Archive for December 11th, 2012

Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.  –  Thomas Henry Huxley

One of the great paradoxes of human behavior is that sometimes, the leading opponents of relatively-unprecedented social change understand its implications much more fully than the leaders of those who support it for selfish (rather than philosophical) reasons.  Certainly, the majority of those who oppose the change are just the typical social conservative, resisting change merely because it is change without any intellectual process whatsoever; those are not the people I’m talking about.  I’m also unconcerned with born iconoclasts and self-congratulating “progressives” who embrace every new idea merely because it is new, again without any intellectual process whatsoever.  The ones to whom I wish to call your attention are the leaders of both factions, the ones all the others follow.  Those at the forefront of the conservatives need to think about all the possible ramifications of change in order to paint credible monsters in the blank portions of the map, while those who are only interested in the change because it benefits them have no concern for future implications of their cause, and are in fact highly motivated to ignore or downplay likely consequences which could rock the social boat far more than the general public (whose support both sides are vying for) is willing to accept.

Now, the situation is reversed in the case of true prohibitions, by which term I mean behaviors common throughout human history which were banned by minority actions due to some new dogma.  Those calling for a repeal of prohibitions against prostitution, alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc have no need to dissemble because history records what societies were like before those prohibitions were in place; in such cases it is the prohibitionists who must lie, conjuring specters of epidemic child prostitution, stoned pilots crashing airplanes, and the like, which sensible people know to be false because society somehow managed to avoid collapse during all the centuries before whatever-it-is was banned.  But when the social change is something really new, something groundbreaking, there is no such body of collective experience to draw upon.  Those who first proposed abolishing the institution of slavery, for instance, were venturing into completely uncharted seas; no large, developed society had ever thrived and prospered except upon the backs of some very large unpaid or underpaid coerced class (slaves, serfs, prisoners, subject foreign populations, etc).  And while eliminating chattel slavery was unquestionably the right thing to do, it’s also true that many of slavery’s defenders predicted the economic and social results of abolition more accurately than most of the abolitionists did.  One might say that many pro-slavery people were morally corrupt but intellectually honest, while many abolitionists were morally correct but intellectually dishonest.

One of today’s uncharted seas is fully-normalized homosexuality.  While not every traditional society condemned homosexuality as Judeo-Christian ones did, it also wasn’t given the full recognition and celebration of heterosexuality.  Even in societies where pederasty was common and even accepted, virtually nobody ever took a same-sex lover as his primary social relationship; nearly all the great “homosexuals” of antiquity were married to women.  Modern Western society is the first in history where large numbers of people not only recognize that homosexual relations aren’t anyone else’s business, but also that civilization isn’t going to collapse if a few people openly choose a same-sex partnership as their primary social and domestic one.  But while we can safely ignore dire predictions of Divine Retribution thundered forth from fundamentalist pulpits, it is highly disingenuous to pretend that there will be no consequences from widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage, simply because every social change has some effect on society as a whole.  I suspect most of these effects will be positive and a few will be negative (because absolutely nothing is ever wholly good), but the factors are far too numerous and the equations far too complex for me to ever hope to predict any of them.  Besides, I’m biased in favor of personal liberty, and might therefore miss some of the negatives even if I were intellectually able to calculate them.

There is one likely consequence which I can predict, however, and though I perceive it as a good thing, it is (as I said in the first paragraph) something which is likely to rock the boat more than most of the general public is willing to accept right now.  The opponents of same-sex marriage therefore keep bringing it up, while the proponents keep denying it, each for the same reason:  they recognize that if the public understands this, it might turn the tide.  When the US Supreme Court decided Lawrence vs. Texas, dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia correctly pointed out that “laws against bigamy,  same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are…sustainable only…[if] laws based on moral choices [are valid].”  Scalia’s moral position, that the state has a right to interfere in people’s private sexual affairs, was dead wrong, but his legal reasoning was faultless.  Likewise, though the Vatican’s attempt to influence secular law is morally indefensible, its logic that arguments for same-sex marriage automatically imply polygamy as well is solid.

Proponents of “marriage equality” keep denying it, but they’re either lying or refusing to see what’s right in front of them:  as I pointed out yesterday, if the government has no right to limit the sex of the parties to a marital contract, how can it possibly have the right to limit the number, duration or other factors?  If it’s going to allow a wholly new kind of sexual contract which has never before existed, how can it legitimately disallow old and venerable sexual contracts such as polygamy and prostitution which are already legal in other parts of the world?  It’s wrong and selfish to promote only one outcome of a legal principle while denying all the others; same-sex marriage proponents who oppose polygamy and prostitution are the moral equivalents of neofeminists who support a woman’s right to control her body in the case of abortion, but oppose it in the case of sex work.  Sailing into uncharted seas inevitably leads to both wonders and perils, some of them predictable and others completely unforeseen; anyone who can’t accept that needs to stay at home on the shore.

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