Thursday, 27 December 2012

In Praise of Discrimination

As my regular reader is well aware, I am something of a pedant when it comes to language.

There is a reason for that: I believe that language has a sacred quality: it can be a vehicle for truth.

It is not unrelated in my mind to the prologue of St John's Gospel: and the Word became flesh.

For that reason, when a word is bandied about as though it is the last word on a subject I always look more closely.

One such word, at the moment, is discrimination.  It is used to close discussions, and more specifically to close thinking.  We know discrimination is bad - evil even - so once that grenade is launched (eg in the context of 'homosexual marriage') everyone runs for cover.

However, even the briefest moment's thought reveals quite how stupid such a reaction is.

If a soldier, entering a village in pursuance (let us say) of a Just War, is shot at by a sniper, and responds by firing indiscriminately, we know that is bad.  He should discriminate between the civilian population and the sniper, and aim his fire only at the sniper.  Such discrimination is good.

Indeed, the word simply means to make a judgement. Every time we buy a product that is fairly traded, or not tested on animals, we are discriminating: in favour of one approach, against another.

As a society, we strive to discriminate between those who keep the law and those who break it: and that too is a good.

Not only that, but we may discriminate against people who have done no wrong, who are indeed victims of misfortune: we do not allow those whose sight does not meet a certain minimum standard to drive a car.

Discrimination, in other words, is not necessarily a bad thing. Why we pay attention to it is that it may be an indicator of a bad thing, and that bad thing is injustice.

Unjust discrimination is a bad thing; not because it is discrimination, but because it is unjust.

That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very precise in its language regarding people afflicted with homosexual desires. 'Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.' §2358

That, of course, is because some discrimination in their regard may in fact be just: just as blind people may justly be discriminated against with regard to driving a car (because it is something that they cannot do) so homosexual people may justly be discriminated against with regard to marrying someone of the same sex: it is something that cannot be done.

That, of course, hangs on another point of language: what we mean by the word marriage.  That argument has been well-rehearsed; but nobody can deny that until very recently there was unanimity about its characteristics of sexual complementarity and potential for generating new life.  That is why the attempt to introduce 'same-sex marriage' is at heart a lie - or at the very least, an attempt to re-define the word to empty it of nearly all of its meaning.

There is one other linguistic trick being played here: the campaign has adopted the slogan equal marriage.  It is no coincidence that equality is a word like discrimination: we know it to be morally loaded and to shut down thought and discussion.

But again a moment's thought reveals that it works in the same way: equality is not a good in itself; however inequality may indicate injustice, so we should attend to that.

But what the proponents of 'same-sex marriage' are trying to do (and this is the real point of the whole campaign) is to say that homosexual partnerships are morally, socially and in every other way equal to marriage.

They are not.


NB the inverted commas around 'same-sex marriage' are not scare quotes (another interesting usage) but rather markers of an oxymoron - an indication that I do not accept the intellectual validity of the term.


Ttony said...

It might, of course, have helped if we had spent the last twenty years talking about Anglican women "priests" and "bishops" as ministers: another pass sold.

Dorothy B said...

Thank you for this; very well said! As I recall, Romano Amerio, author of that great work "Iota Unum: A study of changes in the Catholic Church in the 20th century" was, among all his other accomplishments, a philologist. His scientific approach to the meaning of words is very much in evidence in Iota Unum.

I hope you and your family have had a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Ben Trovato said...


Yes, there's a false kindness (as opposed to tough love) at the heart the muddle in which we find ourselves; a terribly British thing, thinking that saying anything that might cause offence to someone somewhere is uncharitable; whereas the true lack of charity is a failure to proclaim the truth..


Thanks for this: I don't know Amerio or his work: I will investigate.

We had a very happy peaceful Christmas, thank you: I hope that you did too.