The unliked and uninjured

Earlier this week, Slate‘s Mark Joseph Stern wrote a piece asking incredulously “Do Anti-Gay Christians Really Face Employment Discrimination?”  Mr Stern cites blog posts by Princeton Professor Robert George and The American Conservatives always interesting, often apoplectic blogger Rod Dreher about a survey in which investment bank JP Morgan-Chase recently inquired into its employees positions with regard to the rights of sexual minorities.  Finding the survey a perfectly routine bit of corporate boilerplate, Mr Stern shows impatience with the concerns that Professor George and Mr Dreher voice.  “All of this is extravagantly silly, and I respect Dreher and George’s intellects too much to believe that they’re actually taking it seriously,” he writes.

I would agree that Professor George, Mr Dreher, and their fellows have made many hyperbolic statements regarding this and similar matters.  At the same time, I do think they are onto something.  I would refer to an item the retired Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, the Right Reverend Mr V. Gene Robinsonposted on The Daily Beast several months ago.  The Rt. Rev. Mr R, himself the first openly gay person consecrated a bishop in a traditional denomination, denied that anti-gay Christians in the USA are the targets of anything that should be called “persecution.”  At the same time he did acknowledge that they are coming to be a minority, not only numerically, but in the sense that they bear a stigma which sets them apart from the mainstream:

Here’s what victimization looks like: every day, especially in some places, LGBT people face the real possibility of violence because of their orientation or gender identity. Young people jump off bridges or hang themselves on playground swing sets because of the bullying and discrimination they face. In 29 states, one can be fired from one’s job simply for being gay, with no recourse to the courts. In most places, we cannot legally marry the one we love. Some of us have been kicked out of the house when we come out to our parents, and many young LGBT people find themselves homeless and on the streets because of the attitudes of their religious parents toward their LGBT children. And did I mention the everyday threat of violence?

Compare that to the very painful realization that one’s view of something like homosexuality is in the minority after countless centuries of being in the majority. It may feel like victimization to hang a shingle out to sell something or provide some service to the public, only to find that the “public” includes people one disagrees with or finds immoral in some way. It may feel like it has happened practically overnight, when it has actually been changing over a period of decades. Being pressed to conform to such a change in majority opinion must feel like victimization. But as a society, we would do well to distinguish between real victimization and the also-very-real discouragement felt by those who now find themselves in the minority.

I do not mean to brush aside as inconsequential the feelings of those who find themselves in the minority, whether it be around the topic of gender, race, or sexual orientation. But I do mean to question characterizing such feelings as discrimination, violation of religious freedom, and victimization. It’s time we called out our religious brothers and sisters for misunderstanding their recently-acquired status as members of a shrinking minority as victims.

I would amplify the good bishop’s remarks about “the feelings of those who find themselves in the minority.”  I would say that “feelings” is perhaps an unfortunate choice of words here, being as it is a word that often figures in non-apology apologies such as “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” which is a polite way of saying “I wish you hadn’t become upset when I was doing what any sensible person would regard as that right thing, you crybaby.”  The beliefs that motivate people who disapprove of homosexuality may be wrong; I am quite sure they are wrong, as a matter of fact, though I am chastened by Mr Robinson’s* own willingness to suspend final judgment on the theological ins and outs of the issue.  However, it is hardly reasonable to expect the members of this new minority group not to share the experience of every established minority group, who are from time to time frustrated when the image of the world that is presented to them in every movie, every book, every TV show, every presidential address, every classroom, every other place where the voice of The Mainstream is heard, is so much at odds with what they have seen and heard and felt in their own lives, from their own point of view, that it begins to seem as if they have been transported to a parallel universe.

