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Global Communication Online Against Fundamentalist Knowledge Offline? May Thorseth Abstract: Fundamentalism is a serious threat to global democracy. Fundamentalism as applied in media is often envisaged as internally linked to religion. Opposite to this view, it is argued in this paper that we need to disconnect the conceptual linkage between religion and fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is here characterised in terms of procedural traits of communication rather than by its particular contents, such that any values might appear to be fundamentalist, whether they relate to religion, gender, sex, ethnicity or others. This approach to fundamentalism diverges from mainstream accounts in much of the global communication of fundamentalism in media, as fundamentalism is often identified in terms of its substantial contents. Keywords: 1) Fundamentalism
2) Procedural constraints
3) Global deliberation
Introduction Fundamentalism as applied in media is often used as a label of certain kinds of behaviour that is internally linked to religion. Standard cases of reference are, among others, Moslem reactions towards ironic cartoons in Western media of the prophet Mohammed; religious minorities who refuse to subordinate to the majority culture of society, e.g. the request to be free to exercise religious practises without interruption from the majority society; terrorist actions in the name of the religious conviction that harm done towards Moslem religious culture should be revenged (like September 11). Many people relate fundamentalism to religion, in particular Islam, as a contrast to Western, democratic and liberal values. Against this background it is possible to establish a cultural division line between fundamentalist and democratic values, based on the degree to
which religion is considered to be turned into politics or not. This is unlucky because we get loss of an important point that I shall argue for: also Western liberal ‘values’ might appear as highly fundamentalist. So how should we delineate fundamentalism? I shall argue that fundamentalism ought to be conceived of in procedural terms. The focus is then shifted from specific (substantive) values to the way values are being treated. Whether we are presented with a morally problematic kind of fundamentalism depends on whether there is an argumentative disclosure for counter-arguments. We might thus ask: is it possible to argue against a particular cultural norm? Is it open to revision? Can it be refuted? A negative answer to these questions points in the direction of what is here defined as procedural fundamentalism. Such fundamentalism does not allow for counter-arguments, revision or refusal of contested norms. This is exactly the reason why it is relevant to criticise a fundamentalist position, as opposed to criticising a position for drawing a division line between religion and politics in ways that differ from how we ourselves make this demarcation. In several other contexts I have distinguished between legitimate and illegitimate paternalism based on procedural criteria for defining paternalism.1 We shall have a brief look at paternalism as related to this argument. Paternalism means enforcement against someone’s freedom for the benefit of that individual, and it might on many occasions be morally legitimate. Parents’ upbringing and education of their own children is an obvious case in question. Not every kind of parental upbringing is, however, an example of paternalistic enforcement. This is the case when it is contested whether the practice in question actually is for the benefit of the child. Forced marriage is a case that fits in here. Some instances of forced marriage are obviously fundamentalist, which should not be confused with the institution of arranged marriages as such, as arranged marriages are embraced by many
Moslem women because they believe it is for their own best. In these cases it cannot be claimed that the institution of arranged marriage is paternalist, either, because it is not connected to enforcement. Arranged marriage as such is neither fundamentalist nor paternalist. Still, this norm is often associated with fundamentalist religious values. This is both unlucky and unwarranted. The procedural relation between fundamentalism and paternalism underlies the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate paternalism. The latter implies that those who exercise paternalism are not receptive to counter-arguments, hence, they behave fundamentalist. Such procedural paternalism is here defined as illegitimate paternalism, and it creates problems in modern, multicultural societies. The problem is often a consequence of migration which tends to create and also require change of religious values. Migration is not, however, the only reason why this problem arises. Cultural changes within most modern societies often lead to contests about many traditional norms and practises. This, in its turn requires of many people that they have to undertake profound choices with respect to questions of belief and religious belonging. Such choices do not only concern relations of belonging. Borders are moved or changed due to migration. The orthodox Moslem suddenly belongs to a different society when she is in Norway as compared to the countryside back home in Pakistan. In order to act autonomously it is a precondition that one is a member of the society by which one is surrounded. Freedom of religion requires a real possibility of choice of faith, but also a possibility to criticise, revise or sometimes even to give up one’s former religious belief. Fundamentalism might be expressed by way of attempts to hinder this possibility. If such fundamentalism is paternalist it is by the same token also illegitimate.
