Monday, October 11, 2010

PC madness: motes and eyes

Here is an unusual story out New Zealand. Te Papa is the national museum on the Wellington water front. As far as museums go it is a fair collection, and certainly a lovely building. I attended the "Lord of the Rings" showing there as well as a banquet with Bjorn Lomborg, so I know the place.

Recently they sent out invitations to regional museums for a "behind-the-scenes" tour, which would included the Taonga Maori collection. The museum, however, informed guests that women would be excluded, if they are either pregnant or menstruating. Maori religious beliefs consider this a taboo.

Feminist writer Deborah Russel, who I often don't agree with, said: "I don't understand why a secular institution, funded by public money in a secular state, is imposing religious and cultural values on people. It's fair enough for people to engage in their own cultural practices where those practices don't harm others, but the state shouldn't be imposing those practices on other people."

Let me be clear—this taboo is irrational superstition belonging to a primitive era, not to the modern age. And, it most certainly is not a taboo that a state museum ought to be imposing.

A spokeswoman for the museum, Jane Keig, offered the irrational explanation that the "policy is in place to protect the women from these objects." That is, since some of the items were weapons used to kill people, and since woman are cursed if they are pregnant or menstruating, then their near presence to the weapons could harm them. In other words, Keig is protecting them from supernatural occurrences in the same way that one would intervene if a thug were stabbing a woman.

That, of course, is known in technical jargon as bullshit.

But, this is religious bullshit and there seems to be an exception granted to irrationality provided it has religious justifications. Invent some god or demon and you can't get away with anything.

Of course, Western types will gloat a bit, and look on this incident as a silly manifestation of the tolerance provided primitive religionists with their irrational, and utterly stupid, beliefs.

But, before the West gloats too much, they should remember to check the moat in their own eye, before condemning the splinter in the eye of another.

Consider a recent controversy with Tea Party Republican Carl Paladino, who wants to be governor of New York. Like about 100% of the other Tea Party candidates, Paladino is anti-libertarian when it comes to certain people.

Recently Paladino addressed ultra-fundamentalist Jews and launched into an attack on gay people, which included claims that gays are perverts after children. Some of the worst aspects of the attack were removed from the verbal presentation but appeared in the earlier written draft.

Paladino, of course, attacked equal legal rights for gay people, while incoherently claiming he opposes all forms of discrimination. Right! He's opposed to discrimination except for when he favors it.

So, why this attack on gay people? According to Paladino he was just expressing his religious viewpoint. But why do that? He's running for governor, not pope. He seems to think he is being elected in order to impose Catholic theology on people.

When obsessive anti-gay bigots, like Maggie Gallagher or Jenny Roback Morse, start screaming about gay people they want their own obsessive religious beliefs imposed on the entire nation. Morse is quite clear that she thinks gays shouldn't marry because her increasingly bizarre Catholicism forbids it.

What Te Papa did in comparison is rather mild. The museum wanted to enforce a Maori superstition on women "to protect" them from the curses associated with the artifacts used in Maori slaughters of the past. Given the limited number of invites that went out for this tour it is likely that only a small number of women were disadvantaged by the requirement. And, since Te Papa wasn't planning on vaginal inspections, any women who wished to ignore the silly edict could pretty much do so.

Not so when rabid Christians, like Paladino, Gallagher or Morse, have their way. What they specifically demand is that US law deny equality of rights to one group of people because the superstition that they cling to rules these people to be taboo. This isn't really that different from the BS associated with Maori superstition, except it hurts more people.

I know of one brilliant economist who will not drink water during a speech unless his own wife has poured it. Otherwise he sees it as violating a Jewish taboo. My Catholic grandmother spent much of her life shunning meat on Fridays because Catholic tradition said so.

We have Mormons walking around in magic underwear, meant to protect them from harm.

Without religious taboos, the drive to deny gay people legal equality would be over. It relies almost entirely on the Christian equivalent of what Te Papa did in the name of Maori superstition. One difference is that Maori taboo is not imposed by the force of law, whereas Christian taboo is. Of course, Christians who imposed such laws, like Paladino, Gallagher, and Morse, believe their "faith" is superior. When the Maori do it, it's superstition, when they do it, it's God's will. Why is it so easy to see the absurdity in other people's religions, while we seem to think our own makes perfect sense?