I believe Mr Robinson would be quick to agree with this.  I heard him make a speech a few years ago in which he told an audience made up primarily of same-sexers that “we will never be anything other than a small minority group in society at large, no matter how large a majority we may form in this room at this moment.”  He went on to talk about the challenges inherent in minority status, especially the sense of not being heard that comes when an element so central to personal identity as one’s sexuality takes a form that is basically alien to most of the people one meets on a daily basis.  So when he tells his opponents that their new status as members of an unpopular minority does not by itself mean that they are victims of injustice, he is not trivializing their experiences or concerns.  Rather, he is suggesting that in the future he and they will have something in common.  Anti-gay Christians may never again be anything other than a small minority group in society at large, no matter how large a majority they may form in their own worship spaces.  And they can no longer expect culture high and low to be dominated by a worldview in which male and female are categories created by God and inscribed by God with specific meanings, meanings that include a concept of complementarity that exhausts the legitimate purposes of sexual activity.  Nor can they even expect the average person to have the vaguest knowledge of what their views are, or to be at all interested in learning about them.  They can hardly be faulted for considering this an unattractive prospect, yet it is no different from what any other minority group experiences.  On Mr Robinson’s account, the reduced visibility and inadvertent exclusions that come with minority status do not by themselves constitute unjust discrimination.

I don’t want to put words in Mr Robinson’s mouth; I’m sure he would be the first to concede that there is such a thing as institutional discrimination, and that injustices no one in the majority intends to commit or even knows are happening can at times wreak horrific consequences in the lives of the minority.  And while Mr Stern is blithely confident that laws against religious discrimination will give anti-gay Christians all the protection they need against any mistreatment they may suffer in the future, Mr Dreher’s American Conservative colleague Samuel Goldman** links to a recent article raising the question of whether “religious freedom” is even a coherent category in our current legal system.   So I see more grounds to the fears of this new minority than does Mr Stern.  I cannot be of much help to them; in the unlikely event that anti-gay Christians were to ask me how they could be sure of receiving fair treatment in a strongly pro-gay America, my suggestion would be that they abandon their false beliefs and join the rest of us in affirming the diversity of sexual expression in today’s world.  I’m sure that would be about as pointless as a Christian telling Muslims that if they don’t want to be smeared by association with terrorists, all they have to do is to be baptized.

*To avoid confusion, let me explain: The customary form in which the names of Anglican clergy are presented is “[Ecclesiastical Honorific] [Courtesy Title] [Proper Name]” at first reference, and “[Courtesy Title] [Proper Name]” at subsequent references.  That’s why I introduced Mr Robinson as “the Right Reverend Mr Robinson,” then switched to plain “Mr Robinson.”  My wife works for the Episcopal Church, and I occasionally read the novels of Anthony Trollope, so I’m aware of all these things.

**Like Mr Dreher, Mr Goldman is always interesting.  Unlike him, he is never apoplectic.

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Worlds in Collision

There have been several interesting items in recent issues of The Nation.

Reviewing John Judis’ Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, Bernard Avishai argues that President Harry S Truman had far fewer options in formulating policy towards events in and around Mandatory Palestine than Mr Judis claims.  Mr Avishai’s closing sentences are worth quoting:

Understanding Israel’s founding in 1948 as a necessary event with tragic consequences, and not as a presidential mistake forced by political pressure, will not make Obama less wary of AIPAC or his relationship with Netanyahu less tortured. But it could make his tact more obviously noble.

“Tact” may itself be an extraordinarily tactful choice of words to characterize Mr O’s relationship with Israel and the Americans who support the Israeli right-wing, but I would say that “necessary event with tragic consequences” is usually an accurate description of major occurrences in world history.  There may be some agent or other who was at some point in a position to alter the course of events, but that point may have passed long before anyone realized the significance of what was going on.  Certainly by the time President Truman took office, the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine was beyond the power of any US president to prevent, even assuming any US president were to be so heedless of public opinion as to want to prevent it.  The fact that President Truman so thoroughly convinced himself of the contrary as to announce to the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1953 that “I am Cyrus” serves to remind us that the extreme self-confidence that men need if they are to rise to high political office often leaves them vulnerable to the most absurd self-deceptions.  Not that politicians have a monopoly on self-deception; Mr Avishai mentions Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s The Culture of Defeat, a book which shows how little relationship the commonly accepted opinions on all sides in the USA have to any facts concerning their country’s Civil War of 1861-1865.

A book about Immanuel Velikovsky prompts Paula Findlen to write an engaging essay about Velikovsky’s career and her own youthful enthusiasm for his work.  For my part, I wonder if Velikovsky’s eccentric theories about comets and colliding heavenly bodies set science back significantly.  Scientists are now comfortable talking about impacts that led to the formation of the Moon, triggered mass extinctions, etc, but in the 1970s, when Velikovsky’s work was in vogue, they were noticeably reluctant to consider such theories, perhaps for fear of being mistaken for Velikovskyans.

