In my last post, I drew attention to the distinction between just and unjust forms of discrimination:
Suppose I am taking casting auditions for a film I am directing. The film is a biopic of Devon Malcolm, and Mr. White is auditioning for the main role. But Mr. White is white. If I refuse to cast Mr. White as Malcolm, since whoever plays Malcolm has to be black, am I in the right?
Not all discrimination is unjust. It’s generally taken as a rebuke against a person to tell him that he does something requiring precision ‘indiscriminately’. Discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, age or whatever is unjust to the extent that those factors are irrelevant to someone’s ability to do the job in question or entitlement to the benefit in question. So, while it would not be unjust discrimination to refuse to cast Mr. White as Devon Malcolm merely because he’s white, it would be unjust to refuse to pick Devon Malcolm in your cricket team merely because he is black, since his being black has no bearing on his ability to play cricket well. That kind of discrimination has no place in a just society.
This position is not exactly right. This particular discrimination is immoral ... but it is the sort of personal immorality which must be allowed by government precisely because we wish to live in just societies. For, governmental suppression if this particular immorality creates more injustice, and ultimately more immorality, than is solved by the suppression.
This is an interesting perspective that I have heard before and against which it’s not that easy to argue. What I think it highlights is the fact that the more that rights and freedoms are enshrined in law, the greater the probability that these will come into conflict. For example, has the right to freedom of association in this country been compromised when the British National Party is legally disbarred from having a whites-only membership policy?
Should any clarification be needed (I hope not), I do not support the BNP. I just think this is a genuinely interesting case, since freedom of association has historically been a very important liberty, and surely must include the freedom to disassociate as well (otherwise it’s pretty meaningless) – and yet here we have an example of a situation where that freedom is denied. Denied for good and well-meaning reasons, I’m sure, but denied all the same.
Tough questions here, with no easy answers. I think the position one takes on questions like this depends largely on what one’s idea of the ideal society is; I mean, in terms of structure rather than of citizens (people are unpredictable, after all). Someone who thinks that freedom is the ultimate good in a society will presumably support e.g. the BNP’s right to freely associate in a racist manner, while someone who think that equality is more important presumably won’t.
In my last post, I also said that Bible-believing Christians ‘want to work with you for the common good’ (and I meant it). But what is the common good?