Fundamentalism – A Procedural Approach
The Moslem fundamentalist who wants to be recognised for her own non-argumentative behaviour towards contested norms, renders herself guilty of inconsistency. This is because the claim on non-interference already presupposes argumentative participation. The struggle for recognition of fundamentalist behaviour (for instance, the banning of Western values) is equivalent to demanding respect for criticising these values. Refusal to state one's reasons for withdrawal from discourse, while still claiming a right to be respected for oppressive behaviour towards group members, is an example of non-argumentative fundamentalism. Such fundamentalism is characterised by argumentative closure, as opposed to practical discourse (which is associated with argumentative disclosure)2. The morally relevant distinction between argumentative closure and disclosure is procedural. The moral relevance of the procedural/substantive distinction has to do with the difference between argumentative closure and argumentative disclosure, then. This is why I want to disconnect the opposition between fundamentalism and critical reflection from the substantive content of any particular form of life within the poly-ethnic context.3 I do this by demonstrating that fundamentalism as described above might be present within any form of life, characterised by a refusal to get into critical reflection of any particular form of life that has become contested. This is also an argument against the belief that enforced argumentation is just another kind of fundamentalism. In order to avoid that the claim on argumentative enforcement implies fundamentalism, it is necessary to adopt a disclosing attitude with regard to alternative ways of conflict solution.
‘Traditional’ and ‘modern’ fundamentalism: Introductory examples (i) Fundamentalism as rational behaviour
According to Karl-Otto Apel, the increasing fundamentalism within Islam might be considered a reaction towards the fear of negative influence from the West.4 In his opinion this is a normal reaction towards much of the bad rhetoric that most people hear about the West. As a result, religion is turned into an argument against Western, secular influence. This might be reflected either in refusal to argue or in preventing others within their own group from arguing about contested norms. Fundamentalism in this case consists in a refusal to argue about (contested) religious norms. The problem that I want to emphasise is, however, that the fundamentalist refuses to argue even if the contested norm in question has been exposed to public opinion, by being contested within the poly-ethnic society. The important question is whether it ought to make a difference if the contested norm in question is about religion or about democratic values. In order to argue that global democracy ought to be preferred to competing systems of communication, it is necessary to draw a demarcation line between the communicative procedures of fundamentalism as opposed to democracy. I the following we shall have a brief look at some examples of procedural fundamentalism.
(ii) Fundamentalism and essentialism Essentialism is mainly linked to identity. As discussed in the following, essentialism is turned into fundamentalism because it is regarded as if it were beyond revision, for whatever reason (for instance, the aim of preservation of a particular form of life). Thus, it becomes one among several kinds of fundamentalism, as there are other kinds of fundamentalism which do not particularly relate to identity. The main characteristic of the essentialist fundamentalist, then, is the belief in some non-dialogical or static identity, often attached to ethnicity. The Indian parents who arrange their daughters’ marriages (against the dauthter’s will) fit into this
Thorseth (1994), p. 6.
category. The same holds true for the ‘modern’ nationalist who wants to preserve a white Swedish majority of a future Sweden, as well. A third example is one that is discussed by Appiah.5 It concerns the Afro-American nationalists who claim recognition for a particular black identity that they want to preserve, while not recognising that this very identity is made up within the white majority. People who react negatively towards Samis who enter MacDonald’s, dressed in traditional Sami clothes, might also fit into this category of essentialism. The common denominator in all these examples is the non-argumentative conceptualisation of some particular (group) identity, regarded to be beyond revision and critical reflection.
(iii) ‘Fundamentalism in disguise’ The fundamentalists in (i) and (ii) might be considered to be ‘overt’ fundamentalists, i. e. they do not pretend to behave non-fundamentalistically; they act more or less strategically in order to realise some particular goal. A different kind of fundamentalist is the one who objects to fundamentalism (i) and (ii), while withdrawing some of her own beliefs from critical reflection. The dogmatic Western feminist who criticises the Moslem fundamentalist might be a case in question, if she does not allow any critical objection towards feminism from the fundamentalist Moslem. There are two points I want to make in connection with this example: (1) The feminist and the Moslem are both fundamentalists about some particular values. (2) They both behave non-argumentatively about some values they take to be beyond criticism. Another example demonstrating this scenario was a world conference among female activists discussing prostitution. None of the prostitutes who were present were allowed to engage in the discussion, probably because it was thought that they might propose ideas in favour of prostitution.6 Similar examples, relating to multiculturalism, are conferences about migration 5 6
Appiah Ringdal, Nils Johan (1997): Verdens vanskeligste yrke. De prstituertes verdenshistorie. Oslo: Cappelen.