In September 2000, Kurt Vonnegut gave a speech in which he spoke ill of Thomas Jefferson, and explained why he had the right to do so.  I speak ill of Thomas Jefferson myself quite frequently.  I often read Jefferson’s deplorable works and study his deplorable acts, the better to deplore them, and my education advances in proportion to the amount of time I spend in his deplorable presence in this way.

In a recent issue, Richard Kim expressed exasperation with social conservatives concerned that the declining popularity of their views on sex in general and on gender neutral marriage in particular has destined them for marginalization.   Mr Kim points out that social conservatives still wield a great deal of power in the USA and that American courts have been quite deferential to religious liberty concerns.  The magazine rather undercuts Mr Kim’s point by running his piece under the headline “The Bigot’s Lament” and giving it a subhed saying that “the religious right nurses its persecution complex.”  If people are going to label you a bigot and dismiss your concerns as symptoms of a “persecution complex,” you are probably right to worry that you are being pushed to the margins.  Rod Dreher wrote a series of posts on his blog at The American Conservative a few weeks ago in which he speculated that in the future, people who share his belief that homosexual relationships are not the same kind of thing as heterosexual relationships may have to keep that belief a secret or face loss of employment and public humiliation, even as same-sexers have long had to keep their sexuality secret in order to avoid the same penalties.  Responding to a critique from Andrew Sullivan, Mr Dreher wrote:

This line from Andrew is particularly rich:

In the end, one begins to wonder about the strength of these people’s religious convictions if they are so afraid to voice them, and need the state to reinforce them.

This is the crux of the problem. Let’s restate this: “One begins to wonder about the strength of the love of gay couples if they are so afraid to come out of the closet, and need the state to protect them.”

How does that sound? To me, it sounds smug and naive and unfeeling, even cruel, about the reality of gay people’s lives. If they aren’t willing to martyr themselves, then they must not really love each other, right? And hey, if they need the state to protect them from a wedding photographer who won’t take their photos, how much do they really love each other?

You see my point.

I am glad we don’t live in that world anymore. We don’t live in that world anymore because people like Andrew insisted that gay lives had more dignity than the majority of Americans believed. Again, they did us all a favor by awakening us morally to what it is like to live in a country where what matters the most to you is treated in custom and in law as anathema.

I do think there is a realistic chance that in a decade or two it will be a career-killer virtually everywhere in the USA to profess religious beliefs that disapprove of same-sex sex and elevate opposite-sex sex to privileged status in the moral order.  I’m not entirely opposed to this happening; I think such beliefs are wrong, and the sooner they are consigned to the status of exhibits in a museum of discredited ideas the better off everyone will be.  On the other hand, while antigay beliefs may be losing popularity in the USA and other rich countries, and also in regions like Latin America that make a point of reminding the world of their affinities with the rich countries, they are far from dying out altogether.  That means that we can expect a sizable minority of closeted antigays to persist in the USA for quite some time to come.  And outside the rich countries, especially in Africa and the Muslim world, hostility to same-sexers is certainly not fading.  If immigration from these regions to the USA rises in the years to come, as it seems likely to do, a strong stigma against beliefs that oppose same-sex sex may lead to bitter confrontations and harsh stands on both sides.  An American counterpart to the late Pim Fortuyn may not be an impossibility for long.

These are concerns for tomorrow. The day after tomorrow, it is possible that a new stigma may attach itself to same-sexers, the stigma of membership in a genetically unmodified lower class.  In that case, it might be desirable that the period leading up to the shift should reinforce norms of mutual respect and fair play, rather than aggression and triumphalism.  Or it might not be; perhaps the collision with the new world will blot out whatever habits we may have  cultivated in the old one.  Assuming, of course, that there is enough of a genetic contribution to the physical basis of homosexual attraction for genetic modification to bring this particular collision about in the first place.

10 Things I Don’t Know About Christianity

The other day, a commenter on Alison Bechdel’s website called my attention to this list by Jim Rigby, as it appeared on Patheos:

I thanked that commenter, the redoubtable “NLC,” and added this remark:

Hanging out with mellow progressives like Episcopalians and Quakers it’s tempting to forget or understate the sheer bloody-mindedness that so often thrives under the sign of the cross.

