How the phrase 'beyond the pale' tests the limits of fairness
Part three of our series on bias probes the line between reasonable and unacceptable
*This is the final episode in a three-part series investigating fairness and bias.
Listen to Part 1) ► B is for Bias
Listen to Part 2) ► The Bias List
*Originally published on June 8, 2022.
'Beyond the pale' is an old and popular idiom that literally means 'beyond the boundary fence.'
"Beyond the pale, at least in that very medieval sense, meant within and without. Within, we take care and we share a world," said Eduardo Mendieta, a philosophy professor at Pennsylvania State University.
He points to Greek philosopher Heraclitus who wrote aphorisms in 500 BC as an example.
"He said the people should defend the laws of this city as they defend the walls of the city. And so defending walls and the laws were for Heraclitus the condition of possibility of being together. So when someone goes beyond the pale, they have ceased to want to defend the walls and thus the laws — and they are going out on their own."
The phrase speaks to the desired notion that a clear boundary is set between what's acceptable and what's not. But it's not an easy line to draw when politics are involved.
"Democratic epistemic credibility requires that we revise our beliefs," Mendieta said.
"We're trying to create a world together in which we are exchanging reasons, arguments, beliefs. When someone goes beyond the pale, they have refused that. They have refused to listen. To take into account. To revise their own beliefs in light of what you and I have engaged in."
So is there a fair way to build and maintain that fence in today's political climate?
IDEAS producer Tom Howell explores how people are placing their private 'pales' these days — and what agreement remains on the existence of a public one.
Guests in this episode:
Barbara Kay is a columnist at The National Post and The Epoch Times.
Anne-Marie Pham is an executive director of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion.
Martin Zibauer is from the Cosburn Park Lawn Bowling Club in Toronto, Ontario.
*This episode was produced by Tom Howell.