Category Archives: gay/LGBT

Two riffs on homophobia

(1) “Enlightened homophobia” and straight privilege

Everyone has heard some version of, “I don’t mind gays so long as they don’t bother me.” This is somewhat like saying, “I don’t mind grocery clerks so long as they don’t throw canned goods at me when I enter the store.” Even if the statement were acceptable on its own, the fact that one would bother making it at all calls even his qualified acceptance of grocery workers into question. The fact that he isn’t saying it about other groups of workers assumes some special propensity on the part of these groups to misbehave.

What these vaguely enlightened types mean by “gays bothering them” is most often: approaching them romantically, making out in front of their children, etc. Once we plug in this variable, the comparison to grocery store workers is less apt. Of course we blame grocery workers for hurling stock at patrons; but on what grounds do we blame, say, gay men for approaching straight men? (I target straight men here because they are the demographic from which the argument tend to emerge.) Why must gay men bear the burden of making absolutely 100% sure in advance that whomever they are approaching is receptive to the approach? It is quite possible that the target of a cold straight approach could be a lesbian; yet straight men hold themselves to no such standard. (And holding different social groups to different standards is, in a word, discrimination.)

And why limit mandatory advance knowledge to knowledge of sexual orientation? When I equated matching orientation with “receptivity,” this was a pretty cavalier simplifying device. Any number of straight women are unreceptive to any number of straight men, too; and sexual orientation is just one of many factors that would make them so. Men concerned to “not bother” an unreceptive woman would have to deal with this entire catalogue. The whole enterprise of flirtation would be fatally hampered by an attempt to obtain all the requisite information beforehand. A clinical demographic survey is quite the turn-off for an opener.

Nor would it be enough; receptivity to a romantic approach is at least in part determined by how the approach itself goes, and thus logically cannot be determined in advance no matter what “facts” we know about the parties. (My wife and I are damned compatible, but we’d never have gotten off the ground if on our first meeting I’d shat my pants and addressed her only through a ventriloquist’s dummy.) We simply cannot know if we are open until we see a bit more of what we are opening ourselves to.

(2) The “incomprehensibility argument” against homosexuality

Years ago, I thought I had heard a certain “argument” against homosexuality. It was so absurd that in time, I figured this was misremembering. But sure enough, I heard it again a few times lately. This prompted some light internet research which yielded many more references (including this recent invocation by Mike Huckabee). I talked to some of my coworkers about gay marriage and it was the first thing two of them said about it.

One might call this the “incomprehensibility” argument—insofar as it can be called an argument at all. It consists entirely in the homophobe’s sheer inability to understand why, for instance, a man would want to be with another man. (I hear this argument from both sexes, but mostly of gay men.) It is not entirely clear what this even means. This can’t be like not “understanding” a math problem or a foreign language. It is some kind of failure to “project,” to imagine or picture oneself in the position of having this attraction—and of course the conclusion that the attraction must then be wrong.

So much can be said here. Is the homophobe saying, because he can’t imagine these feelings, he doubts that gay men actually have them for one another? Surely not. But then, if it is true that someone can “imagine” this, the argument wouldn’t apply to those persons’ behavior, right? Homosexuality wouldn’t be wrong for them. Surely it is not the case that, if not everyone is gay, then no one can be. The strongest mandate the logic permits is: Don’t be gay if you can’t imagine what it is like. (And I imagine you wouldnt if you cant.)

By the same token, the homophobe can’t “understand” so many other things—why his friends enjoy cigarettes, or Indian food, and soforth. There are even straight sexual acts, no less—some underworld kink, if nothing else—which he doesn’t “get.” This is, I think, almost exactly what it means to have different interests; and everyone’s interests differ at least somewhat from everyone else’s. In such cases, we don’t work up our lack of imaginative projection into a norm against these activities. Another’s interests could be wrong, yes, but we demand other kinds of evidence to make the case. Nobody says, “I don’t get 70’s music, so it is immoral.” And nobody would listen if they did.

Conversely, many homosexuals will fail to “get” the homophobe’s attraction to women. They can’t imagine themselves wanting that. Should it not follow that the homophobe’s orientation is also wrong? For him to maintain that his own lack of understanding “counts” here, and the homosexuals’ does not, simply begs the question: His argument is supposed to show that homosexuality is spurious; that same argument cannot simply assume that conclusion when it gets in trouble.

Finally—and I consider this the kicker—even the most rabid gay-basher already accepts sexual ‘orientations’ he doesn’t “understand”: He is no more able to “picture” his wife’s or lover’s attraction for men, or for him in particular. He (we’ll assume) is not turned on to look at himself in the mirror, or at other men. But this inability does not lead him to doubt the reality nor the moral legitimacy of his lover’s attraction to him, or to males. He cannot have it both ways; if the “incomprehensibility argument” is rational, then, his lover’s behavior is not.

Reflections on the National Socialist “Stand” in Knoxville

[Last summer, the National Socialist Movement, a white power group, held an anti-immigration rally in my current home of Knoxville, TN. This is an albeit dated review of that action and our counter-protest.]

Exempting an ultraleft “anarchisty” youth, I have always regarded white power counter-protests with ambivalence. I haven’t been confident that they “do” anything. Most actions that look like this are intended to raise awareness among the non-activist public about issue-x, with a longer term view to movement-building. But everyone is already opposed to overt racism. Like scientific theories, you want your actions to be fecund, to set up momentum for future actions; but this campaign is so immediate and defensive, it isn’t clear where it “goes” after its all over. You either run these guys out of town, or drown them out—and then what?

But with a Nazi group marching a stone’s throw from my home (even closer to where I work), I committed to go. I was genuinely open to some aggro shit. I was ready to go all antifa left-wing futbol hooly on some asses. This reflected both a tactical preference (more on that below) as well as, to be frank, less noble hypermasculinist motivations. I had no reason to expect there would be room for scrapping, though, and there wasn’t. (I was on probation anyway.)

The group that held the rally is the National Socialist Movement (NSM). My clandestine forays onto various white power boards give me the impression that NSM is the hate group most likely to be (a) praised in superlative terms, as well as (b) mocked and scorned, by their racist peers. They earn respect by maintaining high member rolls and “putting in a lot of work,” but the “realist” David Duke-ish contingent see a credibility threat in their cheesy faux-military maneuvers, Nazi suits, ranks and such.

Puh lease.

The rally promised to be a fairly big deal as these things go. NSM called their Knoxville visit “The Stand in the South”—not a stand, nor one stop on a serial stand, but “The Stand.” This follows two weeks of white power events in 2007 where other groups tried to get the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom prosecuted as a black-on-white hate crime. There is some evidence these groups see Knoxville as a relatively friendly place for their kind of work and want to turn it into some kind of regular gig. Many antis (as in, anti-racists) I talked to with were motivated to counter-protest because they got the same impression.

I attended with nine middle-TN comrades (some in the little-c friend sense, some in the big-C socialist-ally sense). I had met all but one only recently via the MTRF campaign (defending the Murfreesboro mosque plan from Islamophobic Tea Party types).

I mentioned being ambivalent. Ambivalence is a mind-state; in terms of action, I went all out. I tore an old t-shirt (red, consequently) to make a “protest rag” (this is for anonymity to cops and to racists, and to be able to walk, not run, if the gas came.) I haven’t worn one of these for years. It is arguably cheesy. But it felt good. I felt strong, and socialist as fuck.

