Lipstick On A Pig

June 4, 2008

Surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away…

Filed under: Politics — Holy Mackerel @ 12:14 am

Continuing my thoughts about political framing; firstly, it’s simply false that the dominant frame through which people see politics is his mother/father frame – nor would it be a good thing if they did. But there’s a larger problem. Per Lakoff:

“In 1994, I dutifully read the ‘Contract with America’ and found myself unable to comprehend how conservative views formed a coherent set of political positions. What, I asked myself, did opposition to abortion have to do with the flat tax? What did the flat tax have to do with opposition to environmental regulations? What did defense of gun ownership have to do with tort reform? Or tort reform with opposition to affirmative action?… “

And so he set out to find what lay behind all these positions. Now, let’s set aside the fact that the Contract with America does not mention abortion, a flat tax, environmental regulation or affirmative action. The bigger problem for Lakoff is that there isn’t really anything linking those positions. There isn’t a single conservative ideology any more than there is a progressive one. It’s all a process of political bargaining, and political parties are coalitions. That’s why Keith Joseph and Edward Heath were both in the Conservative Party. That’s why Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee – who I don’t think have a single common belief – are both in the Republican Party.

Basically, there are thousands and thousands of different ideologies and frames. So they cluster together for mutual strength – so they can have one joint bank account, rather than a bunch of separate overdrafts. So Old Labour agree to go along with public sector reforms as long as the Blairites agree to go along with banning hunting – and so the Labour Party gets its manifesto sorted out. And in turn Old Labour is not one single ideology but many. And what glues these ideologies together is a search for political power – around the dinner table, these people don’t feel the need to stick together, but happily take different sides. And, in turn, this is why movements without a realistic chance of political power quickly become so splintered – witness, say, communists or libertarians. And it’s also why the degree of political coherence depends mightily on the political structure. In structures that favour a two-party system – such as Britain and America – you have a lot more ideological coherence than in (say) a system of proportional representation. If the Labour Party splits between Old and New Labour, both sides can kiss goodbye to power for the foreseeable future, and they know it – so they stick together. So we only get three serious election manifestos. But if we had PR we would get perhaps eight serious election manifestos, because the electoral costs of splitting would be much less – and then the parties would negotiate for power and policy after the election. But you’d still wind up with the government having one agreed programme – it’s just that it would be much clearer to the likes of Lakoff that that programme was the result of pragmatic compromise rather than a single vision.

And what’s more there’s nothing necessary about the way these clusters have formed – which is why in different countries the fault-lines between the major political parties look very different, and why within any given country, those fault-lines change over time.

I think most people realise this – that’s why you hear talk of politics having two axes, social liberalism/conservatism, and economic liberalism/conservatism. But I think even this is horribly simplistic. For example, am I a social liberal? I certainly take the principle of social liberalism – that people should be free to do what they like as long as it doesn’t directly harm anyone else. So I support drug legalisation, but I’m at best reluctant about abortion, because I think it does harm someone else – the baby. But my father was a social conservative – people who want to take drugs clearly don’t know their own best interests, and should be prevented by a paternal state. But he was absolutely pro-abortion, because in his view it was best that women should have control over their own reproductive processes. So there is no continuum between social liberalism and social conservatism, just a bunch of various issues and ideosyncratic systems of belief.

OK, so how do I explain the phenomena of linked ideas? By that I mean, how come environmental activists tend to favour gay marriage, not just for political convenience but as actual beliefs. I mean, is there really much of a link?

Well, my first response is that to point out the weasel word – “tend.” If it really were a matter of single overarching ideology you wouldn’t need that word. Secondly, while I accept there’s a definite association, a lot of that is social. If a movement starts with a small number of activists with a single coherent ideology, then new recruits will be under social pressure to accept a lot of the other views of that ideology. And if you spend a lot of time with other environmental activists, and you’re convinced that they’re right about the environment, well maybe they’re right about gay marriage too. On the other hand, where you have a movement with a very large base when it comes together, it will be a lot more heterogenous. So I imagine that Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty will be far more homogenous in views than the National Trust. In fact I don’t imagine it, I know it – that’s why, for example, the National Trust had such a furious debate about hunting.

