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November 29, 2017



"what matters is not whether you believe you are right, but whether you in fact are right."

Not sure Kant for one agreed with that.


Many people accuse Poles and other Europeans of actions, attitudes and beliefs that would they themselves would consider racist if the object of their critism was other than white. It seems that 'if they're white then I’m not being racist' holds here.


Your identification of the decline of religion (or specifically religiously based humility)as a factor brought to my mind Reinhold Niebuhr's "the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness" (1944):

"Democratic life requires a spirit of tolerant cooperation between individuals and groups which can be achieved by neither moral cynics, who know no law beyond their own interest, nor by moral idealists, who acknowledge such a law but are unconscious of the corruption which insinuates itself into the statement of it by even the most disinterested idealists."

Dave Timoney

Jesus's statement, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone", was not a lesson in humility nor a suggestion that we shouldn't rush to judge, but an insistence that man had no right to pass judgements in matters reserved to God. It was an argument from authority that led logically to both papal infallibility and biblical literalism.

Our problem is less the decline of religion than the triumphant hegemony of its binary judgmentalism. This can be seen in the way that tolerance, which actually means putting up with something that you may positively dislike, has increasingly come to be framed in terms of a catechism of right beliefs with "calling out" (essentially "bearing witness") providing the means to separate sheep from goats.

Without getting all John Grey about it, there is a case to be made that hipster self-righteousness is just the continuation of religion by other means.

David Grant

You seem to be arguing that true morality is exemplified by self-doubt. While this is desirable, I don't think it's quite right. The sort of moralising you're talking about is de-contextualised posturing that has nothing much to do with how people actually live in communities and their relationships with other people. What we get - particularly on the left, I have to admit - is people taking 'moral' positions on big, abstract issues that they are not in any position to affect and are probably wrong about anyway. So, for example, someone can be declared among the righteous because they have the 'correct' view on Palestine or whatever but behave like complete dicks to their actual family, fiends,neighbours or workmates. It's de-socialised 'morality' you've identified, I think.


"What matters is not whether you believe you are right...". Surely this implies that many (most?) actions are condemned to a moral no-man's land, potentially indefinitely, until we find our whether they are actually right? If they subsequently turn out to be wrong, I'm not sure that would automatically make them immoral, merely mistaken (assuming they had been done in a well-reasoned, well-intentioned manner). Intentions do seem to matter, yet the quote would treat someone in the "trolley problem" who switched the tracks because they actively wanted to kill the person on the branch line as morally equivalent to one who switched the tracks to save the people on the main line. I'm not sure this really works with our moral intuitions.


I see two things in the mix:

One is the elements of genuine racism and intolerance, the hipster part being superfluous. There are no special cases in intolerance, it's never only intolerant when somebody else does it, and nobody gets a pass because they, their community, or the communities they ally with are victims of intolerance.

The other is the more dispiriting perpetualisation of grievance and outrage by people for whom grievance and outrage has become their schtick, and they're determined to keep stretching it as far as they can make it pay. This manifests as flimsily constructed and internally contradictory complaints like 'cultural appropriation' and 'micro-aggressions'.

The Gonch

Chris, you raise some valuable points, but you might not get all the answers from SSNR ;)

The point about religion and community values are too easily dismissed by 'whataboutery' on the left (when it comes to religion) an on the right (when it comes to community values). But there is a wide ranging and long standing literature in Human Rights studies that addresses both of these angles.

The religious point is simple, as argued by academics such as Katarina Delacoura. Just what sort of rights (and therefore ethics) do we have without religion? The point being that once (via the enlightenment) you remove god, what exactly is the foundation for rights and ethics? Or, in other words, if ethical rules and rights are not the word of god, and are instead inherent to the special status of 'human' then any human can chose to deny them (or change them).

I for one don't agree with this argument, but it is not easily dismissed, and certainly not dismissed by "but that religious actor/group did something horrible", because there are plenty of secular justifications for horrors...

The community point is picked by those such as Chris Brown ( http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13642989808406711 ), who have argued that the problem with human right and ethics is a western attempt at universalism, that does not respect that rights are 'becoming'; in other words communities must develop their own rights and they must be relative to a community. The problem with this is not the principle - indeed one could argue conservative commentators who which to chuck the ECHR in the bin are making this point. The problem is when this argument is made to *deny* ethical standards and rights; "Don't have rights imposed on you...instead listen to me". In other words, those 'defending' community values (like the Tory's saying junk the ECHR) are not doing so to enhance rights, but to control them; they are doing it for their own position of power.

Ralph Musgrave

Just one teensy flaw in all the above: there’s not necessarily anything wrong with racism, if one is using the word as per Oxford dictionary. My Concise Oxford defines it as, 1, the belief that some races are better than others, and 2, hatred based on the latter belief.

Clearly hate is wrong, though it’s not illegal: there isn't actually a law which says you can’t sit around all day hating your next door neighbour.

As for “1”, there are psychologists who claim some races have higher IQs than others. They may be wrong of course, but certainly the belief that some races are better than others would seem to be not unreasonable, in view of that IQ evidence.

For more on this, see:


Simon Garrett

@ Ralph Musgrave: does higher IQ make people "better"?

Ralph Musgrave

Simon Garrett,

Obviously not - or at least not necessarily.

However about 99% of the population think that humans are "better" than other animals because of humans' superior brains. So IQ is fairly important.

Also my claim that some races are "better" than others was not supposed to hinge exclusively on IQ. E.g. it would seem that some races are more musical than others: Whites and Blacks have produced far more music than Arabs.

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