Our group arrived in downtown Knoxville’s Market Square around 1:30. I had a vague plan to meet a local activist, Richard Butler, to whom I’d only spoken by phone. (I know him better now.) He is from the second of two ARA groups in town, which he started on the premise that the original had become too exclusive in an effort to shed the network’s “punky” image. I think he also complained that they prefer the hippy-dippy dancing stuff to any kind of direct action. (Needless to say, this Richard Butler should never be confused with the like-named founder of the Aryan Nations.) Richard B. was there but was still waiting for his people. He and lots of others were saying, with some desperation of tone, that the NSM was “already at the courthouse” (the site of their rally). This was 1.5 hours before they were scheduled to march there from the Square. I concluded they had marched early, ostensibly to avoid close contact with angry antis. (Granted, they would’ve had a police escort, but this is more porous than the barricade that would be waiting for them at the rally.) This was a mistake; they marched around 3:00, as scheduled. I was the victim of honest misinformation. (I found this out only after bombing the white power sites with charges of “chickenshit.” But fuck it.)

So we left Richard to wait for his people, arriving at the courthouse area around 2:00. The “free speech zone” was set up in a section of Gay Street right across from the courthouse. Barricades ran the length of this street and turned the corner onto a section of Gay Street (to the left of the FSZ, facing the courthouse), where the NSM would march in from to get to the courthouse lawn. (At one point, I would think to heckle NSM for being homophobes “parading” down “Gay Street.”) We were advised by an unofficial anti spokesperson that the cops guarding the entrance to the FSZ would not permit water bottles to pass. (It was a pretty hot day.) There was some speculation that the cops were trying to “dry out” both sides; luckily, a light rain would provide some relief in time. Cops were checking bags and frisking everyone going into the FSZ, so we left our bottles with the Food not Bombs people, who promised to watch all contraband until 4:00 PM. (I also had mace, which I hid in a bush.) I later heard people swear the cops permitted mace, tazers and other weapons (not guns) if you declared them, but I can’t verify that.

* * *

We spent maybe an hour in the Zone waiting for the NSM guys to turn onto Main Street. Eric Bell, part of our contingent, is a documentary filmmaker—not aligned with any political group—doing a piece on the ‘Boro mosque protest. He took this time to film our opinions on the NSM thing. Apparently, NSM were frisked a second time at the Gay-Main corner, just out of sight, which (if not other factors) made them late for the protest. (This also inspired another jeer: “Late for your own rally? I thought you sons of bitches made the trains run on time.”)

I have to mention the huge law enforcement presence. I am piss with estimating numbers but cops were simply everywhere. Surely there were a couple to few hundred to be seen from the FSZ. Some were inside the Zone, and a sniper set up in the balcony above us. A few were on the courthouse lawn with the Nazis. There were various armored vehicles, paddywagons, helicopters, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. about at any time. FBI, THP, KPD, and SWAT (or whatever we call them here) were represented. One assumes there were undercover cops too. A line of riot cops lined the street side of each Gay Street barricade, one line facing us and another facing the NSM.

As with the water ban, it is hard to see a benign rationale in this degree of force. Nor do I suspect it is a product of mismanagement, a “waste.” Whatever else it is, it is an exercise, a test of the police infrastructure. And you can bet it’ll be used on us eventually; this protest was the only time any of us activist-types could recall having been on the other side of the batons. (Funny: The city made the NSM wear all black for identification, and they have a penchant for military regalia to boot (which is often black anyhow). A couple of times, new contingents of riot cops marched into view and it was hard to tell right away that they weren’t NSM.)

* * *

Here’s an aside: Speaking of bombarding the white power sites, a little more than half the youtube footage of this event was put up by NSM or their sympathizers. Of course, I lustily taunted them in the comments about needing police escorts. Here’s a snippet:

1964Smoky responds:
@amerikanbeat
The police were there to protect you homos from yourselves. Several of the NSM marchers are ex-military and could have easily taken all of you on.

I respond:
@1964Smoky
You should tell the cops that. That would contradict every public statement they have made re. this and the previous rally. As you well know, the NSM are under discipline not to attack the antis; the police know this also and given the history of previous rallies, they have no reason to expect NSM to act out. “The Commander” is simply flexing nuts (as are you) when he says otherwise.

Also, how many NSM members are “ex-military”? More than 10% of the antis?—because that’s the proportion of ex-mil in society at large. Surely you aren’t claiming that NSM could beat 50 ex-military among the antis (10% of 500), which surely neutralizes their own “ex-mil advantage,” plus all the rest of the hundreds of antis? I assume you’re joking here.

Talking shit, or the ethics of such

Around 3:00 the NSM folks began to appear, crossing Gay Street onto the courtyard. They trickled in rather than marched or paraded or anything. This may have been, again, because they were being fed through patdowns just out of view. This entrance point was the closest we ever got to them, at least those of us bunched on the left side of the FSZ; plus, there was only ever one or two NSM walking past at any one time. This made it possible to call specific racists out, get them to focus on you in particular, and have a kind of direct personal exchange with them. Between comrade J. Westbrooks and myself, we talked more shit than a pro wrestler. Of course, this continued when the rally cranked up, but the noise level and distance between us was never as accommodating again.

The shit-talking in general brought up issues of its own (in no particular order):

(1) There is a preponderance of obese Nazis both in general and in the NSM. In fact, I’ve read a number of the NSM’s white power critics refer to them as a bunch of “fat slobs.” I yelled to a few of them that “Hitler would have thrown your fat ass in the oven, too,” or “Hitler called obesity a defect,” etc. (I don’t actually know if any of that is true; but neither do the NSMs.) One huge guy would lift up his shirt and pat his big belly at me whenever I said this, as if to revel in the feature he thought I was mocking. This was a pretty dopey response, as I wasn’t calling him fat, but inconsistent.

[For the record, I love my heavier brothers and sisters. Indeed (though this will sound worse to some) I’m known as a bit of a chubby chaser. Not that a fetish is the purest proof of “fat acceptance”; but I trust it is incompatible with a view that fat is ridiculous, ugly, etc., and therefore that I meant any such thing by that taunt.]

(2) We (comrade Wesbrooks and I at least) threw a lot of middle fingers and used a ton of profanity. I tried to bait the men into fighting, but this was probably never going to work. (But all it takes is one….) This bled into the personal attacks such as above.

There were those among the antis who opposed this more negative or “hostile” tack. Some were giving out these neon signs that said “LOVE.” On the back, it had a disclaimer that your use of the sign implied consent to use proper decorum, show respect, etc.

The “LOVE” sentiment probably means a couple of things at once. I’m sure it is partly about “loving,” rather than hating, people of color, immigrants, gays, and the rest of the NSM “enemies.” (As in, the NSM should show love rather than hate.) But it is also about us “loving” the NSM themselves rather than hating them. Some people on the microphone (there was prepared material from the organizers, and then open mic time) conveyed this feeling explicitly.

