Friday, August 1, 2008

Card On The Table

Orson Scott Card's latest polemic against gay people has been getting some attention in the human blogosphere. The Sideshow picked it up from the GLBTQ+ π entertainment site AfterElton, and yesterday Maestro IOZ spread it around some more. I guess I have to link to the original here, though hits are currency in the blogosphere and even granting my own paltry readership compared to them, linking to a site is like putting money into its pocket. But it's important that people read and understand what bigots are saying.

In Card's case, there's not much There there. Most notorious among those who've drawn attention to his jeremiad is his closer:
How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.
Card is living in a fantasy world, of course; the battle over same-sex marriage is going to be fought in the courts and at the polls, not by "married people" with Uzis. (Or do I mean pitchforks and torches?) I don't think enough heterosexuals, even married ones, really are that upset by same-sex marriage, though I don't mean to deny the considerable opposition that exists. Not only that, Card thinks:
Marriage is older than government. Its meaning is universal: It is the permanent or semipermanent bond between a man and a woman, establishing responsibilities between the couple and any children that ensue. ...

Husbands need to have the whole society agree that when they marry, their wives are off limits to all other males. He has a right to trust that all his wife's children would be his.

Wives need to have the whole society agree that when they marry, their husband is off limits to all other females. All of his protection and earning power will be devoted to her and her children, and will not be divided with other women and their children.

These two premises are so basic that they preexist any known government. In most societies through history, failure to live up to these commitments has led to extreme social sanctions -- even, in many cases, death.
This is quite wacky, considering how many societies have not agreed that a married man is "off limits to all other females." Polygyny (in the forms of plural marriage, concubinage, and sheer whoring around) is extremely widespread historically and cross-culturally. Especially it is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, enshrined in the practice of many Biblical heroes. Christians abandoned it, largely because the triumphant Christian party emerged in the monogamous Roman milieu. But the Christians also started out by treating even monogamy as a second-best option, with celibacy the ideal and Jesus himself as its exemplar. Card himself is a Mormon, and must know that the Latter Day Saints originally accepted polygamy, abandoning it only under pressure from the "dictators" of the US government. (Maybe that knowledge underlies his rage at the notion of the government interfering with the definition of marriage?) I must say, though, I like "permanent or semipermanent bond" in there. So I guess divorce is okay.

Given his insistence that marriage is a biological imperative, it's odd to see Card concede that "Married people are doing something that is very, very hard -- to combine the lives of a male and female, with all their physical and personality differences, into a stable relationship that persists across time." So, nature demands that human beings do something that is unnatural, for which it didn't bother to design us properly?

He also fumes about the word "homophobe":
Please remember that for the mildest of comments critical of the political agenda of homosexual activists, I have been called a "homophobe" for years.

This is a term that was invented to describe people with a pathological fear of homosexuals -- the kind of people who engage in acts of violence against gays. But the term was immediately extended to apply to anyone who opposed the homosexual activist agenda in any way.

A term that has mental-health implications (homophobe) is now routinely applied to anyone who deviates from the politically correct line.
Here, though, I agree with Card to a point. I've long been critical of the careless use of "homophobe." It's dishonest in so many ways to hide moral judgments behind quasimedical terms, as bigots themselves have often done. A person with a phobia, like any other mental disorder, should be treated with compassion, not attacked as a moral offender -- that's supposed to be a feature of the medical model, to protect those who can't help themselves from judgmentalism. I prefer "bigot", and use "homophobe" and "homophobia" only to refer to visceral emotional reactions to homosexuality.

Card is wrong again, of course, in claiming that the concept originally referred only to "the kind of people who engage in acts of violence against gays." It has always applied to much milder 'symptoms' too. (See Society and the Healthy Homosexual [1972], by the inventor of the word, George Weinberg, or this Wikipedia article.) In fact, Card is wrong about so many matters, from history and anthropology to contemporary politics, that it's not entirely unfair to suspect that he has a deep-rooted, irrational aversion to homosexuality. And while I would never stereotype, I can't help recalling how many other married men, vocal in their religiosity, who've gone on jihads against queers, have turned out to be gay. If Card is a homophobe, and I'd say he is, he deserves compassion and should seek treatment. Shock therapy, maybe, or hormones or lobotomies, the same treatments that were used on us in the not-so-distant past?

But, if Card prefers not to have me speculate about his mental health -- and I don't have much faith in the mental-health professions anyway -- then I'm quite happy to take him at his word. He's not mentally ill. He's in full command of his faculties, so he's a bigot and a liar. He should be judged morally, and shunned by decent people. Is that better, Orson?

(P.S. January 2012: I should have said something about Card's complaint that he has been called a homophobe "for the mildest of comments critical of the political agenda of homosexual activists"; the "comments" he had in mind were every bit as "mild" as in the jeremiad I discussed in this post, calling for increased enforcement of sodomy laws to intimidate homosexuals into the closet, for example. I suppose he meant that as long as he doesn't openly advocate violence against us, his criticisms are mild. So, if I were to advocate legal sanctions against the Latter-Day Saints, I'm sure Card would have no objection; he can't even really complain about being called a homophobe, since that is not in itself violent.)