Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Savage Love on Proposition 8

This is an interesting video in many respects.

It's a conversation between Dan Savage, aka, Savage Love with D.L. Hughley, who has a new segment on CNN. Now, I'll admit. I frequently read Dan's syndicated column in the A.V. Club. I think he's a great writer and offers some good advice. So, in the interest of full disclosure, yes, indeed, I am biased towards supporting Dan in this. I also found his response to Proposition 8 very poignant and funny.

One of the most fascinating elements to me is Hughley's comments about his own background and how minorities might have felt looking at the ballot - basically the idea that there is no section for "I don't agree with the gay lifestyle, but I don't think the government should be involved." Well, to me, that's mealy-mouthed. The second clause of that sentence seems to be much more important. I.e., while I may not agree with a particular lifestyle, if it is my principle that it is a matter in which the government should not get involved, the answer is to check the option where the government does not get involved. Leave it up to the states, or to individual citizens. There's your answer. There is no need for an additional check bullet.

This is not to say that I don't understand where Hughley's coming from, or that I want to disenfranchise his religious conscience. He is fully able to argue what he wants from that viewpoint, but when it comes to a government policy decision, if he really believes that it should not be a government matter (as other blacks that he spoke with apparently did), then that is what they should vote for. Instead, apparently, if Hughley's anecdotal evidence can be taken at face value, we have people who strongly disagree with government involvement in this issue, but are willing to allow it anyway on the basis of a religious conviction. This is the pernicious aspect.

So, what are we left to do? We can argue, with John Rawls, that comprehensive doctrines (such as religions or overriding philosophies) have to be left out of the political process - we have to agree to the basis of public reason and that justice is free-standing - it can be arrived at purely through rational argument. Now, this sounds pleasant, but seems to be internally inconsistent - it seems that you are asking for an impossible promise - to have people admit that their comprehensive doctrines are irrational and do not matter for questions of public policy. No true religious adherent agrees with this - it's inconsistent in that it makes a comprehensive doctrine non-comprehensive.

Another solution, a la Franklin Gamwell, that it is true that the "comprehensive question" is a rational one, and so despite what some doctrines may claim for themselves, they can be debated rationally. They should be allowed to enter and stand their own in the public arena and fall where they may. The major danger of this, of course, is that you have a great deal of religions (especially in Christian circles) that claim their faith is inherently irrational (despite the long history of apologetics and medieval scholasticism...but who cares for history, right?) and thus, you run the risk of utterly disintegrating democracy. Our choices at that point are rather undemocratic - disenfranchise those who refuse to play by the rules of public reason and democracy (the Jehovah's Witnesses have sort of self-segregated on this matter), lock them up, or take over by force...if you want democracy to continue. Otherwise, you have the rule of an unruly, authoritarian, and dangerous mob.

Democracy is a fragile, fragile thing. We have fought for a long time to even begin to establish it, and it is nowhere near perfect. We have to constantly work at it, and we see continued efforts to erode the democratic tradition that we have inherited. This should be a matter of major concern for you all.

Both Hughley and Savage back away on the "civil rights" issue. I think Savage's comment is coherent, and probably true...this is not the scope of The Civil Rights Movement, but it is an incredibly important civil rights issue on its own. We have to ask ourselves these questions:

1) Is this person given human rights? I.e., are they a human being?
2) Is this person a citizen, and thus granted the rights of a citizen?
3) If they are human and a citizen, then why are they not allowed the same rights as other citizens? What coherent, "reasonable" arguments can be offered for such restrictions on their rights and privileges?

For example, we do not allow convicted felons to vote. They have broken the "contract" of the civil society, and so have lost some of their rights. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the restriction on the right to vote, but that may be an issue for another post. This is a question about marriage, however, as well as general discrimination throughout society for a group of people arbitrary defined by their sexual orientation. In this important sense, this is every bit a civil rights issue.

I'm sure Jason can come up with a much better and more coherent set of questions/responses to this, and I hope that you'll respond.

Lastly, at the end of the interview, Hughley mentions that he has never met a black atheist. Greydon Square would be one notable figure. It is an interesting problem though - minorities are unrepresented in free-thinker/atheist communities, probably because of the long religious tradition of these communities and the focus on a more practiced, instead of conceptual, religion. It's every bit as dangerous to come out as an atheist in these communities as it is to come out as homosexual.

Dan Savage, I hope you realize that you have a large body of support from the non-religious community, and I hope that you and others will see the similarities of our struggles and desires. We've reached an interesting point in this political climate, and I'm eager to see what we can do to change it.

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