Comments: When is discrimination "just"?

"When is discrimination "just"?"

When the distinction made by the law is in fact a distinction between two really different things that may fairly be treated differently in the context in which they are so treated.

Every law is discriminatory. Every law favors something or discourages something or prohibits everything in a particular class. To think that "discrimination" in itself is unjust is to forget that the word simply means recognizing a difference, and that, fundamentally, it is just to discriminate between right and wrong.

The flip side is, of course, that just as it is wrong to treat things that are the same differently, so it is also wrong to treat things that are different as if they were the same.

Posted by rick allen at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 2:52am BST

Discrimination means treating people with different personal qualities differently. An example of discrimination which is not considered unjust is life insurance premiums. Older people pay more for life insurance. That is age discrimination. But it is not unjust discrimination as the probability of death is greater for an older person than for a younger person.

We should be talking in terms of fair and unfair discrimination rather than just and unjust.

Posted by ruidh at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 3:49am BST


Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 4:27am BST

We discriminate as a basic function of intelligence. Not everyone is a trusted person to loan money to or to marry your sister, or to borrow your car. To 'make windows into mens' minds' and outlaw certain kinds of personal decisions requires a very finely tuned judgment which most of us cannot always compass in any accurate way.

Hiring Quotas and the ideological attitudes of Political Correctness - whether of the Right or Leftist orientation - are politically crude and frequently mendacious approaches since they most often both ignore and simplify the facts of the case.

I frequently note the same email names trying to monitor discussions on this website from what they believe to be a 'politically correct' viewpoint. I would not describe them as 'thinking Anglicans' and indeed they may not be Anglicans at all!

Posted by Jay Wilson at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 11:07am BST

Funnily enough,in this century it does not fall to me, to discriminate, about whom my sisters marry -- if at all.

Soon these denominations (RCC and C of E) will have to enter the twentyfirst century, or continue their decline, towards oblivion.

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 1:52pm BST

I may add that there is no agreement among Anglican or RC clergy and laity, on the absolute necessity of pretending, that RC or Anglican clergy or laity cannot be gay. What of gay and lesbian members and youth workers, and clergy in service now ? Ignored again.

Why aren't the Committee members hearing evidence from lesbian and gay believers ? We are silenced again -- the RC rep and the C of E rep do NOT speak for us.

Is this freedom of religion ?

I was ordained as an openly gay partnered person in the years 1978 / 9. I was far from being alone then. Does 'the Church' stand by us ?

Let there be some honour, even at this late hour.

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 2:01pm BST

Legacy admissions and good ol' boy networks are "affirmative action" for white people (and the most famous beneficiary of both was former President GW Bush). Until those are completely eliminated from academic and professional life, complaints about "political correctness" and calls for meritocracy will fall on my deaf ears.

None of us chooses the circumstances into which we are born. The playing field of opportunity is not, and never was, level. The only permissible discrimination is self selection through merit and character. Everything else is just so much arbitrary privilege. As far as I'm concerned, a good 3/4 of the world's ruling elite (including the ecclesiastical elite) won the lottery.

Posted by counterlight at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 2:48pm BST

Jay Wilson: I'm pleased you don't think making windows into men's minds is a good idea. In my experience, some leaders within churches routinely make such windows and then treat those who work for or with them badly on that basis. It's happened to many people whom I know. The sooner such a culture within the Church ends the better.

Posted by Fr Mark at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 6:03pm BST

The longer I mull over these legal, policy, and administrative or regulatory details, the more I think that something else is really going on, beneath the details.

Clues to something else? Well, underlying change, obviously. What sort of change?

I would guess: We are working through another dimension of the ongoing sea change, from premodern to modern, to at least in some instances, hints of postmodern - change.

At hand is the shift in leeway frameworks.

Our legacy leeway frame is one way. Especially in church life. Those who are most conservative hold the reins and say the say. Brakes before all else. The frame permeating, percolating through is an Enlightenment Era plus modern one, two way leeway.

Roots in the early church, Protestant manners, saints and mystics, and much else that gets sidelined in our real church/faith history?

Institutionally, hardly any legacy leeway frame was well prepared for this shift. To say the least. As the hindermost of the institutions struggling with this change, the churches or faith organizations are still among the worst prepared to recognize and work through two way leeway.

Fact is, people always vote with their feet, insofar as they can exit. Change agent exits occur because changing the braking institution from inside proves too wearisome, too consuming of precious resources which at any given moment appear limited or finite to the change agent peoples. The most conservative exit because locked brakes are wearing away, too much change is happening to be tolerable.

As this newish two way leeway gets further worked through in general society and work, it will surely set a test case which will affect the churches or faith institutions, especially insofar as its newish ways are perceived as quite a bit fairer and quite a bit less weighed down with flat earth reasons why, say, the divorced and remarried are not uniformly muck. Nothing but utter failures as human beings.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 8:29pm BST

"I frequently note the same email names trying to monitor discussions on this website from what they believe to be a 'politically correct' viewpoint."

How are you using the term?

I ask, because when I taught undergraduates and told them, unless they were writing in a medical or scientific context, not to refer to men and women as males and females, I was accused of 'political correctness.' This baffles me. When I asked the students to explain what they meant by "p.c." they said I wanted them to use 'feminist' language. This just baffles me.

I understood better when, in the context of reading something by a gay or lesbian writer, I called students for writing about 'lady homosexuals' [my personal favorite!] instead of Lesbians or gays.

In the contest of this list, what would you label "p.c." and why?

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Friday, 12 June 2009 at 8:33pm BST

What looks and sounds like picky PC stuff from outside, can and does get boring, thoughtless in its own beat dead horses ways, and all that.

