One of my frustrations with the Left is that some elements within it are dogmatically committed to certain principles, without any regard to how they practically play out when acted upon. I call this faction the Idealistic Left. The counter approach is to work for the best practical outcome, and not to bind yourself to a way of thinking that will not achieve anything. I call this faction the Pragmatic Left. Typically, the response to a challenge of the rigidly principled dogma is "If you don't stand by your principles when they are challenged, you don't stand by them at all." There's truth in this statement. You cannot claim to support freedom of speech if you don't defend the right to speech that upsets you. But here's why I don't believe that this is a valid response.
Principles do not exist in a vacuum. We should not believe in them merely for the sake of believing in them, and being able to claim "I stand for [X]." My principles are always derived from my belief that applying them would achieve a practical benefit. That's the only reason I believe in a principle: applying it would do good. So if I think that applying a principle would not achieve a practical benefit, or even worse, would achieve a practical harm, I don't believe in it, and I don't apply it to my actions. Similarly, if a principle that I do generally believe in would, if taken to an extreme, start to cause harm, I would neither believe in that principle nor apply it to the extent that it causes harm.
Let's start with a familiar example: tolerance. This is a principle that I strongly believe in, because applying it to our behaviour is (generally) to the benefit of all people and society, and not doing so is (generally) very detrimental to people and society. This is because there are people in the world who are different to the majority for any number of reasons. Mistreating them for their difference does substantial harm to them, and makes society a harsh, hostile and ugly place to live in. But what happens when tolerance is obeyed to the point where it becomes self-defeating? For instance, Britain is the most tolerant country on Earth. For so long, it has allowed anyone from anywhere to immigrate, with little restrictions on numbers. This allowance of immigration has been carried out in the name of tolerance, the idea that we should not single out immigrants for a detriment (that being not being able to immigrate) just because of their different culture, ethnicity or religion. But unfortunately, this extreme and absolute application of tolerance, which holds that we can never make any critical analysis of a different culture, ethnicity or religion, leads to a defeat for the practical benefits for people and society that tolerance was designed to achieve in the first place. In Britain, and Europe more broadly, hate crimes against LGBT people and Jews are committed at a disproportionately high rate by Muslim/Middle Eastern people, often immigrants. That's just a fact. And that means that we have a situation that in attempting to be tolerant to Muslim and Middle Eastern immigrants, Britain has created a society that is far too often intolerant of LGBT people and Jews. So, the very reason why we should be tolerant in the first place (preventing harm to minorities and thus broader society) has been massively undermined by taking tolerance to this extreme. As Bill Maher said: "[One basic liberal principle is tolerance.] But not for intolerance."
So no, I do not believe that we should stand by our principles through absolute thick and thin. The entire reason we believe (or should believe) in them is to achieve a practical benefit. If applying a principle and standing by it, to an extreme or absolute extent, is doing harm, then scale it back a little. Ultimately, we want to do good, not harm. And we should reject any beliefs or actions that cause harm, including principled extremism.
I'm bringing this up because a couple of weeks ago, I encountered a real instance in which principled extremism may be undermining and holding back the progress that the principle was trying to achieve in the first place. When the Missouri city of Springfield voted to repeal a SOGI anti-discrimination ordinance, I noted that opponents of the ordinance had campaigned heavily on narrow applications of it. This is where it gets sensitive. One application applies only to sexual orientation. The other applies only to gender identity. The former is the sale of wedding services to same-sex couples. The latter is the right of transgender people to use their appropriate bathrooms.
Now, I am strongly in favor banning both types of discrimination. But, these two applications of the law, which are fairly narrow, and don't affect other applications, appear to have dragged the law down to a narrow defeat, 48.5% to 51.5%. So I suggested that if omitting only a couple of narrow applications of the law would get enough people on side to support it, we might want to consider it. Here's my comment in full context:
The ordinance would have banned two types of discrimination that are controversial, and that many do not think should be banned: denial of service for a gay wedding, and allowing transgender people to use their proper bathrooms. So, even in a conservative state, and even with the ordinance covering two types of discrimination that many people think should be legal, they could only get 51.5% of people to oppose it. How many people would support anti-discrimination protections if these were excluded and it was not confined to a conservative area? Many more. This doesn't hold well for their idea that a majority of Americans support being able to discriminate against LGBT people. (I'm not saying that allowing the two types of discrimination I've mentioned is good, but I do think we would be more successful if they weren't covered.)
Generally, that suggestion was not well received.
The first criticism came from fellow Kossack AJayne. AJayne's comment was reasonable and civilized, but I still think that the sentiment expressed would make fighting for LGBT equality more difficult than it needs to be. AJayne said:
I of course agree with the sentiment. All LGBT people should have their equal rights, and all LGBT people should fight for them, both for themselves and for others. However, I do not believe that what I proposed was inconsistent with that. Going from having no protections against discrimination to having many protections, even with one or two narrow exceptions, is a massive step forward. Doing that does not mean that we aren't fighting or aren't fighting together. The other thing is this. What I said does not at all even come close to excluding transgender people. I discussed not including for the moment both a gender identity protection and a sexual orientation protection. I did not only leave out a gender identity protection. But even if I had done that, it still would not be excluding transgender people. (It would not be a good idea, though, either.) And that would be because the ordinance covered gender identity. Transgender people would have had a massive improvement in their lives, even without the bathroom protection. Now, I'm not in favor of not including one protection but not the other. I would not advocate or vote to amend a bill to only exclude a gender identity protection and not sexual orientation protection. That would still create a situation where gender identity protections are less comprehensive than sexual orientation protections. I don't want that. But I think it's quite reasonable to temporarily omit one protection for both sexual orientation and gender identity, and then work towards putting it in in the future. It's a shared, equal sacrifice that leaves no one out, and it still a massive improvement from nothing.
