In his younger days Pierre’s Tintinesque quiff had been quite famous. Now that his hair was markedly thinner it stood less proudly than it had done in its pomp. Nonetheless such as it was it was his and he was very fond of it. After making a few necessary adjustments to the cherished thing in the mirror he moved across the room and sat down opposite Étienne.
“Its very good of you to see me,” said the latter.
“Not at all,” said Pierre in his superficially jovial way “I’m always pleased to help research and, besides, I’m a big fan of Marianne and anyone recommended by her is welcome.”
“To begin then,” Étienne said “would it be fair to summarise your core mission as being ‘for equality, against discrimination’?”
Pierre had begun his career as a gay rights activist in those far off days when it was still possible to campaign for one sexuality at a time. He had nearly won an election to the legislature, he had spent a decade or so tormenting hapless Episcopalians and had finally morphed into what the media referred to as a ‘human rights campaigner.’ In this latter capacity he had shown some courage braving the wrath of dictators and their bodyguards at home and abroad.
“Yes. Thats rather good in fact. I might steal it for myself.”
“Feel free, I never claim copyright on my words. Mostly,” continued Étienne with a slightly rueful air “I admit, because no one has ever wanted to pay me for them. Anyway, be that as it may do you think that ‘for equality, against discrimination’ is the apple pie and motherhood of the current zeitgeist? No one who wants to be taken seriously can oppose these four words so even if they are resisting something which activists advocate they are forced to frame their arguments within the equality discourse.”
“Certainly its the common sense of our time. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history and the direction which progress is taking is pretty obvious. Although in many backward parts of the world this has yet to be realised so there is no ‘equality discourse’.”
“Let’s confine our attention to the West,” proposed Étienne “What scope do you see for individual conscience in, say, a country like ours where values and laws have changed dramatically since the 1960’s?”
“If by that you mean should bigots be allowed to discriminate on the basis of old fashioned religious beliefs then I see no scope at all. The law must be the same for all.”
“So, in the last analysis in a liberal democracy the State is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, good and evil?”
Pierre began to look annoyed.
“I would prefer to say that the will of the majority of enlightened people is the final authority.”
“In a number of places,” Étienne countered “referenda or elections have resulted in decisions against equality and for discrimination. Do you oppose using the courts to overturn such expressions of popular will?”
“No, of course not. Discrimination should never be permitted.”
“Which brings us back to the State as the ultimate arbiter. If not the legislature then the executive if not the executive then the courts. But what if all three fail by your terms? Say that the law mandated a daily act of religious worship in schools, would you support the prosecution of teachers who refused to comply? Logically that is what ‘the law must be the same for all’ implies.”
“Certainly not, such a law would be an historical anachronism. It would be just a matter of time before it was overturned so prosecuting anyone under it could only be a malicious act by religious diehards.”
“It follows, then, that the judgements of history are superior to those of the State which in turn are superior to those of the individual. The supreme arbiters of right and wrong become those who understand the direction of the historical tide. To which high priesthood you so fortunately happen to belong.”
Pierre’s face darkened as it suffused with blood.
“You are simply being facetious,” he snarled.
“A little, perhaps, just a little. Anyhow, moving swiftly on. You used the word ‘progress’ a little earlier. To say that the world of humans has changed greatly is to state the obvious. To call this ‘progress’ contains an implication of direction and purpose. That is, change has been from bad to good, from good to better and ultimately it shall be from better to best. Is that a fair assessment?”
Slightly calmer Pierre nodded.
“I wouldn’t say purpose because that suggests a god of some sort but certainly we have progressed from less civilised to more civilised with the prospect of continued improvement ahead of us.”
“Leaving aside the question of what standard we use to measure ‘less’ or ‘more’ in relation to civilisation and how we happened to acquire that standard I would ask why, in the absence of a divinity, have we made this progress and not remained static or gone backwards?”
“Undoubtedly the growth in education and advances in science have made these gains possible,” Pierre seemed more assured now as if on familiar territory.
“What precisely is the necessary connection between increased knowledge about the structure of the atom, the ability to manufacture more consumer goods more quickly than ever before and a growth in equality?”
Pierre was about to scratch his head but, remembering his fragile quiff, desisted at the last possible moment.
“The more knowledge is spread the more people can see the absurdity of these outdated notions of inequality.”
“Hmm, I don’t see it myself. A lifetime spent in gaining knowledge about particle physics or in advertising techniques doesn’t automatically equip you to understand the inherent qualities of people whom you have never met. That requires empathy rather than knowledge surely. It seems to me more probable that the need of advanced capitalist economies to produce ever more goods and services and to have ever more consumers requires that previously excluded groups enter the market place in ever larger numbers in order to produce and to consume. Corporate capitalism needs equality so equality becomes what we get. But this is not of the kind which you activists expect or want but simply the equality of the drones.”
“As for your last point there may be something in that, but it is up to us to make a more humane world than the 1% want to create. When it comes to empathy that’s outside my sphere. You would need to talk to a spiritual leader like Pavel Colenso who is building up networks of kindness and gentleness in the world.”
“Yes, certainly the rise of spirituality without religion is an important aspect of the way our world is changing. I would very much like to be able to speak to Pavel Colenso.”
“Nothing easier,” said Pierre sensing an opportunity to get rid of this troublesome interviewer. “I know him well and can give you an introduction. I’m sure he would be delighted to see you.”
“Thank you,” smiled Étienne “I’ll take you up on that”
To Be Continued…
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