where immigrants participate as a ‘cultural alibi’ without having a say in the ongoing debates. The neglect to accept African women’s objections to accusations about being oppressed is another case in question. A common denominator in these examples is the subordination of all arguments under one perspective, along with the raising of some particular norm or perspective that is taken to be beyond critical reflection or dialogical argumentation. The ‘modern’ fundamentalism does not differ from ‘traditional’ religious fundamentalism as far as structural or procedural characteristics are concerned. Still, the ‘modern’ fundamentalist pretends to be rational, as opposed to ‘traditional’ fundamentalists. This is why I describe the ‘modern’ fundamentalist as a ‘fundamentalist in disguise’. In order to identify the morally relevant features of fundamentalism, I think it is important to realise that fundamentalism and rationality are not the essential opposites in characterising the difference between the Moslem and feminist fundamentalists in the preceding examples. These instances of fundamentalism demonstrate several interesting differences. For my purpose it is, however, the common denominators that are of main concern: First, there is the subordination of all criticism under one perspective, and second there is the withdrawal of some particular norm (religion, belief system, ideology etc.) from critical reflection. So far, I have argued that fundamentalism might very well coexist with non-mediated or non-argumentative rationality, as fundamentalism might be a means for realising some particular goal. The important point to highlight is, however, the absence of mediation or dialogical argumentation in fundamentalism. This is the procedural level that I have tried to detach from any particular substantive norms.
Fundamentalism in media: the Fadime case
Fundamentalism might be conceived as suppression of challenges of particularity, whether a particular cultural practice or a story that is put forth with a claim to approval without questioning. To make this concrete, we shall take our point if departure in a particular story from Nordic media. In January 2002 Swedish-Kurd Fadime was killed by her father in Sweden. The reason why she was killed was that she had a Swedish boyfriend. The murder was referred in media as a murder of honour, and it was seen as an expression of contest of the cultural norm of forced marriage, a norm that is extensive in many Moslem societies. The murder and the debate following from it have necessitated a public reflection of a claim to participate in the public debate, and also about the practice to refer to immigrants in terms of representative groups. Immigrants are often conceived as groups in the light of ethnicity, culture and identity. Additionally, these ‘groups’ are considered to be represented by their leaders in accordance with Western, democratic principles. The contested practises of forced marriage and murder of honour do, however, separate the members within the minority societies just as well as separating minority groups and the society at large. The murder of Fadime and the debate in Sweden and Norway following from it clearly demonstrates that Moslem in these two countries cannot and should not be defined on the basis of a uniform group concept. Fadime was killed by her father because she loved a Swedish man, and because she spoke her opinions of love and marriage openly in media. She argued against arranged marriages, in favour of the right to choose a partner of one own. We might formulate this case as a problem concerning the relation between the particular and the general, in cases where particular arguments are considered to be justified with respect to ‘the others’, whereas not looked upon as acceptable ‘for us’. We may ask: What is it that appeals to general circumstances, and how do these appeals relate to something beyond the particular, something of universal scope?
