Discrimination by any other name

Roger Scruton is a serious philosopher.  That's why I was disappointed to read his American Spectator article defending an English couple's right to refuse to allow a gay couple to share a room at their hotel (see the Guardian report).  It's not that I was disappointed that Scruton would defend these folks (I expected that), but that I expected a good argument.  Instead, I got the old canards. 

Maybe that [laws prohibiting discrimination] is the only way to proceed, but it involves curtailing freedom in ways that can easily be resented.

Ah, prohibiting discrimination curtails the freedom of discriminators to discriminate.  That is a very important freedom, indeed.  And we must be very careful not to cause people the harm of feeling resentment.  That's a much worse harm than not being treated as an equal.

We discriminate between people on grounds of their height, their age, their strength, their virtue, their looks.

Oh, the false analogy!  The familiar, yet utterly irrelevant, old saw of the discrimination apologists.  Yes, we discriminate on the basis of characteristics relevant to a job, opportunity, and so on.  Isn't the burden of proof always on those who do the discriminating to explain why some characteristic is relevant?  If there is a relevant connection between the characteristic and the opportunity, we don't call the decision 'discriminating,' but 'distinguishing.'  Is there a relevant bit of distinguishing to be done with homosexuality?

The purpose of including sexual orientation in the open-ended "non-discrimination" clauses of modern legal systems is to overcome "prejudice," to normalize homosexuality…. It is, however, much more of a prejudice to think that matters of sexual conduct can, in this way, be simply placed beyond moral judgment — as though they were not, for ordinary people, the very essence of the moral life.

Ad populum, too. Everyone thinks it is unnatural and immoral, so that's evidence it is.  But why think that these views are right? 

It is one part of a considered religious morality that has stood the test of time.

But why does the fact that it is an old view make it a good one, yet?  Surely at some point in time over the course of the long testings of time someone must have said that perhaps the view needs to be worked out in some detail.  After all that time, all they have to say for the view is that it is old and keeps getting older… standing the test of time. Oh, but the times are changing. 

THIS, IT SEEMS TO ME, shows what is really at stake in these disputes. They are not about human rights, or about the perennial conflict between liberty and equality. "Non-discrimination" clauses are ways of smuggling in vast moral changes without real discussion . . . . Sex, sexual orientation, and maybe soon sexual practices — so that the hotel keeper will no longer be able to discriminate against the person who happens to live as a prostitute.

And the slippery slope to running a flophouse for prostitution for a finale!  Well, at least he didn't have the slippery slope to bestiality.  And after having repeated the same old weak arguments for discrimination, has Scruton made any headway in helping this real discussion he wants to have?  I'm sad to say I don't think so.  Which, again, is too bad.  Because he's the best thinker that conservatives have.  That may be evidence as to just how bad-off the conservative case against gay rights is.

5 thoughts on “Discrimination by any other name”

  1. Great post.  You are to be admired for wandering over to the AS.

    The collection of textbook sophistries here raises questions about exhausted views.  Granted that one can only defend this view with arguments of this calibre, one wonders how to respond (from a pragmatic perspective).  Refutation, after all, isn't going to work with someone seriously inclined to make such an argument.

    Perhaps something along these lines: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrJxqvalFxM

  2. Hi John,
    The 'refutation' at the end of that YouTube clip is pretty much along the lines that's needed, as it gives the lie to those running the ad populum argument, right?
    About this point about 'tired old arguments,' I guess it is a version of the cynical induction — namely, that if those supporting view X keep going back to the same old fallacious arguments, it is evidence that the view is dead.  Again, I was hoping for more from Scruton, as he can make explicit so many of the better versions of conservative views (he's an Iron-manner).  But even he makes a mess of it.  Cynical induction in full overdrive!
    Oh, and sorry I've been absent from posting for the last few weeks.  A ton of grading and journal stuff to climb out from under.

  3. There are two arguements here. One is should one allow two gay men to bugger each outher under one’s own roof? And the other is should gay men be allowed to bugger one another in a bed and breakfast? The answer to both questions is completely hialrious.

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