Bearpaw01 • 2 days agoThose sort of explanations have a degree of validity – I have no particular objections to ad hominem – but they lack something: a sympathetic understanding of the other person՚s point of view. That is, they are descriptions from the outside, which may be quite accurate, but do not reflect the internal experience and thinking of the person in question. That is, they are not proper answers to the question of how homophobes justify their beliefs to themselves. If you find yourself sputtering that these people don՚t deserve to be understood because they or their opinions are awful, well, that is the problem I՚m talking about.
They care because privilege.
Also, at least some of them care because they're so fucking deep in the closet that they furiously resent the happiness of anyone who isn't.
This attitude works fine if you have given up on actually communicating with these people, if you are willing to treat them as wholly other, as mere enemies. And pretty much we have, and by “we” I mean sane intelligent people generally. We are pretty much convinced that the right wing is comprised entirely of people who are insane, morons, corrupt, or some mixture of the three. There is plenty of evidence for this view, of course. But we still have to share a world with them. It feels naive (or more precisely – it violates my self-image as a cynic) but I do actually believe in dialog between enemies. If there is any value to politics at all, then it must be as the pragmatic art of figuring out how to live with people you consider awful, and if you aren't going to hold them at bay by force you have to talk with them.
One of the practices of the rationalist community that I like a lot (actually I figured it out as a principle for myself long ago, but never had a catchy name for it) is steelmanning, roughly, the opposite of employing straw-man tactics in an argument. Instead, you aim your attacks at the strongest arguments for an opponents position, and that way if and when you defeat him you know you have won a genuine intellectual victory, not a mere tactical skirmish.
What I՚m trying to talk myself into here is not exactly steelmanning, because I՚m not that much of a rationalist. I՚m not interested so much in comparing the strength of opponent՚s arguments with my own, because I don՚t really believe there is a common currency that would permit comparison. Both our worldviews are strong for us, but weak for each other. What I am advocating is something more like intellectual empathy, or the imaginative entry into the mind of someone whose values and background may be quite different from your own. This of course is challenging and possibly unpleasant.
Can this be applied to opponents of gay marriage? The standard Bay Area attitude, which I usually share, is that these people are simply jerks trying to interfere with other people՚s rights and happiness just because they are different. But I՚ve studied them a bit, and there are two arguments I have seen them make that seem worth taking a tiny bit seriously. One of them is actually a pretty good argument, although not nearly strong enough to sway the question in their favor. The other is a very bad argument, but it is bad in a way that interests me, since it bears on certain philosophical obsessions.
First, the good argument: Opponents of gay marriage complain that it attacks or “destroys” so-called “traditional marriage”. This mystifies people like Atrios, and me too when I՚m not in deliberate-empathy-for-the-enemy mode. I have quite a traditional marriage and I don՚t feel the slightest threat to it from letting gay people participate in the institution (why shouldn't they suffer along with the rest of us?). But the opponents are quite right, and I wrong, in one very specific sense: marriage is more than just an individual decision that has affects only the two participants. It՚s in part a public, social act, and as such it is an institution of society, and redefining what it means does in fact impact everyone in some way. It doesn՚t destroy the old institution, as opponents like to put it, but it does change it, and we should be honest and acknowledge the fact.
So if we are honest, and we should be, we are kidding ourselves by pretending that the question is merely one of individual rights, because that is a lie. And more specifically, it is a lie that works against the real interests of the left when we buy into it, because it denies the reality of the social.
Understanding the logic of this argument doesn՚t explain the passion that often lies behind it, which was what we were originally interested in. These people not only believe in society and its institutions, but they believe that they are fragile and in constant danger of collapse, or that they have indeed already collapsed. Nostalgia is a big thing on the right, for what are supposed to be simpler and more honest times (this lost golden age may be anything from the 1950s to the 15th century. Gay marriage is just another attack on the fundamental structures of society by its enemies. In short, they feel embattled and fearful. They sense quite rightly the slow but unstoppable shifts in the world, and change is scary, so they want to stop it. So much so that they think (consciously or not) that gay couples are getting married just to mess with them. This is absurdly self-centered of course, but that is how most human thought operates, most of the time. So rather than see gay people who just want to live their lives and be treated in the same way as anybody else, they seem them as primarily a threat to the order of society, and to the moral order of reality.
Well that was an interesting exercise (the second argument, the bad but philosophically resonant one, will have to wait for another time). I՚m trying to work up empathy for other people՚s lack of empathy. It may appear to be morally pretentious, but in my defense I can honestly claim to be largely motivated out of boredom with ossified ways of thinking, rather than some aspiration to sainthood.