Thirdly I’d point out that a lot of the supposedly “unlinked” views are in fact fundamentally linked, it’s just that the link is not necessarily visible at first glance. For example, if someone is in favour of laissez-faire economics, it’s a good bet the person will also favour tough punishments for crime. Where’s the connection, you might say? But dig deeper. We call those punishments “tough” not in absolute but in relative terms – better to say he prefers tougher punishments for crime. And the comparison is to the people who want to deal with the “causes of crime” through state intervention/subsidy/etc instead. But if you favour laissez-faire economics, we’ve essentially established that you don’t want massive government interventions all over the place, so we pretty much know that’s not going to be your policy, whether on crime or anything else. So as sentencing policy becomes your only option, you have to favour tougher punishments as your way to control crime. Note that the causation doesn’t work in reverse: you can’t build an argument from tougher punishments for criminals to laissez-faire economics. And that bears out what you see in practice – very few on the economic right favour “soft” punishments for criminals, but there are plenty on the economic left who favour “tough” punishments.

The final reason for these linked views is structure. For as long as I can remember, my most important political consideration has been the defence of property rights – it’s absolutely paramount to me. I’ve written about gay marriage and abortion and mental health rights and so on – well if I could have precisely my way on these, and all social issues, but in exchange I had to accept a 90% income tax, there’s no way I’d make that deal. In fact, I’d infinitely rather live in a repressive dictatorship with secure property rights, than a liberal democracy with collectivised property. Now maybe you don’t feel that strongly about any one issue, but there are almost certainly either bedrock principles or individual issues that drew you into politics. Maybe it was opposing the Iraq War, or shock after 9/11, or interest in the Maastricht Treaty, or support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, or whatever. But these initial interests will have shaped your ideas, your reading and your political development. Because one of the things that makes an issue political is that there are people on both sides of it – “paedophilia should be illegal” is not a political issue because no-one takes the “con” side. But exactly what we should do about convicted paedophiles is a political issue because there are opposing viewpoints.

So, you took up this political interest, and you found lots of people who disagreed with you, and present arguments to that effect. And, at least initially, you don’t have good counter-arguments to all of them, because you’ve only just come to this politics whereas a lot of the people you find disagreeing with you have been thinking about these issues all their lives. But the leaders of your movement provide you with ammunition, which helps, and gets you thinking more. And for most of us, we quickly realise that our initial position simply isn’t enough – that we need some kind of ideology around us.

What I mean by this is, let’s say you start out supporting the Iraq War because you think it will remake the Middle East into liberal democracy. Pretty quickly you’ll hear – well, why not intervene in Zimbabwe or what have you? Where’s the end? So you have to come up with a general doctrine for when intervention is justified and when it’s not – so maybe you end up responding “I support intervening in Zimbabwe too, as a matter of fact. But I don’t think I’m committing to endless war and imperialism because…” But then you’ll get asked – well, do you really think the money the Iraq War is worth it? Wouldn’t it be better spent on hospitals? And so on. And so gradually simply defending this initial position will require you to construct some kind of general ideology. People whose political thought doesn’t extend beyond one area are very rare.

Note: I am not saying that people whose political motivation doesn’t extend beyond one area are rare e.g. there are a fair number of people who will vote for whoever has the “best” environmental policy regardless of other issues. But almost all of those people also have plenty of thoughts on other issues – it’s just that the most important one for them is the enviroment. Single-issue thinkers are rare (but not non-existent) because as I think I’ve demonstrated, a satisfactory defense of one position inevitably means arguing about costs and benefits in lots of other political areas – the environmentalists I’ve mentioned are going to have to consider the economic effects of their policies, for example. About the only single-political-issue thinkers I’ve met have been on abortion – if you really do believe that abortion is absolutely murder, then stopping 200,000 murders a year in the UK is clearly way more important than any side-effects or what-have-you. But that doesn’t apply to most issues.

Anyway, so people find themselves obliged to build an ideology. But very few of us are able to build our ideologies from scratch – certainly I wasn’t smart enough. So we read or listen to other people, while being guided by that starting position. So, if your political awakening was opposing the Iraq War, you are more likely to go read Gore Vidal than Samuel Huntington. And so while you will likely personalise your ideology to some extent, its fundamental structure is likely to be largely borrowed from whatever ideologies you were lead to. And, lazy as human beings are, we don’t give a great deal of thought to all areas of politics, so our default positions on a large number of issues will be decided by that borrowed ideology. And so political positions are linked in that way too.


