Discrimination is a concept with negative connotations, yet it is easy to forget that we all discriminate, and we do it intentionally and even necessarily. Quite simply, every time we impose criteria or limitations of any sort on opportunities, we discriminate. For instance, job advertisements discriminate against those who can’t fulfil certain requirements. The necessary logic here is inconsistently applied in life, though. Arbitrarily determining the boundaries of political correctness and socially acceptable morality, for example, relativises which constraints should or should not be allowed. In some cases, it seems that the popular majority even sets social standards. As logical as this might sound against the alternative of objective truth (unacceptable to many), boundaries will then be challenged and pushed. This will be confronting and unacceptable to all of us at some time or other, but who, after all, reasonably gets to play umpire?
A (possibly) simple example is that of women tennis players’ push for equal prize money with men in grand slam events. An objective standard has been sought here, that is, the need to play best of five sets to earn the higher amount. Others counter this with the view that equal amounts of time and preparation are invested beyond match day. People settle on their personal view and discrimination is considered either valid or invalid as a result.
But can people always prefer their own way around objective standards? The only convenient one for many is whether people are hurt. And so we seem to be told that where prejudices against people are without foundation, a mark is overstepped. Nevertheless, this again takes us to the shifting sands of personal opinion. Objective truth is only appreciated to the extent that we submit to it, anyway, which is one reason why biblical authority has been increasingly spurned in a ‘my-bubble-my-rules’ society. But the laws of the land provide objective truth and also define acceptable and unacceptable discrimination…until they are overturned by new acts of parliament through the will of the people!
The myriad discriminations artificially imposed in our world need any number of challenges to the subjectivity with which people create or navigate them. A simple start, though, is to be able to recognise differences where they clearly exist, without recrimination or suspicion. For example, discussing or even questioning Muslims about religious practices or customs need not be labelled discriminatory if motivated by pure curiosity or even healthy debate about beliefs. An amazing double standard exists in many social contexts where Christians are often pilloried for their passions and practices so that harassment of them passes without challenge. To merely question the beliefs of a minority group, though, brings charges of violation of racial or religious tolerance. The desire to protect people from supposed vilification is so strong that it is hard to actually disconnect this intent from the reverse vilification of the alleged offenders!
In the end, negative examples of discrimination are surely easy to eradicate by determining intent. This may not always be easy, but where personal attacks and putdowns exist, then these must be unacceptable in a truly free society. But such freedoms cannot themselves be violated by delegitimising opinions that explore social, cultural or religious differences in the interests of demystifying them and of sharpening a point of view. In a world where political correctness has ‘gone mad’, it surely remains important to maintain the rights of people to respectfully challenge differences and to engage, accordingly, in robust and healthy social debate.