A few thoughts on this:

(a) There is a persistent feeling among anti types that resisting white power and homophobia is fundamentally about “opposing hate.” Well, I “hate” this argument. Surely the hate in and of itself can’t be the problem: It is conceivable (if unlikely) that the NSM could keep all of its noxious policies while dropping just the hate. I mean, you don’t have to hate blacks and latinos to want a nation separate from them (though I’m sure it helps.) There are already plenty of hard-right-wingers who probably don’t hate people of color (Pat Buchanan, maybe?), but this doesn’t stop their policies from harming these groups.

So would we be (more) OK with the NSM if they dropped the “hate”? Would they be any less “protest-worthy” without it? Surely not. But then “hate” is not the main issue here. (Not to mention most of us “good people” hate something, even someone. And we’re OK with that. It is all about just what or whom is being hated.)[1]

(b) I assure you the NSM are unimpressed when a group of “race traitors and mongrels” tell them they are “loved.” This reminds me of when Christians express “love” for more hostile nonbelievers. (You see this from street preachers a lot.) In these contexts, “I love you” sounds obligatory, backhanded and opportunist. Shit, the Bible even says that in being kind to one’s enemy, “you will heap burning coals upon his head.” (“Kill ‘em with kindness” is a secular rendition.)

The point is that you can’t use your own value system to impress an antagonist whose antagonism consists in denying that very system. You’d first have to provide them with a reason to buy into the system. Antis declaring love for the NSM is as effective as quoting the Bible to atheists about the folly of atheism. It can only make us look weak and stupid.

(c) At one point, an older anti chastised us for using personal insults. I politely told the guy I would take it under advisement. (I didn’t mean it but I was trying to be polite. Comrade W. kind of “gave him the business,” though. I ain’t mad at ‘im.)

I have partly addressed this criticism above; being negative per se is simply not the problem. It is not “wrong” in moral terms. (However, it could be impractical. This is entirely a tactical matter.)

But “personal insults” are more than a matter of negativity. There are other issues. On the one hand, there is a falseness in insulting people on the basis of traits that, as all us enlightened types know, aren’t really bad—or at least, that don’t warrant being picked on, i.e., things a person can’t help, or things that picking on won’t help, and things that are moreover irrelevant to the racism we’re really against.

Along these lines, I observed that this kind of protest brings out the arguably worst in a leftist (myself included). Some of the personal stuff was probably innocuous enough: I nicknamed this skinny NSMer “Ichabod Crane” (he definitely got this) and mocked that he wouldn’t fuck back with me on the streets. There was a really dumpy Commander guy with a shittown mustache who warranted, “Time to make the donuts!” after the chef in the old Dunkin Donuts commercials. (Maybe for regional reasons, nobody seemed to get this). In general I tried to impress the NSMers with how dopey and stupid they looked and how I could kick their asses.

Some of the material was less innocuous. I actually heard a gay man call the NSM men “fags.” There were a number of limp-wristed Heil Hitler salutes thrown up as well. The obvious problem with this kind of thing is that it implicates everyone who shares those traits. In mocking legitimate targets on the basis of these “negative” traits, you insult everyone who possesses them. In the end, you are making a homophobic (etc.) statement, whatever else you might be doing on top of that.

Still, the advantages of a “negative” approach are easy to find if you look for them. Socialists are not liberals, but will often use the language of liberalism against the (liberal) state as a way of simply getting things done; it amounts to holding an opponent consistent with its (her/his) own principles. The analogy is remote, but I have some sympathy for fucking (back) with hypermasculine males on and in their own fucked up terms. I couldn’t bring myself to call anyone an overtly homophobic name, but I can imagine “softer” sentiments that call his courage or fighting abilities into question. These features don’t make a damn in the world, but they probably make a damn to him, and this could bear effects. The clearest example of this at the NSM protest was heckling them for being “bad Nazis”—out of shape, shitty formation, late for their own protest, etc. (whereas the “real” Nazis were sharp, on time, etc.) This kind of jeer is intelligible, but nobody takes it to mean one advocates being a proper Nazi. Again, the charge is one of inconsistency.

(I don’t really have any conclusions here. Just articulating the terms of the question. I’m open.)

(d) The other thing everyone did was to mock the NSM about not being able to hear anything their speakers said. We would place a hands to the ear with a screwed up face, saying “What?? I can’t hear you,” pointing in the air to request a volume increase. (I assumed it was a shitty P.A., though the white power guys assure me our side sounded like garble to them as well. One also claimed that the cops allowed our side to exceed the specified decibel level, while the NSM either played nice or was regulated.)

“Arationality” (A kind of conclusion)

This leads me to a main point. If this kind of action “does” anything, I think the drowning out is a key objective. First, I can’t imagine anyone driving 10 hours, and speaking for 2, being absolutely indifferent to whether the message-proper gets out to the public. The white power folks I read afterward seem genuinely disappointed about getting shut down. So maybe this keeps them from coming too often. For whatever reason, R.B. surmises that, when they don’t get a huge response, they come back to the same city in about six months. (They were met in force here in 2007 and didn’t return for three years.)

There is also the issue of recruitment. The NSM is fond of saying, “Where the NSM goes, the NSM grows.” I think this could be true, possibly truer now than in many years. As comrade Jase reminded me, white hate groups have grown 5-fold since Obama’s presidency. The recruitment “pool” seems to be growing apace; the NSM Commander himself said at the rally that the Tea Party Movement was “a step in the right direction.” (They were also invited to come and protest with them.) And I don’t think the actual content coming across the P.A. necessarily has that much to do with recruitment success. The mere fact that a racist group shows up, bravely taking the shit that is given to them (and it isn’t always just verbal), probably inspires and emboldens people already informally sympathetic to white supremacist ideas. They will visit the website even if they can’t get to the group then and there.

But content aside, the drowning out and the strong, passionate opposition in general, can make these groups appear ridiculous. At one point, J. got on the mic and began reciting in Hebrew. These clowns really got pissed at this! It was like Superman responding to kryptonite, almost comical. This is just a dramatic example of how an opposition can convey a sense to potential recruits that these ideas are just beyond the pale, beyond any serious consideration. And it makes them look like they take themselves way too seriously.

This is why I don’t oppose personal attacks on these people per se. There is a distinct ‘arationality’ to this whole enterprise even before we get to content. This is manifest in the above scenario; if stiff opposition conveys a sense that racist ideas are ridiculous, it is in the way that dancing cartoon elves “convey” to consumers that chewing brand-x gum will be fun. It accomplishes the right goal for all the wrong reasons—but accomplishes it no less. This reinforces the completely wrong approach to decision-making, but the cost in a given case might be worth it.

Nobody seriously thinks we can dialogue with white power groups; at least, if we can, we aren’t trying to do it at a counter-protest. On the one hand, this erodes much of the grounds for banning “personal” attacks. The form/content dichotomy is a false one here: If shouting the NSM down isn’t “personal,” it remains a whole bunch of other stuff just as unconducive to “serious” engagement. (And really, if you were shouted down at a public meeting, could you not take this “personally,” even if the content avoided “personal insults” about your appearance, etc.?) The only possible object of setting up a P.A. on the clear other side of the street is to harass and harangue them as much as possible—before you even get to content. Remaining “respectful” ceases to be an option once the shouting down begins. You can not protest, but pretending the protest gains anything by being “respectful” is just bad faith.

To repeat, this might not apply with other kinds of actions. The counter-protest of the Murfreesboro anti-mosque group is about winning the “hearts and minds” of the broader non-activist, non-left community. One approaches this with a certain decorum. Let them look like the unhinged bigots. But “everyone” already hates the Nazis. Few people are (as) put off by yelling, etc. at them. (They killed 6 million Jews, for God’s sake.)

