Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Gay Philosophy 411
The Gay Science (perhaps)
We often deal with competing values or competing “virtues”. I sketched this contradiction out with respect to “independence” and “interdependence” recently, but I’d like to get into the logic of this for gay issues. Here is a related posting on my general blog.
Think about what “we” tell young men as they are growing up. The important thing is to prove that you can compete for the ability to have and provide for a biological lineage. You need to prove you are “better” or “more worthy” than other peer men in sports and school. It used to be, as part of your initiation into public morality, that you took your turn defending the country (and proving later that you could defend women and children) with a military draft—and family afterwards was the reward.
Yet, as a matter of logic, if some people do better, then some people do worse (zero sum thinking to be sure), and yet we want to tell all men, once they are grown: the most important thing is to have a family and be faithful and actively interested in one wife for a lifetime, even if you wind up on the short end of the stick as far as public station in life. In other words, forget the earlier rites of passage of adolescence where you proved your manly worthiness. They don’t matter any more. Just do the best you can to support the transmission of your genes: the institution of marriage and the traditional family will still give your life all the meaning it needs (and some claims for the support of others). You don't have to achieve outside the family or be particularly competitive any more. Sounds like a contradiction.
Being able to perform as a provider regardless of external success in life is certainly a virtue. But there is another virtue, to know and express what is good and beautiful. Some men grow up learning to emphasize this quality in their personal psyches. Often this value goes along better with a proclivity to yield to other people in combative situations (psychological femininity). It becomes more attractive to become “the power behind the throne” than to occupy the throne oneself. In time, I found that living my life in such an unconventional and “creative” way could really work and could, with patience, attract the people I wanted, without the usual games of jealousy or possessiveness or clinging. Yet, is it “fair”?
This duality of virtues between knowing and acting transfers into the world of faith. Christians grapple with the inherent paradox of “salvation through Grace” on the cross, because faith implies appropriate works. Values based on “knowledge of good and evil,” besides challenging the authority of God (or Allah, held to be a virtue) threaten to judge others (wrong) and perhaps deny them “salvation”, yet it seems reasonable to suppose that everyone will at least indirectly be judged by works, too – which explains the doctrines of some religions (such as LDS), as well as the Rosicrucian notion of karma and reincarnation to achieve perfection. (For that matter, both Islam and Judaism come across as predicated upon works in fundamentally similar ways.)
During post Stonewall period from the late 60s until the 90s, gay rights were increasingly being viewed in terms of individual privacy rights. Before the Civil Rights movement, homosexuality was seen as a gross affront to public morality (it still often was, but less so); in the Internet age commencing in the middle 90s, equality for homosexuals became a visible issue, and again the culture wars tended to see these demands as an affront to the heterosexual family.
What does this really mean? As I reflect upon a number of circumstances and incidents over a lifetime, one pattern is clear. Sometimes, heterosexual men behave as if they though someone like me could pass judgment on them, call attention to the possibility of their own physical failure (an idea that Randy Shilts discusses in his 1993 book on gays in the military, “Conduct Unbecoming”). The affront seems to come, in part, from the fact that I personally eschew fighting and competing “like a man” but claim to hold the “knowledge of good and evil” (to borrow a Biblical concept) to judge them. That’s more apparent in the Internet age where writings and media circulate quickly and where others will try to place a cultural or predictive context on the expressions. But even before, male homosexual values (as expressed in parties, bars, discos, “dirty dancing”, etc) seemed to convey, to some people at least, an idea of eroticizing aesthetic judgments about people. It seems to them that personal discrimination ("noticing differences," an idea consonant with libertarianism and personal sovereignty), as a manifestation of one's own fantastical judgments and disinclination to respond to people "as they are," bears as much moral objection as societal class discrimination.
The conventional heterosexual world tends to depend a lot on local solidarity and “interdependence” among family members, which must be dependable because the unfair outside world may intrude at any time. Modern ideas of individualism and rationalism have countered that socialization with the idea that the individual should take care of himself and be free to live and express himself as he wishes, but this seems unfair to the people who raised him and leaves people dangerously vulnerable to what they cannot control.