This is what I was getting at with this comment:
In response, fellow Kossack rserven, who is transgender, made a legitimate point:
I wrote before, in the original post, and in this post, and I will write again, that what is needed is to keep working on the applications of the law that were omitted. A law with omissions is not perfect, and we should still work to improve it. It's important to keep working on it. However, in most states, transgender people have not been omitted. Currently, eight states do not have the same statewide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. New York, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have policies giving more protection to sexual orientation than gender identity. Additionally, Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Missouri, and Ohio have executive orders banning sexual orientation discrimination but not gender identity discrimination in public employment. This needs to change. Gender identity should be added. But in 22 other states that offer some form of statewide protection, this protection is equal for sexual orientation and gender identity. A brief scan of local ordinances on this map
also suggests that the vast majority of them have equal sexual orientation and gender identity protections.
In this comment, I made it clear that I wanted a shared sacrifice that would include wedding services to same-sex couples being temporarily omitted, and that some progress is better than none, and that after that progress, I wanted to keep working for more:
Alas, my explanation didn't work.
This was frustrating to see. It now became clear which direction the discussion was going in: identity politics gone mad. The thinking that LGB people and T people aren't allies, have different goals, and don't care about each other is extremely and ridiculously divisive, not to mention, completely inaccurate. Surely it's not a good idea to define and single ourselves out so distinctly that LGBT people can't even be united over a unique sexual orientation or gender identity.
One problem that I had with this comment was that I thought it unfair. I don't think that LGB people lose interest like rserven said they do. rserven gave the example of Wisconsin, which was the first state to ban sexual orientation discrimination but has not done so for gender identity. That's a real shame. But I think the blame for this has been misappropriated. I believe that it lies at the feet of the legislators for not acting on gender identity discrimination. I doubt there were any openly LGB legislators in Wisconsin when the law was enacted, and who are still there, and who haven't brought gender identity discrimination up. My aforementioned noting of the fact that of 30 states with some kind of statewide discrimination protection for sexual orientation, 22 also include the same protection for gender identity, is more proof that LGB people are not forgetting about T people.
I responded as follows:
I will elaborate only on the last two paragraphs. I've covered the others.
My statement about me being same-sex attracted (I speak in non-rigid terms because I cannot definitely use a label yet) and rserven being transgender was intended to do the following: emphasise that we are united by a minority sexuality and/or gender identity. I'm sure that's pretty obvious. My statement that "we're on the same team" was not just to quote Bill Maher. It was also to emphasise how we want the same thing, that we have the same goals.
There's something else I want to clarify. My criticism of what I saw as rserven's "taking a shot at LGB people" was not me engaging in identity politics of my own, because I might be G or B (but not L). I was not defending myself. I was merely pointing out the silliness of taking identity politics and differences to this extreme.
Finally, the reason that I said that rserven's comment was "divisive and counter productive" is because in this discussion, rserven was the first of us to highlight the distinction without a difference between LGB people and T people. I did not do that. In my post, and in the subsequent comments, I consistently advocated a shared sacrifice where both a gender identity protection and a sexual orientation would be temporarily omitted. I never advocated singling out transgender people for a lack of protection that LGB people wouldn't also have. So that's why I was even more frustrated by this reply:
I did not suggest leaving anyone out. I never said that I thought an attribute
(sexual orientation/gender identity) should be omitted. That would be leaving people out. I only suggested leaving out a narrow application of the law, so LGBT (all four letters) people could gain all the other benefits, instead of not only not getting a wedding cake or to use their proper bathroom, but also not getting anything else at all, because those two unfortunately controversial provisions dragged support for the law down. I also made clear that I wanted this omission to be shared between sexual orientation and gender identity. But from the outset (AJayne's comment), this was distorted as singling out transgender people. My frustration showed more in my reply, which started: "Oh, now you're twisting my words completely."
I won't copy any more comments, because I don't think they add anything new.
So, I would now like to state, once and for all, where I stand on this:
We start by pushing for a bill that includes everything. If that fails, and it becomes apparent that a narrow application of the bill is dragging it down, we omit it, and another narrow protection from the other attribute, to make a shared sacrifice. (If it still fails, then we've got work to do.) If that passes, we work towards eventually eliminating those omissions.
If we take the idealistic approach of "we have to get everything right now", then if narrow applications of the law drag it down, and we don't temporarily leave them out, then we won't just be losing the narrow application of the law. We'll be losing everything else too. Regardless of if we leave in the controversial applications and it fails, or we leave them out and it passes, then either way, we won't get the protection of the narrow application, which is what started this dispute in the first place. So how about we choose the option that will have the most practical benefits? Between "no protections at all" and "every protection but one narrow one", I know what I'm choosing.
And I know what I'm not choosing, either. I'm not choosing the petty, stupid divisions that come from identity politics gone mad.
I hope you'll join me in those choices.