I also think these considerations lead logically to some kind of violence. I think chucking rocks and other debris at the members, leaping the barricades en masse and rumbling with them, will run them out of town more assuredly and keep them away for a longer time. That is, all of the things the protest is designed to do (whether or not the participants are consistent in their self-appraisals of what they are doing), it will do better with physical violence. It might cause the city to deny the next white power permit also. I don’t think it will alienate the broader public, and I think the same “paling” psychological effect on potential recruits is only enhanced. The only obstacles are moral objections, e.g., pacifism, and of course fear of being arrested.

* * *

Finally, I can think of some other reasons to protest white power groups. First, there are all the “generic protest goods”: You can see how cops work, as next time, they’ll be protecting someone else from. Any protest also fosters solidarity and networking among comrades.

Second, for socialists specifically, it provides a chance to point out the connection of anti-racist ideas to socialism (conversely, racist ideas to capitalism). Racism is one of those cleavages within the working class that impedes collective action. This has been actively exploited by individual capitalists and is also “selected for” by the system in functionalist terms. There is also the fact that whites and blacks tend to earn higher wages to the extent that the wage-gap between them is smaller. And there are many such facts.

Notes

[1] On the other hand, hate can be positively useful. It can aid in opposition campaigns of all stripes (protest, war), provide inspiration, drive, etc.

What would it mean to “preserve the white race”?

[Parts I and II here. Part III later.]

This past weekend the white power people came to town. This has prompted me to get a handle on what makes these assholes tick.

Part I

“White power” has any number of meanings, not all of them compatible. There is white supremacy, white nationalism/separatism, “mere” white pride, and so forth. The most basic corollary can be termed “white preservation” (WP). The brief 14 Words manifesto (probably the one thing every white power group agrees on) begins, “We must secure the existence of our people….” In a debate with Tim Wise, WP advocate Jared Taylor expresses the fear that “…whites, who are perhaps 7% of the population of the world now, will disappear in a flood of miscegenation; is that what you would like to see happen?”

WP means ensuring the conditions for whites to reproduce into the future. It is the tenet upon which all the others depend; if it fails, so do the rest. (No whites, no “white-anything.”) This makes it a natural starting point for examining white power “theory.”

Who is it being preserved for?

It is obvious that white preservationists (WPs) view WP not as a nice thing to have happen, but a mandate. That is, the numerical decrease in the white population (real or perceived, present or pending, by human or natural causes) is something “happening to them,” a bad circumstance that warrants self-defense.

The difficulty rests in trying to locate a victim in this process. Just who is it happening (or would it happen) to? Suppose that multiculturalism, immigration, and miscegenation actually brought about the “extinction” of the white race. Just who is harmed by this? The fear is not that whites are directly endangered, being “killed off.” (If anyone claims this, they’re crazy.) So whites’ “preserving themselves” cannot mean “saving we particular here-now individuals from death.” It could only mean “ensuring future white generations.” Fine, but in what sense is this a self-defense?—as “the existence of our people” would suggest. How would ensuring future whites serve the self-interests of present-day whites? To say “both groups are white” only begs the question; the whole issue is why the fact that they are both white makes them “ourselves.”

The seduction of grammar

WPs speak in terms of a “loss” that they themselves “suffer.” “Whiteness” is a quantity they have, and must hold onto. The whites of today must preserve their whiteness. Indeed, they could speak no other way; a self-defensive imperative always takes this form. This way of speaking is inspired, or reinforced, by the formal structures of language: Grammatically, “whiteness,” like “being married,” is a transient property, one which can be lost and gained by the self-same underlying subject. But WPs seem to have forgotten that it isn’t transient in real life; unlike marriage, if you ever had “whiteness,” you still do, and vice-versa.

Thus, to say that whites have failed to preserve, have “lost their” whiteness must really mean: Some whites died; and later, some non-whites were born. This describes two distinct events, with two corresponding subjects. The first event in no sense “happens to” the second subject. Indeed, if the relevant event is “the extinction of the white race,” it didn’t “happen to” the first group either! (An individual can’t “go extinct”—any more than running out of jellybeans means this particular jellybean ran out.)

Indeed, a numerical decrease is the very sort of thing that “happens to” no one in particular. For whites to suffer a “loss of whiteness” just means that there are no whites left to suffer any kind of loss at all. What “they” have “lost” is precisely their status as a “they.” (And if there is no “they” to be harmed, then, from a self-defensive point of view, there is no harm.)

* * *

In conclusion: The “extinct” whites can hardly be victims of “extinction”; they simply died out naturally, as they would have without any process of “white loss.” Their position is precisely the same either way. The only possible victims are the future survivors of this “tragedy.” But this is a miscegenated future; the survivors are (at best) biracial. The implicit logic of WP would have us view these persons as “potential” or “supposed-to-be” whites who missed out on “their” whiteness. One imagines them sitting and lamenting to themselves: “We” have been robbed of “our” proper racial inheritance. The absurdity is (hopefully) manifest.

I conclude the “self-defense” argument for WP is simply incoherent.

Part II

Arguments from analogy: ”But we preserve so many other things”

At times, WPs set aside the negative consequences of failing to preserve the race (i.e., those “harms” to be “defended against”) in favor of the positive virtues of preservation. One argument is that those features associated with whites—say, “white culture” or Caucasian physical anthropology—are unique and valuable, and thus should, all things being equal, be kept around. (For now, we set aside questions as to whether a “white culture” exists, and is preservable by moral means.)

For example, an alternate 14 Words with wide currency in white power circles demands, “Because the beauty of the White Aryan woman must not perish from the earth.” This aesthetic sentiment is matched by those which exploit the discourse of multiculturalism. These are typically heard at those “cultural celebrations” held by WP groups, e.g. Irish, Scottish, or Southern (US) “heritage events”: “If they (Mexicans, etc.) can celebrate (promote, “preserve”) their culture, why can’t we?”

Notwithstanding the near coextension of ‘those who make these statements’ with ‘racist whites,’ by themselves the statements are not necessarily noxious. That is, to say they often indicate racist beliefs is not to say they are themselves racist (any more than a weather vane is a southerly wind). And the analogy of whites to other groups holds a surface plausibility; every culture has folkways, coping mechanisms and other specialized knowledge borne of a particular social housing, which in principle can inspire, enrich, entertain, or aid anyone.

A more advanced argument from analogy is heard as well: Parsing the words alone, the concept “white preservation” seems to resemble other kinds of morally benign “preservations.” Consider the ecological impulse to “preserve” endangered species. By this I do not mean the desire to preserve as a means to some end “beyond” the species (or beyond biodiversity) itself, e.g. ecosystem balance. Nor do I intend anything having to do with protecting species members from pain and harm per se. Rather, I mean the “moral” impulse to save a biological group for its own worth.)

The idea is that each animal group contributes a unique layer of novelty and interest to the world, and this is (all things being equal) a value to be preserved. For instance, we wish to “save the Great Apes” because apes are beautiful, interesting, and so forth; that is, a world in which apes exist is a more interesting, beautiful, etc. world than one in which they are absent.) In short, if a species is worth saving, why not a race? (This could even rescue the earlier “self-defense” argument: If neither extinct whites nor the miscegenated generations of the future would be harmed by white extinction, maybe it is the whole group of survivors, of all racial complexions, that are harmed in being denied that cultural or aesthetic inheritance associated with whites.)