We may further ask how to describe the case above, what description is the correct one? No matter how we describe it – as an act of murder of honour or something else – our description will on any occasion be a normative act. This is because we look for solutions to the problems that we raise. This act is either a murder of honour – Fadime’s father wanted to rescue the family’s honour – or it was about a sick man’s misdeed as Fadime’s sister Fidan claimed.7 In describing this act as a murder of honour a particular appeal is thereby made to particular circumstances about a particular culture. As a result, the description might easily be exploited for both criticism, but also for justification of murder of honour, like Shabana Rehman, respectively the imams did in the Norwegian debate succeeding this act. Whether this particular description is used for criticism or justification, it will in both cases encourage segregation. To describe the same act as the misdeed of a sick man, like Fadime’s family did, does not, however, appeal to culturally specific circumstances to the same extent as the concept ‘murder of honour’ does. The fact that some people commit sick actions because they do not function well in society might strike down anyone, and it is not necessarily related to ethnic or cultural status in particular. The appeal to culturally specific circumstances is part of the fundamentalism that is exercised in this case. The culturally specific appeal does not, however, necessarily imply a case of fundamentalism, provided that the specific appeal also includes a more general appeal that transcends the particular circumstances.8 If the act in question is considered as a sick person’s misdeed, it is turned into something for which we may raise a more general appeal. By contrast, an act that is described in terms of a particular cultural or religious norm of a particular society cannot be defended by many. The justification by appeal to the particular endangers by mobilising disgust within the society at large. Further, I believe that the particular appeal, as an example of procedural 7 8
Eriksson and Wadel 2002. See Dryzeck
fundamentalism, might enforce a kind of culture relativism that weakens minorities as well as the society at large. Ethical argumentation in a global world should instead strengthen minorities as well as majority. One means of contributing in this direction is to avoid particular appeals devoid of a universal component. What we need to establish in order to avoid particular appeals being turned into fundamentalism, is to establish a link to a universal appeal that transcends what is embedded in the particular or culturally specific norm or practice. What we should aim at establishing is a mutual respect for each other’s circumstances. Misdeeds as such transcend culturally embedded norms, whereas culturally defined misdeeds are culturally embedded, and hence specific. In this paper it is argued that we need to distinguish between different kinds of fundamentalism, the primary aim being to disconnect the conceptual linkage between religion and fundamentalism. A distinction has been made between legitimate and illegitimate paternalism. Fundamentalism is here characterised in terms of procedural traits of communication rather than by its particular contents, such that any values might appear to be fundamentalist, whether they relate to religion, gender, sex, ethnicity or others. The Fadime case above is an illustration of how argumentation might be characterised as fundamentalist. This approach to fundamentalism diverges from mainstream accounts in much of the global communication of fundamentalism in media, as fundamentalism is often identified in terms of its substantive contents. The rationale for the procedural approach to fundamentalism in this paper is based upon a certain ethical and philosophical understanding of pluralism. One way of describing pluralism in modern poly-ethnic states is to say that there is intra- as well as intercultural pluralism, not least when we deal with so-called multicultural conflicts. Modern democratic societies should aim at pluralism in both of these respects.
Moral relativism and value pluralism
Part of the problem about moral relativism is the envisaging of a normative position that is exempted from moral judgment. This is the case if we believe that we can coherently understand without judging, for instance practices that many people strongly disapprove of, like female mutilation or women being banned from education or employment outside the home, or ethnic cleansing. Rather than taking a relativist stance we could argue in favour of value pluralism. According to the latter, we could conclude in the following way: (i)
Conflicting goods might both be valuable.
We should recognise and respect other cultures.
Recognition requires substantive judgment and not only formal or epistemic judgment.
As an example of value pluralism, we could consistently hold both that ‘community cohesion matters morally’ which is more true of many Eastern societies than of Western, and at the same time hold that ‘individual freedom matters morally’ which comes closer to Western ideology than to Eastern ideology.9 According to this interpretation of value pluralism we do not have to commit ourselves to moral relativism. While undertaking a substantive judgment we thereby show respect for those with whom we disagree, by being willing to get into argumentation with them. The examples of contested practices mentioned above are objectionable from a human rights perspective, and it can hardly be argued that we show respect for the plurality of opinions if we just leave such examples unquestioned. The relativist solution would be to leave it exactly there, making an appeal to the claim that moral judgments are only relative to some standard of framework. The important and difficult question to be treated is whether it would be legitimate to interfere with such condemnable practices. If we choose not to interfere even if we strongly condemn human rights abuses, it is tantamount to stating that these acts are right
9 I owe this example to Levy (2002), chapter 8.
because they are permissible on moral standards of the people who perform them. This position is hard to defend in a world where we are continuously reminded that conflicting norms are not only relative to particular cultures; rather, it is the case that conflicting norms and moral conflicts are equally prevailing within just as well as between cultures. This is essential to the question whether non-interference demonstrates recognition and respect. Above it is indicated that interference is associated with substantive judgment as opposed to merely formal judgment, and hence it also demonstrates involvement with the individuals or culture in question. Non-interference is closer linked to a policy of neutrality which should not necessarily be identified with recognition and respect. It is important to the argument of this paper to establish that global democracy runs contrary to any form of fundamentalism. This follows from the procedural criterion that has been discussed above. Additionally, it is equally important that global democracy implies judging as opposed to merely understanding. This is contained in the concept of value pluralism discussed above. A third criterion for excluding fundamentalism is that our judgments of different moral systems are not purely formal. This last criterion is inherent in the claim that purely formal judgments which are characteristic of moral relativism are insufficient with respect to value pluralism. A preliminary conclusion, then, is that global democracy would require a value pluralism that rules out some moral systems due to fundamentalism. Value pluralism goes along with a positive concept of tolerance, as argued in the following section.
