February 06, 2007
indefatigable state of fatigue
I shouldn't put people down for suffering from battle fatigue, as I am often prone to fits of what can best be called Culture War fatigue. The interesting thing about this fatigue is it's what led me to start this blog nearly four years ago. Well, I started it nearly five years ago, only to quit, but then restart once the fatigue set in again. You might call it fatigue-of-Culture-War-fatigue, and in a paradox I don't fully understand, that fatigue often supplies the fuel for this blog.
The difference is, I don't think the Culture War is a real war, so when I call for an end to the Culture War I mean neither defeat nor victory, as I don't believe what people do in their personal lives should be political -- much less grounds for war. I recognize there are huge moral disagreements, but I don't think it's helpful to ratchet them up to the level of "war," as that makes discussions impossible.
But the warrior mentality persists on both sides, and no matter how tired I get of it, my fatigue is no match for the persistence of Culture Warriors. No matter how fatigued I get, no matter how much I'd rather not write another damned post, the culture war stuff just keeps getting cranked out, in much the same Sisyphean way I saw pleading papers cranked out when I did litigation. Hint to future lawyers: if you dislike litigation, becoming a litigator is not the way to stop it. Opposing litigation by litigating does not make litigation go away.
Sometimes I wonder whether a better approach would be just to ignore things I don't like, and not try to get myself lured into discussions of hot button issues. Because, no matter how "logical" or "reasonable" I might imagine myself to be or even try to be, if I disagree, I will be perceived as being "on the other side" and thus, as "the enemy."
Because I'm on neither "side" of the Culture War, I'm an enemy of all who fight. To continue with the litigation analogy (an admittedly flawed one, I know, because there will never be a final judgment -- at least in this life on this earth), imagine how foolish it would be to step into a fiercely litigated dispute and opine that both sides are being somehow illogical or unreasonable. They'd think you were absolutely crazy. The irony, though, is that some of their their clients might agree with the crazy idea that the litigation is not the greatest idea. (I'll never forget a rare instance in which I made a lawsuit disappear by persuading an appellate court to throw out -- for good -- a case that had dragged on for years. The client was an insurance law firm which had hired us to handle the appeal, and when the case was thrown out, the insurance company was delighted! But the client was crestfallen, as the case had generated many billable hours for many years, and by winning it, we had "lost" it! For him, winning a case by getting it thrown out was losing.)
With the "culture war," though, there is no winning or losing, because it's a permanent phrase that isn't going away. No court can throw it out, and there are no permanent victories or losses, and no readily ascertainable cast of litigants. The "sides" are subject to change and revision constantly, spring up overnight, with new "issues" arising over what ordinary people would consider nothing.
So why I engage in these "culture war" debates, sometimes I do not know.
Anyway, new fighters are always emerging in the Culture War, and a rising figure (if such terminology is appropriate) is J. Matt Barber. Best known for his legal dispute with Allstate (discussed infra), he is now on the board of Concerned Women for America and a regular contributor to World Net Daily. How I came to be placed on his list I do not know, but with amazing regularity I get emails from him which criticize the gay lifestyle, often but not always in religious terms. I almost always ignore them. (Or so I try.) But that little man inside my head -- it would be arrogant of me to call it a "conscience" -- accuses me of being a coward if I ignore the emails. Might ignoring them be taken as agreement? Or am I really ignoring them by remaining silent? The answers aren't clear; what is clear is that I am sick to death of these intractable cultural disagreements, but ignoring them does not make them go away. I worry that there isn't enough rational discussion, because these cultural disagreements are so fraught with emotion that they threaten the ability of polite society to remain polite.
So what is more polite? Discussing them? Or ignoring them? Is this the place to discuss them? If not here, where?
At any rate, while I don't like to engage in lengthy religious or sexual disputes (I try to keep both as private as I can), the latest email from J. Matt Barber seemed to cry out for a response. Much as I wanted to ignore it along with so many others, it triggered this inexplicable sense of "obligation" to say something.
What triggers this sense of obligation is complicated; perhaps it could best explained by specialists who treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. For the record, I am willing to stipulate that I may be nuts, as well as immoral, amoral, and downright evil. But even conceding all that, I'm still stuck with Mr. Barber's email. (I don't need to quote the whole thing, because the text is also a featured article at World Net Daily.)