June 3, 2008

Mummy’s all right, Daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird

Filed under: Politics — Holy Mackerel @ 9:42 pm

My post a few days ago brought to my mind the popular idea that right-wing parties are somehow “Daddy” and left-wing partie are somehow “Mummy.” Basically, right-wing parties, like fathers, favour strict rules, keeping everyone in line, and protecting the family from external threats. Left-wing parties, like mothers, are all about caring-sharing-nurturing. And that these models basically explain politics – the Welfare State, deficit spending and the Labour Party is your mother, and tough on crime, monetarism and the Conservative Party are your father. And, for example, when David Cameron tries to align conservatism with conservation, he’s moving to the political centre by embracing “Mummy politics.”

The whole thing would be laughable if it weren’t so widely accepted. The guy who came up with this concept must have had a weird upbringing, that’s for sure. It only makes sense if you see your father as some kind of primitive hunter-gatherer and your mother as some kind of Gaia-like Earthmother – and if you do think like that, Freud beckons. Because if we look at traditional gender roles, the whole thing looks radically different.

Let’s picture a traditional family setup, mother, father, 2.4 children, with the father as the primary breadwinner, the mother looking after the house and kids, perhaps working part-time. Well, if the father wants to earn as much money as he can and the mother is responsible for balancing the family budget, then it certainly looks like the right is the mother and the left is the father. If the mother is responsible for the family’s traditions and continuity, whereas the father may like that they’re there but doesn’t do much to support them, then again the right is the mother and the left is the father. It’s said that wives make the small decisions and husbands make the big decisions – well then the pragmatic right is the mother and the idealistic left is the father.

And then there’s behaviour that’s completely up for grabs. If the mother, more closely involved with bringing up the children, wants to equip them to stand on their own two feet, whereas the father, more at a distance, gets more involved only when he sees a problem, then what does that mean? Is that Mummy’s right-wing self-reliance versus Daddy’s left-wing greater welfare state, or is that Mummy’s left-wing expansionist state versus Daddy’s right-wing small government? If the mother does the housework and the father changes lightbulbs and mows the lawn, what the hell does that mean?

More generally, the analogy breaks down because it’s stupid. Both mother and father want to provide for the family and pool their resources to do so. It’s not that the mother thinks looking after the children is more important than earning money, it’s just division of labour – both activities are vital. Whereas the Right really don’t like high taxes, and the Left really don’t like cuts to the welfare state. Mother + father = balance, everyone happy. Conservative Chancellor + Labour spending ministers = chaos, everyone unhappy. So if the mummy-daddy analogy is remotely sensible, your parents are headed for a divorce.

What’s more, of course, is that the analogy could only have been come up with by a left-winger like Lakoff. Because it contains the implicit assumption that the citizens are all mere children needing massive guidance from the state and helpless without it, whereas the government is the grown-ups. Which, obviously, is highly objectionable from a conservative perspective.

June 2, 2008

Eve Tushnet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Holy Mackerel @ 10:30 am

Is someone I try to read when I can. She wrote an irresistible demolition of gay marriage here (and 1 2 3 4 5) and fascinating (and very personal) thoughts on homosexuality here. There is no one quote that can sum it up but the totality of her arguments are overwhelming.

A good speech by Maggie Gallacher here. Money quote:

Two ideas are in conflict here: one is that children deserve mothers and fathers and that adults have an obligation to at least try to conduct their sexual lives to give children this important protection. That is the marriage idea. The other is that adult interests in sexual liberty are more important than “imposing” or preferring any one family form: all family forms must be treated identically by law if adults are to be free to make intimate choices. This is the core idea behind the drive for same-sex marriage. And it is the core idea that must be rejected if the marriage idea is to be sustained.

I post this stuff because I’m going to write some more about gay marriage soon. Be warned.

More on Dave Sim

Filed under: General — Holy Mackerel @ 9:12 am

It’s hard to deny he can be really really funny. This is from the same essay I garbled last time:

I believe, for the sake of appearances, [women] will allow themselves to be bullied into acknowledging that there is a distinction [between people and animals]:

“Uh, you do realize that your cat is just a cat. That a cat is a very low form of life.”

Yes, pushed to the wall and having to, you know, say it out loud, to a man, a woman will grudgingly admit that a human being is a human being and a cat is a cat. But she is certainly not going to he amenable to exploring the subject to any great depth.

“That is, you are aware that, no matter how much time and effort you devoted to doing so, you could never teach your cat to play even the simplest card game, like Hearts.”

That’s true. I know that little Snowball will never learn how to play Hearts.

