Where Does It End?


From Pete Kaliner:

When you give people the benefit of the doubt, the likelihood that you’ll be hurt or taken advantage of greatly increases. Still, it’s what I try to do because it’s how I’d like to be treated.

For years, I have argued that the state should remove itself from the business of sanctifying marriages. Contract law would cover the legalities of a relationship, and benefits would not accrue to citizens based upon whom they choose to offer monogamy.

And for years, I have argued with conservatives on air – trying to convince them that the limited government philosophy can support this position.

As you might imagine, my position has led to some pretty heated debates over the years, and I was quick to smack down fears that churches would be forced to perform same sex marriages, or that people would be punished for not being made to agree. I deemed these wildly hypothetical fantasies.

But I was wrong.

In his NY Times column, Ross Douthat asks some pretty important questions about where this momentum will take us – as a society.

… the choice of exactly how far to push and how much pluralism to permit would be almost entirely in the hands of liberals and supporters of same-sex marriage. That’s still basically how it looks to me today…

*****

… the consensus center-left position has basically shifted toward the argument offered by Garrett Epps for The Atlantic: It doesn’t matter if Stutzman or any other wedding vendor is a nice person with sincere religious beliefs, and it doesn’t matter if she or they would provide her services to gay clients in any other context; her religious anxiety about decorating a wedding chapel for a same-sex couple is no different from the objection to integration of a Southern store-owner whose preacher taught him the races should be separate, and needs to be dismissed with extreme prejudice lest anti-gay discrimination flourish and spread.

And whether you find this view, this analogy, persuasive or you don’t, it has a lot of possible further implications. Because in the annals of American history, both Jim Crow and the means we used to destroy it are, well, legally and culturally extraordinary. So if our current situation with same-sex marriage and religious conservatives really is analogous, there is no obvious reason why we’ve reached any kind stopping point once the florists and bakers have been appropriately fined or closed down.

Our society appears to be in the midst of a “quickening” on this matter, and unless the left tells us where this is heading, I’m not sure any of us will know when we arrived. And at the current pace, that could be next week.

Which brings me to the piece by Mollie Hemmingway in the Federalist last year in the wake of Brendan Eich’s resignation from Mozilla after a public campaign against him because he donated to oppose same sex marriage in California:

To explain, let’s revisit an old essay by Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, poet, dissident and eventual president.

*****

“The Power of the Powerless,” written under a communist regime in 1978, is his landmark essay about dissent. It’s a wonderful read, no matter your political persuasion. It asks everyone to look at how they contribute to totalitarian systems, with no exceptions. It specifically says its message is “a kind of warning to the West,” revealing our own latent tendencies to set aside our moral integrity. Reading it again after the Eich dismissal, I couldn’t help but think of how it applies to our current situation in the States.

*****

To explain how dissent works, Havel introduced the manager of a hypothetical fruit-and-vegetable shop who places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” He’s not actually enthusiastic about the sign’s message. It’s just one of the things that people in a post-totalitarian system do even if they “never think about” what it means. He does it because everyone does it. It’s what you do to get along in life and live “in harmony with society.” (For our purposes, you can imagine that slogan is a red equal sign that you put up on your Facebook page.)

The subtext of the grocer’s sign is “I do what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me.” It protects him from supervisors above and informants below.

Havel is skeptical of ideology. He says that dictatorships can just use raw power, but “the more complex the mechanisms of power become, the larger and more stratified the society they embrace, and the longer they have operated historically … the greater the importance attached to the ideological excuse.” We don’t have a dictatorship, obviously, but we do have complex mechanisms of power and larger and more stratified society.

In any case, individuals need not believe the lies of an ideology so much as behave as though they do, or at least tolerate them in silence or get along with those who work with them. “For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system,” Havel says.

*****

“Part of the essence of the post-totalitarian system is that it draws everyone into its sphere of power,” writes Havel. We create through our involvement a general norm and, thus, bring pressure to bear on our fellow citizens. We learn to be comfortable with our involvement, “to identify with it as though it were something natural and inevitable and, ultimately, so they may—with no external urging—come to treat any non-involvement as an abnormality, as arrogance, as an attack” on ourselves.

There’s much to be thankful for in aftermath of the madness of the Eich termination. For one thing, many people have rightly figured out that what happened there is terrifying. It’s not just natural marriage advocates but even some of same-sex marriage supporters most vocal advocates.

Indeed.

I find myself at odds now with a lot of proponents of same sex marriage who appear to be walking the charred battlefield of the cultural war and shooting the wounded.

I apologize for thinking this was about only equal treatment under the law. I apologize for dismissing conservatives’ fears that this slippery slope would lead to de facto banishment from various sectors of the public square.

I thought people just wanted to be left alone. I was wrong.

For many, they wanted forced conversions.

As such, it’s only fair we ask where it ends.

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