As for the focus of the “Ten Things” on the Bible, one thing I think the Bible makes crystal clear about homosexuality is that homosexuality wasn’t a particularly controversial topic when the Bible was taking shape. The Bible is hundreds and hundreds of pages long, and the antigay crowd can find only six brief verses in the whole thing that support their position at all explicitly.

What’s more, most of those six verses are actually about something else, and none of them contemplate anything like the same-sex relationships that exist in today’s world.

Sure, the tone of the six snippets make it clear that same-sex sex was not well-regarded in those days, and neither the law nor the prophets nor anything in the Christian scriptures pushes back against that hostility. But so what? None of those writings push back against slavery or any of a number of other institutions familiar in those centuries, but Christians nowadays seem confident that they have disassociated their religion from those things, and in fact often propose it as a bulwark against them. I fully expect the Christians of the 22nd century to be united in a smug sense of superiority over the homophobes of that day, just as their counterparts now are quick to cite the Christian Abolitionists of the 19th century.

The more I think about it, the more I find to disagree with in the “10 Things.”  For instance: (more…)

Worshiping coitus

Sacred art

One of our recurring themes here on Los Thunderlads is the remarkable weakness of arguments against gender-neutral marriage.  The law-courts of the world are full of lawyers advancing ingenious arguments in support of the most ludicrous propositions; wealthy business interests can suborn economists and other social scientists to make very impressive cases for any policy that will increase their profits; sectarians and enthusiasts of all sorts can build formidable intellectual defenses for even their most far-fetched crochets.  Yet the idea that the title of “marriage” should be granted exclusively to heterosexual pairings, a familiar idea throughout human history and one that enjoys the support of many extremely powerful institutions and of solid majorities of public opinion in much of the world today, seems to find no rational backing whatever in contemporary public discourse.  Opponents of gender neutral marriage have noticed this circumstance; I can recommend theologian Alastair J. Roberts’ recent note, “Why Arguments Against Gay Marriage Are Usually Bad.”  Mr Roberts doesn’t convince me that gender-neutral marriage is a bad idea, but he does come up with a number of interesting remarks to make as he goes along his way.

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed advocates of gender neutral marriage making themselves look almost as silly as their opponents routinely do.  First up was an article in Slate magazine by Mark Joseph Stern, one subtitle of which is “Why do defenders of DOMA and Prop 8 worship coitus?”  Mr Stern reports on legal briefs recently submitted to the US Supreme Court in defense of measures that seek to reserve marriage for heterosexual couples only, briefs in which penis-in-vagina sex is presented as an essential defining characteristic of marriage.  Mr Stern seems incredulous that this is in fact the premise of arguments presented to the US Supreme Court.  “This argument puts gay marriage opponents in an awkward position. For years, they said gays were too libidinous and licentious to create stable marriages. Now, as proponents of gay marriage emphasize love, fidelity, and commitment, the right is fetishizing coitus,” he writes.  He goes on: “In [Professor Robert] George’s primitive understanding, marriage isn’t about love or raising children. It’s about copulation.”

Mr Stern’s piece went up a couple of weeks ago.  Yesterday, Tom Tomorrow reminded me of it.  Click on the image to go to the strip:

I’m not an expert in comparative religion, but it does strike me as rather odd that there might be cultures which do not “fetishize coitus” and grow elaborate institutions around penis-in-vagina sex.  After all, penis-in-vagina isn’t just another arcane sexual practice, but is the act of procreation.  Among animal processes, only eating and death compare to it in the range and gravity of their consequences.   If you’re going to worship any events in nature, it would seem that penis-in-vagina sex would be first on the list.

Now, the institution of marriage in the West has evolved in such a way that “love, fidelity, commitment,” romance, and other abstract  considerations are more important than anything so concrete as penis-in-vagina sex.  The religious life of the Protestant West has evolved to emphasize the purely abstract over the concrete to a remarkable degree.  Throughout the Western world, same-sex couples are usually treated by their relatives and neighbors as the equals of opposite-sex couples in every way; the exceptions come in legal formalities and in random acts of hostility.  I believe that laws should reflect and sustain the actual practice of society, not assert transcendent standards that would revolutionize that practice, so it seems reasonable to me that marriage as an institution should drift free of its last formal links to penis-in-vagina sex.  However, it is no more “primitive” for Robert George to hold to an understanding of the nature of institutions that precludes such a development than it is for Hindus and Buddhists to revere lingam-yoni symbols.