Inside, I can practically guarantee you that what she will be thinking is: Well, so what? I know lots of people who have never learned how to play Hearts … I think it’s more important what’s inside a person than whether or not they can play cards.

Of course, this vignette is good as comedy, not quite so good as fundament for socio-political philosophy.


Filed under: General,Politics — Holy Mackerel @ 9:07 am

A comment on an article at Taki’s Magazine:-

The great obsession of liberals is radically free individualism. Unchosen obligations-to nation, God, family–get in the way of this concept. So too does the idea of inherited archetypes of good and bad behavior and obligations based on inherited and unchosen differences in nature, i.e., old/young, male/female, high born/low born. This is why liberals are atheists. This is why they’re feminists. This is why they love abortion. The thread is “liberating” human beings from the moral order.

And, I might add, it’s why they favour gay “marriage.”

Deeply, deeply insightful. I wondered a couple of days ago what the “Progressive” Left think they are progressing towards – well, this is the answer. The end-state is the total destruction of all moral reality, and it’s replacement with a fuzzy pantheism. Allow me to rewrite Dave Sim’s crazy ramblings into something I can get behind:

What is at issue, it seems to me, is the dichotomy which exists between the [Conservative] and [Liberal] interpretations of “out of the mouths of babes . . . ”

To a [conservative], this aphorism implies that “although children are unshaped and incomplete beings until they reach the age of their majority, it is an interesting naturally-occurring phenomenon that – apropos nothing and even in the earliest stages of verbal communication – a child will, on rare occasions, voice an observation which, in defiance of all rules of logic, is actually germane and relevant to an adjacent conversation taking place on a much higher plane of sentient communication.”

The [liberal] interpretation tends more in the direction of “. . . because children are, indeed, from Heaven and are pure and untainted and good and decent and true in all regards, full of pure love and joy and compassion and innocence, their utterances, likewise, are pure and untainted and good and decent and true in all regards and the sooner we can all set our hearts on a quest to find the purest and least minted and most decent six-year-old in the world and appoint him/her leader of the civilized world and do whatever he/she tells us to do without question, the sooner we will arrive at the utopia which is always just there over the rainbow.”

Put another way, I think the Prophet Isaiah’s well-known prognostication, “And a childe shall lead them . . . ” is one to warm the hearts of dim-bulb [liberal] everywhere and to chill the soul of every God-fearing [conservative].

Just to be clear, I have no time for Dave Sim, I think he’s a crazy misogynist. Although it’s interesting that I can write “conservative/right” and “liberal/left” for his “man” and “woman” and get a satisfactory result, to my mind at least. Does this mean I have weird issues conflating ideological preferences with gender? Well, maybe, but I’m not the only one. I’ll be writing about that in the future – the Mummy/Daddy hypothesis, I mean, not my own weird issues. At least not in the same piece.

June 1, 2008

Ring of Hell

Filed under: General,Politics — Holy Mackerel @ 7:45 am

Via the excellent Postmodern Conservative, I found Dylan Waco’s post on Matthew Randazzo V’s book Ring of Hell, about the very dark side of the wrestling industry. As a recovering wrestling fan (where’s Alchoholics Anonymous for me!) I found the whole thing equal parts fascinating and sickening. Let’s quote Dylan.

I want to briefly focus on a relatively minor charge dug up by Randazzo that would be considered scandalous in any other context. While discussing the ins and outs of the dojo training in Japan, Randazzo makes note that world renowned wrestling superstar Jushin Liger would often walk up to helpless trainees and punch them full tilt in the face for no reason. In a chapter where ritual sexual humiliation and outright murders are discussed this does not seem so bad, but lets think about this for a moment. The defense of Liger’s behavior has been something along the lines of “hey, wrestlers have to be toughened up and getting hit is part of their job”. While it is true that bumps in wrestling do hurt and often times wrestlers do absorb full contact strikes to the head, would this line of defense be considered seriously in any other business? I work in a restaurant, where burns are far more commonplace than are unprotected legitimate punches to the face in the choreographed “sport” of pro wrestling. Still if I had been purposely burned at random for months in order to “prepare me” for the inevitable dangers of the job I would have had sued the pants off of the place. In wresting if you complain, let alone sue or fight back, you are tossed out of the brotherhood forever. Just ask Jim Wilson. If you allow yourself to be punched in the ears until you are concussed and bleeding you become a superstar. Just ask Chris Benoit.

