Reading Doxa, Seeking Episteme

Grist For The Mill From Burqua-Lurkastan

During the last week I made reference to the growing Burqua debate in Australia and pointed how disturbed I was how vehemently self-declared Feminists were coming out infavor of banning them in the name of … oh, I don’t know, let’s be old-fashioned and call it “women’s lib”. Even somebody with a high profile as Elizabeth Farrelly had this hostile article denouncing the Burqua in Australia.

Who knows the difference between ethics and morality? Belgium does, for one. Technically, there’s not a lot in it. The dictionary makes ethics and morality synonyms, each relating to our cumulative attempts to tell right from wrong and act accordingly.

Aristotle’s Ethics examines what it means to be good; for him, and many thinkers since, ethics and moral philosophy are one.

In everyday life, though, we tend to distinguish on a public-private basis. ”Morality” tends to imply a code that is personal, often sexual and, just as often, religious in origin. ”Ethics” meanwhile, denotes a public and generally secular amalgam of these values. The baked crust, if you will, atop the pie. Hence talk of professional and corporate ethics, ethical investing and, of course, ethics taught in religion’s place in schools.

The St James Ethics Centre’s chief, Simon Longstaff, argues similarly, defining ethics as ”a conversation . . . [on] the question, ‘what ought one to do’?” Moralities, he says – and he stresses the plural – are the voices in that conversation; one Jewish, one Christian, one Hindu, one Muslim and so on.

Ethics, in this sense, come into play where there is conflict between moralities, or between rules within a morality – as when the truth imperative cuts across kindness.

I present that bit because it had me gagging on my morning coffee this week. The fact that Aristotle thought ethics and moral philosophy are the same, does not necessarily make it so. Now, I like Aristotle (in comparison to the political Fascist Plato), but that is simply as fallacious a position on ethics as the geocentric model of the Universe. The fact that other thinkers after him followed in his tracks, doesn’t make it necessarily so.

Be that as it may, she then stumbles to where most contemporary people agree about ethics, where she says “ethics comes into play where there is conflict between moralities or between rules within a morality (sic)”.Her precarious conclusion is thus “as when the truth imperative cuts across kindness.” What the hell exactly does she mean by that?  One assumes she is arguing that kindness shouldn’t count when we’re looking for the truth. Philosophically, that would be true, but it seems to me if she’s ultimately talking about the burqua, I don’t see how she can sustain any conlusion on her part is acting in the interests of truth and the truth imperative while the burqua supporter is not.

It’s a relatively simple logical point. Either she is going to make an investigation of truth in something which is falsifiable – thus achieving epsiteme (knowledge) or she is going to arrive at an doxa (opinion) based on some largely personal observations. I don’t want to bore the reader with epistemology 101, but what I am gagging on Elizabeth Farrelly is trying to set up an argument where her conclusion is going to be true, while the burqua defenders are  going to be *wrong* for not having her version of the truth.I might add, that she is not talking about a black or white issue like say, science. She’s talking about a cultural practice of people she does not have full knowledge thereof.

The startling three paragraphs thus ends with this:

Democracy pivots on the universal franchise; the presumption for each individual of a public identity, as well as a private one. To cover someone’s face in public, to reduce them to a walking tent, is to declare them lacking such identity, destroying any possibility of their meaningful public existence. It is, literally, to efface them.

To hide the face is to hide the person. As Shada Islam, Europe correspondent for the Pakistan paper Dawn, wrote last week, most European Muslim women have little patience with the burqa or its wearers, seeing it as ”a sad process of self-isolation and self-imposed exile”.

And while you could see even exile as a personal right, it does directly contradict a public duty, the duty of public presence. The morality of identity-erasure may be (barely) acceptable, but the ethics are not. Brave little Belgium.

And I am left shaking my head. Farrelly believes that Democracy is being undermined by people who choose to cover their faces because the effacement contradicts the public duty of presence. If ever there was tortured logic, I can’t readily recall one ad tortured as this. There is nowhere in the notion of Democracy that everybody must maintain a public face as well as a private one. Let’s be frank, she invented it for the purposes of her sophistry. Such a notion actually robs the legitimacy from people who are advocates for privacy.

It might be a surprise to Ms. Farrelly, but Democracy also covers the notion that should a person choose to remain intensely private, that person would and should have the right to do so. That person does not owe their neighbour or a stranger or Ms Farrelly their face. They simply do not.

Then it gets worse. In what follows this section – the Shada Islam quote – is mere opinion (doxa) as well. It’s one person’s stinking opinion, based on hearsay, without any statistical or empirical substantiation. It would hardly count as something in the service of the “truth imperative” as Elizabeth Farrelly claims.

The logical contortion Ms Farrelly applies to get there – even in an Op Ed kind of column is fundamentally dodgy. In fact, it borders on a non sequitur when she goes from that notion then to morality versus ethics, and then praises Belgium.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make any bloody sense, and pretending that it does is a lie – an out and out untruth! One suspects Farrelly knew, which is why she wrote the first bit above to bolster her own claims to being able to come at an ethical decision (as opposed to a moral one),  and then punch out a conclusion that says it would be unethical to let muslim women wear burquas in public.

Only in the twisted-logic world Elizabeth Farrelly lives in.

The Punch Says Back Off

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m neither female, or muslim. but I totally, totally agree with this article here. It’s really well written, I recommend it thoroughly, but I’m going to cheat and cut to the chase:

By denying Muslim women agency, we miss out on seeing their resilience, strength and passion.  When I tell people that I’m an Iranian Feminist most people assume that my fervent passion for defending women’s rights came from witnessing the way the government oppresses women in Iran.  That’s not the case.

I’m not a feminist because I witnessed first hand how bad things could be for women.  I’m a feminist because I had the privilege of watching women fight for their rights without compromise.

Seeing photos from the Green Movement to reform Iran shows this – at the forefront of most protests are women, donned in hijab, fighting not to have it obliterated but for their right to choose whether to wear it.  If the hijab isn’t a hindrance in fighting for democracy, freedom and basic human rights then its certainly not a barrier against playing sport.

In the end I want the sisterhood to acknowledge that I can control my destiny, not despite my religion, family or place of birth but because of them.

I want them to celebrate my achievements not tokenise them.  I won’t accept anything less than a unqualified acknowledgement of my agency, power and ability to make decisions in regard to my body and my life.

I know it strikes a lot of people as weird, but I totally get this argument. I have no issues with this line of thinking. I’m not a feminist, I’m just some un-reconstructed male-chauvinist-pig passing by the topic each day, but I have to say I find the feminist support to ban the burqua to be a kind of cultural imperialism and a very patronising position at the expense of people who should at least be given the benefit of the doubt, and those people really should be shown the same kind of tolerance and acceptance these very same feminists demand on behalf of asylum seekers on boats.

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