"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Thursday, February 21, 2008

For prejudice?

One of the questions Norm asks in his profile series is: do you have any prejudices that you're willing to acknowledge?

The 'willing to acknowledge' forms a crucial part of the query. Simply to ask if one had any would be a pointless question; anything than an answer in the affirmative would be a lie because we all have them. Chris Dillow acknowledged his in this post 'in praise of class hatred' where he displays an animus towards posh twats that only my friend Will can match. The response, if you read the comments below the post, was almost uniformly condemnatory. This struck me as disproportionate for two reasons:

1) The blogosphere is full, on a daily basis, of barely-concealed hatred towards various groups in society - immigrants, Muslims, Jews - sorry, Israelis - the unemployed, the poor, the young... People for the most part who don't have any power. Chris, on the other hand, chooses a representative from a group that does.

2) He was honest about this, which is more than can be said for quite a lot of other people. I'd suggest to you all that, for example, under the average post you get about education in the blogosphere you often get comments displaying prejudices of quite an extraordinary nature - ranging from the need to ensure less eligibility in the welfare system to concerns about the dysgenic breeding of the feckless poor. Persistent, Victorian, unacknowledged is what they are.

In any event, the incensed commentators missed an important point that I thought implicit in the post, which is that prejudice - if we can dispense with the narrow PSE definition of the word - does not always have a malign influence. Or at least it is something we all have and shouldn't be understood as a phenomenon that only shows its face when confronted with foreigners or people whose lifestyles we disapprove of.

Let me give you the following example to try and explain what I mean. The death penalty: I oppose it and there has never been a time in my life when I've thought differently. But the thing is, I don't find the arguments against it anything like as persuasive as I used to.

While others who know more about this will no doubt correct me, as far as I understand it most of the anti-death penalty arguments are based on utilitarianism, which I don't agree with in general and with this particular example I don't see why it would exclude the death-penalty anyway. It isn't even obvious to me how a utilitarian philosophy would proscribe executing the innocent and letting the guilty go free, if that increased the happiness of the greater number.

You could argue that it is simply wrong to kill people, period. But this would require pacifism, which is to say one would have to give up any notion of self-defence - which I couldn't agree with either.

The only argument I'm left with is that it can be, and is, unjust in its application. But this is an argument for justice - which is to say greater equality - not against the death-penalty per se and this does not, in any event, provide the emotional basis on which people passionately argue this issue.

Yet I'm still against it. Maybe this is because I dislike the sort of people who support it - people I imagine to be hangin' and floggin' Daily Heil readers who not-so-secretly hate the poor. No-one denounces me for being prejudiced for feeling like this. But I am nevertheless.

[Cross-posted to DSTPFW]

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