Monday, June 16, 2003

Rights & Reason: Group Self-Respect?

American conservatives are up in arms over a recent ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal which redefined the common law concept of marraige to, in essence, require the legal recognition of gay unions. I won't comment on the merits of this decision right now, since I've not had a chance to review the case and the relevant Canadian constitutional documents. But on first glance, I noticed a passage cited from a Canadian Supreme Court opinion which merit some general comments:
Human dignity means that an individual or group feels self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. Human dignity is harmed by unfair treatment premised upon personal traits or circumstances which do not relate to individual needs, capacities, or merits. It is enhanced by laws which are sensitive to the needs, capacities, and merits of different individuals, taking into account the context underlying their differences. Human dignity is harmed when individuals and groups are marginalized, ignored, or devalued, and is enhanced when laws recognize the full place of all individuals and groups within Canadian society.
The phrase "individual or group" makes this passage highly suspect. A group cannot, rationally speaking, enjoy "self-respect and self-worth," since those are concepts exclusive to, well, the "self" or individual. One cannot claim self-respect based solely on the actions or thoughts of a group. This is how one comes to believe in anti-concepts like "diversity." Objective law is concerned only with individual rights, and permits groups to form as individuals dictate, taking into account whatever factors they value. Some groups are based on ideas (i.e. Objectivists, Communists, et al.) while others are based on more superficial characteristics (i.e. race). It is not the state's place to promote group self-respect or self-esteem, just as it is not the state's place to prevent every act which may harm "human dignity."

Of course, when you accept the state as being a social engineer, as most Canadians do, nonsense like the Supreme Court passage cited above make perfect sense. But far from promoting individual human rights, this kind of muddled, almost non-conceptual thinking accomplishes precisely the opposite. As the Court appears to see it, government must enforce egalitarian values upon all individuals and "groups," lest anyone in society think they're better than anyone else, even on merit or capacity.

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