls, just as we hate them in ourselves. We must do this, and we must forgive all those who ask our forgiveness–but we do not have to outdo God, who abandons to eternal damnation all those who turn from Him and walk in darkness.” I.e., we are to love the good and hate the bad in other people just as we love the good and hate the bad in ourselves. In order to do that–in order to move closer to goodness and further from wickedness in ourselves, and in our society, and in the creation at large–we must discriminate between good and bad, and choose goodness. That we forgive the wickedness of our enemies does not automatically make them friends; and if they cannot let go of their deadly hatred of us, then in order to control the risk to us of their hatred, we must perforce destroy them with it. In that case, we cannot survive to forgive them except by defending ourselves, and working their destruction, however that may grieve us.

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