The whole debate, left and right, strikes me as an example of the modern West’s inability to take sex seriously as a moral concept.  Moderns can be quite calm and serious when discussing the legal standards of consent to sexual behavior, but characteristically respond to moral questions about other aspects of sexual behavior with one of two avoidance strategies.  Either they try to laugh the topic off, or they refer it to medicine, psychology, or some other therapeutic discipline.  This is a real problem with modernity.  Since sexual behavior is such an important part of life, people who try to follow a moral code which has nothing serious to say about sex are likely to become unserious people.   Yet it seems to be an insoluble problem.  Modernity appeals to the formal, abstract rationality of the marketplace, of the courts, of science, of bureaucratic organization.  An institution built to support, celebrate, and commemorate penis-in-vagina sex jars with this formal, abstract rationality; but so, eventually, does everything else that makes life possible and enjoyable.

Again, I hold that the function of the law is to affirm society as it is, not to remake it according to some abstract plan; it is because many same-sex couples in fact operate as married couples in the USA that I hope the law will change and recognize the actually existing reality of our society.  As I pointed out here four years ago, to change that fact and the social conditions underpinning it would require a very far-reaching restructuring of US society.  Modernity, with its attachment to abstract theoretical schemes,  might endorse some such restructurings, and people with a romantic hankering for the premodern might wish they could recreate a world in which the concrete and particular take precedence over the abstract and general.  But as a student of the works of Irving Babbitt, I see in such impulses nothing but the drive to assert one’s own power over the world and the people in it, a drive that can never be satisfied, but that grows with each success it encounters.   If we are ever to recover the sense of the sacramental as something inherent in particular actions, particular things, and particular places, it won’t be the law that leads us to that recovery, but a much broader social development that the law will notice only after it is already so far advanced that few people can formulate a coherent argument for or against it.

In the flesh?

Most Sundays, Mrs Acilius and I can be found in a Quaker meeting down the street from our home.  She is a member of that meeting and a convinced adherent of the brand of Christianity associated with Quakerism; I’m not a member of any religious group, nor am I convinced of the truth of any religious doctrine.  The Friends are a likeable bunch, though, and I always feel that my time among them is well spent.

In  many ways, the Quakers are a group apart from other Protestants.  Not in all ways, however.  For example, like many mainline Protestant denominations the US branches of Quakerdom are currently rumbling with disputes about the status of homosexuality.  In some areas of the country, these disputes have gone very far.  The venerable Indiana Yearly Meeting, which has been going since 1821, is apparently considering a proposal to dissolve itself so that the local meetings affiliated with it can sort themselves into pro- and anti-gay groups.  Other yearly meetings may be approaching a similar point.  That means that Quaker denominations that have already made their minds up about the issue are facing the prospect of reorganizing to accommodate refugees from the divided groups.

Because I hear about this controversy quite often, I took a keen interest in Eve Tushnet’s notes on a talk that Christopher Roberts gave at Villanova University a few years back.  This bit especially piqued my interest:  “* CR: Progressive theology of marriage separates creation and redemption–for progressive, pro-gay-marriage theologians, sex difference is about creation/procreation and is private, while redemption (linked to marriage?) is ecclesial but unisex. ”

Roberts’ view of  “Progressive theology,” as Tushnet relays it here, reminds me of a problem at the heart of the sacramental theology of Quakerism.  The Quakers have traditionally held that the sacraments of baptism and communion are entirely “inward”; that is to say, what makes them holy is nothing to do with the physical elements of a ritual, and everything to do with supernatural events involving the soul and the Holy Spirit.  So, most Quakers do not practice an initiation ritual involving water, nor do they take wine and bread together in meetings for worship.

I haven’t read deeply on these topics.  If I were to study the arguments that have been made for and against Quakerism over the 350 years that the Friends movement has been underway, I wouldn’t be surprised to find some old writer who thought he had reduced Quaker sacramental theology to absurdity in this manner: 1. Quakers hold that the sacraments of baptism and communion are entirely supernatural, and that no particular physical act or material form is necessary to complete them.  2. Quakers do not deny that marriage is a sacrament.  3.  Quakers do not provide any reason to regard the sacrament of marriage as radically different from other sacraments.  4. To be consistent, Quakers must therefore hold that no particular physical act or material form is necessary to complete the sacrament of marriage.   5. The difference between male and female is known to us through particular physical acts and material forms, and in no other way.  6.  Therefore, Quakers have no grounds for insisting that a marriage requires a male and female body for its consummation.