Many laymen are totally unaware of the economic realities of the wrestling business. Even most fans have literally no idea that wrestlers do not receive pensions or health insurance from their employers. They do no have a union or any other collective bargaining agency and the paranoid nature of most of the performers almost assures they never will. For the most part they pay their own travel expenses and are required to get themselves from place to place while keeping up with their hectic road schedules. When these details become known the most common response is “regulate it”, but would that help?

Regulations would likely have the same effect on the independent wrestling companies that they had on small artisans and farmers during the Progressive Era. In other words it would make them extinct. This would strengthen McMahon and the corporate class even more and would leave those concerned few who take the lives of pro wrestlers and their families seriously back at square one. In light of these facts Randazzo’s implied call for abolition hardly seems crazy.

The modern wrestling industry has no true parallel historically, but I like to compare it to Hassan I Sabbah and The Assassins. Vince McMahon is the “Old Man On The Mountain” himself guaranteeing glory, immortality and honor, but dispensing only copious amounts of drugs and loose women. His empire promotes placelessness, if not outright homelessness, in service of an undefined “greater good”. The Assassins were promised heaven. What the hell is McMahon really promising other than a place for long time marks to fulfill their fantasies by showing their creepy level of commitment to a business that leaves their bodies broken and homes shattered?

I have not read Randazzo’s book. But there are some things I’d point out.

Firstly, for a lot of people, being a wrestler is glamorous. Secondly, the top bracket of wrestlers do very well financially. Not just the Hulk Hogan/Rock superduperstars – guys on the level of Adam Copeland or Bret Hart make/made millions a year. This is still only a very small number of people, mind. But that’s the structure of so many entertainment industries – the guy taking bump in front of 20 people at a tiny local show is like the wannabe waiting tables in Los Angeles, hoping for his big break in the movies. The lure of the millions at the tiny top end, and the perceived glamour of the business, keeps enough people interested that Vince McMahon and Hollywood studios alike can get away with paying peanuts to replaceable talent. This is also (so I read) the structure of drug cartels, to which arguably wrestling bears equal resemblence, but the issue here is not that Vince McMahon is an evil cultist/drug pusher as Dylan writes, but the economics of the marketplace. It is a category error typical on the left to label individuals as evil/selfish/exploitative and blame their supposed moral failings for what are in fact the simple laws of supply and demand.

The other complaints Dylan makes in his piece are also simple matters of economics. Wrestling is popular, so it can get a national TV deal – that’s why when US cable TV became national, so did wrestling. That is not going to change for the convenience of wrestlers’ families. There is cruelty and violence in the workplace firstly because it is a way of reinforcing heirarchy, that one person is more “in” than another, and secondly because wrestling attracts people who enjoy violence. Dylan should not be baffled by Jushin Thunder Liger punching random trainees in the face. No doubt he does it because he likes punching people, and because it makes him feel important. The wrestling companies don’t mind because giving their wrestlers this non-financial compensation enables them to pay them less. The trainees very much do mind, I don’t doubt, but they are utterly replaceable and they know it. Getting randomly punched in the face is lowering their effective level of compensation but as long as there’s a huge queue of people who would jump at the opportunity to train with NJPW (and there is) it’s simply not an issue.

Finally (I promise!) banning wrestling would be hugely counter-productive. There are millions of extremely devoted wrestling fans and they want to watch – and often participate. Since 2001 this has – thank God – moved from jumping off each others’ houses to small independent cards. Remove those independent cards and we’ll return to backyard wrestling, which will become hugely popular once that’s the only place to get your wrestling fix, what with no WWE, TNA, etc. And that’s aside from the fact that a ban is hugely unrealistic and utterly unenforceable – you’ll be amazed how quickly all the pro wrestling companies become MMA companies!

Randazzo correctly notes that regulation would be counter-productive, but his conclusion – that the only thing to do is therefore ban it – is almost a parody of the modern left and it’s Something Must Be Done mentality. The least bad option is clearly that the government should do nothing, but where’s the fun in that for the Helen Lovejoys of this world? Besides, is it really only the dead hand of government that can clean up pro wrestling? The irony is that what is actually needed is exactly what Randazzo is doing – educating the public on the brutality, cruelty and downright evil of the wrestling industry. That way consumers can, if they so choose, bring the best kind of pressure on wrestling companies. If it is in the companies’ financial interests to clean up their act, you better believe they’ll do so.