Positive and negative tolerance One obvious dilemma regarding tolerance is on the one hand that judging by way of intervention is accused of brutally imposing someone’s own standards on others, whereas non-intervention, on the other hand, may be accused of giving support to brutal practices.
When abstaining from substantive judgment it is easy to claim that non-intervention is the best suited strategy for showing respect. In the following we shall argue that it is hard to find a justification of relativism conceived as formal judgment of differences in the name of tolerance. Part of the debate on intervention and non-intervention is related to the topic of group rights. The opposing views on this issue have much to do with different judgments of tolerance. According to Adeno Addis, tolerance requires that we engage in the other, the alien, as opposed to merely tolerating by leaving her alone.10 His concept of tolerance is closely related to Isaiah Berlin’s concept of positive freedom.11 The difference between positive and negative freedom is expressed in the following: ‘[N]egative freedom is freedom from external obstruction, for example from state intervention or that of others … Positive freedom is often interpreted not as freedom from obstructions, but as freedom to form one’s own life, individually or collectively.’12 Addis’ concept of pluralistic solidarity is based on a concept of positive tolerance. In his own words: ‘And to treat those forms of life with respect means to engage them, not simply to tolerate them as strange and alien.’13 Whereas Addis and Taylor emphasise the importance of substantive judgment and positive freedom and tolerance in multicultural conflicts, Chandran Kukathas rather defends negative tolerance in such cases. According to him, a main point is that there is a need for many authorities in multicultural societies, and he looks upon all standpoints as part of the domain of public reason. In his own words: 10 Addis (1997), p. 121. 11 Berlin (1969). 12 Grimen (1995), pp. 64-65. He here refers to Charles Taylor’s interpretation of Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between positive and negative freedom. 13 Addis (1997), p. 121.
‘[W]hy should regarding toleration as the key to the liberal commitment to free discussion and criticism of all standards and judgments, lead to toleration being accorded any independent value in circumscribing relations with nonliberal minorities?’14 Behind this utterance lies a criticism of Western liberal conception of tolerance which is closely linked to a concept of reason. In his view, tolerance is important independently of whether it contributes to reason. His example of reference is to groups that seek to withdraw from communication with others, like the Amish and the Hutterites. Those who want to withdraw from modern societies represent alternative views within the domain of public reason, on his account. On this ground he defends a principle of non-intervention towards illiberal groups. Addis, on the other hand, argues against Kukathas that such a concept of tolerance runs the risk that minority groups are being reduced to private organisations. For this reason he argues that secession or political divorce does not reflect tolerance.15 From the arguments presented above we will now return to the question whether there is a possible justification of relativism in the name of tolerance. Since relativism tends to be based on formal (non-substantive) attribution of value to particular norms, it follows that it goes well along with a negative concept of tolerance. A thicker concept of tolerance, like the one rooted in Addis above, does not appear to be consistent with relativism, as it requires a judgment of the substantive content of the norm in question.
Import-attributing feelings Problems about the concept of negative freedom which are closely related to negative tolerance are discussed by Charles Taylor, as well. He emphasises the importance of recognition of and respect for cultural diversity in his discussion of strong evaluations and 14 Kukathas (1997), p. 80. 15 Addis (1997).