Saying homosexuality is immoral is nothing new for Barber. What's different this time is that Barber is upset that President Bush failed to condemn homosexuality in his State of the Union address:
In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, President Bush briefly touched on the horrors of the HIV/AIDS pandemic currently plaguing Africa. Most everyone agrees that something must be done to combat the spread of this dreadful and preventable disease, which continues to infect many throughout the poverty-stricken continent.Did Bush really miss an opportunity to address domestic AIDS? Or might he have been motivated by the fact that huge numbers of Africans are infected but have no access to treatment? There are 30 million Africans with the AIDS virus -- compared to approximately 1 million in the United States.
Here's what the president said about AIDS:
Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus -- including 3 million children under the age 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than 4 million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims -- only 50,000 -- are receiving the medicine they need.While Bush did say that AIDS is preventable, and that it is being confronted in the United States, he clearly thinks the situation in Africa is much more appalling. Would this have been an appropriate time to discuss the American homosexual lifestyle as a contributory factor?
Barber thinks so, and although I disagree, I think it's fair to address his argument, the central thesis of which is expressed in a statement he quotes from Peter La Barbera:
Fighting AIDS without talking against homosexuality is like fighting lung cancer without talking against smoking.Is that a good analogy? There is no question that in the United States, AIDS is transmitted by certain homosexual practices, the principal one being anal intercourse without condoms. It is also transmitted by shared needles, and increasingly, by ordinary heterosexual intercourse without condoms. The numbers are in flux, but if these 2005 numbers are correct, about half (18,722) of the total number of Americans infected in 2005 (37,930) were infected by "male-to-male sexual contact ." Looking at the numbers, this means is that any discussion of AIDS avoidance should mention homosexual intercourse, heterosexual intercourse, and needle sharing in that order of importance. Obviously, because there are far fewer homosexuals than heterosexuals, a far greater proportionate share of the homosexual population is involved, and thus it would be irrational to fight AIDS in the United States without talking about homosexuality.
What about talking against homosexuality? If all homosexuals engaged in the practices that cause AIDS, this would appear to be a logical claim, but if they are not, would it not make more sense to target (and "talk against") only those who engage in the practices that actually spread AIDS?
To say that AIDS must be fought by "speaking against homosexuality" suggests -- by conflation -- that those who do not engage in AIDS-transmitting practices are morally culpable of spreading AIDS.
Whether Mr. Barber or anyone else approves of homosexuality or not, let's analogize to needle sharing by drug users -- something of which I think very few would approve. Even if we grant that drug use is evil, is it logical to claim that drug users who don't share needles are culpable for the spread of AIDS? I don't see how. And if those who don't share needles are not to blame for the conduct of those who do, how can homosexuals who masturbate each other be charged with "barebacking"?
While it's statistically not as likely a cause as irresponsible homosexual behavior, it is undeniable that AIDS can be transmitted by irresponsible heterosexual behavior. Does that mean heterosexuals in monogamous relationships share the blame for AIDS?
I'm assuming blame is the key to understanding the argument, for Barber complains that those who engage in sexual behaviors of which he disapproves are lacking in "accountability":
For one to continue engaging in unnatural and immoral sexual behaviors of choice, one must deny the need for accountability. In fact, one must do away with accountability altogether. And so from this notion - from the human need to rationalize away sin - was born today's fashionable and accountability-free "safe-sex" myth.I see several illogical suppositions there. I am assuming that Mr. Barber considers all homosexual behavior to be "unnatural and immoral sexual behaviors of choice," because he does not distinguish between such homosexual behaviors as fetishism, masturbation, sadomasochism, oral intercourse, anal intercourse, online "sex," or even holding hands in public. Otherwise, his complaint about a lack of "accountability" makes no sense. What are online masturbators or public hand-holders to be held accountable for? AIDS? If not AIDS, then why is this in a discussion of AIDS?
What about smokers? Aren't they "accountable" in much the same way?
But concerns over death are conflated into an "obtuse liberal mantra":
Leftist logic: "What? Stop indulging in disordered, promiscuous and random 'gay' sex? No need. Here's a condom. ... But always practice 'safe-sex' or you might die" - goes the obtuse liberal mantra.You might die? Is something wrong with that warning? Forgive my liberal obtusity, but if death is not a form of "accountability," then what is? I realize that there are people who do not fear death, but if the threat of death does not deter them, I'm wondering what form of accountability will.