I used to be a wrestling fan, I drifted away from it, and now I will absolutely not watch it since the Benoit incident. And I’m not the only one – WWE ratings have fallen markedly. In the same way that the consumer reaction to their (lack of) ethical standards forced the likes of Nike and Nestle to behave themselves, I have to hope that the consumer reaction to the Benoit incident will do likewise. I don’t want to wear shoes made by child labour, and I don’t want to watch a soap opera produced by barbarism and cruelty. And conservative that I am, I don’t think other people do either, and I trust the market to sort this out.


May 31, 2008


Filed under: Politics — Holy Mackerel @ 1:24 am

I’ve never liked people who say they’re small-c conservative. What does that even mean? To me, it’s an act of moral cowardice. It’s pretty obvious that Labour and the Lib Dems are not conservative in any way – in fact they’d like to describe themselves as “progressives.” Of course, what we are progressing towards (and why this is a good thing!) is never answered, but that is another matter. Perhaps David Cameron does not quite resemble William F. Buckley, “standing athwart history yelling Stop,” but he’s the nearest thing we’ve got. And so was Michael Howard. And so was William Hague. And so was John Major. And so was Margaret Thatcher. And so on. Whatever bones you may have to pick with the Conservative party’s policies at any moment in time, if you are a small-c conservative you are a big-C Conservative as night follows day follows night. There is nowhere else for you (or me) to go.

That said, there is a conservatism distinct from Conservatism, a richer range of views than merely the election manifesto. And it concerns me that, within conservatism, I may be falling distinctly into the reactionary tent. Maybe this is just a matter of personal vanity – I’m young! I should be hip with the libertarian wing not the old fogies! – but nevertheless it’s been gnawing at me. So indulge me.

In the Human Fertilisation and Embrology Bill, there was a great deal of discussion about the term limits for abortion. And it has been suggested that we may one day have the technology to keep babies alive from a very early age – e.g. the first trimester – which would negate the need for abortions. Women wanting an abortion would have a surgical procedure to have the baby removed, then it would be placed in an artificial womb and brought to term, then given up for adoption, foster parenting, etc. And the mother would presumably be required to pay child support. Hooray, the thorny moral issue of abortion has disappeared – we can respect the right to life and the right to choose!

But hang on!

If it’s legitimate to require the woman to carry the baby to the 13th week (say) and then pay for its subsequent medical care and upkeep, surely it’s legitimate to require the woman to carry the baby to the 26th week and then pay for its subsequent medical care and upkeep – at this stage, a baby is viable on an incubator given existing technology. And if it’s legitimate to require a woman to carry to 26 weeks then it’s legitimate to require her to carry to 38 weeks and give birth. So this thought experiment seems to draw me irresistibly to the view that the law should, at the least, drastically limit abortions.

But hang on!

I just posted my views against gay “marriage” and I’m even more strongly opposed to gay adoption. I’m not hugely serious about global warming – I mean, I think something should be done, but I’m petrified that the cure will be worse than the disease. I’m fairly pro-death penalty. I’m waaaaaay too pro-Israel for my brother’s liking. I’m against European integration. If you throw in anti-abortion too… I mean, it’s not looking good! What socially liberal positions will be left to me? Yeah drug liberalisation but everyone with a brain recognises that the current situation is broken. So am I turning into the most fossilied of paleoliths? Will I have to buy a tweed jacket and join the Monday Club?

Paleocons, rebrand thyselves. Otherwise, for the sake of my self-image, I’m going to have to start jettisonning conservative views willy-nilly. Be warned, unless things change my next post will be in favour of affirmative action for lesbian midgets.

Gay marriage

Filed under: Politics — Holy Mackerel @ 12:18 am

Frankly I think the strongest possible argument is “it’s always been this way.” But not everyone is a Burkean conservative – what if that argument holds no sway with you? Here are some more broadly-based arguments.

1. Seriousness. Would you get married on a dare, or as a practical joke? Would you, as a lark, try and break the world record for getting married and divorced the most times in a month? I’m guessing no. But OK, you just met a member of the opposite sex at a party and you are infatuated with each other. Would you get married that night? Why not? What about after two dates? I’m guessing still no, but why?