import-attributing feelings.16 The main idea is that some feelings are important to questions of who we are, whereas others are not. Following this argument further, it implies that some kinds of intervention make a difference whereas others do not. The distinction between traffic light regulations and lack of freedom of religion can serve as examples: Most people do not feel infringed upon by traffic lights that prevent them from moving around completely freely, whereas many people, although not all, feel that they are hindered in some important respect if they are not allowed exercising their religion freely. The reason why is because the latter concerns import-attributing feelings. One very important point of this argument is the diversity of import-attributing feelings that cannot be captured in a negative concept of tolerance, nor by merely making a formal judgment of the differences, as the relativist does. Relativism tends to be based on formal attribution of value to particular norms. The immediate problem is, however, that attribution of particular significance to particular values cannot be performed a priori, that is independent of engagement with substantive judgment of the value in question. According to Taylor, different ethnic affiliations are expressed by attributing particular importance to the differences. The following example demonstrates the point just discussed above. The example is about two Indian brothers who go through various changes in importattributing feelings due to migration.17 One of them changes and becomes more conventional than he was before migration (from India to Norway); whereas the other strongly underestimates the importance of traditional roots and refers to himself as a cosmopolitan. They both want to be recognised and respected on the basis of conflicting strong evaluations and import-attributing feelings. Traditionally based identity is important to one, but not to the other.
16 Taylor (1985). 17 Thorseth (1999), p.205.
How could the relativist possibly show equal respect to both brothers in the example just presented? If one does not attach importance to religions and ethnic affiliation, one does not respect the fact that religion and ethnicity concern differences in import-attributing feelings. In other words, respect for different ethnic affiliations is expressed by attributing particular importance to the differences. But in order to avoid someone being discriminated against because of a particular ethnic affiliation, the differences must have equal meaning attributed to them. As our example clearly demonstrates, such a conclusion would be absurd, and not compliant with the experience that the Indian brothers in the example bear witness to: a particular ethnic affiliation has an import-attributing value only to one of them. Consequently, it turns out to be a genuine dilemma to recognise ethnic differences with equal respect, through an a priori attribution of equal significance to the differences. Ethnicity and religion are often held to be the paramount values when importattributing feelings are discussed. Contrary to this, Thomas Pogge rejects the claim that ethnicity is to be more basic than other types of criteria for affiliation and identification, and he claims that precisely the freedom to chose what affiliation is the most important, must be respected.18 People with claustrophobia, who therefore cannot travel on the underground, or fat people who cannot be elected as members of parliament because the chairs are too small, should in principle be able to demand special treatment in the form of tax exemption, and generally as compensation for involuntary inconveniences they may endure.19 The example is meant to show that the reasoning for awarding group rights does not necessarily put ethnicity in a class by its own. From a liberal, Rawlsian notion of justice Pogge argues that equal treatment of different groups implies that ethnicity should not be attributed a greater significance than many other affiliations and identifications that people may have. I think the above reflections clearly demonstrate that we can hardly decide a priori exactly what values 18 Pogge (1997). 19 Pogge (1997), p. 205.
might be import-attributing. In order to show respect for cultural differences we need in the first place to know how people themselves assign significance to particular values. In other words, we need to have knowledge about the particular circumstances that forms the basis for value pluralism in democratic societies.
Recognition and equal respect The principle of equal respect for differences is discussed by Charles Taylor.20 It implies that both equality and difference are (politically) recognised within the public domain. On the one hand, recognition interpreted as equal respect comes to mean ‘politics of equal respect’; while on the other hand it comes to mean ‘politics of difference’. The latter includes both an identical basket of rights and unique identity of the individual or group.21 In other words, equal respect demands both equal and different treatment of others. A main point in Taylor’s argument is that the demand for equal recognition ought to extend beyond an acknowledgment of equal value for all humans potentially (which would be the Kantian notion of equality), and also include the equal value of what humans have made of this equal potential. To respect the universal potential for forming and defining identity, is to acknowledge the possibility that two different cultures – say the European and the Zulu – have the same potential for culture formation, but the actual culture of one of them might still be less valuable than the other.22 Taylor criticises the utterance ‘When the Zulu produce a Tolstoy we will read him’, not primarily because it reflects European arrogance, but because it is morally mistaken about the principle of human equality. The main error of this utterance is not a particular mistake in evolution, but a denial of a fundamental principle.23
20 Taylor (1992). 21 Taylor (1992), p.30 22 Thorseth (1999), p. 36. 23 Taylor (1992), p. 42.
The principle of equal respect requires recognition of the particular differences. Every culture contributes to worth in different ways, according to Taylor, and thereby become worthy of recognition. In assigning equal worth to every culture we might ignore this difference. As a result, we implicitly invoke our standard to judge other cultures, and thereby make everyone the same. But, as Taylor says: ‘If all cultures have made a contribution to worth, it cannot be that these are identical, or even embody the same kind of worth. To expect this would be vastly to underestimate the differences’.24 This argument supports the criticism that has been brought forth above about moral relativism. What Taylor here tries to establish is that the differences are just as important as the similarities between individuals and cultures when it comes to questions on recognition and equal respect. In Taylor’s thinking this perspective is part of his theory of identity formation conceived of as profoundly dialogically constituted and developed.
