Monday, 20 July 2015

Liberalism Part II - Faith, Feelings and Farron!

This kind of follows on my previous comments on the basics about Liberalism (hence the title), with particular reference to the questioning of new Lib Dem leader Tim Farron commitment to Liberalism and Gay Rights issues following the questioning of his private religious beliefs with regard to whether homosexuality is a 'sin'

Much has been made of Tim 'not answering the question', but in my opinion he has answered it, and answered it very well. He has made it clear that he is not a religious leader qualified/employed to make such public pronouncements on matters of 'sin', that as a Christian he believes that we are all 'sinners' anyway, and that he has an absolute commitment to Liberalism and supporting equality for everyone, including LBGT+ people (whatever his private beliefs may or may not be). That, to me, seem like a perfectly reasonable and thoroughly Liberal response.

Of course, the question was deliberately framed as a 'yes/no', following the slightly irritating modern 'journalistic' habit of framing a question in such a way, but based on a premise that the interviewer knows that the interviewee can't possibly give such an answer to in those terms. It seems, unfortunately, to have become a common device, and one that everyone should be aware of. Personally, I don't think that is 'trying to get to the truth' at all, but just trying to trap someone into either making a 'gaffe' by seeming to say something controversial that they don't really mean, or by making them out to be 'evasive' if they won't. It often comes with constant interruptions of 'but you haven't answered the question', meaning that, whatever answer they are giving, they haven't answered it in the limited terms around which the question was knowingly constructed so that they couldn't (and also meaning that nobody gets to hear the actual answer that they are trying to give, of course)! It's pretty cheap and transparent bit of trickery, designed purely to produce something 'sensational', in my opinion.

Another particularly bad recent example was the interview with Labour leadership candidate Corbyn, where he (understandably, in my opinion) 'snapped' at a 'journalist' for doing exactly that, and not letting him actually respond to the question. I guess this all goes back to the infamous Paxman-Howard interview, where he repeatedly fired a yes/no question that Howard thoroughly evaded - the fundamental difference, of course, is that it wasn't on explaining/justifying matters of 'opinion' as the Farron and Corbyn questions were, but on a matter of simple historical fact about whether he had actually done a particular thing. That is something entirely different (and entirely reasonable to frame in a 'yes/no' way), but it seems that too many 'journalists' are now obsessed with creating a name for themselves in the same kind of way, but by using questions of opinion framed in a specific manner that they know their victim can't possibly accept. Journalism is an important part of the political process, and journalists do have a vital role in holding our politicians to account and getting them to present a true picture of what they stand for, and they have to consider whether they are actually doing that effectively, or simply trying to create needless controversy for their own ends.

Setting that aside, what I really wanted to talk about was Liberalism itself in this context - what is 'Liberalism', and how does it work? We are all human beings. We all have our own private sets of opinions and natural feelings. The point for me about being a Liberal is not somehow becoming inhuman such that we have no natural feelings, but realising that we have to recognise and overcome private feelings in the way that we deal with others, and in the way that we treat others and the issues of diversity and equality. It's not about promoting our own private view above others, or promoting the interests of our own 'group' over any others - quite the opposite.

Let's take another example - it is entirely understandable that, on a private, human level, some people are suspicious of 'religion' and/or Christians and their views. It's something perfectly natural to human beings to based things on their own experiences, or the experiences of people that they feel are 'like them' in some way. A gay person, for example, may very well have been, or seen others being, treated badly in some way by some religious people who claim to base their views and actions in elements of their faith, and judge and condemn others, effectively forcing their views onto other people. That's natural - people who have been abused by a certain group are quite likely to be suspicious of people from that group, especially when they start talking about their private religious views.

