Thursday, July 10, 2003
I am on record as supporting some kind of civil unions legislation exclusive to gay couples to allow them to live lives with comparable social support to that offered married couples.
I am on record as supporting smicha (ordination) for gay rabbis, which puts me at the "left" wing of organized Judaism, and certainly the left wing of Conservative Judaism.
I am on record as saying that the closet is "a dark and lonely place" and that it is a matter of "basic mental health" for gay people to be out to themselves, and that I assume that once one is out to oneself one naturally would want to be out to close friends and family at a minimum.
I am on record as saying that "no one is born a Nazarite" and therefore it is unreasonable to say that some people, who constitutionally cannot be happily intimate with someone of the opposite sex, but could be with someone like-minded of the same sex, must be condemned to a life of celibacy for the sake of social cohesion. There has to be a better way, and I believe I can (and have) articulated at least a rough draft of what that better way is.
Why, then am I about to defend this piece by John Derbyshire against this fisking by Andrew Sullivan?
Derbyshire goes out of his way to make it clear that he has no animus against gay people, no desire to see them suffer, no desire, even, to see them removed from positions of power and influence. He has made it clear that he thinks they can be marvelous teachers and preachers, better, in many cases, than their straight colleagues, and has no desire to see them hounded out of such positions. He believes, in his words, that God not only loves gay people but has a purpose for them - i.e. that He made them gay for a purpose, and not the purpose of providing straights with an object of ridicule. In the past he has made it clear that he doesn't care what gays do behind closed doors and he has declined to, for example, defend sodomy laws. I don't think he likes gay people much, but I suspect they don't like him much either. His enthusiasm for archaic terms of abuse for those with whom he disagrees I chalk up to his curmudgeonly nature and his obstinacy.
What Derbyshire objects to, quite clearly, is the notion of public homosexuality, the notion that it is important for gay people to be open and articulate about their sexual orientation, and the lifestyle that they lead as a consequence. This is what he considers dangerous and subversive, and he explains why.
Now, I happen to differ with him on this matter. I think it is possible to be openly gay and not subject your employer to obnoxious display, possible to be openly gay and not rampantly promiscuous, possible to be openly gay and raise healthy, strong, responsible children, even possible to be openly gay and not deny that there is a natural sexual order among humanity that needs to be protected and nurtured. The last may be a vain hope, but for the others I have plenty of examples of personal acquaintance to offer as evidence.
But our disagreement is not my point. His position is defensible. It is not equivalent to fear or hatred of gay people. As he himself says, "the problem is not homosexuals or homosexuality . . . [t]he problem is hedonism." More to the point, it is the logical position for any conservative to hold; it is someone in my position who has the difficult job of explaining how we could institutionalize a quite radical change without the dire consequences that Derb and his ilk predict.
Sullivan refuses to see the distinction, and he refuses because he has an interest, because of his own lifestyle choices, not merely in legal equality for people who are by nature homosexual but in a radical cultural libertarianism and sexual antinomianism. He needs to conflate gay identity with the sexual revolution, and he needs to ignore or suppress evidence that he is doing that (for example, he ignores that one of the clerics in question is not celibate, as I believe he is bound to be by the dictates of his church, and that the man appears to have lied about this fact, both items that appear in the article by Derbyshire that Sullivan subjects to his fisking).
If Sullivan would come out of the closet as such an antinomian libertarian, and simply say there is no such thing as sexual morality, only sexual responsibility; if he would simply say that man has no destiny, that marriage, children, and so forth are nothing more than choices, with costs and benefits, and we should all spend our lives figuring out what choices suit us and, if our preferences change, make new choices to the extent we can afford them; if he would simply say that the problem is not that gays cannot marry but that straights can, that some relationships get state approval and others don't; then I would say at least that he has the courage of his convictions. He could join Peter Singer and Richard Posner and other apostles of preference-utilitarianism taken to its logical conclusion.
But he is not so honest. He brushes off claims that gay marriage will lead to legalized polyamory by saying that gay people don't want the right to marry anybody, they want the right to marry somebody. How is this an argument? Fine, that's what gay people want. Polyamorists do want the right to marry anybody. Why should they be denied it? What is magic about the number 2? He vigorously attacks those who conflate homosexuality with pedophilia, and as vigorously attacks those who claim that the Church scandals have anything to do with homosexuality because the incidents involved minors, and hence constitute pedophilia. Well and good. What is his argument against those who would lower the age of consent? In many states, a girl can marry before she is 18. What does he think should be the age of consent for boys? If a 14 year-old girl can marry in Louisiana, why is it wrong for a 50 year-old priest to have consensual sex with a 14-year-old boy? Because the law forbids it? The law in Texas forbid homosexual acts of any kind until a few weeks ago!
So far as I can tell, the only reason Sullivan thinks that his antinomian exertions will be limited in effect to his own cause is that he only wants x, y and z, and what other people want, what the logical consequences of his arguments are, is of no effect.
Sullivan would like to be called a conservative. If that is the case, then John Derbyshire is part of his ideological family. How does one argue with family whom one thinks is badly mistaken? Thankfully, we have an example of how to do it. One John Derbyshire recently wrote a piece in the American Conservative reviewing Kevin MacDonald's Culture of Critique, a broadside socio-biological attack on the position of Jews in gentile societies. I don't know whether MacDonald specifically deserved the kind treatment he receives at Derb's hands, but I can say this: Derbyshire provides, in this piece, a model for how to handle someone with whom one is, to some extent, ideologically allied but whom one thinks is badly mistaken, and mistaken because of animus. Compare that effort to persuade with Sullivan's effort to write Derbyshire out of the family.
A few words, finally, about the crux of Sullivan's analogy of Derbism to anti-Semitism. Compare the following statements:
- Individually, gays may be lovely people, and their presence among us is a blessing in many ways. But because of their lifestyle, they seem to find it necessary to agitate against any public affirmation of sexual morality of any kind. Rather, they incline, overwhelmingly, toward the notion that it is discriminatory for the government or even private but officially non-sectarian organizations to condemn any sexual behavior that is not obviously and directly predatory. This is a real problem for those who are committed to the notion that gays should be allowed to be - nay, deserve to be - open about their lifestyle, and have full equality in our society, and it is their burden to explain how they will preserve the notion of sexual morality from being fatally undermined by their initiatives.
- Individually, Jews may be lovely people, and their presence among us is a blessing in many ways. But because of their religion, they seem to find it necessary to agitate against any public affirmation of Christianity of any kind. Rather, they incline, overwhelmingly, toward the notion that it is discriminatory for government or even private but officially non-sectarian organizations to be other than atheistic in their character. This is a real problem for those who are committed to the notion that Jews should be allowed to be - nay, deserve to be - open about their religion, and have full equality in our society, and it is their burden to explain how they will preserve the vaguely but unquestionably Christian character of our national identity from being undermined by their initiatives.
The former paragraph is not a perfect paraphrase of Derbyshire's central point, but I think it's pretty close to what his point is, and pretty consonant with his opinions. In any event, I think anyone would agree that the second paragraph is quite strictly parallel with the first. And I don't think it is anti-Semitic. It may not be the most trusting or friendly statement towards Jews, but it expresses no animus towards Jews or Judaism, no assumption of evil intent. It is a fair topic for discussion, for the problem is real and the only question is where the onus lies for solving it, on those who would seek change for the sake or justice or on those who profit by the existing order. Many Jewish conservatives have grappled with the question it raises - Irving Kristol and Elliot Abrams most notably.
I will revise my opinion of Andrew Sullivan's style of argument, and my opinion that he is not a conservative, when he approaches their level of honest introspection about the place of a minority in our culture.