Comment Rescue, Purity Edition
In Murali’s post on taboos and putty, DavidTC throws out an interesting question that — since the post has already been up almost a week — I fear won’t get the attention I think it deserves. So, I’ll post it here and throw it out to the hive mind:
Racism and slavery were crouched in exactly the same sort of purity taboos that anti-gay stuff is now.
Likewise, a good deal of misogyny against women is based in purity terms, although slightly different ones. (You can’t make women themselves unclean. Everyone is related to a woman, and men often wished to have their own woman. But you can make them having sex unclean except under specific rules, and you can make any sign of femininity unclean in a man.)
Purity rules are the last refugee of the bigots. I think a lot of times, even those of us that understand the various models about what liberals and conservatives think is important, fail to ask a simple question: Are objections to things on a purity basis ever justified as part of policy making? Is it something we should even slightly consider?
So I pose the question: Is there any purity-based objection to something that that people actually wished to do that was a reasonable objection in hindsight?
D’TC’s question is, I believe, an extraordinarily insightful one. It is possible that such a case exists currently, but that because it is water to our fish we don’t immediately grasp it as such. Indeed, I’ll throw out this additional question: Is there a non-conservative “purity” that drive liberals at this point, and if so what would that be?
This touches upon some very real-world political conflicts. After all, much of the intellectual underpinnings of the Tea Party movement (such that they are) surround what one might call a “pure” reading of the Constitution; further, I would argue that the GOP lost a winnable chance to win the Senate and the White House in 2012 by their own demands for ideological purity at the expense of electability.
So if we are going to continue to have political debates centered on purity, it seems wise to consider the question:
Has there ever been a purity test applied to past public policies that we look back on now with approval?
[For the record, my own opinion is that purity, like a “political value,” is largely a myth we create to justify a collection of arbitrary decisions that favor our own tribe at the expense of others. No purity test stands the test of time.]
[Photo: Purity Lane Street sign, Dublin. From Wiki Commons.]
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