From moral relativism to value pluralism In the above we have criticised moral relativism, not because it is necessarily incoherent, but rather because it does not pay attention to the particular differences that are important for recognition of particular identities and cultures. We have also criticised the lack of common standards for judging between different cultures. A position opposite to relativism could be absolutism, holding that one overarching moral standard should be applied. A third alternative is value pluralism that recognises the differences, but still makes an appeal to some moral claims that are non-relativistically true, according to Neil Levy: ‘[Value pluralism] does not advocate respect for all moralities, no matter what, but places constraints on what counts as a moral system worthy of such respect. It therefore leaves open the possibility that we will be able to condemn some moral 24 Taylor (1992), p. 71, footnote 41.
systems … when the values they enshrine are not in fact real goods. … There is the real possibility that any particular morality could … turn out not to be worthy of respect. [I]f … it is worthy of recognition, our recognition will be substantive, and not purely formal.’25 One of his examples of a moral claim that is non-relativistically true is: ‘Individual freedom matters morally’ since it would be compatible with both Asian collectivism and Western individualism.26 Some people, like Levy above, have argued that this form of value pluralism might be conceived as a kind of moral relativism.27 In order not to confuse relativism with pluralism, I would rather recommend that pluralism be reserved for a position that does apply to some non-relativistic standard of substantive judgment. As we can see from the above, the defence of pluralism is partly based on a distinction between formal and substantive judgment. I think this is the important point that we ought to pay attention to. In a world of cultural and multicultural conflicts we need to be able to distinguish between morally acceptable and morally unacceptable behaviour and moral systems.
Preliminary concluding remarks We will point out the main points in the argument above: (i)
Putting all values on the same par shows disrespect for the differences, and it undermines value pluralism.
Attributing significance to particular values is a dialogical enterprise that cannot be purely formal.
25 Levy (2002), p. 201-202. 26 Levy (2002). P. 203. 27 Levy (2002), pp. 202-203.
Hence, value pluralism requires substantive judgment of the differences.
The standard by which we make moral judgments is not only substantive as opposed to purely formal. Additionally we also need a standard for criticising norms and practices that we find intolerable and dehumanising. Different solutions have been suggested, among them, some common standard of rationality that applies in particular to the public domain. John Rawls is an exponent of this solution, especially by his concept of ‘the veil of ignorance’, behind which people rationally choose the institutions that neither advantages nor disadvantages anyone.28 An obvious problem about such a solution is that it is deeply rooted in Western standards of rationality, among others, due to the strong weight that is put on individual autonomy. In many Eastern countries collectivism is embraced to a large extent, and it is conceived as partly incompatible with Western individualism.29 Charles Taylor’s position can be seen as a solution to the problem of reconciling differences among ethical systems: ‘The crucial idea is that people can bond not in spite of but because of difference. They can sense, that is, that their lives are narrower and less full alone than in association with each other. In this sense, the difference defines a complementarity.’30 This does not preclude criticism of moral systems, instead, it requires, for the criticism to be valid, that it is predicted on a broad understanding of what the practices mean in their context.31 In order to have knowledge of the practices of alien cultures it is necessary to have access to the particular contexts in question. Online communication appears to be a valuable means of getting such access. The main reason why, is the unique possibility of this medium for communication worldwide.32
28 Rawls (1970). 29 Madsen and Strong (2003). 30 Taylor (2002), p. 191, cited in Madsen and Strong (2003). 31 Madsen and Strong (2003), p. 11. 32
Ref.: Coleman and Gøtze, Fishkin, Wheeler.
