Modernity as Moral Arbiter

by Imraan

Here’s a comment piece by a hero of mine from the Left, Owen Jones, who indeed celebrates the loss of the case in the Supreme Court by the Bulls today, who lost their final appeal to say that based on their religious grounds, they had a right to turn away a gay couple from their privately owned guesthouse. I’m not sure of what to make of this – though readers will know I’m a regular critic (albeit an unsophisticated one) of ‘Modernity’ or ‘Progress’ or those other Humanistic metanarratives, I do feel very uncomfortable at the precedent that this case will set.

Elsewhere, the BBC reported:

“Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said: “Sexual orientation is a core component of a person’s identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation.”

Indeed, this may well be true; my question is, on what grounds, and what evidence, can you stake this ontological claim? What in any Modernist discourse actually tells you that the above is the case?

Couldn’t there equally be some postmodern critique to say that these notions of monogamous sexual relationships are merely part of a scheme of oppressive grand narratives? Why then stick to the rather Judaeo-Christian notion of a monogamous relationship, so much in vogue in the Middle Ages,  for which he shows such disdain? Surely we’ve moved past that age of bleak ignorance.

I’m not sure about this ruling, and for once I happen to strongly disagree with Mr Jones; and disgusting and odious as I find him, I think David Starkey has a reasonable solution; I am intrigued as to why the notion of an objection to what is perceived ‘morality’ on say, sexual acts, is somehow conflated with the notion of ‘homophobia’ – what has happened to the state of moral discourse and argumentation?

If indeed one is making a legal case (whether or not the subtext might reek of something more sinister), the arguments should be taken for what they are; I see no point in a judge already coming to a case with a narrative already framed.

I cannot see why, within reason, religious discourse cannot frame one of multiple narratives through which ‘modern’ liberal society can operate. I don’t see why the narrative of ‘modernism’ or ‘Progress’ ought to be favoured over any other; to say that one objects to pre-marital intercourse has nothing to do with the Middle Ages – morality shouldn’t change merely because the times have, and if it does, you ought to be very, very worried if there has been a very small body of thought put into it. Shouting ‘Equality’ is fine – but the term in and of itself is empty.

Religion has been cheapened immensely – what on earth has Southern Cafe owners got to do with this, or the book of Leviticus? Were there moral, cultural, economic (or a combination)  reasons then given? Having taken a course or two on South African history, I fail to see what ‘moral’ arguments were made to sustain those decades of apartheid… it seems to me historical forces were perhaps more important in what resulted in that very bleak period of South African history from which she has not recovered.

Would Jones be happier if they made an economic or utilitarian argument in favour of their view?

Perhaps some solid Marxist argument that the modes of production to keep this liberal edifice, in which his moral framework operates, are better served by stable family model predicated upon a man and a woman whose reproductive capacity is functional and uninhibited? Is that what we’ve come to? What hubris!

Or is he perhaps failing to see that his model of morality, predicated upon some notion of ‘autonomy’ of the self (again, what reason he has to suppose this is beyond me), is fine so long as it does not interfere with the productive capacity of the state; i.e. crudely, do what the heck you want – just keep going to work and paying your taxes and buying things.

An ardent socialist activist with a capitalist framework for ethics? At least he’s not the first. Why he’s buying into a crude economic narrative strikes of something pathologically rotten at the core of some social activists. And it breaks my heart – seeing as I happen to be of the ‘Left.’

Why, suddenly, is religion somehow one of the vestiges of an age of Ignorance – that same tyranny in which the dominant narrative that he found distasteful then is now being re-implemented, only in this case it is his own narrative that has exerted its proverbial agency.

I for one find myself within a moral universe, and though it’s not always apparent what the right thing is to do – though we have a tremendous amount of collective memory and wisdom, traditions and Scriptures that speak to this understanding – I don’t see what privileged access Mr Jones has, considering (in all fairness), that his vision of a moral and liberal world is erected upon very shaky foundations; he would do well to not rest on his laurels for too long.

I wonder what he would say if Mr Jones was informed that those in the Middle Ages found themselves in the same moral universe in which he now exists – would he have to bankrupt himself of any notion of ‘morality’ simply because those in times gone past also attested to its existence?

Jones is committing what MacIntyre (I believe) warned us of – he’s merely speaking a different language to the Bulls; I wonder if by speaking past them and not taking the time to consider the immense body of collected wisdom and thought put into their beliefs, he is indeed oppressing them by suggesting that his narrative ought to displace theirs.