There are very strong cultural taboos against not taking marriage seriously. And they are strong social consequences for disrespecting those taboos. If I got married and divorced as a practical joke, for a start my mother would never forgive me. For a second pretty much everyone I know would think considerably less of me (if possible 🙂 ). I would probably lose friends over it. Thirdly any girl who I did plan on proposing to would be deeply, deeply unimpressed. So even if an individual doesn’t personally think marriage is particularly important, they are still inclined to take it seriously just to fit in with cultural conventions. No, there are no hard-and-fast rules as to exactly how long you should have known someone before you should get married or exactly how confident you need to be that it will last until death do you part, but that does not mean that the taboos are not present. And of course these lines are culturally determined, somewhat arbitrary, and subject to change.

Now suppose that these taboos were to weaken. Suppose it were a widespread practice to get married as soon as you started dating, not taking the long-term nature of marriage seriously at all. Suppose it were a widespread practice to treat the act of getting married as a joke. I’m not really talking about some huge absurd shift – I’m just saying suppose there were a group of people for whom the taboo of seriousness about marriage was fundamentally much weaker. By having many people going around having less serious marriages, it weakens the “seriousness” taboo within society at large. And so marriage becomes a less serious thing for everyone.

And I would suggest that the taboos around marriage are far, far weaker in the homosexual community than in the traditional community, for obvious reasons. Perhaps if gays had always been allowed to get married then the taboos there would be equally strong (although I doubt it, and anyway we have no way of knowing). But the fact is we are where we are in 2008.

The first time I made this argument people said I was being far-fetched. But then I pointed out that this has already happened – with the liberalisation of divorce laws. When divorce laws were liberalised, divorce was thought of as a shocking, shameful thing, that no-one would undergo except in extremes – the reforms were intended to solve the sufferings of a very small percentage of married couples. But by liberalising divorce for those people, it weakened the taboo on divorce for the next group, and so on, and so the taboo on divorce has been hugely weakened, as has the “seriousness” taboo on marriage. Many, many people get married today thinking “Well, if things don’t work out we can get divorced.” This was unthinkable for my grandparents’ generation. Now you may well say that on balance the gains outweigh the losses with respect to divorce liberalisation, and I might well agree. But those losses are very real.

There are no (or trivial) comparable social gains to legalising gay marriage. The pro-argument rests simply on “equality.”

2. Children. A stable, traditional marriage is the best environment for bringing up a child. Yes, some marriages would be bad circumstances for a child and no, not all married couples want children. I do not say that all marriages should have children. I do say though that all children should, as far as possible, be brought up in a stable, loving marriage of one man and one woman. Yes yes I know not everyone agrees on that but that’s another 4864-post thread. Government sanction of a form of marriage which by it’s nature is incapable of childbirth undermines that necessary connection.

3. Encouragement versus toleration. I fully support toleration of homosexuality. But there is a huge difference between toleration and encouragement. For the government to call homosexual relationships “marriage” is to give them an official imprimatur and set them up as equal to traditional marriage. I see no reason whatsoever for the government to endorse homosexuality in this way. Now you may say that for the government to persist in recognising traditional marriage then becomes an endorsement of heterosexuality. And that may possibly be true, but I have no problem at all with that. Minority views and practices should certainly be tolerated (within reason) but society and state is quite at liberty to view them as, essentially, misguided and worthy of discouragement.

4. Social structure. One of the things that makes societies functional is their mixed nature. By that I do not mean that a good society necessarily has lots of different races or religions or whatever. Rather, I mean that if there are lots of different races and religions and so on, it is important that they not be ghettoised. Communities insulated from one another do not understand one another and soon come to regard each other with suspicion and even fear. Regrettably, we sometimes see this with race relations. Fortunately, one of the reasons that sexism has never been as problematic as racism is that, by the nature of our social structure, our genders are very mixed. The powerful rich white man (who the left like to blame for everything) had a wife and daughters, who he wanted the best for. He saw the problems his daughter might have being excluded from a university or being trapped in an abusive marriage or whatever, and he wanted to help her. He listened to his wife talk about politics and thought that she was no more ignorant than his male friends – why then should she be denied the vote? And so on. Whatever inequalities between the sexes may once have existed have tumbled down, not by government imposition or judicial fiat, but willingly, because of the natural community of interest and shared experience of the sexes. This of course has not happened to nearly the same extent with race, because the mythical powerful rich white man had no black friends, relatives or neighbours. He did not meet black people, except perhaps as servants.

Homosexual men do not have wives and daughters, nor do homosexual women have husbands and sons. Legitimising this “gay marriage” is legitimising a balkanisation on gender lines that can only be harmful.

