Single-Issue Politics

With so much mainstream partisan politics in disarray both sides of the pond, and so many public policy issues in play at once over rights, freedoms and securities, there is no shortage of issue-groups with which to be associated as an activist or supporter. And so much easier to throw in your lot with a single issue party, when it is clear what it’s for and/or what it’s against, and thereby avoid the messier politics of a broader mainstream party. One reason why a strong “single-issue” agenda for me is proper proportional representation in as many contexts as possible, where rights and responsibilities can be shared and balanced, but I digress.

So consider for example, that LGBTI rights and freedoms figure large in many other contexts, whether it be religious extremisms (and not so extremes), or day to day politics and government, and all points between. Alice Dreger has been a “justice warrior” in the “TI” subset of LGBTI for some time – a pretty narrow single set of issues you might think. That is unless you’ve read her Galileo’s Middle Finger, where you discover how the real issue is one of fundamental academic freedoms and their dependence on the enlightenment principles shared – no coincidence – by both politics and science.

Julian Baggini writing on “animal rights” in the vegetarian vs meat-eating debate, notes that even that issue can have no simple objective ethical solution but is rather part of the bigger ethical debate on the place of humanity as part of the natural world. He concludes that the fact that the issue remains problematic – making us feel uncomfortable yet unable to find a neat solution – is in fact a virtue. It’s maybe a reason not to reject out of hand those non-secular taboos and rituals around meat slaugher and eating that have evolved culturally and been enshrined in religious practice. Disagreeing is one thing; denying their value is another.

Jonathan Sacks speaking on how we have “outsourced” much ethical decision-making, to the market of objective things we can trade for numbers, risks losing the natural “entropy-reversal” corrective of humanity’s internalised moral compass. The telos that comes with that is more than simply history as the collected memory of apparently objective facts.

“Cultures [that have an inner moral voice] stay young. They defeat the entropy, the loss of energy, that has spelled the decline and fall of every other empire and superpower in history. But the West … has externalised what it once internalised. It has outsourced responsibility. It has reduced ethics to economics and politics.”

Justice as ethical good must of course be closely connected to truth as objective fact, but there can never be a simple relationship that reduces the one to the other. Whatever a single ethical issue, it’s answer can never be a single academic or scientific fact. As Alice Dreger suggests here, the relationship between (factual) truth and (ethical) justice must remain uncomfortable, for good reason.

And, as she concludes, however good it is to espouse a single issue policy, how else would we progress change if people didn’t do so, it is equally if not more important to value the dissenters and the freedom of their arguments. Which is not an argument for absolute freedom of expresssion. However, truth will learn from differences over justice, expressed differences over right and wrong, not by being constrained by a single policy on justice, in the complementary way that justice will benefit from knowing new improved truth.

There is no easy relationship between truth and justice that can be simplified by adopting a single issue policy any more than ethics and justice can be reduced to objective truth.

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