I find myself needing the phrase “error of category” more and more often. Simultaneously, I’ve learned that if one encounters an error of category in every discussion, one should cut immediately to ending that discussion. It won’t reach a resolution.
Errors of category come in two flavors.
One is a direct, point-by-point comparison between items which appear to be similar, but are actually dissimilar to the point where the comparison is no longer useful. An example of this is comparing democracy and theocracy. Both are “systems of government,” are they not? But the comparison broke down in a recent discussion with a friend. We observed that, for some reason, democracies in the Middle East have tended to become theocratic. The spread of Shari’a law in the third world is a commonly-spoken of fear in the West. (Oddly, fears of Shari’a spreading in its native land are taken seriously, whereas expressing concern over the spread of Shari’a in the West is dismissed as a provincial attitude.) I pointed out that democracy is merely a process of implementing majority rule, and that it is instructive to note the US Constitution specifically lists certain items which are not subject to majority rule. Majority rule defines the law of the land-except when it doesn’t. It seems there are certain cultural a priori foundations upon which our democratic government is based. A theocracy, on the other hand, openly admits its a priori positions and implements them without shame or concealment. Thus, democracy is merely a process, but theocracy is both a process and a foundation. In this instance, the lack of a true point-to-point, one-to-one comparison undermines the usefulness of the comparison and inferences being made.
The second flavor of categorical error is when an issue is analyzed and judged by criteria that are inappropriate for the category of the item being judged. The difference between the first flavor and the second is that here, the comparison is *implicit.* While the first is faulty thinking, the second is more accurately characterized as a failure to think. I find they typically occur when the difficulties of actually implementing an idealistic principle reveal something about the principle itself and the principle’s role in society.
An example of this type of categorical error is the occasional discussions about school holiday schedules and non-Christian students. The traditional school calendar is unquestionably shaped by three major American cultural forces: agricultural schedules, secular federal holidays, and Christian holidays.
Arguments from a strictly negative standpoint, ie “Why should everyone get Christmas off?” are non-starters. Too few people feel oppressed by the Christmas holiday. The discussion really centers on the positive argument, “Why can’t we take Ramadan off too?” or, “Why not take Ramadan off *instead*?” Here, one begins to see an argument which is not a non-starter. One segment of society notices that the government observes one religious holiday, but not their own. The government is facilitating one religious tradition, but not another. The Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment gets invoked. The government mandates school attendance during Ramadan, but not Christmas. The Free Exercise Clause gets invoked. It’s moral outrage all the way down.
Obviously, the ideal is that no one has to miss school to observe their holidays. Yet it should be readily apparent that to schedule the school year around every single religious holiday, including those on the lunar calendar, would be both irregular and would not actually leave many days left over for schooling!
So the inclusive crowd is advocating an ideal which, in effect, would not provide enough time for education to take place. Educational resources would be vastly outstripped by the simple, inevitable process of the students growing up. Our students would fall even further behind students elsewhere in the world.
We’ve described the inability for social systems to keep up with the baseline rate of change in society: these are the Formal Causes of Post-Modernism–ignorance of entropy, and ignorance of opportunity cost!
The error of category here is applying the 1st Amendment to the school schedule; we have applied weighty principles to mere societal administrative decisions. We run into the problem I think of as “Administrative Morality.” The resulting conflict appears intractable.
There are a few noteworthy points to take away from this:
- The forces of Progressivism drive cultures towards a singularity. Rather than Christians and Muslims living their lives by their calendars, Progress will eventually set them to living on the same calendar.
- From point #1, it follows that “multiculturalism” as understood today is untenable. Diversity is best understood as forced homogenization which will undermine any culture participating in it.
- The collision of abstract principles with the mundane realities of life re-emphasize that culture is a matter of common, shared beliefs and practices. This is essentially the inverse of point #2; to maintain their identities, cultures must maintain a certain amount of physical integrity among themselves.
I’ll end by expanding on my third point. For an American expatriate community in a Muslim country to demand the silencing of muezzin calls would be unthinkable, either in the spirit under which people demand the 10 Commandments be removed from government buildings, or under the more explicitly progressive-environmental cause of “noise pollution.” Yet what will communities do when a newly-built mosque begins playing calls to prayer? Will they be protected as analogous to church bells, even though church bells chime briefly at set times of the day, and calls to prayer are much longer and not based on an hourly-schedule? How will a culture which includes aurally invasive traditions coexist with a culture which does not?
I predict that, in a spirit similar to The Revolution, enough instances of categorical errors and administrative morality will eventually demonstrate that true diversity and multiculturalism resembles an old-school system of city quarters, where each culture can flourish and coexist beside, rather than comingled with one another. In fact, most American cities can already be described in terms of quarters. It is only the elite institutions which attempt to exist otherwise. I wonder how long that will last?