When it “doesn’t” it doesn’t matter whether it “can’t”

Even if this argument can be defended, it is not clear it can be defended from a white power perspective. The WP project as we know it is not simply concerned to endow a unique value to the world. If it were, we could expect to hear from WPs—in parallel with other “multicultural” affections—that WP will benefit and enrich other racial groups. Indeed, one could expect other racial groups themselves to make these arguments alongside the WPs.

The WPs attribute their exclusion from the multicultural catalogue to anti-white discrimination; but this hardly explains why they welcome and foster the “exclusivity” themselves: Whatever benefit they believe “white culture” has conferred upon the world, this benefaction forms no part of their motivation. They don’t give a damn about how this legacy benefits non-whites. (In fact, they probably resent it.)

The point (here) is not whether this racial exclusivity is wrong or right. The point is that it cannot be deduced from the bare preservationist impulse—any more than an impulse to “save the whales” for their beautiful songs and mating rituals implies that whalewatch trips and aquariums should be limited to white patronage. Such delimitations must be “grafted on” from outside, and their merits independently argued.

I don’t doubt that the disanalogies between WP and ecological-preservationism (EP) reflect something sinister; to the extent the WPs use the “us too” argument, it is disingenuous, a mere tactic, a wedge issue to make palatable some other agenda. For present purposes, though, the disanalogy just means: We cannot take the benign character of EP as support for the benign character of WP—as the white power folks actually conceive it. (More on the “multicultural” comparisons in the concluding Part III, soon to come.)

Homophobic gospel gets back to “nature” (revised)

[I discovered this video on Joshua Stewart’s fb. Thanks, man!]

This song is meant to be humorous, but not merely so. People really do make this kind of argument all the time: “You don’t see animals mating with the same sex.” (Ergo, it would be “unnatural” for us to do so.)

One problem is the premise is wrong; the same broad spectrum of sexuality—going from strict heterosexuality, to all permutations of bisexuality, to strict homosexuality—is found in the animal and human kingdoms alike. Using “nature” as our standard, then, does not tell us which segment of nature to mimic—whether “the farm,” as the song says, or maybe the Congolese forests where the pan-sexual bonobo ape dwells. Simply put, “nature” supplies no unambiguous prescription for human behavior. Anything we pick is arbitrary. (If we go for genetic similarity, the bonobo beats the chicken by a long shot.)

[Update: Homosexuality has been documented in chickens! You can “see two roosters walking hand in hand!” See this book, page 83.]

A more pressing problem is what impersonating animals should have to do with ethical behavior anyhow. Act like chicken, they are telling us? Who came up with this shit? The most the Mystery Men (and other homophobes) give us is is the argument that homosexual sex is “unnatural” because it can’t produce offspring:

Two mares can’t make a stallion/And two bulls can’t make a cow/It takes a male and female for the species to go on/[T]here’ll be no reproduction if the plumbing is all wrong

First, it isn’t clear what the farm analogy illuminates here; they may as well have said, “It takes a male and female human for the species to go on.” But no matter.

I can only repeat: Why is non-reproductive sex “unnatural”? The vast uncountable majority of elective human activities (e.g., baseball, fishing, shopping) are non-reproductive; if we can accept these as “natural,” despite this limitation, why do we balk at sexual behavior that lacks a reproductive component? (And do we oppose all the heterosexual sex that is non-reproductive?–Oral sex? Contraception? If the lead singer’s wife became sterile, would they be wrong to keep sleeping together?)

Even if we assume a moral imperative to ensure the “species to go on,” the world’s millions of homosexuals have yet to threaten population growth; and it is unlikely everyone will become homosexual. (Even if they do, this is unlikely to knock off the species; plenty of homosexuals have biological children, who in turn have children, etc.)

This whole business of using “natural” as a normative term—as in, “natural” behavior is good, and “unnatural” behavior is wrong—is screwy. Humans are every bit as “natural” as animals. (What else could we be—supernatural?) Homosexuality could be dead fucking wrong, but it would be as “natural” as any other orientation. Indeed, there is no conceivable human behavior which isn’t “natural.” It makes as much sense to judge animal behavior by our own as the reverse.

Finally, if we can’t be homosexual because chickens aren’t, then we can’t be monogamous, much less get married, because chickens don’t do that either. (Roosters mate with as many as 20 hens at once.) Much less do they wear clothes, build hospitals, or sing gospel music. On the other hand, there is no vile thing which some animals do not routinely do to others, or to each other. (The term “pecking order” is inspired by the propensity of chickens to bite and stab weaker specimens.) If we get our morals from this realm, we are subject to become rapists, baby-killers, and cannibals.[1]

* * *

If you want religious music in a country vein, try this instead (hats off to Eric Fields for turning me on to this):

* * *

Notes

[1] By animals doing “vile things” I mean “things which would be vile if a human did them to another human.” I am not sure it is “vile” when animals do it.

Reflections on adoption by same-sex couples

The Proposition 8 debate has set me to thinking about the related issue of adoption by same-sex couples. In many places in the U.S., it is illegal for gay couples to petition for adoption, and all but pointless in still more. There is widespread disfavor for the idea, even among professed “anti-homophobes.”

I thought I might address some of the “anti” arguments here.

Gay parents as a “bad influence” on children, or otherwise less than ideal caretakers

There is the argument that homosexuality is just “wrong”—immoral, antisocial, etc.—and that this disqualifies gays from adoption just as other immoral or antisocial behaviors block heterosexual couples from adopting.

Assuming this view of homosexuality is correct, it seems odd to block adoptions on the basis that there is something “wrong” with the parents. For something is “wrong” with everyone. The oddness applies to adoptions in general: There is no parental “vetting” prior to natural conception and childbirth; nor can you have your children removed for doing most of the things that might block you from adopting. But perhaps the difference is a pragmatic one: We can’t regulate natural birth as we can adoptions; at least, not without creating harms that would outweigh those we aim to prevent. Perhaps—and I have some sympathy for this view—if we could, we would.

But such as it is: If there is something “wrong” with everyone, gay adoption could only be opposed if it amounts to something fundamentally wrong, and in such a way that seriously implicates child-rearing.

But where are the grounds for saying this? There is no evidence that children of gay parents are any less well-adjusted than any other children, adoptive or not. Indeed, in terms of relevant indicators like self-esteem and future “success,” when studies find a difference, it is that children of gay parents tend to “score” a bit ahead of the pack. This is probably for the same reason that minority and female workers who gain positions on the basis of affirmative action tend to outperform their white, male, “meriting” counterparts—they know they are expected to fail, and try doubly hard not to confirm the stereotype. It is the same for gay parents: They know every miscalculation will be wildly magnified; they have to wonderful just to be seen as average.

Gay parents as producing gay children

The argument that gay adoption will produce gay adopted children is not only unsupported by evidence—it is hard to see what would count as evidence, given the reality of “closeted” gays that do not lend themselves to census—but it also begs the question: Yes, if there is something wrong with homosexuality, an institution which produces it might be immoral. But that assumes there is something wrong with homosexuality. And this must be demonstrated, not just assumed. (This also goes for the argument that children of gay parents will inherit a basic tolerance of homosexuality in others, and that this in itself is a maladjustment.)