From inside such little groups - and the groups who manage to be most correct are concentric circles of small, no matter what the counted numbers; the twin initiatives are fairness, purity, or some mix of both.

As our generalized ideals of fairness, and purity heighten nowadays, we are bound to see people striving. Right now the fairness folks want to keep the purity people from meanness, and the purity folks want to keep the fairness people from forgetting the scriptures or our rich storehouse of real history and cultural traditions. In my anecdotal observes, I've noted the mix people seem to be doing a variety of things. Sometimes mix folks sit on the sidelines watching the fair folks and the pure folks go at it, round three hundred two. Sometimes mix folks selectively pick/choose engagements, about fairness or about purity as the instance may be. Sometimes mix folks are very busy, indeed, working both sides of the issues.

Mostly, the current tendencies to presume polarized realities - fair is one thing while pure is quite another - fly in the face of the real realities. Fair folks often have purity standards or ideals in their personal lives; but they would not campaign for those in the way they feel conscientiously beholden to campaign for fairness. Purity folks, too, often have fairness standards or ideals; but being fair is something of a luxury compared to their passionate campaigning for purity.

Besides, beneath all this is great transition, and huge but often somewhat hidden developmental motives. Our intellectual worlds are topsy-turvy because we lost what we all were sure was, a unified knowledge of reality. I guess it's going to be a long while yet, before knowing that has risen to new and surprising levels starts to jell, enough that the balances among global cultures, politics, economics can settle down a bit. Or until we as a planetary species get a lot more used to surfing intellectual changes without always having to wipeout in a fast tube.

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 13 June 2009 at 8:59pm BST

"...Lesbians or gays..."

Cynthia, just why is the word "lesbian" capitalized here? You know ya'll aren't really from Lesbos, right? :-)

Posted by BillyD at Sunday, 14 June 2009 at 1:47am BST

"Cynthia, just why is the word "lesbian" capitalized here? You know ya'll aren't really from Lesbos, right? :-)"

I've seen it with cap and without. Since the word does derive from the name of the island, I suppose you could call it a Proper Noun.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Sunday, 14 June 2009 at 12:50pm BST

"Just" discrimination, as used by the Vatican and the bishops repeating the Vatican line, is a weasel word. What decides justice or injustice is the sexual teaching of the Vatican. Any recognition of gays that would be prejudicial to church doctrine is to be avoided. Freedom of conscience, recognized by Vatican II, may allow gays to be free of criminal penalties (as the Vatican declared for the first time at the UN on Dec 19, 2008) and civil unions may be tolerated on the theory that they may be non-sexual friendships, or possibly as the lesser of two evils. But to accept gay couples as parents or self-affirming gays as teachers or church personnel would not be acceptable, so in such cases discrimination is just.

The Vatican believes in the infallibility of its teaching. Even the chronicle of abuse in Irish schools, which is a direct result of Vatican and episcopal assurance in forbidding couples to practice coitus interruptus and wives to refuse their marital duty, under pain of mortal sin, with no consideration for the practical consequences, has not caused any rethink of the contraception ban in hierarchical circles.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Monday, 15 June 2009 at 6:07pm BST

Rick Allen sums it up well. 'Non-discrimination' is a self-contradictory ideology. Fairness and justice are necessary goals that will be achieved from consideration of all the data not simply from treating everyone as though they were the same.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Tuesday, 16 June 2009 at 12:45pm BST

Non-discrimination is a reply to Discrimination, insofar as we seek to open doors and remove barriers built up from prejudiced views - negative halo effects in social perception? in social belief systems? - by which justifications are stated for taking actions against whomever the prejudices target or identify. Otherwise, we most likely would simply call what we are doing, fair, democratic, equal, or ..... choose your own synonym unrelated to prejudice and discrimination.

Letting the first woman into medical school (she had to sit and try to hear lectures, all behind a screen, so that the male students would not be upset or distracted by her being there) did not change her into a man because she got access to medical knowledge strictly reserved for men in attendance before her; any more than it dangerously feminized the male students also present in the class.

Thanks to Katie Sherrod at the Deserts Child blog. See:

Letting gay folks into the workplace - well they were already present, behind the virtual screens of self-serving majority heterosexual perceptual biases? - did not change the queer folks into straights, nor the straight folks into gays.

In nearly any going modern framework, non-dscrimination is a vehicle for appreciating diversity of gifts and persons; not a way to cuisinart everybody into a meaningless conformity on the particular work team. The conformity ploy and the resulting lowering of productivity that often goes with it (not always), these are most often reserved by people who say they are called to protect and assert this or that high traditionalistic way, complete with prejudice perceptions or beliefs, and of course, the discrimination in action that puts the beliefs into effect across a due variety of situations.

The challenge for the traditionalistic believers is still tangled up with change, regardless.

How to maintain continuity with legacy negatives about the target group, while faced with up close and personal evidence of access, usually followed by ordinary or even high competence? This strains and vexes the old framework that is supposed to make such traditional negative views seem inevitable and plausible; that old frame has no inkling of either open access or resulting competence.

Posted by drdanfee at Tuesday, 16 June 2009 at 9:56pm BST

"The challenge for the traditionalistic believers is still tangled up with change, regardless."

Not really. Traditionalism is not synonymous with petrification. We need to distinguish tradition from Tradition. Not ordaining women, for instance, is definitely part of the tradition, but is it part of the Tradition? Same with a lot of other things. The problem is that many traditionalists are unable to make that differentiation.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 25 June 2009 at 1:21pm BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.