November 08, 2008

On California's Proposition 8, or What the Hell is Oozing Out of Our Ground

In case you haven't seen this video already, this redolent summation of the depths of ignorance and paranoia, watch it now. There will be a quiz.

As much as I find the video itself appalling insofar as what it reveals about just how much the stupid can burn, the recent passage of California's Proposition 8 and similar referenda in places like Florida, Arizona and Arkansas leave me asking the same question the benighted woman narrating it asked. What the hell is oozing out of our ground?

There is a meanness in these new laws, a cruelty that is most loudly voiced by the fact that California will not only put a halt to future same-sex marriages but there are those who are now attempting to void those which have already taken place. Surprise, surprise... they're based in Florida:
Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based conservative legal group, said last week that if Prop. 8 passes, Liberty Counsel would seek to invalidate all same-sex marriages already performed in California. Randy Thomasson, president of the Sacramento-based, said his group would support any lawsuit.

"One of the main reasons for passing Prop. 8 was to have real marriage be a role model for the next generation," he said. "Since these are a bunch of false marriages and false marriage licenses, they are bad examples for little children."


Anyone who still harbors doubt that much of Florida is a percolating, roiling bowl of fundamentalist mythological contagion need look no further than the anthropoid vector of pestilence that is Matthew Staver and his Orwellianly-monikered Liberty Council to put those doubts to rest. Staver, by the way, is a dean at ignorance-factory Liberty University.

That there is no hope that someone like Staver will ever attain to a degree of empathy reminiscent of the better parts of the human race is without question. There are poisonous things in this world and there will always be poisonous things in this world. The question is not whether fundamentally sociopathic, inherently divisive and morally bankrupt people like Staver and Falwell and Don Wildmon can ever be reformed. I would submit that they cannot. Such people will always remain self-made enemies of the culture upon which they have declared war. This is the point of their existence. They thrive on pain and seek the increase of human suffering as a sign of upcoming divine intervention that will usher in a time when the better part of humanity will be tortured for all eternity by their invisible and vindictive father-figure in the sky. They feed on the decay, the hate, the division and the ignorance produced by their activities as surely as any leech slithering from a festering fen seeks to cling to and suck from the femoral artery of some victim. They are beyond all reproach in the perfection of their destructiveness.

In short, they are what is "oozing out of our ground." Still, they and those like them could not alone have passed the barbarisms that are these new laws, including Proposition 8. They must have had complicity in their efforts to corrupt the notion of human rights and the role of government intervention in the lives of others. I do not think that everyone who voted for new laws like Proposition 8 is a leech like Staver, but I do think that many of these people have been deceived, and deception is possible only in the presence of ignorance. The notion that people who prefer sexual interaction with members of their own gender would be in favor of pederasty, bestiality or any number of other outrageous perversions is precisely a product of that ignorance.

These warriors against rational and inclusive culture exploit this ignorance in several ways, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they exploit several varieties of ignorance. Let's face it — most Americans don't know many gay people, or at least aren't aware that they know any. To the bulk of the populace, gay people are an unknown. They're something that doesn't exist as a portion of their community as integral to its proper functioning as any heterosexual individual. They're something that one sees in the media, frequently as a caricature. They're an abstraction; gay people aren't human beings so much as a phantasm that is somebody else's "problem." By keeping them in the abstract, anything can be laid upon them. Gay people can be made out to be abnormal, villainous, scheming... in short, hobgoblins coming from some other reality, some other universe, with malicious intent, like some shadowy horde poised at the border and ready to sack the little villages in which far too many Americans fancy themselves to live. The American Family Association is particularly adept at exploiting this strain of ignorance, peddling videos like They're Coming to Your Town. The probability is that "they" are already in your town, have been there all along, and that your town — and any town — is all the better for it.

They exploit, too, an ignorance that puts forth the idea that the highest purpose of human existence is procreation. It's an assertion I see made time and time again — that homosexuality is a perversion because it doesn't result in reproduction, and that reproduction is the goal which gives purpose to all living things, thus making homosexuality itself a force that runs counter to life. What could be worse than that? What reasonable person could be opposed to the continuation of life itself!

