I have been thinking a lot recently about liberalism, and what it means to be liberal. To me it means having an open mind, and being tolerant of different people and lifestyles. I like to think of myself as a rather liberal, open minded person – I think that, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, physically or otherwise, people should be allowed to do as they please. This, of course, stems from my belief that there is no such thing as ‘normal’, so any lifestyle is just as valid as any other.
This, on the face of it, seems a pretty simple philosophy. Yet, if you think aabout it, there are a few little inconsistencies and contradictions. How far can you take it? What, exactly, is harm? On YouTube one can find videos of all kinds of people: for instance, that’s where I found out about Jazz, a 7 year old girl who was born a boy, or Kim Petras, the worlds youngest post-operative transsexual. I view such phenomena in a positive light: although others may have reservations about such cases, transitioning between the genders has obviously made these young people happier, so I think it cool that they have been allowed to become the people they want to be. Needless to say, the same applies to my girlfriend. If living as the opposite gender, or in whatever lifestyle you want, makes you happy, then I say go for it.
But on the other hand, YouTube also has video clips of a girl who weighs 400 pounds, or rather used to before her diet. I must admit I feel pretty sickened at the fact that this girl was allowed to get so obese. One must ask yourself, however, what is the difference? Why is one behaviour okay, and another not? The girl in question claims she was addicted to food, implying that she was not in full control of her eating just as Jazz and Miss Petras did not decide to be transgender. Further, she obviously found happiness in eating, just as kim, jazz and Lyn find happiness in being who they are. Why is one behaviour right and another wrong? Of course, being so fat was causing her real problems: she was unable to walk due to her weight, and her heart was under aa great deal of strain. But one could also say there are substantial medical and social risks in transitioning too; and one can also point out, as a disabled person, that the ability to walk is not as great a thing as others might want one to believe. So why is one behaviour (at least nominally) condoned by society, but another condemned?
Those were, admittedly, two rather obscure examples, but my point is that there are contradictions which those that call themselves liberal must contend with. I’ve been thinking about islam recently, and indeed faith in general. I like to think that the UK is a pretty tolerant place where people from all over the world can come and find a safe haven. I don’t care what god you worship, or how you worship it. Yet what if a central principal of that worship actually contradicts that principal of tolerance? On YouTube (yes yes, I get most of my knowledge from YouTube these days) there are videos of people who apparently want to impose sharia law in the UK, or at least have areas where sharia law is enforced. As I understand it, sharia law is pretty intolerant; it demands women wear the hijab, and involves brutal punishments, or at least punishments we would find brutal. It seems incompatible with western liberal democracy.* as a tranny, I think people should be allowed to dress as they please; I also suspect that most of the women I know would fiercely object to having to wear a veil. Moreover, sharia in it’s strictest form involves capital punishment, which I find utterly repugnant. Thus there is a conflict between respecting the right to worship and the need to ensure everyone is held to the same laws. I should add too that this issue is not localised to islam – in some areas, for example, orthodox jewish law prevails. To me, it makes no sense to have one set of rules for one set of people, and another for another; surely if everyone is equal, they everyone should be held to the same laws. Similarly, why should one issue be dealt with one way and accomodated, and another be condemned by society?
This is further complicated by my atheism. I do not believe in any god or gods, just in the evidence I am presented with. Part of me feels that religion is just another divisive factor and so should be done away with. The same principals which brought me to liberalism – those of equality, justice, and evidence-based judgements lead me to believe society should be secular. If there is no consensus of faith, then the government should be faithless; but this would lead us to a Dawkinsian stance of assuming religion is bad and wanting to do away with it, which strikes me as rather illiberal. Thus we have a paradox – in order to respect everyone’s faith, we should assume no faith is correct, but then what’s the point of faith?
These contradictions trouble me; they puzzle me. The very principles which bring me to liberalism show me its shortcomings. Yet this does not mean liberalism is wrong: on the contrary: Liberalism also means being forever mindful that nothing is ever black and white.
*however, some scholars have argued that English common law was originally inspired by Islamic law. ”It has been suggested by several scholars such as Professor John Makdisi, Jamila Hussain and Lawrence Rosen that several fundamental English common law institutions may have been derived or adapted from similar legal institutions in Islamic law and jurisprudence, and introduced to England after the Norman conquest of England by the Normans, who conquered and inherited the Islamic legal administration of the Emirate of Sicily (see Arab-Norman culture), and ”through the close connection between the Norman kingdoms of Roger II in
Sicily – ruling over a conquered Islamic administration – and Henry II in England”.’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia#English_common_law)