Children of gay parents will be traumatized by their peers

The argument that children of gay couples will be traumatized by their schoolmates has slightly more plausibility. Its appeal rests in the fact that it is technically compatible with high levels of sympathy to homosexuality. One could in principle be pro-gay, even gay, and buy into this. On the surface, it is merely a fear of everyone else’s homophobia.

However, recalling the previous paragraph, if the feared taunts or ostracization (or whatever) don’t register loudly enough to produced maladjusted children and adults, it isn’t clear what weight to give it. (Perhaps gay adoption represents a statistical “wash,” with the self-esteem boon of having very driven parents balancing out the liability of being extra-targetable.) Anyhow, while there are certainly cases of serious bullying against youngsters due to gay parentage—I mean, there have to be, right?—there is no evidence that the average child of gay parents is any more at risk for serious taunts than another child. (I suspect that, for kids, making fun of another’s parents is oftener something used for taunting rather than the reason for taunting in the first place.)

So there is a risk, I guess. But you have to weigh this against some other risks: There is the risk of maintaining homophobia as a social phenomenon—or at least, the contribution that a ban on gay adoption would make to this. When homophobia is “hard-wired” into social institutions, it makes a kind of civic argument in favor of it. The natural impulse to identify with dominant—indeed, one’s own—social institutions requires, cognitive-dissonant-ly, some story to rationalize the exclusivity of these institutions, which appears otherwise malicious and capricious. The moral (or otherwise) deficiency of homosexuals is the most available hypothesis.

This is to say that homophobia harms children also—indeed, far more children than the victims of homophobic taunting—and the adults they grow up to be. There is no warrant to assume the psychological effects of being homophobic (on the homophobe, I mean) are any less harmful than those of being racist. Well-settled irrational fears needlessly complicate and degrade human living. They are alienating, providing one more block against a sense of fundamental social identification or “at-home-ness” in the world of people. They also cause people to be stupid: “Big” bad ideas train one to accept bullshit and poor explanations, and must be accommodated in the individual’s whole web of belief by abandoning or “tweaking” any good ideas that might conflict with them.

(I also suspect, as Marxist scholarship on homophobia suggests, that homophobia and sexism spring from the same well and are mutually reinforcing: (Male) gays are denigrated because they are “like women”; but women are the most “like women” of anyone. (Ergo….) So even if the homophobe never meets another gay person, his relations with straight women are compromised.)

Finally, of course, there is the straightforward cost to the gay would-be parents who are witness to the joys of parenthood but excluded on the basis of something they know is inessential to the project. This is—it must be—profoundly alienating also.

At least, let’s agree that we are dealing with a tradeoff of values—not “protecting children” versus some other value, even, but rather “protecting children” in one respect versus “protecting children” in another respect. And avoiding bad things is not the only direction in which ethical behavior moves: If there is an imperative to keep children safe, there is alike an imperative to fight, actively, social ills like homophobia. Let us not pretend we are dealing with anything less than competing imperatives.

And let us not make too much of “the children.” One must consider children’s needs in the moral equation, but they are not an inquiry-stopper. For there seems no warrant for never doing anything that could possibly impact some child, somewhere, badly. Perhaps gay adoption should be viewed like a teacher’s strike, or right to strike; missing some school is in itself a bad thing, but may be “worth” the frying of bigger fish—better wages, a better world. Indeed, the child who misses school at one point will inherit this world, one that is in part the product of such class conflicts. Just as the child taunted for having gay parents will inherit a world that is in part the product of struggles for gay rights such as his own. Having openly gay parents—being targetable for it—contributes to a world in which it is easier for gay parents and their children alike to be themselves. And this is fucking worth something. It may be worth some taunting.

And consider: Every other adult life-choice is permitted to make demands on children: Career relocation plops them into unfamiliar, friendless schools and neighborhoods, divorce splits their home and allegiances, an early retirement cuts luxury income; why is gay parenting the only choice that cannot in principle be entertained to impose on children in any way?

The bottom line

Finally, critics of gay adoption need not just talk about the relative merits of gay versus straight parents. They must talk about the merits of gay parents versus the foster system—for these are the alternatives at stake in this debate. I believe people view gay adoption in terms of an analogy to childbirth: They imagine that gay parents are choosing whether or not to “have” children, such that if they choose—or are forced—not to, there are no real children brought into the picture; no harm, no foul. But adoption is not analogous to childbirth: The children are already there, and waiting, whatever gay parents choose or have chosen for them. And the straight couples can’t and won’t take them all. This is not to disrespect foster parents as a group—foster homes are better than the alternative of needing foster homes, while having none—but the program is necessarily unstable.

Even if you are a ravenous homophobe, is it reasonable to think that gay parents—that is, not just any gay parents, but gay parents that want the child, have planned in advance and jumped through many difficult hoops to get the child, and are vetted by the government as financially stable, well-adjusted, loving, and soforth—is it reasonable that having these gay parents poses worse than the vagaries of the foster program(mes)? (Come on, now.)

Reflections on and prompted by Rev. Fred Phelps (a bit scattershot)

I just finished watching a documentary on Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers. He is the frothingly homophobic preacher from Topeka, KS, whose congregation pickets homosexuality-related events like PRIDE and the funerals of gaybash victims. (You can google his website(s) if you like. I can’t bring myself to link them.)

They also picket the funerals of (straight) American soldiers killed in Iraq. How exactly this is connected to the anti-gay tack is less than clear. I used to think the argument was that—as Bush himself argued—the war was about exporting Western values to the Middle East, and Phelps took these to include tolerance, or encouragement, of homosexuality; I figured he took up this line to say, these values are bad, so exporting them is bad, so the war is bad.

At this point, I don’t think he makes that much sense, even. His opposition to the war isn’t about exporting values but protesting anything representing “America.” Actually, judging from the signage, his anti-Americanism is a more prime focus than the homosexuality. (Though again I suspect the former stems from the latter. Some signs call the dead soldiers “fag enablers,” suggesting this is the problem with them.) Phelps equates liberal values with the nation-state and is prepared to protest anything he thinks the nation-state does or anything that, however tenuously, represents it.

Sure enough, soldiers represent the state and provide the security which makes it possible. Of course, blaming rank-and-file soldiers for the state’s actions is not the same thing. That connection is tenuous enough, but it gets weirder: A funny part in the documentary comes when the Phelpsians are protesting a Kansas University debate on the violability of the Pakistani border, while puzzled students are interviewed wondering aloud what “God Hates Fags” has to do with any of that.

Watching Phelps, it strikes me that any definition of “fanatic” has to include never thinking about strategy. I’ll never understand why the people with the goofiest ideas never bother to think about the most effective way to promote them. That just isn’t a concern. They have a feeling that being right (as they think they are) is quite enough; that a right idea is fit to be disseminated by any means, in any tone, at any time. (Perhaps they just drop the seeds and trust God to take care of the conditions for their taking root in the soil of people’s minds. In that case, though, why not trust God to drop the fucking seeds? How do you know what part to trust him with and what part to do yourselves?)

