Wednesday, August 14, 2019
We the Few Who Never Accepted the Sexual Revolution: Treading the Line Between a Conservative Sexual Ethic and Hating Homosexuals (Part II)
The second point is that if one is going to defend a conservative sexual ethic, there needs to be a clearly thought out theory and set of principles as to what is to be accomplished. Without that, we are left with the fear that some "Puritan" in the sky will burn people in Hell simply for enjoying themselves. So, when I talk about a conservative sexual ethic I primarily mean rejecting the notion of being true to oneself and that love has any ultimate importance as the means by which one finds this self.
I see people as individuals with rights and outside of any a priori claims from social groups. This is the source of rights in the sense that the needs of the individual trumps that of the "public good." That being said, while humans may have some kind of metaphysical soul, I do not accept that humans have some kind of essential characteristic unique to themselves that they must discover and be true to. Such talk is an attempt to distract from the view of man as a rational being. Reason is the one true inheritance of all people as it is the only part of your mind truly accessible to others. It is to the extent that I believe that you are a rational being that I can offer you a social contract and recognize that you have rights. Anything less and we are stuck in Hobbesian Warfare and I have no choice but to kill you as I would a rabid dog.
Even if you had some true nature, it is hardly obvious that there is anything virtuous or merit worthy about it. On the contrary, it should be rejected as the inner savage that, if not chained by civilization, will lead us to destruction. This is quite the opposite of what we are taught by modern entertainment. We are so regularly told to be true to ourselves that unless we have access to some alternative value system (through exposure to some combination of an intellectually serious traditional religion and lots of classic literature) we are unable to question it.
This Romantic notion of the self becomes particularly toxic when that self is assumed to be sexual. Humans may desire sex, but sex is not what defines us as rational beings and plays no inherent role in granting dignity and legitimacy to our lives. This does not mean that sexuality is evil and I am personally quite fond of love as a literary concept. That being said, sexuality can be granted no special sanction for the individual. Clearly, food is more important for daily human thriving and happiness than sex. If Judaism is justified in placing taboos on food, such as pig, then Judaism can place a taboo on gay sex. The fact that far more people have committed suicide over sex than over food says nothing about the importance of sex beyond that it tends to bring out the pathological in people.
While there can be people who desire gay sex, there cannot be a meaningful category of homosexuals in the sense that restrictions on gay sex can be seen as a denial of their personhood. A gay person born into an Orthodox community would have no better grounds to complain than an Orthodox pig lover. Both should be treated with charity and it should be recognized that they both may not be a good fit for an Orthodox lifestyle and may be better off leaving. They have done nothing wrong; it is Orthodoxy that lacks the resources to handle them. Those who choose to stay should be acknowledged as heroes. That being said, neither group can claim that their being has been denied to them since neither of them are sexual or food beings but rational beings.
It should be acknowledged that the gay rights movement is a product of Romanticism's reinterpretation of human nature that culminated in the Sexual Revolution. More than society becoming more tolerant about pre-marital sex in the face of growing numbers of women entering college possessing the pill and intent on delaying marriage, the Sexual Revolution marked a principled shift in social values in which pre-marital sex was incidental. Coming from Romanticism's emphasis on the individual's search for love as a defining part of their true being as opposed to their role in society, there ceased being any attempt to hide the fact that sex was at the center of this quest for love and essential to it. To object that a boy or girl was violating some taboo that historically had been honored more in the breach than actually practiced was to deny the very essence of that couple's being. Thus, the moral imperative was flipped from defending social standards in the face of temptation to not allowing social standards to stand in the way of pursuing one's "true self."
If you wish to understand how nearly total this Romantic capture of how we think has been, in addition to its conception of self, consider every time you hear a song or watch a movie in which love is considered some kind of all-powerful self-justifying end in itself in a way that is not supposed to be even controversial. This should be even more obvious in things like the end of the otherwise excellent Wonder Woman film in which the lovely Gal Gadot could, after spending the entire movie being this generation's embodiment of awesome, spout utter nonsense and end it with something along the lines of saving the world for love. It is taken as a given that sexual love is so essential to our lives and the center of our actual religion (regardless of what we officially call ourselves) that we would nod our heads and pretend that this was something other than lazy writing.
Even most conservatives who oppose the Sexual Revolution's practical conclusions regarding pre-marital sex have accepted its narrative of humans finding their true selves through sexual love. This is quite easy because social conservatives can still pretend that the demands of sexual love as the fulfillment of one's personhood can be fulfilled within marriage. This ignores the fact that the high of sexual love for one person is not something that can be maintained. Its focus must switch from person to person in a never-ending quest. Thus, if sexual love is to be pursued as the end goal of life, monogamy must be rejected.
