Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Special rights? Equal rights?
I just wanted to journal a note today about the whole "special rights" problem.
If one accepts the idea of "equal responsibilities" to go along with "equal rights", then I see how I can have a problem. "Equal responsibilities" would mean sharing of common burdens, such as defending freedom, adapting to external threats, and particularly raising the next generation and caring for the previous one.
On raising the next generation, in some sense I am not an equal because I have not provided it with any members. In an individualistic society, the moral workout would logically be to prove that one can take care of or provide for others (in a competitive climate) besides oneself. Gay marriage and gay adoption, for example would provide the opportunities to do that.
From a personal point of view, however, my problem in being an "equal" is that I never demonstrated an ability to do that in any competitive sense. That is one reason why I am turned off by appeals for "political correctness" and "solidarity" in proving that I can perform some sort of sham of the real thing (like, in one case, when I was asked to get into a swimming pool in front of special ed kids; I refused).
The flip side of this, however, comes up with the speech. Many culturally or religiously conservative people with families are made very uncomfortable even by my mention of my concerns in a public space. Maybe they should be squeamish. For their whole world of marriage and family is built upon social recognition and approbation and pampering that is not supposed to be challenged. The truth is, for most people, the whole paradigm of marriage and family is what makes most people cope with what is expected of them, in the sharing of burdens. An individualist would see over-dependence on coercive social approbation as an admission of personal inadequacy (and therefore undermining of the integrity of marriage), but most married couples don't have the practical luxury of looking at things that way. In fact, many men conditioned themselves to perceive fathering children by a dedicate (and previously virgin) wife as an immutable part of manhood, apart from normal ideas of self-concept and above any question or distraction. Men like this do not like to cogitate on their actions or values as moral tradeoffs; they just come naturally. Indeed, a reproductive identity and lineage (with the protective behavior that accompanies it) is so connected to life than questioning it seems to deny the point of living, to these people. And it is so easy for others to exploit these men, and they don't even see it.
Conventional American and western society still places a lot of psychological value on blood and biological kinship relationships. This value is built into social custom and legal practice, even the IRS tax code (the concept of "personal use"). Since these are not chosen, they contradict concepts of individualism. Homosexuality (in men particularly) tends to emphasize the value of choosing significant others (as a "fundamental right") apart from these kinds of relationshios. Many people would feel threatened by the expression of values that would undermine the importance of these relationships.
Some heterosexuals believe that their personal expression, based on shared values, personalizes the value of all human life (because one's own procreated life could be anything), and that homosexuals are dedicated to responding only to life that they perceive as "good" or "beautiful", a moral problem of knowing "good and evil." What happens in practice is another matter.
I have to admit that when I was growing up, I saw the straight world as a competitive one in which I would wind up poorly if I "played" by "their" rules. But there is a lot more to it that that; the straight world also demanded gratuitous emotion and role playing (and reverence for the supposedly special needs of women as they were perceived in earlier generations) that simply turned off my own power switch.
Part of the old-fashioned "straight world" would look at someone like me as less than fully human, since I do not carry out all of the expected biological functions -- and then available for demand being made for deferential sacrifice to those with more family responsibilities -- but necessary, like any animal or servant. This sounds shocking, but I think that is how some people feel, even if it's not acceptable to say this in public anymore. (Second class citizens? The f-word? The n-word? Pseudo-slaves? At least "they" realize that we ought to be given chances to pull ourselves up according to "their" values -- so I found out in the school systems.) It is a way of "thinking" that puts ongoing experience and socialization ahead of rational thinking and culture. And that kind of "thinking" reaches its own contradictions when it tries to defend the "right to life" in absolute moral terms. Gay and pro-life (or libertarian and pro-life) could some day become strange bedfellows.