Saturday, February 04, 2006

Public issues and morality:Cuomo

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public issues and morality

Its been ages since I wrote.It is important for a guy to stick to schedule. So here is visiting Cuomo once again....but this time in a public context..
Public officials should not base public decisions on their personal beliefs.. officials in a pluralistic democracy should engage only in such decision making as is based on shared values and modes of reasoning available to everyone. Other points of view including those of the private individual who comprise the "public" need to be evaluated in order to understand the complexities of the process that culminates in public decision.
Public officials in democracies are officers elected to act as representatives of the people – the public. Therefore public decisions are those that are "Of, concerning, or affecting the community or the people". (Webster Dictionary definition of the term Public). Complexities arise because "public" is not a homogenous mass but made up of individuals that live under a myriad of markers such as race, class, gender and religion – groups which make the individual similar to and different than others at various times. The public official is also an individual that is made up of the same markers and yet being in a position of authority needs to make choices on behalf of the people s/he represents forcing themselves to "wrestle with the problems"
At every decision making point, there are always a number of opinions to be considered. Each decision means some point of view being accepted and some another rejected. While the merits of each can be debated endlessly from a theoretical standpoint, practical reality needs to intervene and a decision needs to be made. In my opinion, public officials are in their positions of authority to represent voices of the community and they need to fulfill this function by speaking for this community.
Cuomo’s belief seems to be that of a practical relativist – he believes in Catholic principles and the Constitution and agrees that these two might not always work hand in hand. For e.g. while the Catholicism teaches pro-life, the constitution is pro-choice. However, there are some transcultural standards that help decisions on these "moral" issues such as helping the needy and universal belief and respect of "life". So his solution is to solve the underlying problems – e.g. poverty that seems to be a common thread in discussions on whether Medicaid should support abortion. I support this practicality in his relativist thinking. It opens the door to address issues that give rise to symptoms.
I differ from Cuomo when he contends that it is sometimes practical not to speak up and take sides. Fence sitting is in itself a position – in other words, silence speaks volumes as was in the case of Catholic Church silence for abolition of slavery before the Civil war in America. Practicality does not mean not taking sides – in this case the Catholic Church sided with the pro-slavery voices by being silent. To repeat myself – making a decision means choosing one side and NOT another.
The case of Muslims in France is interesting for yet another perspective in the public decision making process. While America believes in pluralism, France seemed to be steeped in uniform nationalism with "being French" at the heart of the notion. From a historical stand point it seems justified – faced with threats of diluting national identity, a nation needed to be fiercely "French". However, this rule does not continue to apply when the composition of a nation has changed as a result of wars, disintegrating colonies, movement of people and economic opportunities. Being French means different things to different people who constitute the public.
WE need to address not the symptom of whether to let female students in school wear headscarves or not, but to treat the cause – in this case, issue of minority identity in Modern day France, intertwined with the issue of economic standards that the minorities live in.
What is most interesting in all these cases are the symbols that are used to debate worldviews and perspectives. Headscarves, veils, shawls and abortions are the main points of discussion today – all symbols of how women’s lives can be dictated by men. The issues are complicated as they are and for a woman in a public space perhaps even more so. Can a woman really keep the personal belief out of a public policy in these cases? Should she? I think that the answer is complex – h/she will need to take a stand and in doing do agree with some thoughts and disagree with others.
The political space is a game of authority and power. Elected representatives need to be the voices of the "public" that they represent and not "individuals" with only their personal belief systems. It is a complex task to make decisions when there are multiple perspectives. However, in this power game the root cause of many symptoms are forgotten and stripped of their complexity, every multicultural issue can be reduced to the "damned shawl". Decisions have to be made in keeping with the public one represents and at every point making a decision means choosing one side and rejecting another.


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