In that kind of context, the point of being a 'Liberal' to me is to overcome that kind of private issue - it is a natural, fear or experience based response to circumstances, but it doesn't have to dictate the way in which we deal with people or deal with issues of Rights, Equality and Divesrity. Indeed, like every other human on the planet (or elsewhere!), I have my own 'issues' in that sense - as someone who grew up as a member of what is now often referred to as an 'alternative subculture', I and my friends (and others of our 'group') have been harassed by street preachers, condemned by religious leaders, dismissed as 'evil', and so on. I can certainly be suspicious of what some people will justify in the name of their religion when it comes to how they view people who are, in some way, 'people like me'. When it comes to equality, I have to look past that and realise that in an equal and diverse world we have to be free to hold our own private opinions - as long as it's not being forced on anyone, that's fine. That HAS to apply to EVERYONE, including those who have private opinions that I do not agree with or even that I am naturally slightly suspicious about.

Another group that I could be said to have an entirely natural and past experience based 'aversion' towards would be what are now generally referred to (in a derogatory way) as 'chavs'. I have been abused by 'them', physically attacked by 'them', chased down the road be 'them' wielding metal bars and shouting 'freak', for no other reason than the way I looked and the music I like. 'They' didn't like the fact that I was 'different', and they were abusing me on that basis, and indeed I an still subjected to 'what on earth are you' type stares by 'them' on a fairly regular basis for not conforming to their idea of 'normal' in the way that I dress. Every year I spend a weekend at a rock festival with 'people like me', and not getting those stares, whispers, abuses and even threats, and having a weekend of being a 'freak among freaks' is, believe me, great personal pleasure and absolutely blessed relief!

To me, however, the point of being a Liberal is realise that you have to overcome that kind of natural feeling. You have to be able to treat everyone as an equal individual of equal individual merit - to not simply react to negative personal experiences and feelings by returning them 'in kind' - to not treat those 'groups' any differently to how I treat 'my own', and especially when it comes to the 'public' treatment of issues of diversity and equality.

I'm not a Christian, but to me it is entirely reasonable for a Christian to hold a private, personal, faith-based belief for themselves but to be able to overcome that in dealings with others, and with matters of equality. I really don't see that there is an issue with someone privately believing that someone else is a 'sinner', but overcoming that and defending absolutely their right to 'sin', and to 'sin' equally alongside every other kind of 'sinner' in the human race. That's what being a Liberal is all about. It's not about defending the rights of one particular 'group' against or over another particular 'group', or promoting one's own personal, private feelings over everyone else's views about how they should be, it's about defending the rights of every individual from every group equally. It's about defending the rights of the individual to live their lives according to their own opinions, as long as they aren't interfering with anyone else's life in doing so. It's about doing so, no matter what private, personal feelings a person might have about another 'group' and their choices and private opinions.

Tim Farron is a Christian. He might very well believe that I am 'wrong' in my choice of atheism and 'the devil's music', and that, as a result, I am a 'sinner' and/or that ultimately I will have to answer for my sins before the Lord. That's up to him - I don't care! It makes no odds to me whatsoever, as long as he is not forcing that opinion on me by dictating how I should live my life according to his own private views. Likewise, I personally think his religion is a load of total nonsense - I don't believe in his God (or any other gods), and I think he is completely wasting his time and energy in believing and worshipping and so on. It's not my business to condemn him on that basis, though, or to blame him for the illiberal actions of some of his 'religion', or to tell him that he doesn't have the absolute right to live his life how he chooses and to hold whatever personal beliefs he likes as a entirely private matter. As a Liberal, I will absolutely stand up for his right to follow his religion and hold whatever religious beliefs he likes, as long as he doesn't seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else, or justify illiberal measures for everyone on the basis of his private beliefs (which he has never done, as far as I am aware). I might have my private views on his faith, and my private issues with my past experiences of some who professed a similar faith, but that should be my problem, not his!