The thing is, when one actually looks at life, that's not what we actually see, particularly as biological individualism gives way to social organization. In any number of truly social insects, for example, the vast bulk of the members of the society do not reproduce, yet they contribute essentially to the continuation of their society. When cognition enters the picture, sex often becomes less bound to reproduction and more a means of enforcing social bonds, too. Even among humans, we do not remember the important figures throughout our history because of the number of offspring they had. Indeed, most Americans would be hard-pressed to rattle off the names of the children of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington or John Adams. We don't remember how many children Einstein had. Would it make any difference to us how we view such people if they'd never reproduced at all? We humans are not bound to our biology in the way that animals are bound to theirs. We can think, we can create, and we can go far beyond the limitations of our bodies. To say that the greatest achievement to which any one of us may attain is mere reproduction is to reduce all of mankind to animals in a menagerie. It robs all of us, even those who promulgate this nonsense, of the basic dignity of what it is to be human. We are more than molecular machines who eat and shit and fuck, and if we are not then we may as well tear down all the churches and all the laboratories and all the museums and stop distracting ourselves from this allegedly greatest good that any of us can spew forth from our various orifices. I, for one, think that we can be more than mere gamete factories. I think more of humanity, and I have a crazy notion that even those who have fallen under the contrary viewpoint would as well if they stopped and considered the sum total of civilization instead of having fallen prey to those who have declared war upon the better angels of human nature.

The questions that Proposition 8 and these similar referenda raise for me, and perhaps now for you, too, is whether we Americans will choose to see ourselves as something debased. Are we the product of a history that has finally cut us loose from the muck of basic biology, that allows us to aspire, to achieve, to no longer be identified in terms of merely what we contribute to some gene pool... or are we the product of some long-ago fall from grace that leaves every individual stained with sin? Will we use our powers of imagination and abstraction to cast one another as enemies, as "outsider" and "insider," to divide ourselves into camps that deserve to dwell either in sunlight or shadow based upon some accident of biology or — perish the thought — even some personal choice that involves no lives apart from our own, or will we use these boons to go beyond these superficial differences to find out that we are all essentially the same, that we all want the same things, and that we are all deserving of the same rights to associate with whom we will, to love whom we will, and to find in each of us that which we have to offer to the rest of us and so to allow every other member of our society the right to do the same?

We know what the Stavers and Wildmons of this country have to say on the matter. They are believers in the essentially impurity or each of us, a blood libel that began in a garden at the confluence of rivers. I suppose we know equally well (especially if you've read through all of this!) what those of us who don't believe in any such "fall from grace" and "original sin" think about it. But there is a great mass of American flesh and blood and mind between these two extremes that live their lives without ever seeing the effect that their decisions about "sanctity" have upon those who now must bear the weight of the stigma that they attach to them. Would they reach the same conclusions if they knew these people? If they saw what a same-sex marriage actually looked like in the light of day? If they came to know, on a personal basis, that the hearts and minds of the people who have entered into them were no different from their own save for the gender of the object of affection?

It is easy enough to be cruel toward an abstraction. Despite our fallibility, though, I think that most of us could not be so callous when called to look into the eyes of fellow human beings. Doing this will be a first great stride in doing away with not only one of the final malingering divisions in American social philosophy, but also in ridding ourselves of a pernicious war that allows a few men to exploit the shortcoming of many. America can be better than this. Just as some little bit of knowledge about the principles of refraction would remove the paranoid fears of the silly woman who made the video that began this entry, so would a little knowledge about what a same-sex marriage really is would remove the paranoia that the possibility "they're coming to your town" portends something terrible.

I am privileged to live in a place, one of only two states in this country, that allows same-sex marriage. I'm thinking of a way in which I might be able to use that happy coincidence in such a way as to lend some aid to those who do not enjoy it. I'll write more about that soon. It is enough to say, at this moment, that I feel like I have to do more about this than I have done until this moment.

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