The video also reminds me of the deep contempt I have for (classical) liberal arguments on social issues like abortion and gay rights. I probably have more contempt for the onlookers, counter-protesters, and “good ministers” who oppose the Phelps’s protests than for Phelps himself. Given the chance to say, on camera, anything in the world about why Phelps and virulent homophobia are bad, all they can come up with—I mean, down to a person—are tepid lines against “hate” and “judging other people.”

(i) I mean, as if nobody could ever do anything so bad that you shouldn’t hate them for it. Not that “hate” is ever really defined; so I have to speculate: If by “hate” is meant simply any very strong opposition, what’s wrong with that? The counter-protesters display their own strong opposition to the Phelps’s. I’m sure we all strongly oppose all kinds of bad things, and if we don’t display the opposition publicly, we certainly wouldn’t object to it.

On the other hand, if “hate” refers to a consuming emotional state wildly out of proportion to its object, an unhealthy obsession of some kind, then, yes, “hate” is probably something nobody should ever hold for anything, no matter how bad. (Nursing this hate would psychologically harm the hater, if nothing else.) But I don’t reckon Phelps’s protests display this kind of “hate” in a clear way. He has an irrational opposition to something, sure enough, but I don’t know the emotional state attending this. That’s a separate issue.

Even if we could know Phelps “hated” in this sense, this wouldn’t be the most interesting thing about his protests.  It wouldn’t rank high on our list of criticisms. If Phelps “hated” Hitler, or some guy who molested his son, nobody would object. Nobody would even mention the “hate.” So if he does “hate” gays, the “hate” isn’t the real problematic issue here. I guess I’m saying that the “hate” is something separate from the position entailing it. Hating something that is actually good or benign is bad–but that doesn’t make the “hate” itself bad, any more than carrying a dangerous weapon around in a container makes the container dangerous. And on the other hand, just because Phelps’s “hate” is a vehicle for a bad viewpoint doesn’t make his “hate” the problem. It’s the viewpoint that should be opposed.

(ii) The counter-protesters’ whole “don’t judge anyone” tack is worse. I doubt it were even possible to act upon this maxim consistently. Surely the counter-protesters “judge” Phelps, for one. Not making judgments about people would prohibit social intercourse entirely. And can you imagine us refusing to “judge” the quality of music, or food, or the morality of child ripper-rapists? Can you imagine a father hearing his daughter’s favorable recital and telling her, “Sorry, it would be wrong to judge your performance (or you as a performer)”?

The formulation I hate the most is when someone offers the challenge, “Who are you to judge?” This makes me want to say: Who do I have to be to judge? I can only respond, “Well, I hope I’m the guy with the right view—the guy judging correctly; that’s who I am to judge.” Now, you can argue that I’m not right about my view, after all, and that this is why I can’t judge; and fair enough, I don’t guess anyone has a “right” to false judgments. But that’s different from saying nobody can hold an opinion on the thing in the first place. It’s the judgment that would be wrong—not the act of judging itself; and damn it, we won’t know the judgment is wrong until the judging is committed, and we can evaluate it.

In short, I judge the hell out of homosexuality, and so should everyone else. Namely, we should judge it to be perfectly fucking acceptable. That is why Phelps’s homophobia should be opposed: Because there is simply nothing goddamned wrong with homosexuality. (If there were, well, then…; but there isn’t.) It is OK because it is OK, not because nobody is allowed to hazard a guess as to what is or is not OK.

But there has to be a reason why this, the ostensibly most straightforward and “natural” reason to oppose homophobia, is virtually never brought up in these “debates.” If Phelps was protesting something good, or benign, like cartoonists or egg yolks, we would not shake our heads and sigh, “It isn’t proper to make judgments.” We’d say, “WTF?? What’s wrong with cartoonists or egg yolks, already? These things are fine. You’re crazy!” And if he was protesting a genuinely bad thing, like an inefficient tax cut, nobody would ask him not to “judge” issues. For that matter, nor would anyone say he were right to judge issues. “Judgment” just wouldn’t come into it; we would just talk about the merits, or not, of the thing being protested. I know I must be missing something here, but I can’t see why we talk differently about homosexuality.

This liberal way of assessing things has a leveling effect upon the whole moral field, reducing all values to neutral. Not judging cuts both ways: If homosexuality is OK simply because nobody is in a position to say that it is not OK, than homosexuality can’t be good, either. (That is, we cannot say that it is good—for that would be to judge it.) When all things become, effectively, equally valuable, then all things become equally trivial. That is, “value” ceases to be a term of distinction, a usable concept, altogether. Be gay, be a hermit, watch youtube or twiddle your fingers in a sandbox all fucking day, whatever. It’s all the same. It no longer means anything to be anything. And that is a loss. I want to live in a world, a culture, where there is a place for saying that homosexuality is good, its a good way to be. But this requires us to judge some things, and it may even require us to “hate” some things (in the first sense of the word).

Finally, the Bible probably doesn’t condemn homosexuality anyway—at least not the New Testament (NT), which I think Christians are (or should be) concerned with, since otherwise there isn’t a basis for their chucking all of the other Levitican laws out while picking on homosexuality. First, it is bizarre that people read the Soddom and Gommorah story and conclude a fundamentally anti-gay message from it. The story is about men wanting to gang-rape another man [1]—a stranger who was entitled to special hospitality from this group, no less. (And hospitality was virtually a sacrament in that time and place.) Isn’t it straightforward enough what is wrong with that? If the story were about men wanting to gang-rape a woman, would Christians interpret this as anti-heterosexual?

My understanding, anyhow, is that the archetypal homosexual relationship in the ancient world does not resemble the contemporary phenomenon. The former was not between freely consenting equals. It was often coercive in the full sense and nearly always so in our statutory sense. It was like our “pederasty” or close to it. (Again, I refer to the “archetypal” ancient homosexual relationship, not “every single ancient homosexual relationship.”) We are talking about two different concepts carrying the same name; it is perfectly within warrant to oppose the one and accept the other. Whether the coercive aspect is why the Bible condemns homosexuality is not clear to me. But it seems Christians could make a distinction here that they could live with. All of the specific injunctions against homosexuality (or what appear to be against it) in the NT are problematic as well. (The Metropolitan Church site has resources on this sort of thing. Pretty interesting stuff.)

Phelps’ trademark is to say that “God hates” homosexuals and other sinners. His evidence for this–at least, for the idea that God is capable of hating certain humans–is that the Bible quotes God as saying, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated.” I doubt whatever word translates as “hate” here is any less ambiguous than our own “hate,” but I guess I don’t know. But even if it isn’t ambiguous, it can still be used metaphorically: If our word “hate” meant (only) a deep, abiding, serious moral hatred, we could still use it metaphorically to say we “hate” peanuts or having to work on a Saturday. So Phelps needs to say more here. Not to mention that there are other places in the Bible that suggest God loves everyone, no matter what; so the “evidence” is mixed or incoherent at best. Anyhow, not that we should care what the Bible says, but (a) I may want to talk to those who do, and (b) I just can’t help myself….

Notes

[1] Well, a male angel–someone they thought was a man.

The Larry Craig flap and the poverty of classical liberal values

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes of Sen. Larry Craig’s solicitation of sex in a public bathroom:

Craig’s behavior was lewd and dishonorable, but—have you noticed?—that isn’t the main reason he has been excoriated. In much journalistic and political commentary, the senator’s real crime is not that he was trolling for anonymous, adulterous sex in a public bathroom, but that [given Craig’s homophobic views] doing so supposedly proved him a hypocrite.

