Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rod's Word for Nothin' Left to Lose

Rod Dreher is trying to find a passable argument against gay equality, but he's having a difficult time with it. He sobs:

[L]iberals have an easier time justifying gay marriage: give the people what they want, as long as it doesn't "hurt" anybody else. Conservatives, on the other hand, have a more complex vision of the Good, one that is hard to articulate persuasively in a consumerist, individualist society with no shared transcendent concept of the Good, except as, in the words Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy used to reaffirm the right to abortion and to establish the right to gay sex, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life."
Right. Exactly. Was there an argument against the liberal position there, or a restatement of it? I would say the latter, and I would go beyond that and call it a rather appealing-sounding restatement; I am willing to look past the needless scare quotes Dreher places around the word "harm."

To be clear, yes: we do not have nor do we need a "shared transcendent concept of the Good," or rather, insofar as we have or need any such shared concept, it pointedly excludes Dreher's anti-gay animus. Huzzah!

But Dreher does not feel huzzah-y about all this, and continues his lugubrious plaint against liberalism -- or more exactly, against other people's freedom:
To me, it looks like dangerous unreason: a radical willingness to tear down ancient structures (because if you can radically redefine marriage based on human desire, nothing is solid -- which is why I said earlier if you accept gay marriage, you should be prepared to apologize to the Lost Children of Rockland County, as there will be no firm grounds on which to tell them that their mutually consenting relationships were wrong).
Prior to reading this fascinating passage, I was not familiar with any "Lost Children of Rockland County," but it turns out they're some teenage syphilitics from Georgia who constitute, apparently, nothing short of walking, talking, southern-drawling refutations of On Liberty, a great deal of standing constitutional jurisprudence, and plenty else. Their parents must be so proud!

It's worth noting that the unfortunates Dreher mentions are not simply cast adrift under the liberal vision, since it draws a bright and clear line between adults and non-adults, willingly restricting the latter in accordance with their lesser capacities. Also, considerations of age/maturity aside, liberalism would count the infliction of syphilis, whether intentional or negligent, as a form of harm -- that's harm, not "harm."

Dreher turns at last to sketching a slippery slope he finds hideous and steep:
The agenda of some of these [icky pro-gay] leaders is precisely to do that -- to rid marriage of anything normative, to make it a free-floating legal condition that has no meaning beyond whatever it is they want it to mean today. What I don't understand is why, if marriage has no transcendent meaning, we should stop, as Sara Brooks wants us to do, at two people. Why two people? What's the reason there? Why oppress those who want to live in a threesome? Wouldn't the same logic that freed up a same-sex couple to be married also justify, as a matter of logic, other arrangements based on mutual consent? If not, why not?
Dreher's expectation appears to be that pro-gay liberals will recoil in red-cheeked shame at the prospect of "other arrangements based on mutual consent," including but not limited to threesomes, foursomes, and N-somes. Alas, no. Not if they're doing it right.

I don't claim to speak for every liberal, but I happily flout that expectation: if free people want to enter into N-somes, then so be it. Fully privatizing the M-word would, perhaps, clarify the matter at hand; but this rather charitably assumes that Dreher and his ilk mean what they say when they wheel out accommodating phrases about "tolerance." I think the stark truth is that they oppose freedom when it results in people making choices they themselves would not make. What Dreher seems to cherish and pine for is a society where the comfortable and familiar lie around any given corner. Whatever that is, it is not the vision of a free society, and worse than that, it is not grounded in reality.


TheDeviantE said...

Thank you.

Too many gay marriage advocates do *indeed* say "but marriage of more than 2 people is TOTALLY different".

How? There are lines, (obviously) having to do with consent and ability to do so, which should never be crossed. But having more than 2 people marry does NOT cross those lines.

Dale said...

DE, no thank you! Consent makes a valid line. Adulthood does. And there are legitimate legal/civil questions of property distribution, child support, and so on. But yes, the anti-polygamy stance is wrong and off-base.

So as not to repeat myself (even more than I'm always inclined to do), I will refer you to some other stuff I've said on this:

Human Pair-Bonding and Government

Lines and Lies

... or you could just search for the word polygamy and churn up the entire Civil War Chess Set of my rants on this topic (link).

Or not.

As always, thanks for the comment.