Sectarianism and the delusion of objectivity

The Undercover Economist author Tim Harford has a very important article here on the “Delusion of Objectivity“.

It applies to many things, but one is the oft stated contention that “It is not sectarian to take a position on the constitution” in Northern Ireland.

Actually, in practice, it usually is.

The position taken on the constitution by parties made up almost entirely of British Protestants educated in state schools on one hand or by Irish Catholics educated in maintained schools on the other is not objective. It is pre-determined. It just so happens that all of the former, who grew up in a broadly British culture, prefer the British state; and all of the latter, who grew up in a broadly Irish culture, prefer the Irish state. Funny, that.

Such constituonal positions, therefore, are a product of cultural upbringing and not of objective and rational thought.

Now read the article again…

We see the tendency of each side to forgive the other side their constitutional position given that people on the other side grew up in a different culture. At heart, though, we still believe the other side to be misguided; we just don’t blame them personally, but rather their upbringing, for this delusion.

Anyone who cannot give a clear, rational view as to why someone of a different background should switch to their constituonal position has arrived at it based solely on cultural upbringing. That cultural upbringing was in a society (and, notably, education system) segregated along sectarian lines.

So yes, if you cannot defend your constitutional position genuinely objectively, the practical reality is that your position is sectarian – because it is arrived at solely based on which side of the sectarian divide you are on. Indeed, you may even be deluded…


7 thoughts on “Sectarianism and the delusion of objectivity

  1. The Listener says:

    Thus the sooner all our children, where possible, are educated together the better. Whatever the historical background the dominant motivation of togetherness will reinforce respect and in most cases mutual liking. Such a position will be much stronger than the emotions arising from historical cultural differences. If there are political differences arising from background, there should be a more dominant personal respect and less likelihood of senseless violence, because of social bonding.

  2. Forgive people their constitutional position? Seriously?
    Is it sectarian to decide remaining in the EU or not.

    • The Listener says:

      As matters stand with a socially divided community, it is more likely that views on Northern Ireland’s constitutional position will be based on sectarian perceptions. We must work to a position where it is possible for the bulk of those who are interested in such a matter to take an objective view. As for the comment reference the EU, it would be possible from an Irish, or Unionist perspective to take what might look like a sectarian view, but it is more likely that the serious thinkers, across the spectrum of our community, will take an objective view based on economics, trade opportunities, fishing red tape, and perceived unfairness, a perceived migration threat and to the contrary, and so on.

      • I’m a nationalist but the concept that I have to forgive unionism for its existence like it was some injury that they gave to me seems sectarian in and of itself.

        Irish nationalism was driven by Protestant people, Catholic schools invented by the English and exported to Ireland because sectarianism was a pan-European problem. Also for all the affiliation with republicanism, the Catholic people of Ireland were fairly loyalist/royalist when a Republican like Cromwell gained the reputation for slaughtering Catholics out of a belief they’d ally with France and Spain

        Nationalism and Unionism didn’t fall from the sky, they did not come into fruition by preachers at a pulpit, or simply emerge through the educational process or cultural silos. They were driven by the genuine belief that economically and in terms of rights and freedoms you were better off in one state or another.

        So why would I have to forgive unionism for emanating from a difference in self-interest?

  3. The Tim Harford article is fantastic, btw.

  4. Noel Gordon says:

    Interesting. Constituional position? Based on what constitution? Where does a were prod( from East Belfast, living in London, who identifies with an Irish identity) stand?

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