First, I share none of Jacoby’s concern with “lewd[ness]” or “trolling” and little for the “adultery.” (These terms are amalgams, each covering too mixed a set of behaviors to license wholesale judgment.) But as to the preoccupation with Craig’s “hypocrisy,” the author is certainly correct, a point he proceeds to document. I only came across Jacoby’s article in a search of my own after hearing sex columnist Dan Savage call Craig a “hypocrite” on The Colbert Report. All of which prompted the following reflections:

(1) Simply behaving in a way that contradicts one’s words is insufficient to qualify one as a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is a species of insincerity, whereby one claims to hold certain values but actually doesn’t. It amounts to not believing one’s own words. Larry Craig’s bathroom come-on, then, is a mark of hypocrisy only if it is evidence that he does not believe his own pronouncements against homosexuality. This, in turn, can only be assumed if we cannot imagine anyone ever doing something they think is wrong. Of course, inflammation of the “passions,” foundering will power, and the simple failure to think in ethical terms at all in the face of temptation have led each reader to commit acts that she knows are—in her view, anyhow—wrong. As noted by one Time columnist, “[I]f Craig truly believes homosexuality is wrong, his fault would be weakness, not hypocrisy.”

(2) Focusing on the Senator’s “hypocrisy” suggests that what is mainly problematic about his anti-homosexual statements is that they conflict with his deeds. This seems to imply that he would be undeserving of our criticism if only the statements and deeds matched up: Imagine that, contrary to 25 years of allegations, Craig had never engaged in a homosexual act—or that he were magically “rehabilitated” of these tendencies. Either way, Craig could go on producing homophobic statements and votes with pure “consistency.” This would erase the “hypocrisy” of his views; but surely it would not satisfy those “progressive” critics of Craig’s who talk like this is the main problem. So more than “hypocrisy” must be at issue.

Indeed, consistent practice can yield all kinds of nasty outcomes (all the nastier, sometimes, for its consistency). All manner and degree of horrible acts can be perpetrated by persons whose words are perfectly in step with their behavior. In such cases, the absence of “hypocrisy” does not temper our criticism of the crime. (Hitler—at risk of taking the cheap shot—would still be a sonuvabitch if he’d said he loved the Jews and was acting for their good.)

(3) Just as evil does not become less interesting when you subtract the hypocrisy, good or neutral behaviors do not become interesting just because someone performs them hypocritically. Consider, for a thought experiment: I could make statements that checkers are too dull to be worth the playing, yet pursue the game on the sly. Maybe I’m even a Senator and my previous statements on checkers have been published in a light-hearted article about how I pass time on the campaign bus. In itself, this “hypocrisy” is hardly worth noting. It is certainly not newsworthy.

But mine is the same “hypocrisy” as Craig’s! They both deserve condemnation, or neither. That the Senator’s “hypocrisy” is about a much more serious issue than checkers does not change this; for the issue is one thing, the hypocrisy about it, another. (To say that expressing a bad idea hypocritically makes the hypocrisy bad is like saying that expressing a bad idea in metaphor, or English, or by megaphone makes the metaphor, the English, or the megaphone bad.)

(4) This is compounded by the fact that all wrong acts (when committed by sane persons) are on some level hypocritical. This is true by definition: It would be impossible to morally criticize a person—to hold him responsible for his behavior—if we did not believe that the actor knew what he was doing was wrong. We could lament the behavior, regret that it happened, even educate the person to avoid the conduct in the future; but we could not hold him responsible. (This also works in reverse: In some cases we stop holding a person responsible after it is determined that they were, after all, insane, sleepwalking, or on a bad Ambien trip.) So the revelation that some misconduct is “hypocritical” is all the less interesting to the extent that every misconduct is (already) hypocritical.

* * *

To sum up so far: Craig may be a genuine hypocrite—He could, for all we know, think homosexuality is just fine after all. And this hypocrisy may be a bad thing. But, point being, it it isn’t clear that it is all that interesting a thing—certainly not in relation to the man or his wider “corpus” of bad works. In short, Larry Craig’s views on homosexuality are interesting not because they may conflict with some of his private behaviors, but because the views are fucked up dead wrong.

* * *

But while hypocrisy is pretty uninteresting, charges of hypocrisy like the ones launched against Larry Craig are interesting for what they say about the state of ethical discourse in our culture. Such charges reflect the [classical] liberal ethos which identifies “the individual” as the ultimate source of value. This individualism further unpacks into the idea that a person is doing well to the extent that he is free—that is, undetermined by any source external to himself; and the equation of this freedom with free choice. The liberal idea of “the good life” means freely choosing values for oneself and acting in accord with these.

Under this ethical framework, the only genuine moral transgression possible for the “choosing individual” is inconsistency. The idea is captured in the criticism that some person has failed to “be true to himself” or, in a hipper vein, to “be real.” [Without exception, every “house” reality show has a dramatic thread wherein one contestant sustains a campaign to discredit another as being “not real.”] Calling Craig a “hypocrite” is just another criticism of this basic type. Each example accuses an individual of failure to consistently live out the values he has chosen for himself.

To the extent we cast ethical questions as matters of consistency, moral discourse becomes corrupted—confused and limited in scope. Again, a person could “be real about” or “true to”—that is, consistently maintain—all sorts of reprehensible values and opinions. If we can only, or mostly, criticize “bad behavior” in light of how it may conflict with someone’s chosen values (e.g., as embodied in their statements), the vast scope of human behaviors will escape our moral lens.

[Note: Not that I believe many “liberals” would consciously assent to the view that their morality is limited in this way. But this is just to say that they do not consistently hold to their values. (Indeed, they can’t be consistently held.) But just as one needn’t know that her views reflect, say, racism, provincialism, or ignorance to be racist, provincial, or ignorant, one needn’t know her views imply a corrupted moral framework for them to actually do so.]

Given the liberal framework, those human behaviors that don’t “escape our moral lens” can only be critiqued on a rudimentary, insubstantial level. One illustration is the lover’s reproof that “It isn’t that you cheated on me, but that you lied to me about it.” (A lie being action inconsistent with what the actor says he wants, or values.) “You should have just told me you wanted to see other people.” Of course, in the typical case, the one making this statement would not take in casual stride a revelation that a long-time, committed lover around whom the cheated has organized her life would suddenly prefer to date outside the couple. But a climate of liberal values renders the weak charge of inconsistency the most ready-to-hand type of criticism. This moral reductionism prevents the full character of the transgression from ever being articulated: The culprit is left uneducated as to his real fault, “free” to commit the crime again, next time only “consistently.” (Conversely, the accuser is let off the hook, allowed to cast stones, perhaps unfairly, without doing the real work of building a strong case against the target.)

A liberal moral climate cuts the other way, too: For instance, to the extent that Pres. Bush gets great moral purchase from touting his “steadfastness”—again, his consistency—alone, he doesn’t really have to articulate those (alleged) initial values to which he is being steadfast. The issue becomes only whether he stays “true to” or wavers from some values, whatever these might be. (Of course, if the values are bad ones, we might much prefer a leader who waffles on them over one who consistently applies them. At least the former will be right about half the time.)