Friday, April 12, 2013

From Joke to Dogma in Ten Years: Gay Marriage, Conformism, and the Breakdown of Moral Argument

Paul Adams

One of the extraordinary features of the SSM 'debate' is the absence of serious moral argument, or indeed any coherent argument in which the two sides connect, consider, and dispute.  Proponents of SSM resort mainly to name-calling and vilification, as if everyone before them for millennia were, in their view of marriage, motivated only by bigotry and hatred.  The absurdity of the position is matched by the intensity and vitriol with which it is promoted.

In place of argument, we have opinion polls.  It is true that in 32 states where the issue has been put to the people in a referendum - including liberal states like California and Wisconsin - the conjugal view of marriage as between one man and one woman has prevailed.  In some cases, constitutions have been amended by popular vote, in others representatives have enacted statutes to the same effect.  As Anderson, Girgis, & George say, "All told, the people of forty-four states have affirmed the conjugal view of marriage by direct voting or through their representatives."

But polls show opinion shifting rapidly in favor of SSM, especially among younger voters. One can explain this in terms of the pill, the sexual revolution it enabled, the separation of sex from marriage and both from children, the consequent rapid decline of marriage, family, and faith, especially among those in the lower socioeconomic strata--see Mary Eberstadt's outstanding work on this in Adam & Eve After the Pill and her new book, How the West Really Lost God.  The result has been the erosion, not only of marriage itself,  but of the conjugal understanding of marriage as a comprehensive union, permanent, exclusive, and monogamous, of man and woman, in body and mind, rooted in and consummated by the one and only sexual act that can produce new life, and ordered to the procreation and education of children (if any) who result from that union.  With that erosion has come the revisionist view of marriage as rooted in emotions, in the feelings of adults without reference to children or even to sex, and lasting as long as the feelings last.

That revisionist view may be incoherent--unable to explain how that relationship they want to call marriage is different from friendship (which the state does not certify or enforce, or generally involve itself in); from the committed, longterm, financially interdependent relationship of two sisters or two brothers who share a residence; or why such a relationship should be limited to only two adults.  But it "finds overwhelming support among intellectuals, journalists, and entertainers, indeed nearly all our cultural elite" (Girgis, Anderson, & George, 2012).  Especially lawyers.

Here Fr. Robert Barron draws attention to the lack of any serious moral argument on the issue.  Citing Alasdair MacIntyre, he wonders about the possibility of moral argument in our society.  A fundamental. civilizational shift is under way without any serious public consideration of the issues and arguments.  As if poll trends were arguments, as if public support for something--say dropping the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 or slavery in 1825--made it right and were sufficient argument in itself.

One of the few voices decrying the elite's rush to conformism and its imposition on the rest of society through legal coercion and single-minded propagandizing by the mainstream media, is Brendan O'Neill.  A former Marxist, O'Neill describes himself as an "atheistic libertarian," now edits Spiked Onlineand writes for many other publications.   He co-founded the Manifesto Club, an organization "with the aim of challenging cultural trends that restrain and stifle people's aspirations and initiative."In his latest essay, O'Neill takes up the question of how this conformism came about and swept so much of elite, and then public, opinion before it, without either a mass movement or a serious public debate or even a coherent argument.  He says: 
I have been doing or writing about political stuff for 20 years, since I was 18 years old, during which time I have got behind some pretty unpopular campaigns and kicked against some stifling consensuses. But I have never encountered an issue like gay marriage, an issue in which the space for dissent has shrunk so rapidly, and in which the consensus is not only stifling but choking. This is the only issue on which, for criticizing it from a liberal, secular perspective, I’ve been booed during an after-dinner speech and received death threats....
Is this sudden shift in opinion, accompanied by intolerance of any discussion or questioning and by vitriolic denunciation of any dissent,  threats to jobs and businesses (not to mention the death threats) of those who don't quickly fall into line, healthy?
How do we account for this extraordinary consensus, for what is tellingly referred to as the ‘surrender’ to gay marriage by just about everyone in public life? And is it a good thing, evidence that we had a heated debate on a new civil right and the civil rightsy side won? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can even call this a ‘consensus’, since that would imply the voluntaristic coming together of different elements in concord. It’s better described as conformism, the slow but sure sacrifice of critical thinking and dissenting opinion under pressure to accept that which has been defined as a good by the upper echelons of society: gay marriage. Indeed, the gay-marriage campaign provides a case study in conformism, a searing insight into how soft authoritarianism and peer pressure are applied in the modern age to sideline and eventually do away with any view considered overly judgmental, outdated, discriminatory, ‘phobic’, or otherwise beyond the pale.

This is not a mass movement like the civil rights movement or the pro-life movement, but an elite-driven campaign led by lawyers and the elite media, one that brooks no dissent or even discussion.  O'Neill again:
In truth, the extraordinary rise of gay marriage speaks, not to a new spirit of liberty or equality on a par with the civil-rights movements of the 1960s, but rather to the political and moral conformism of our age; to the weirdly judgmental non-judgmentalism of our PC times; to the way in which, in an uncritical era such as ours, ideas can become dogma with alarming ease and speed; to the difficulty of speaking one’s mind or sticking with one’s beliefs at a time when doubt and disagreement are pathologized. Gay marriage brilliantly shows how political narratives are forged these days, and how people are made to accept them. This is a campaign that is elitist in nature, in the sense that, in direct contrast to those civil-rights agitators of old, it came from the top of society down; and it is a campaign which is extremely unforgiving of dissent or disagreement, implicitly, softly demanding acquiescence to its agenda. 

And in an additional brief comment on his video, Father Barron answers a further question on the subject: "What is the framework for having a good moral conversation?"

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I think the question of endorsing homosexual marriage should only be asked after the question of why so many people have normalized homosexuality. You cannot endorse homosexual marriage if you don't first normalize homosexuality.

    It's an issue I often address on my blog. Here's one example:
    Why have so many people normalized homosexuality?