Tag Archives: gay rights

Jaw, Jaw

Winston Churchill once said that jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

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He’s famous for leading Britain in the world’s most recent global war, among other things, and his comment came in 1954, after he had written his history of World War II, but presumably it recognizes the superiority of talking to physical fighting. More recently, the Dalai Lama, speaking of his nation’s occupation by the Chinese, expressed the idea that dialogue is the only way to solve human problems.

At_the_Unsung_Heroes_of_Compassion_event,_San_Francisco

Not that dialogue has done anything to free Tibet, but he’s sticking to his verbal guns.

These statements do raise the question of whether discussion solves any problem. How often have we heard people insisting that we just need dialogue, that we just need to listen to each other? And yet, anyone who’s been in an argument with a family member or followed politics or engaged in a conversation on Twitter should know that talking so often doesn’t reach agreement or cooperation on matters that people hold deeply.

As regular readers of my weblogs know, I support both gun rights and gay rights. I also accept the science of evolution and climate change. These things make for some interesting discussions on Twitter in which I find myself supported by my fellow Twitterati on one subject, while being vehemently opposed by the same people in other areas. It’s fascinating to watch someone make what looks like a good argument one day, then turn around and make a sloppy one the next.

Of course, it’s harder to spot the logical and factual errors on a position we support, since we tend to be much less critical of ourselves and our allies, and when given the choice to go after errors, it’s more comfortable to attack an opponent, rather than a supporter. But of greater concern is the fact that so many people develop a conviction about a topic and then become impervious to facts and logic.

What are we to do about this? One answer that I’ve addressed before is a slow but steady solution: education. The more ideas and information people are exposed to, the more open–it is to be hoped–they are to considering a variety of positions in a logical manner. Note that this comes from what we call a liberal arts education. The liberal arts are aimed at teaching the skills and knowledge a person needs to be a free person, rather than focusing on some specific requirement for a particular job.

But as I said, education is a slow process, and even educated people get caught up in the passion of belief. This leaves us with the question of why we should bother to debate ideas at all. I offer three answers:

1. Not everyone is decided on every subject

We must remember that for every infuriating true believer out there, many more people will be undecided on the subject. Make a good argument, don’t take crap tossed at you, and trust to the potential goodness in all of us.

2. Support freedom of choice

These debates remain theoretical and intellectually interesting so long as we don’t rush off to pass laws. This is the reason that I call myself an eleutherian. Whenever possible, and it’s possible much more often than we’d like to believe, leave people free to act on their own beliefs while we act on our own.

3. Consider the argument being made

That means keeping this open:

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and engaging this:

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Those, naturally, are the hardest part.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.

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Freedom!

Two reports from NPR caught my attention this year. We are told that 2013 was both the gayest year ever and the year that gun control freaks lost big.

With that in mind, I post the logo of the Pink Pistols:

Pinkpistols

As a straight man, that image and motto please me no end. I talk about gun rights and gay rights a good deal on this weblog. That’s because I favor the freedom of the individual.

Another beautiful result of this year is that marijuana is becoming more and more legal in this country and elsewhere.

508px-Cannabissativadior

While I’m pessimistic by nature, these victories of freedom give me hope. We’re learning more and more that letting people make their own choices is fundamentally a good idea. If those choices harm innocents, we have laws to deal with that, but otherwise, the wisdom of a free society is that when people are making decisions on their own, they come up with solutions to problems that a rigid society can’t produce.

Next year promises to be an opportunity for new victories for freedom. But as we’ve seen in places like Egypt, people must keep the pressure on governments to do the right thing, to defend the freedom of us all. Take heart, and stand up.

If It Quacks Like a Duck…

The news reports that Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, has been suspended from his A&E program indefinitely for comments he made regarding homosexuality. Now I can remember when A&E was more arts than entertainment, and I only became aware of the program in question when I figured out that the pictures I was seeing in stores were not of ZZ Top.

Duck_Dynasty_Promo

But let’s consider this matter in detail. This is what Robertson said to GQ Magazine:

It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine. . . . Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

In other words, he takes a point of view held by many in this country. It’s a position that I disagree with, as I’ve said many times before. At the same time, I support his right to express his beliefs.

Some have said about this incident that Robertson still gets to say what he pleases. He just won’t be appearing on a corporation’s television show. This raises the question of how corporate image is affecting our understanding of free speech.