Nowadays, many Quakers might accept this line of argument, and might proclaim that they are following in the tradition of the weighty Friends of the past when they endorse same-sex marriage.  Many others continue to resist it.  I’m not at all knowledgeable about Quaker theology, but it might be interesting to learn what sorts of arguments are exchanged in this matter.  If you happen to have knowledge I lack, I invite you to comment.

 

Libertarians and marriage

I’ve fallen far behind my usual pace in sharing my “Periodicals Notes“; that pesky offline part of the world keeps distracting me with things like work, family, etc etc.  There’s a great deal of work I ought to be doing right now, as a matter of fact, but I can’t resist taking time to note a couple of pieces in the latest issue of The American Conservative. As you can see from the cover illustration, the magazine’s contributors generally oppose official recognition of homosexual unions, holding that marriage is an institution that must be reserved for one elephant and one statue, and solemnized by a self-certified ophthalmologist.

I’ve long been puzzled by the low quality of arguments offered against same-sex marriage.  Opponents have had a great deal of time to come up with reasons why only opposite sex couples should be allowed to marry.  Their position is broadly popular, and they have at their disposal the resources of major religious organizations, conservative think-tanks, and much of the press.  You’d think that with all that on their side, they would be able to produce an argument that would be at least superficially plausible.  Yet, when asked to defend their position, supporters of the status quo trot out arguments that are so feeble they inspire, not even laughter, but sheer pity.  At the outset of his article in this issue, “Stonewalling Marriage,*” Justin Raimondo describes the situation with admirable clarity:

Opponents of same-sex marriage have marshaled all sorts of arguments to make their case, from the rather alarmist view that it would de-sanctify and ultimately destroy heterosexual marriage to the assertion that it would logically lead to polygamy and the downfall of Western civilization. None of these arguments—to my mind, at least—make the least amount of sense, and they have all been singularly ineffective in beating back the rising tide of sentiment in favor of allowing same-sex couples the “right” to marry.

Raimondo goes on to offer what the cover advertises as “A Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage.”  Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a statement more typical of libertarianism than these paragraphs:

Of course, we already have gay marriages.  Just as heterosexual marriage, as an institution, preceded the invention of the state, so the homosexual version existed long before anyone thought to give it legal sanction. Extending the authority of the state into territory previously untouched by its tender ministrations, legalizing relationships that had developed and been found rewarding entirely without this imprimatur, would wreak havoc where harmony once prevailed.  Imagine a relationship of some duration in which one partner, the breadwinner, had supported his or her partner without much thought about the economics of the matter: one had stayed home and tended the house, while the other had been in the workforce, bringing home the bacon. This division of labor had prevailed for many years, not requiring any written contract or threat of legal action to enforce its provisions.

Then, suddenly, they are legally married— or, in certain states, considered married under the common law. This changes the relationship, and not for the better. For now the property of the breadwinner is not his or her own: half of it belongs to the stay-at-home. Before when they argued, money was never an issue: now, when the going gets rough, the threat of divorce—and the specter of alimony—hangs over the relationship, and the mere possibility casts its dark shadow over what had once been a sunlit field.

Who finds libertarianism appealing?  This passage might suggest two groups.  First, there are people who have known many couples who lived together for a long time, then married, only to go through a calamitous divorce shortly afterward.  I suppose most Americans under the age of 60 could name at least a dozen such couples among their personal acquaintances.   When I’ve seen the sequence long cohabitation/ brief marriage/ bitter divorce, I’ve always tended to explain the marriage as a desperate attempt to put some life back into a failing relationship.

