Are progressive arguments “radical social engineering”?

Two popular arguments have arisen in recent years from conservative voices to rebut any changes to laws that would improve the tolerance and morality within our systems. There two arguments are 1) to protect “free speech” and 2) to stop “radical social engineering”.

The first has been addressed many times in the past. The conservative voice doesn’t want to preserve free speech, or else this would be a non-issue. No, what they hate is that others reply (using their own freedom of speech) to tell the former that their views are pretty abhorrent by today’s standards.

That is to say that the person who screams loudest about the fear of the lose to their freedom of speech prefers a simpler time, when you could make a sexist joke and name-call the bloke who didn’t laugh “gay” and no one would think twice about it.

Of course, we’ve moved on from that.

Social engineering, on the other hand, is an interesting one. I’m inclined to say that it’s actually nonsensical.

What the argument implies is that there are agents attempting to change the fundamental views, ethics and behaviours away from some desired position for their own nefarious objectives.

There are two parts to this argument of interest, therefore; 1) that there is an ideal society, expressed through the views, ethics and behaviours of the society, which is already, or has previously been obtained; and 2) that there are agents dedicated to the destruction of this ideal.

Has the height of human morality been obtained?

In short, the answer is no.

Much of western culture comes from Greek and Roman roots, where it was commonly believed – even two thousand years ago – that the golden age of humanity was behind us. The Abrahamic faiths continue the same line of thought through the descent from the Garden of Eden.

It’s not too difficult to find someone who believes that we are living in a tired, if not entirely terrible time, regardless of the overwhelming data on premature mortality and various crime rates to the contrary.

That’s the danger in following the newsfeeds of media outlets dependent upon ratings.

Of course there are those who would point back not to some mythical origin, but to their childhood in the mid twentieth century. But we should excuse nostalgia and a child’s ignorance of the widespread racism, homophobia and domestic violence present at the time.

In fact, we can argue quite easily that attempts to anchor social progress to a desired previous standard are true forms of radical social engineering.

An extreme example of this is the Amish who largely (although not entirely) gave up on social progress with the industrial revolution. They may not suffer too much – primarily because they
can access the assistance of modern technology and medicine when required – but likewise, their societies are not morally superior either. Many might even consider their societies to be rather oppressive with rules based around every aspect of their lives.

In much the same way, the conservative voice drawn to any traditionalism, aims to shut down self-reflection on a societal level. Our beliefs, our ethical conduct and our behaviours are to remain unchallenged – even if it allows us to unfairly discriminate others based on intrinsic traits beyond their control.

The biggest influence on the changes to beliefs, ethics and behaviour over the past 10-15 years must be due to one class of technology – the smartphone. It has changed how we socialise, how we acquire – and even develop – news media, how we entertain ourselves and even how we document our lives and create an online identity, if you will.

Technology, therefore changes. News changes and leads us to ask questions about ourselves. Population changes through subsequent generations and immigration. Even viral global content influences the local society.

It can only be expected that societies too must change. They must be flexible within the flood of information or else they will break.

There is nothing radical about meeting such changes, only in denying them or refusing to address them.

Hence, those who champion new ideas are not dedicated to destroying some non-existent ideal, as the conservative voice would have you believe, but rather are willing to address a changing world.

In Australia, the question is currently about same-sex marriage. Our government doesn’t know whether or not the majority of Australians still accept what is, at a fundamental level, gender discrimination. That is to say that two adults in love should, or should not, have the right to marry based on nothing more than their corresponding genders.

Perhaps the most insidious part of this current discussion is that it sets up two unequal classes of people; the majority (i.e. heterosexual) have the voting power to decide whether or not a minority (i.e. the LGBTI community) deserve the same rights under common law with the majority. Should we lift up the LGBTI community to our level or not?

I’m ashamed of being asked to make such a decision on the lives of other people I’ll never know and have no right in questioning the validity of their love and commitment to one another. It’s none of my business, so why should I have such power, as a vote, in this question?

Ultimately, the complaint regarding social engineering is nonsensical, as I stated above.

Society is an ever growing and changing thing. We all collectively answer the questions raise by this natural process.

When one, or a group, provide an answer that we don’t like, it’s far easier to denounce it and frame it as something evil, rather than to tackle it head on with reason. In my view, when someone complains about the loss of free speech (most often in professional news media no less) or creates caricatures such as “radical social engineers”, they are doing nothing but admitting defeat.

They don’t have a rebuttal to the arguments presented, so they instead attack the individual or group presenting the argument. Name calling is a sign of intellectual weakness.

If they could find a flaw in the arguments provided to answer a changing society, they should provide them. It is essential that everyone does, because it helps us to make the best informed decisions.

It’s simply not enough to reject an argument because you don’t like it.

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