Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why I am not in the ALP

"I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective - the light on the hill - which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for."
Chifley, Prime Minister and Australian Labour Party member, 1949

"If we vote for the political equivalent of the crazy warehouse guy ('All the services you want at half the price!! Why pay more?) we shouldn't be surprised when we get policies built to fall apart as soon as the press conference is over."
Davis & Lyons, 2010

"Philosophy in terms of both these party's (Labour and Liberal) died about a decade ago..."
Tony Windsor, Independent 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When Sorry Isn't Enough

"Suck on that faggots"
Stephanie Rice, Twitter

Rice has apologised for writing the above, announced she is not homophobic and fellow swimmer Matthew Mitcham has also come out backing her on the 'not homophobic' claim. This little incident is not only an interesting study in technology and the dissolution of the public/private domains, but also in the nature of public apologies and homophobia.
Apologies in our personal lives are common place, we all know the expectations; you acknowledge you have hurt someone else, take responsibility for it and then attempt to make amends. The person you apologise to then has the option to accept, and of course more often than not in the context of close-knit social bonds they do. However this is not the script used in Rices case. It seems to me that in fact this is an apology put on its head, as many apologies are when done by public figures.
Look at the dynamic; concern was raised about a homophobic comment; Rice responds by making it all about her. She is 'not homophobic', she mentions how tough it has been for her, and of course she cries. A classic PR exercise, we now feel sorry for her, see her more as a person, subtly shift our psychological disposition towards her and realise she did not really mean to hurt anyone any way. That is fine, if you are a child.
We expect less of children when it comes to saying sorry. Sometimes we even accept proxy apologies through parents if the child is too young to have enough moral sense. But from adults we expect the acknoweldgment, the taking responsibility, the making reparations script. This is for good reason- adults are autonomous moral agents and should be treated as such. That entails good will and trust combined with accountability and responsibility. Rice has turned the gaze of concern from the homophobic comment, to herself- the centre of attention who has had a rough time and now needs some empathy and protecting. Matthew does a fine show of it. Genuine apology? I would expect Rice to take responsibility as an adult for her actions and then make some reparations, given Rice did not offend a particular person but a class I suggest the best way to regain goodwill rather than playing the passive child is for Rice to make a donation to a community group and show she has some insight into her behaviour and a willingness to make amends.
But in the end does it add up that she isn't homophobic and does it even matter? It is possible to say racist, sexist, and homophobic things and not 'be' those things. But the consequences are the same. I cannot know the state of Rices character but that is a separate issue to making public statements that are derogatory. If I accept her gay friend matthews' account of things then Rice becomes someone who isn't homophobic but just says homophobic things on occasion. An interesting mental exercise, but that does not change the impact or change the social context for people of diverse sexualities who bear the brunt of homophobia.
So despite the PR attempt at character resurrection I would have been more convinced of her character if she just went into the press conference and said "suck on that faggots".

Nobel Winner: "Abort Gays"

One of the discoverers of the structure of DNA and Nobel prize winner James Watson (pictured) said a little while ago that if a gene for homosexuality were discovered, a woman should be free to abort a fetus that carried it. There are at least two issues here, if in the future the technology and the knowledge brings us to such a place. Firstly- is it ethical for parents to be able to have complete freedom to choose their child's genetic inheritance (to the extent that technology allows) Secondly- if not, should it be the role of the state to forbid such actions?
To begin I will say that I think genetic enhancement of fetuses is morally defensible. I would argue in a similar fashion to Singer  and say that genetic enhancement is an extension of what we currently consider good parenting; parenting that works to maximise a child’s abilities and opportunities for life in much the same way that good education and nutrition do. Controversial of course, but if one accepts genetic enhancement and selection processes as a valid thing for parents, does that mean Watson is right? Well I would say 'yes' and 'no'.  In the abortion or modification of a homosexual fetus to a heterosexual fetus there is no one who is harmed, unless you think a fetus is a person, which I do not. As such it is not unethical by virtue of harming an individual person. What I believe makes such an act unethical is the denigration of sexualities that are of equal moral worth. Unlike the abortion of disabled fetuses as currently practiced on quality of life considerations (and by extension permits their modification if we had the technology) aborting homosexual fetuses would be based solely on the perceived moral worth of homosexuality, i.e. it is of less moral worth than heterosexuality. 
But where does that leave us? Should the state intervene? This is Watsons' point I suppose; there are many things that we believe are unethical yet the state does not intervene. A liberal point of view. When a person is harmed we can see a strong reason for state intervention. But in this instance it seems that while it is unethical to abort homosexual fetuses, it does not warrant state intervention to prevent it. I base this on considerations of consequences. No one individual is directly harmed. In addition, what if it was illegal? Should the state force people to have gay babies? Would it be in the child's best interests to be brought into the world by a family that held such views of homosexuality? As such it would seem to me that while it is definitely immoral to make moral judgments on the value of people via reference to their sexuality and to abort/genetically modify fetuses on such a basis, the state should not prevent it from happening. And that is where Watson and I agree.