Keep in mind here that none of this can be blamed on homosexuals. Their only part in this wreckage of traditional values has been to come in, after the fact, and, very reasonably point out that if one is going to be logically consistent about sex as central to one's true being then, yes, they must be included. Just like heterosexuals, they are capable of using sex to pursue meaningful loving relationships. If the pursuit of such relationships is central to human thriving then the failure of society to actively approve of same-sex relationships or, even worse, to express any disapproval of gay sex is to deny homosexuals their very being.
In this sense, the gay rights movement has been a good thing. Since the vast majority of people in our society, including most conservatives, have implicitly accepted the basic premise of the Sexual Revolution, it is right that gay marriage should be the law of the land and that society actively promotes the notion that homosexual relationships are the equal of heterosexual ones. In fact, homosexuals have the moral advantage that their pursuit of their sexual identities has an honesty unavailable to heterosexuals as they had to overcome real obstacles that tried to prevent them from becoming their "true" selves. This leaves those of us in the minority who have not accepted the Sexual Revolution in a bind.
To be clear, there is nothing about a conservative sexual ethic, as I have described it, that prevents one from being fully supportive of gay rights. Furthermore, nothing that I say here should diminish the importance of offering members of the LGBTQ community full libertarian tolerance. Adults have the right to engage in whatever consensual behavior they wish in the privacy of their own homes. That being said, if you are operating within the intellectual framework of a conservative sexual ethic, the standard non-libertarian arguments for gay marriage and LGBTQ tolerance make no sense.
Take the statements "love is love," "all love is equal," or "love wins" as examples. As a social conservative, love, particularly sexual love, has no supreme value. Love justifies nothing. Since I have never raised love, heterosexual or otherwise, on a pedestal, all love is equal in not being particularly valuable. Since love has no moral standing (in contrast to things like reason, truth, and justice), there is no particular reason why we should want it to win. One might as well celebrate the victory of the meek inheriting the Earth.
Since these arguments only make sense for someone who accepts the Sexual Revolution, the minority of us who reject the Sexual Revolution are forced to actively reject them. Failure to do so would mean allowing a world in which it is impossible for anyone to see things but from the perspective of the Sexual Revolution. On the other hand, to make this about homosexuals also dooms the fight against the Sexual Revolution as it distracts from the key issues that would still be with us even in a completely heterosexual society. This requires intellectual discipline to hold one's ground and not attack until the opposition actively makes a non-libertarian LGBTQ acceptance argument.
As I said before, it is only right that people who accept the Sexual Revolution should go all the way with mainstreaming LGBTQs. They are only being consistent and, as rationalists, we should honor that. LGBTQ supporters only make themselves vulnerable when they fail to realize that the Sexual Revolution is not the only intellectually serious way to understand human beings and that there are people who operate outside of that framework. The moment they accuse us of being intolerant, they throw away their moral high ground and we have them. They are no longer fighting for tolerance but are using the issue of LGBTQs to marginalize those of us outside the Sexual Revolution. They are the ones being intolerant and trying to take away our rights. We are, hereby, exempt from compromising with them or any need to seek out their goodwill.
Being actively tolerant of homosexuals as individuals and avoiding conflict with them while openly defending a conservative view of sexuality sounds like a paradox. In truth, they feed into each other. The act of showing kindness to homosexuals as individuals keeps a conservative sexuality within the realm of principles, untainted by personal animosity. Being open about one's conservative values keeps one's personal tolerance from turning into a Trojan Horse to undermine traditional sexuality. The Sexual Revolution may have captured society but it is still possible to uphold conservative values in our homes and communities. If we do so with love and intellectual honesty, we might even succeed at passing them on to our children.
Monday, August 12, 2019
We the Few Who Never Accepted the Sexual Revolution: Treading the Line Between a Conservative Sexual Ethic and Hating Homosexuals (Part I)
As Rod Dreher has argued, we live in a difficult time for social conservatives. The rise of the LGBTQ community as a political force has finally eliminated any pretense, in the wake of the Sexual Revolution, that we are still dealing with a Judeo-Christian society. The previous generation could pretend that even if society was sinful and full of people who had strayed from traditional values, they could be brought in line with a slight nudge. For example, if you voted Republicans into office, they could take over the Supreme Court, allow prayer back in public schools, ban abortion and the country would eventually turn itself around. Regardless of the fate of Donald Trump and the Republican Party, this will not happen.