Of course, I do recognise that there are sometimes issues that can create a measure of conflict between private beliefs and public measures. We can overcome our own natural biases in the way that we act, but there still might be direct personal conflicts on particular specific issues that force us to recognise that, if nothing else, our own personal judgement may be somewhat clouded. Under those circumstances, we have to accept the existence of such an issue, and allow individuals to not have to positively vote for something that conflicts them on a personal level in some way. The correct response under those circumstance is, in my opinion, for a person to be able to step back from the conflict and abstain. I don't have an issue with that at all. I'd be concerned if 'faith', or some other private opinion, had led a 'liberal' to campaign actively against a measure that other liberals considered to be something essential for equality and diversity, but I have no concerns over someone stepping back at the final point because of a personal, private conflict, and just not actually positively voting for a specific thing that caused them that private conflict. It's not 'illiberal' to know when your own judgement is may be compromised because of a private issue and to step back accordingly and let others make the decision - quite the opposite - it's entirely Liberal, in my opinion, to realise the need not to stand in the way of progress despite a personal conflict. Being a Liberal is not about denying your own humanity, it's about realising it and overcoming it to treat everyone else as equal human individuals.

There is another associated issue that sometimes comes up, too - that of diversity of representation. Of course, we should have a diverse group of elected representatives, and our current set of MPs is not diverse enough - I don't think anybody would deny that! However, I simply do not agree with the assertion made by some that a representative cannot effectively represent the interests of a group to which they do not belong. Being a Liberal is, for me, about overcoming the fact that you are a personally an individual, and representing the diverse interests of everyone equally.

To put it another way, Liberalism is absolutely not about promoting 'Gay Rights' or 'Christian Rights' or 'Alternative Subculture Rights' or 'Women's Rights' - it is absolutely the opposite of that, in a sense. It is about recognising and promoting the rights of every single individual EQUALLY. That includes recognising that not all groups are currently treated as equal, of course, and that some specific groups effectively therefore need to have their interests promoted so that they can attain that equality, but it should never be about promoting one specific group's interests over another. It's about promoting EQUALITY and DIVERSITY. We are all individuals deserving of equal respect and treatment. We are all a member of multiple 'groups', of course, and we are all different - we are therefore all a minority of one!

If we suggest that a person cannot represent the interests of groups to which they do not belong, we are saying the the only way to be a truly 'Liberal' representative is to actually be every single individual in the human race at the same time! That's obviously nonsense.

Likewise, if we suggest that nobody can be a truly 'Liberal' representative unless they have no personal, individual, private feelings, we are saying that the only way to be a truly 'Liberal' representative is to not be an individual human being at all! Also nonsense, of course.

The key to Liberalism is equality, and ensuring that everyone is treated equally, no matter who they are. It is recognising that everyone is an individual, including one's self, and that all individuals must be equal under the law and by treatment, whether or not we as individuals happen to like or agree with their personal choices. It can be no other way, and that means that every individual is equally entitled to their own private opinions and feelings, and is equally able to be a good, 'true' Liberal as long as they acknowledge their own humanity and overcome any private feelings they might have when it comes to how they deal with the issues of equality and diversity, and treating every individual as an equal individual.

Everyone is equal, and should be treated equally. Everyone is equally able to be a good, true 'Liberal' if they understand that and act accordingly. It doesn't matter whether they personally happen to be straight, gay, Christian, atheist, metalhead, chav, male, female, black ,white, or absolutely anything else at all, and it doesn't matter what private opinions they hold on that basis, as long as they understand that to be liberal is to overcome such private opinions in the way that you act, and the way that you treat other people and issues of equality. Liberalism absolutely isn't about gay people promoting 'Gay Rights', or Christians promoting 'Christian Rights', or alternative subcultures promoting 'Alternative Subculture Rights', or women promoting 'Women's Rights', it's about EQUALITY and DIVERSITY, and EVERYONE recognising, promoting and working toward the EQUAL Rights of EVERYONE!

The answers that Tim Farron has given to the questions about his private beliefs demonstrate clearly to me that he understands the difference between his private faith and feelings and the 'public' issues of equality and diversity, and how Liberalism should represent and promote them. I just don't see why there should be any concern on that. To be truly 'Liberal', we all have to overcome our own private feelings and natural biases and opinions, whether they be based in religion, or with regard to the religion of others, or anything else. In my opinion, that's what Liberalism is all about, and Tim Farron has said and done nothing that makes me doubt his absolute commitment to Liberalism in any way.

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