But some might look at the sequence differently, and wonder whether the relationships would have continued had the partners not ventured into the dread precincts of matrimony.  Elsewhere in the issue, a piece* is built around the observation that young Americans tend to take many Libertarian ideas for granted; perhaps the changes in family structure that have shaped the lives of so many in recent generations have been part of the reason for this intellectual climate. Second, there are people who hold power in their relationships with others because they control economic resources on which those others depend.  Some such people acknowledge the responsibilities that come with such power.  Others not only refuse to accept those responsibilities, but do not like even to admit that they are in a position of power at all.  For them, “money was never an issue,” when the other parties in their relationships simply submitted to their will as regards it.  Once those parties gain a share in the control of those resources as a matter of right, suddenly the terms of the relationship must be negotiated, not decreed by the “breadwinner.”  From the viewpoint of the deposed “breadwinner,” this development might very well look like a departure from a “sunlit field”  of liberty to the “dark shadow” of conflict, but the newly empowered “stay-at-home” may see matters quite differently.

Of course, it isn’t only in the relationship between income-earners and their non-employed partners that one holding economic power may deny the existence of that power and see only the prospect of conflict when a subordinate acquires an independent standing.  Employers often pretend that they are on an equal footing with their employees, and denounce trades unions as monstrous powers which bring disharmony into what would otherwise be an idyll of brotherhood.  A fine example of this sort of thing can be found in this issue, in Peter Brimelow’s “Less Perfect Unions,” which denounces American schoolteachers for organizing their profession.

When Raimondo reaches the heart of his argument against same-sex marriage, he presents a case that will be familiar to anyone who has followed the arguments gay liberationists have made over the years.  Same-sexers, he argues, simply do not need “to entangle themselves in a regulatory web and risk getting into legal disputes over divorce, alimony, and the division of property.”  Opposite sex couples may believe that their shared interest in any children they may produce justifies such “entanglement”; Raimondo doesn’t agree with them, but in deference to their assessment of their needs he stops short of the gay liberationist cry of “Smash the Family!  Smash the State!,” and does not call for the end of official recognition of opposite sex unions.

He does take a page from the gay liberationist handbook, though, when he argues that same-sex marriage threatens to “take the gayness out of homosexuality.”  “By superimposing the legal and social constraints of heterosexual marriage on gay relationships, we will succeed only in de-eroticizing them.”  Raimondo extols the gay liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s for its anti-state focus, and insists that the lack of official sanction and the formalization that goes with it have made homosexuality itself a force to resist the modern state.  Same-sex marriage, Raimondo argues, would rob homosexual relations of their anarchic character, and reconstitute them as a pillar of the established order. Why, then, has the demand for gender-neutral marriage become central to the role of same-sexers in US politics?  Raimondo has a theory:

The homosexual agenda of today has little relevance to the way gay people actually live their lives.

But the legislative agenda of the modern gay-rights movement is not meant to be useful to the gay person in the street: it is meant to garner support from heterosexual liberals and others with access to power. It is meant to assure the careers of aspiring gay politicos and boost the fortunes of the left wing of the Democratic Party. The gay marriage campaign is the culmination of this distancing trend, the reductio ad absurdum of the civil rights paradigm.

The modern gay-rights movement is all about securing the symbols of societal acceptance. It is a defensive strategy, one that attempts to define homosexuals as an officially sanctioned victim group afflicted with an inherent disability, a disadvantage that must be compensated for legislatively. But if “gay pride” means anything, it means not wanting, needing, or seeking any sort of acceptance but self acceptance.  Marriage is a social institution designed by heterosexuals for heterosexuals: why should gay people settle for their cast-off hand-me-downs?**

It seems a bit indecent to quibble with the content of so impassioned a peroration, especially considering that the issue is a more personal one for a same-sexer like Raimondo than it is for me.  However, I would point out that he is shifting his ground here.  Earlier, he had claimed that marriage evolved spontaneously among heterosexuals, who improvised various means of ensuring their interest in their children would be recognized.  To the extent that the institution was “designed,” that design came after the state intervened in this evolution and hijacked it to serve its own purposes.  Now, he implies that marriage is suitable for heterosexuals after all, but not for homosexuals.  This shift is important, because it shows him backing away from liberationism and its implication that people should discard the labels they wear, band together, and create a world free of the old restrictions.  It leaves him all too much at home under the banner of “American Conservative.”

*Sorry, subscribers only

**UPDATED: Paragraph breaks inserted here after publication

The return of The American Conservative

It’s been quite a few weeks since the appearance of the October 2010 issue of my favorite “Old Right” read, The American Conservative; I’d begun to fear that it would have no successor.  That particularly bothered me, as people who really should know better had in the interval set out to deny that an anti-militarist Right had ever existed.  Fortunately, the December issue is now up.