There’s a concept here that we need to understand. It comes from statements of the pope that are taken to be infallible. Those are called ex cathedra, or from the chair. (A cathedral is the seat of a bishop, by the way.) The idea here is that the pope is speaking as the pope, not as an ordinary human being. If Francis I, for example, looks at the sky and says that it’s going to rain, that’s not infallible. If he declares in an official statement that rain is the gift of God, that will be taken by Catholics as the way it is. (Sort of…)

The same notion should be applied to other famous people. In fact, it should apply to us all. As regular readers of this weblog know, I teach composition and literature at a college. I don’t name that institution here because I’m not speaking as its representative. My views expressed here are solely my own. What I say in these articles should be taken as my private expression, not something that I’m saying as a part of my job.

If Robertson had said what I quoted above on the A&E show, that network would have some claim to making an objection. Or perhaps there should be the standard disclaimer at the start, telling viewers that the opinions expressed here are not the network’s, so don’t sue us. But when he speaks to a separate magazine, he should be seen as speaking for himself.

I realize that this requires some sophistication of thought. Peter Jackson once told Charlie Rose in an interview that the reason he didn’t select someone like Tom Cruise to play Aragorn was that he didn’t want the audience to see Tom Cruise instead of the character. And that’s a problem with a lot of people. But the actor is not the character. That’s true of scripted fiction, and it’s true of “reality” T.V.

Besides, what was the network expecting? A duck hunter from New York City? (New York City?)

Have Your Cake and Speak It, Too

There’s a case out of Colorado that has the left and the right of our political spectrum in a stew. A bakery near Denver, one Masterpiece Cakeshop, refuses to sell wedding cakes to gay couples. Administrative law judge Robert Spencer says that the business will be fined if it continues this policy.

Royal_Wedding_Cake

Regular readers of this weblog know that I am a supporter of equal rights for all, straight, gay, or in between. I see it as necessary for our society to give official recognition to the marriages of gay or lesbian couples. But there is more here that just one set of rights.

The owner of the bakery believes that gay marriage is wrong. He sees it as going against his Christian beliefs. So be it, and I don’t feel qualified to comment on that. But he is in a creative business. His cakes are his speech, in the same way that a musical composition, a photograph, or a sculpture is speech, as we understand the concept today. To require him to bake a cake in celebration of something he disapproves of is to force speech.

If Masterpiece Cakeshop sold oil changes, there would be no question here. It should change the oil of anyone who can afford that service. If the bakery sells pre-made cakes, those should be offered to anyone who has the money. But if the business is using the creative skill of its employees to make products to suit its customers, it has to be free to do that in whatever manner those creators see as right. When the business and the customer can’t come to an agreement in that situation, the two must be free to part company and seek others.

Scout’s Honor

The Boy Scouts of America are today (23 May 2013) in the process of deciding whether to make a fundamental shift in who is allowed to be a member.

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The Scout Oath is as follows:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

And therein lies my three objections about the Boy Scouts.

For one, gays need not apply. The phrase, morally straight, doesn’t have to mean that gay scouts are out (so to speak), but that’s how it’s often interpreted. Today’s vote is on whether to change that particular prohibition. Of course, I do have to wonder why the sexual orientation of a scout is ever in question. These are minors. I would expect the organization to teach abstinence until adulthood, anyway. I would also expect that the adults in the program would work under a strict hands-off policy, but as we learned recently, the Catholic Church has nothing on the Boy Scouts of America when it comes to sexual abuse. A sensible policy would be that people involved in scouting should save sex for committed relationships, but perhaps that’s too open-minded for them.

The Scout Oath also declares a duty to God. Which God isn’t specified, but when that word is capitalized, the implication is the monotheistic deity of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, it seems that polytheists can find a place in the organization. Atheists are free to form their own group, though.

Of bigger concern, one not often raised, is this notion of “duty to my country….” Scouting does have close ties to the military. The Boy Scout Law gives some idea of the level of conformity involved here:

A Scout is:

Trustworthy,
Loyal,
Helpful,
Friendly,
Courteous,
Kind,
Obedient,
Cheerful,
Thrifty,
Brave,
Clean,
and Reverent.

My preference is for grumpy and messy, but clean children are certainly less offensive. But that bit about obedient is what worries me. According to the U.S. Scouting Service Project, “A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobeying them.” A good many Syrians today would have trouble following that law, and the same can be said for our revolutionary ancestors in this country. The same also could be said for the civil rights protestors of the 60s or for anyone who employs any method of resistance against unjust laws.

But it is fair to ask why this is any of my concern, since I am not and never was involved in said organization. What makes it my business is the amount of public assistance that goes into supporting scouting. If the Boy Scouts of America are willing to be entirely independent from all public aid, whether that means money or just special treatment that another similar organization doesn’t get, then they should be free to make their own decisions about all of the above subjects (and more, since I didn’t mention women and girls). In the same line of thinking, though, I must be free to decide how much, if any, I wish to support them.