As we noted, all of these things – independence, interdependence, awareness and judgment of beauty and character, social solidarity – are virtues up to the point that they come into conflict. The male homosexual is seen as a threat to the social cohesion that putatively is necessary for a society to survive. In general, attempts to enforce public morality for the “common good” lead to corruption, and individual expressive freedom counters corruption, which makes the freedom itself a virtue. A few relatively self-contained societies (like Singapore or the Mormon Church) have adopted aggressive pro-family cultures that attempt to force even “wavering” and “non-competitive” men to become socialized into the nuclear family without becoming too corrupt; but generally societies benefit from the diversity and the challenge that “emotionally different” individuals confront them with (when allowed freedom), keeping them “honest.”
So how do we balance competing virtues? I hope not by a philosophy of prohibtionism, so well described by Andrew Sullivan in his books in the 90s. But one idea that seems relevant is the idea that “everyone serves” or “pay your dues” – everyone learns to take part in responding to the needs of others in a real or physical way as well as intellectual. Indeed, as noted on previous blog postings, this explains a lot of the pressure placed on young boys to learn “manly” skills and the resentment that some of them feel about this pressure, and the relief that some of the claim when relieved of such expectations (as noted by some extremely graphic writings on the Internet).
This would, in practice, mean sharing the ability to serve in the military or other forms of service (like rebuilding after regional catastrophes like Katrina), provide for elders, and participate in the raising of children even if one does not have his own – and demonstrating the ability to do so. It would mean “involuntary family responsibility” -- developing responsiveness to empathy for others (especially family members or blood relatives) when they are not as intact or in a situation of familial dependency. Older gay people have often lived in a kind of exile for a few decades now and may be separated from these skills in a world that, given the problems of today, may demand more of them than in the past. On the other hand, knowledge itself is a good thing, as some of the problems requiring massive help from others can be prevented with proper use of knowledge in making personal decisions.
The political climate certainly helps explain this isolation. The military gay ban (or at least the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy as implemented now) implies that gay people are not fit to engage in certain kinds of activities requiring forced intimacy with others, and could affect other areas (like teaching where there are special needs). Some states have laws against gay adoption, and the debate on the “inequality” implied by marriage law is certainly well known. But social conservatives (as in the writings of Maggie Gallagher and others) seem to want to take the debate out of the area of “reason” and hide traditional marriage under an emotional shell that accepts unquestioned interdependence on others. For myself, I feel that the government has implied that I am essentially a second class being, and efforts to welcome me into other forms of service (even teaching certain kinds of students) seem patronizing and evade the real problems; I am inclined to resist these. At times, others have felt no compunction in compromising the freedom of me or others in order to insulate their own sense of psychic comfort relative to a larger world.
There is a related problem, however, that has to do with the integrity of my own psychic motivations. I do not appreciate occasional attempts by a few other parties, under the pretense of political correctness, assimilation, appeasement, or “helping” me and others, to invite me to pretend to be a male role model or authority figure, especially for disadvantaged youth or other people in some difficulty, and get them to obey me just because I am in charge and when there is no other reason for doing the right thing that they will relate to. Likewise, it does not do any good for some parties to question the "ulterior motive" (or expected "end result") of expressing some personal value that may make as others uncomfortable as I should be. I don’t need to be explicit here. But doing so would negate my whole internal (“psychologically feminine”) idea of yielding to “good” when I find it myself, and it would also negate my (“subjectivity”) idea of choosing and implementing my own goals. I document the truth and build on it, but I do not manipulate others in order to selectively protect them (or myself) from the truth.
Of course, homosexuality can be associated with the desire to have a polarized (regardless of biological gender) relationship for its own sake, without reference to social supports. That might have actually been easier when communities were more separated and might be harder in a global world where people get public so quickly and others feel affected by the examples they set. I know I've upped the ante with my views of "role modeling" and an indirect result is that the military gay ban and other problems in the political climate make me reluctant, as a matter of integrity, to consider civilian jobs where I would be viewed as a comparable "male role model."
In sum, whatever my genes or biology or brain wiring, I do see the moral point: if my self-expression can impact the socialization of others, I have an obligation to participate in helping them. Both the political climate and my own internal values narrow the things I can do about it.
See also a posting about the "Everyone Serves" website.