One might have hoped to live in a world in which we social conservatives, even if we had no influence, were left alone. This is increasingly not the case as the Overton Window has moved from a libertarian neutral or even oppositional tolerance regarding homosexuality where I might have utter contempt for your personal life choices, but believe that you should be allowed to pursue them in the privacy of your own home to a demand for active tolerance that declares the LGBTQ lifestyle to be an active good. Social conservatives are quickly finding themselves treated in the same fashion as white supremacists, chased out of universities and unable to hold down jobs in mainstream professions. It only remains to be seen if the government will one day come for our children.
To further complicate matters, our opponents in the LGBTQ community are not entirely wrong. As a historically oppressed group that has often been denied even libertarian tolerance and subject to violence, it should come as no surprise that, now that the tables are turned, they show little in the way of tolerance in return. Also, let us be honest, many people use social conservatism as cover for genuine hatred of LGBTQ people as opposed to ideological opposition to that lifestyle. In that spirit, here are my guidelines for those trying to walk a narrow line between maintaining their credibility as social conservatives without giving our opponents plausible cause to accuse us of hatred.
The first point is to avoid active conflict. One should not directly attack members of the LGBTQ community as such even to make the point that they are sinners. The fact that LGBTQs are likely to become casualties of a conservative sexual ethic may not be avoidable but it should never be an end in itself. This position is necessary even as it means giving up any chance of winning the larger social conflict.
To understand why this is the case, it may be useful to consider the example of opponents of Israel. Clearly, one can be opposed to the State of Israel without being an anti-Semite. There are valid criticisms of Israel to be made. As an anarcho-capitalist, who opposes all governments as the products of violence, I am hardly unsympathetic to those who would consider Israel to be illegitimate. The problem with opponents of Israel, even when they are right on the facts, is that they are trapped by the existence of people using the anti-Israel cause as a Trojan Horse for anti-Semitism. This means that anyone attacking Israel is obligated to demonstrate clear daylight between themselves and anti-Semites.
This is the case even when that means that, under certain circumstances, one is forced into silence. For example, one might object to Israel's handling of Gaza but it is rather difficult to articulate those criticisms without sounding like an apologist for Hamas. This may mean that the people in Gaza will not receive Justice but there are many other causes not blatantly tainted by terrorism worthy of attention. When Hamas is no longer a factor, then we could revisit the Israeli Occupation. You can consider yourself exempt from standing up for the Palestinians because of Hamas. It is their fault that there is no independent Palestinian State in Gaza.
The problem with attacking the gay rights movement is simply the existence of opponents of gay rights. For example, we live in a world in which the Westboro Baptist Church exists and is not simply a Poe Law begging satire of religious fundamentalists. You have people like Scott Lively, who are clearly motivated by a pathological hatred of gays and wish them physical harm. This limits one's ability to oppose the gay rights movement without implicitly being an apologist for them. This does not change the fact that there is no such thing as gay rights and that the term is simply a trap to discredit opponents. One has to conclude that there are many sins out there that are damaging society. Focus on one that is not gay sex. If that means that promotors of homosexuality win, the WBC and Scott Lively can answer to God for how they sacrificed traditional marriage in this country for the sake of being on television.
There is a lesson my father has tried to teach me. Sometimes, it is not enough to be right. There are certain battles that are not worth the cost even when you are right. The very act of trying to defend certain things, even when you are right, indicates that there is a larger lesson you have failed to learn. For example, anti-BDS legislation may technically be defendable on free-speech grounds. That being said, a true defender of civil liberties should not want to be stuck having to defend themselves, allowing the free speech debate to distract from the fact that BDS is part of a conspiracy to kill Jews. Similarly, if leftist opponents of Trump were serious about fighting racism, they would not have allowed anti-Semitism to become an issue. For social conservatives to willingly initiate an exchange that requires them to explain how they are not homophobic indicates something skewered in their priorities.
A good example of this is the recent Jewish Press article on homosexuality. I have no particular love for the Jewish "De-Pressed." That being said, I find nothing objectionable in the article's argument per se. The fact that there was a controversy indicates something about the state of affairs and how little the Left is willing to tolerate deviation from their established line. That being said, this is a battle I do not wish to fight even if I suspect that many of the people who criticized the article would not recognize any difference between the author and myself. At the end of the day, Irwin Benjamin shows little empathy for why people march in pride parades. His article could have made the same point while avoiding the implication that homosexuals are animals and ending with something along the lines of "I wish those marching well and understand why they are doing so even as I am constrained from joining in." The fact that he did not do so indicates that what motivates him is not a love of God's Torah but that he honestly sees homosexuals as animals and is offended that they could take pride in themselves as human beings. (See Rabbi Yakov Horowitz's pitch-perfect letter to the editor.) If this means that gays will be able to blaspheme the Torah to their heart's content well that is on Benjamin.
(To be continued ...)