Highlights include George Scialabba’s piece on T. S. Eliot’s “revolutionary conservatism,” Justin Raimondo’s analysis of the Obama administration’s devastating impact on the antiwar Left that did so much to elect Mr O, and Bill Kauffman’s argument that the professional classes in the USA do not merely accept rootlessness and social isolation, but that they insist on it as a qualification for membership.  There is of course a heartfelt eulogy for the late Joseph Sobran, full of praise for Sobran’s principled antiwar conservatism, his quick wit, and his deep learning, though a bit skimpy on his rather less appealing habit of hobnobbing with Holocaust-deniers (a habit at least mentioned in this post on the magazine’s website.) 

Stephen Baskerville’s piece about gender-neutral marriage bears the promising title “Divorced from Reality: Don’t Blame Gays for the Decline of Marriage.”  Baskerville argues that “marriage creates fatherhood.”  Unlike Germaine Greer, who argued in The Female Eunuch that women should rise up against marriage in order to revoke “the gift of paternity” that the institution unjustifiably gave men, Baskerville sees in the social creation of paternity the chief justification for marriage.   He opposes gender-neutral marriage, as with much greater vehemence he opposes liberal divorce laws, precisely because such reforms threaten to deprive patriarchy of its charter.

Acilius being long-winded

filibuster-1

Printouts of my recent comments

I (Acilius) am a frequent commenter on Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For blog.  As regular readers of Los Thunderlads are all too well aware, I can get pretty long-winded, so I try to restrain myself.  I was doing pretty well on the current thread, until I broke down completely and left a multi-screen essay about The Nature of Democracy.  After the jump, an explanation of how I came to display such poor manners.

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The Nation, 13 July 2009

nation 13 july 2009Alex Cockburn rages at the Americans who cheerlead for the protests in Iran while they ignore politics in their own country, giving the Obama administration carte blanche to break every promise Mr O made to help working people and curb the national security state.  As for Cockburn’s view of Iran, readers of his newsletter Counterpunch are familiar with his suspicion that the protests are something of a phony put up by advocates of war.   

An editorial about the Obama administration’s approach to the righs of sexual minorities begins by pointing out that in Mr O’s first bid for public office, for the Illinois state senate in 1996, he was asked where he stood on same-sex marriage.  Unlike other candidates, who either checked “yes” or “no,” Mr O went out of his way to add the sentence “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”  At that time no state recognized same-sex marriages, and many criminalized same-sex sex.  Now, the country has moved on.  Even the governor of Utah has endorsed civil unions for same sex couples.  And Mr O has moved backward.  Now he opposes same-sex marriages, presides over the continuation of “don’t ask- don’t tell,” and hasn’t lifted a finger to support legislation to protect sexual minorities from workplace discrimination, legislation 89% of Americans say they favor.  The editorial sums it up: “At this rate, Obama is in danger of being outpaced on gay rights not just by the American people but by the nonsuicidal wing of the Republican Party.”  

Lisa Duggan celebrates Salt Lake City’s surprisingly visible, surprisingly politicized sexual minorities.  Countering those who have called for a boycott of Utah to protest the role of Mormons in the campaign to end gender-neutral marriage in California, Duggan quotes Salt Lake City residents who’ve called for a “New Queer Pioneer Movement,” one that would emulate the sect trains of the Mormon nineteenth century and flood the state with same-sexers. 

Joseph Stiglitz claims that the current global economic crisis presents us with a stark alternative: either we adopt nationalistic policies of subsidy and protection that mean we renounce economic globalization, or we adopt United Nations-based regulatory schemes that mean we embrace political globalization.  As Stiglitz is the head of the UN’s Commission of Experts on the crisis, it will not come as a complete surprise that he favors the latter option.

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More adventures in commenting

Over the last couple of weeks, I (Acilius) have posted some comments on two sites I read daily.  At “Dykes to Watch Out For,”  I quoted the opening of the “Periodicals Note” about Chronicles magazine that triggered so much discussion here a few weeks ago.  

At Language Log, I posted a comment which confused the author of the original post.  That comment kicked off a discussion in which I felt constrained to post several followup comments (here, here, here, and here), and which spilled over onto The Volokh Conspiracy.