1. Apologies to real philosophers for my butchering of Gilbert Ryle‘s concept.
2. Yay! Pierre Maura is blogging again! (He had better not raise our hopes only to crush them with a one-time thing).
Anyhoo, it is this brand new blog post over as Comprendre that led drew me back to Gilbert Ryle’s concept of category mistake. But first off, a bit of context. The current French government has drafted a bill to legalize gay marriage. That bill was being considered in committee. It is now out and has to go before the National Assembly. Needless to say, the anti-gay crowd, led by that bastion of morality, the Catholic Church, is up in arms about it. They had a big demonstration last weekend. They want a referendum on the issue. And to support their view, they have put out the poster below:
Even if you do not understand French, it is not hard to see what is going on here. The top squares and the bottom left square refer to the Arab Spring and their overthrow of the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Each square is accompanied by some text, supposedly a quote attributed to French president François Hollande (no citations though) that is the same in all three squares “(name of dictator) must listen to his people”.
Then, the bottom right square has a crowd shot of the anti-gay marriage demonstration that reproduces the same quote “Mr Hollande must listen to his people”. they must be very proud of themselves for this, thinking they have a major zinger, right?
Not so fast. This is where the concept of category mistake comes in handy. The properties of the first three squares are not the same as that of the last one.
1. The events in the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, were triggered by economic woes combined with a major discontent with regimes that ranked from authoritarian to totalitarian. They demand for representation and vote was based precisely on the absence of such things in these countries, in any meaningful ways.
In France, people have had the opportunity to vote four times since last Spring: twice for the Presidential election, and twice for the general elections. Before these elections, there had been local elections. President Hollande is not the illegitimate dictator of an authoritarian or totalitarian regime. There is therefore no basis for the demand that President Hollande listen to his people since gay marriage was in his platform and he got elected. He is therefore actually listening to his people by implementing something he was elected to do.
On this point alone, the comparison fall through.
2. The demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya involved a great deal of risk for physical safety of the participants. What they were doing was a direct challenge to repressive regimes that might strike back at them with violence, something which actually did happen.
In France, demonstrations are legal and usually authorized with some discussion with local police departments. An agreement is reached on schedule, itinerary, and security. Such demonstrations are safe. There is no risk to the participants beyond the demands of a long-ish walk.
3. It is a bit funny that the only apt comparison is that in all four cases, these demonstrations have involved reactionary, religious fundamentalist movements making somewhat of a comeback on the political scene, movements that would happily deny gays their basic rights. After all, homosexuality is illegal in these countries but has been decriminalized in France in the early 80s.
4. In the first three cases, the collective demand is for an extension of political rights. In the French case, the collective demand is that of denial of right to an entire category of people and the preservation of exclusive privilege to heterosexuals.
So, because I’m nice, let me provide the proper comparison here:
For those of you who read French, go read the entirety of Maura’s post as it is consistent with my own here.