Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Time Is Fulfilled, and Gay Marriage Is at Hand -- Real Soon Now

My old friend the ambivalent Obama supporter shared a link about the "inevitability" of same-sex marriage on Facebook today.  I've heard this trope a lot in the past couple of years, as polls show increasing support for same-sex civil marriage and even many of its antigay opponents concede grumpily that they've lost this battle.

Even more annoying in this case, the link in question was to an article about a poll that asked people if they thought same-sex marriage was inevitable.   Now, you can ask people about almost anything, and what people think about even stupid questions can tell you something about public attitudes.  But it's not terribly significant.

I annoyed my liberal law professor friend after she annoyed me by posting that same-sex marriage's time had come, there was no excuse for people who refuse to along with History and Progress.  "If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you?" I jeered.  She didn't make a very coherent reply, of course.  Such claims have the same kind of history as, say, claims about the imminence of the Second Coming: they're almost always jumping the gun.  But even when they aren't, they're intellectually and morally dishonest.

Right now, it does look as though same-sex marriage will be legal in all fifty states very soon.  And it also looks like antigay sentiment is declining in the US, mostly among younger people.  It fits with what the sociologist Mark MacCormack found in England, and it's an encouraging trend since it's evidence that antigay bigotry isn't innate to human beings.  But I'm still nervous, because no one knows why it's happening.  It's speculated that it's partly due to the greater visibility of GLBT people in society, that when you have gay friends and siblings and uncles and aunts and parents, you're less likely to see us as a remote but still scary threat.  I think that's plausible, but I wonder if it's sufficient to explain the change.  I worry that change like that can reverse itself, as easily as it happened in the first place.  I want to know why this change is happening, not just to speculate about it.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was touted in the media as "an overwhelming natural force whose momentum could not be stopped."  But I also recall how the American Republican Right celebrated its victory in the 1994 midterm elections by gloating that liberalism was on its last legs and that a few liberals should be kept on as museum pieces for the education of the young.  And how liberal-centrist Democrats gloated that the Right was on its last legs after Obama's victories of 2008 and 2012.  (Not so much after the slapdown of 2010, though.)  It ain't over 'till it's over, and it's never over.

Most important, the fact that change is snowballing in one direction or another may be more or less true, but it is not an argument in favor of the change.  Even if those who oppose a social trend are a tiny minority, they shouldn't go along with the trend merely because it's trendy.  "All the cool kids are doing it, you retarded loser" -- and Barack, as we know, is the Caliph of Cool to his devotees -- is an abdication of reason.  If you think something is wrong, or if you think something is right, you should stand fast even if everybody else in the world disagrees with you.  I've said before, of course, that it's not enough just to have principles: you have to have good ones.  But whether your principles are good or bad is not up to the crowd.  There are, I believe, plenty of good reasons, rational and historical, for being wary of triumphalist arguments from historical inevitability.

To cite this scene isn't to suggest that people on any side of the same-sex marriage controversy are Nazis; my point is that the appeal to historical forces is empty, and can be used by anybody, good or bad.  Since it's irrational, though, to make that appeal is to put yourself in very bad company.

I wasn't sure whether to bother posting about this exchange, but then I read an article at the Guardian that quoted Richard Stallman, the computing pioneer.  He was talking about the trendy phenomenon of "cloud computing," but as you can see, his remark generalizes:
Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true.
That also applies to the Triumph of the MOOC (via).

There are other reasons than antigay bigotry or homophobia for skepticism about marriage, including same-sex marriage.  In general, both sides of the mainstream debate aren't interested in them.  What passes for public debate is really marketing most of the time.