God, guns, and gays

I’ve written many times before on the question of gun rights and gay rights. Sometimes, I’ve even put the two together. Today, since both subjects are drawing the attention of America, I’m joining them to show the common thread.

As I’ve said many times, if you’re not hurting me (or an innocent person), do as you will. The Wiccans use that saying as the basis of their ethics, and it’s a good summary of the libertarian philosophy. It is also at the heart of the American way of doing things.

At the same time, Americans have a Puritan strain running through our collective consciousness. Recall H. L. Mencken’s line about Puritanism–the haunting belief that somewhere, someone is having a good time. It’s the reason that our missionaries wandered the globe making women wear woolen dresses in the tropics. It’s the reason that we forced a change of governments in Iran in 1953 and in Chile twenty years later. It’s tied up in the reason that we removed Saddam Hussein from power. In all of those, we had the belief that people were doing things in a way that we didn’t approve.

In our nation and in any society, there will always be a tension between the individual and the group. It’s been my observation, both as a student of history and by keeping my eyes open, that while individuals screw up from time to time, to make a royal mess of things requires the idiocy of crowds. That being said, I generally favor regulation to increase in direct proportion with size. Individuals deserve wide liberties, while groups often need to be restrained.

At the same time, I recognize that actions do have consequences and those consequences at times demand a response from the rest of us. When that’s the case, we have to balance the harm that could be done against the rights that we all should value.

Consider, then, the two issues that I named above. Take gay marriage first. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal considers the evidence of harms and benefits. The conclusion given, based on a review of the literature, is that there is evidence toward looser unions when same-sex couples are allowed to marry, and those same-sex couples have a lower concern about monogamy. That being said, children raised in same-sex couple households do as well as children in other relationships, and the time a relationship lasts and the number of partners tolerated in a relationship reflects overall changes in society in general.

What about guns? About 30,000 persons die in a given year from gun fire, and a couple hundred thousand are injured. The majority of deaths are suicides. Accidental deaths come in around 600. Contrast that with the number of defensive gun uses in the same period–in other words, cases in which someone uses a firearm to defend against a lethal threat–run anywhere between 108,000 and 2.5 million, depending on which study you accept. We also see that over the course of the last two decades, as gun laws have loosened and more states have allowed citizens to carry guns, the rate of violent crime has dropped. While cause and effect are hard to link, the evidence does show that more guns in more hands doesn’t result in more violence.

In other words, both gay marriage and gun ownership and carry have a mixed bag of results for society. This is where I have to fight against that Puritan yearning that so pervades American thinking. It is not the job of society to sweep in and right every wrong. A world in which no wrongs can occur is a soulless existence. Human beings are born with the power to choose, and that includes choosing right or wrong. It also includes a vast territory of grey, even presuming that our understanding of the two opposites is as good as we wish to believe.

I come back to my original idea. The fundamental principle of a society must be that each member is entitled to as much liberty as can be. The limits of liberty are defined by what would destroy the society or harm its members unduly. I realize that these terms are vague. To introduce clarity, look at the data that I cited above. Despite the mixed results, we see no evidence that either freedom will destroy us all. In fact, on balance, both freedoms create more good than harm. That being the case, I ask here a question that I often raise when the subject of control vs. freedom comes up:

Give me a reason to support control that does not depend on the theology regarding your favorite deity.

That means, obviously, the Christian God, but it just as well applies to pronouncements from social theorists in the absence of proof. Yes, the Bible in a literal reading is against homosexuality. Yes, a number of political philosophies are against private citizens having firearms. But America, a Constitutionally defined secular and agnostic nation, cannot base its laws on theology. Understand that by secular, I mean the law must be independent of any reference to an outside power, and by agnostic, I mean that without evidence and in the presence of speculation, the law must admit to not knowing.

We in this country have made the extraordinary choice to build our law on that principle. It was a good choice, both in terms of utility for the individual and the society as a whole. It was the correct choice if we believe that we all are born with rights. It is a choice that each generation has to make again and defend again.

Marriage Equality

I’ve written on the subject of gay marriage before, but with two cases being in front of the Supreme Court today and tomorrow, I have a question to those who oppose equal marriage rights:

How would the marriage of a same-sex couple affect your decision or ability to be married?

I have never heard an answer to that question, not even one that makes no sense. The talk is about defending the institution of marriage. Fine, where’s the threat to marriage?

I’m Libertarian, except when I have to go Green. This means that as long as you’re not hurting me, you should be free to do as you wish. I’ve never seen an explanation of how same-sex marriage harms me. I am not harmed when someone else does things in a way that I don’t do them. I am not harmed when someone else believes something that is different from my beliefs. To me, it’s that simple.