If we view pluralism in light of Taylor’s politics of recognition, where identity is seen as fundamentally dialogically established and developed, any recognition will be dependent upon the dialogues that constitute the different identities. Following this line of thought, we may now see that judgments of others at the same time include the persons who undertake the judgments, as long as we do not deny a relationship with those we are judging. This way of reasoning is also reflected in Stanley Cavell’s understanding of how we could criticise for instance the institution of slavery without dehumanising: ‘[W]hat[a man who sees certain others as slaves] is missing is not something about slaves exactly and not exactly about human beings. He is missing something about himself, or rather something about his connection with these people, his internal relation with them, so to speak.’33 The important point to draw from this, and which is also consistent with the remaining arguments above, is that value pluralism requires admission of a relationship with the others in relation to whom we define our identity. What is at stake is not so much how we judge different others, but rather how we could allow others to see us. Value pluralism is then envisaged as a system where the most important enterprise would be to gain recognition of oneself. Non-fundamentalist value pluralism – or multiculturalism – has to steer the course between relativism on the one hand, and dogmatic fundamentalism on the other. This position must demonstrate recognition of (substantive) differences, but still make an appeal to some moral claims that are non-relativistically true. The distinction between formal and substantive judgment is of uttermost importance to this argument. What we want to establish is on the one hand that fundamentalism is defined on the basis of procedural rather than substantive criteria; on the other hand, we must also
33 Cavell (1979), p. 377. Cited in madsen and Strong (2003), p. 13.
avoid relativism. In a world of cultural and multicultural conflicts we need to be able to distinguish between morally acceptable and morally unacceptable behaviour and moral systems.
Substantive Judgment Online – Concluding Remarks Above we have emphasised the importance of substantive judgment and knowledge of particular circumstances in order to evade fundamentalism. Additionally, it is also a prerequisite that communication of the particular contain some universal appeal in order to extend beyond the particular context. In this sense global democracy presupposes communicative constraints that are not purely formal.34 There are partly diverging reports on the question whether the internet enhances the kind of deliberative and democratic communication that has been contrasted to fundamentalism above. On the one hand there are reports on the problem of filtering and group polarisation, indicating that global communication online jeopardises democracy.35 On the other hand there are also more optimistic reports emphasising the importance of global internet communication for the purposes of promoting democracy and empowerment.36 Despite such diverging reports, there is no doubt that the internet offers a venue for potentially more democratic and less fundamentalist communication between people of diverging opinions. Several experiments have been carried out for examining how people would deliberate in online pollings.37 Others have reported on equally positive results in cases of electronic set ups for online deliberation between politicians and their electors, but the
See Thorseth (2006) See particularly Cass Sunstein (2001). 36 See Deborah Wheeler (2005). 37 Fishkin (1997) is a valuable reference for this point. 35
problem has often been that the good results prevail only during the period of the trial, and thereafter a decline of activity has been reported.38 In concluding this paper I would like to put forth a hypothesis considering how the internet might work as impediment against fundamentalist knowledge. This hypothesis builds on the anticipation that the internet offers a unique possibility for knowledge of particular others across fundamentalist stereotypes. Wheeler’s report bears witness to this.39 The individual encounters between people of very different backgrounds (religious, cultural, ethnic etc.) appear to help people see that conflicting norms and moral conflicts are equally prevalent within as well as between cultures. An even more adequate way of putting it would be that individuals meet individuals and particular stories rather than complex cultures. Further, if the very encounter between differing individuals and circumstances matters more than the differences of the aggregated stereotypes, this matter of fact is perhaps more important than the particular content of the communication. This indicates that it is perhaps not the democratic ‘content’ of the conversations which matters most when it comes to the question of the feasibility of global democracy. Rather, I would suggest that the possibility of playing different roles and to put oneself in the position of others stimulates the capability of imagining counterfactual circumstances. In this perspective we might even consider the virtual reality that is offered online as even more valuable for people’s possibility of accessing non-fundamentalist knowledge, as compared to knowledge of reasonable arguments about democratic behaviour. As an illustration of the kind of virtuality we may think of, there are worlds like ‘Second World’ where visitors set out creating characters, meeting, working and discussing in a virtual reality. Maybe such acting can prove to be more stimulating for creativity and for the imaginative powers that might open people’s minds to appreciate the plurality of forms of life. 38 39
Coleman and Gøtze (2001). Wheeler (2005).
We would need some empirical research that could inform us on how internet visitors judge the importance of visiting such virtual realities. Meanwhile, I think there are sufficiently strong proofs that more people than ever have access to a plurality of different others thanks to the new technology offered by the internet. As yet, it is too early to know exactly how internet encounters affect the way people behave offline, and therefore worth while studying further.
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