5. Tradition. I am aware that many do not appear to set much stock in tradition per se. But while many different forms of marriage have taken place in different historical societies – polygamous, polyandrous, “celestial marriage,” platonic marriage, etc etc etc – not one society had ever seen fit to recognise homosexual marriage. And so I would respectfully submit that the claims that this is about equality should be treated in that light. “I hereby claim this as my fundamental and ancient right, which no-one, especially myself, had ever asserted as a right before, in the entirety of human history.”

6. “Equality.” More specifically on equality – gay people have, and always had, the absolute right to get married, should they find a partner of the opposite sex willing to marry them. This right is identical to the heterosexual person’s right to get married. The problem, from the gay person’s perspective, is that they don’t value that right, they want a different right – the right to marry someone of the same gender. But we don’t get all the rights we want. We do not have a right that we should take equal benefit in our rights – that would be absurd. All rights benefit some classes of people more than others – for example, property rights benefit people who own lots or property a lot more than they benefit beggars. But that doesn’t (necessarily) make property rights unfair.

So gay people already have equality before the law. Ah yes, say the gay marriage activists, but we have it in form but not in substance. “The real right is to marry the person you love, which you are needlessly constricting.” Oh really? What if you want to be a polygamist? What if you want to marry your sister? And so on. So they retreat again. “What we want is equality for our relationships. Aren’t our relationships equal in worth?”

This is a bridge too far for me. While we accept that, as a matter of fact, people are not equal (they are tall, short, lazy, hard-working, clever, stupid, opinionated, callous, etc), we abstract to an essential humanity, and an equality before the law. But there is no essential “relationshippity” behind a relationship, and relationships are every bit as unequal as people are. My parents were happily married for over 25 years, I don’t give that relationship equal worth with Britney Spears’s 55-hour wedding. Is a gay relationship is “equal in worth” to a normal one? At the very least, no evidence is presented to make the case. I’ve heard it said that whom you love is an essential part of your being. But in fact, considering that whom you love can change over your life, perhaps repeatedly and rapidly, it seems a particularly non-essential part of your being. In addition (and this is what my comment was getting at) we can love lots of people, and not in a sexual way. Friends, family, etc. But if I have a very dear friend I assume you don’t think the government should recognise him/her as a family member. So if I have long-term sex with someone why does that entitle me to make them my spouse? What you seem to be doing is reducing the complex web of human relationships, purely to sex. Which I think is ultimately at the heart of the pro-“gay marriage” position. Some people like to f— people of their own gender, some people like to f—- people of the other gender, and f—ing is the only thing that matters in the world.

But it goes further – because if you do feel like that, then no-one can force you to feel differently. In fact, if you want to call yourself “married” to your gay partner, go right ahead, the government won’t stop you. But this isn’t enough for the gay marriage advocates, because they know full well that lots of people in society at large won’t accept that as a proper marriage. So they want the government to force universal acceptance of their lifestyle. This social engineering is the fundamental driving force behind the pro-gay marriage position, and social engineering is not the job of government.

I know full well that posting this makes me a bigot in many people’s eyes. Oh well. Here’s to reasoned debate.

May 30, 2008

A great speech

Filed under: General — Holy Mackerel @ 11:44 pm

A favourite of mine.

April 24, 2008

More about Mental Health

Filed under: Mental Health — Holy Mackerel @ 8:39 pm

The typical response to comments such as my previous is that the mentally ill suffer a lot and we must do something to help them. Well, sure. But how does locking them up help? Either mental illness is a disease or it isn’t. If it isn’t a disease then unwelcome behaviour* should be dealt with through the courts not physicians and our current system is abhorrent. But if it is a disease then involuntary commitment is twice as bad because having a disease is not a reason for someone to be deprived of liberty. We don’t lock you up because you have polio.

And what’s more diagnosis of mental illness is imprecise at best. Co-morbidity is the rule and not the exception. For any given patient diagnosed with schizophrenia (the classic psychiatric condition and the one for which patients are most often committed involuntarily), one-third of psychiatrists would come to a different diagnosis. So not only is the basis for incarceration improper, but the evidence for that (unsound) basis is unreliable.

The solution is a very simple one – that all treatment should be voluntary. This is the principle that underlies all medicine, and there is no reason that mental health should be an exception.

* Some mentally ill people can be violent, for example. But we already have laws against assault, etc.

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