Isn't the "you might die" part being glossed over here? The fact is people might very well die if they engage in AIDS risky behavior. Applying Barber's smoking analogy, why wouldn't "smoke cigarettes and you may die" (which is pretty much what the package labels say these days) be considered a "liberal mantra"?
I think the argument that all homosexuality is immoral and therefore causes AIDS is like saying "Cigarettes are immoral and will kill you regardless of whether you light them up and smoke them." (Actually, I have to admit that crazy as it may seem, there are indeed people who think that way. All you need to do is brandish an unlit cigarette at them.)
Seen this way, perhaps homosexuals are as immoral as cigarettes. Or is that an inflammatory statement? Perhaps, but I often suspect that the people who compare sexual morality to cigarette morality don't really mean what they say.
Let's carry the smoking analogy further -- to the issue of whether or not parents should vaccinate their children against the sexually transmitted HPV virus. The moral conservative argument against vaccinating the children is that it the vaccination implies that they are going to have sex, and that the vaccination is a license for children to have sex, similar to handing out condoms.
Let's assume that a vaccine was developed which prevented lung cancer in smokers. I suspect that there would not be the same visceral opposition to vaccinating children against lung cancer as there is to vaccinations against STDs. I can't prove my suspicions (because there is no way of getting inside people's minds), but I suspect there'd be more opposition to an AIDS vaccine than a vaccine against lung cancer.
As to whether screwing should be subject to the same restrictions as smoking, it can be argued that it already is. Try screwing at work or in the street. You'll be told to do it behind closed doors. In fact, even though they're cracking down on smokers, I think that public screwing is considerably more penalized than public smoking -- despite the fact that sexual intercourse poses no direct health hazards to anyone except the participants. In theory, private smoking is approximately as legal as private screwing.
I realize that there's a problem with my analogy in that screwing takes two. But it's not my analogy. I think it is a problematical one and I am not sure that the people who want homosexuals treated like smokers have actually thought the moral implications through.
As the argument continues, Mr. Barber sets up a dichotomy between encouraging "trapped" homosexuals to "escape" on the one hand, and "nihilism" on the other:
And so rather than encouraging those trapped in the homosexual lifestyle to begin the admittedly difficult process of escape - which thousands of former homosexuals have successfully done - liberals prefer the nihilistic approach, one in which there are absolutely no absolutes and in which all morality rests entirely in the eye of the beholder.I think this sets up a false moral dichotomy, as it implies there are only two moralities -- Barber's morality and moral nihilism. Additionally, there is a failure to recognize the distinction between moral relativism and moral nihilism. If I say that under Islamic morality, polygamy is allowed, while under Judeo-Christian Western morality, it is forbidden, I am engaged in moral relativism, but I am not engaged in moral nihlism unless I say that this means that there is no morality. Denying that different people in different times and different places have different moral views is, in my opinion, denying reality. What gets tricky is the claim of "absolute" morality, because anything said to be "absolute" is said to go beyond the realm of opinion. If a particular viewpoint is (according to Barber and those who agree with him) absolutely right and all disagreement with that is wrong, then it becomes wrong for me to argue at all, which means this essay might be a colossal waste of time. The problem with absolute morality is that there is no absolute agreement on what it is or how it is to be interpreted, and that is why these arguments go in circles. I say this as someone who believes in God, as well as the concept of truth, and of course in right and wrong. I may be wrong in my interpretations of these things, but that does not mean I don't believe in them. I am always willing to admit that I may be wrong, but what I cannot do in logic is to state conclusively that my opinions (or the opinions of other people) are facts. Even the opinions that are said to come from God remain opinions of men about the opinions of God, and no matter how many people share opinions, that does not change the opinions into facts.
The problem is that just because if I proceed from the premise that I may be wrong does not entitle me to demand that others do the same. Where does this leave me? Pleading guilty to being Satanic (as I have done) simply to end the argument? I often wish these arguments could proceed on the basis that both sides have the right to be wrong, but when arguing with absolutism, that's wishful thinking.
A word about "trapped" homosexuals who seek to "escape." Not only do I have no problem with anyone being gay, I have no problem with anyone not being gay. If there's a right to be gay, there's a right not to be gay. But what is meant by the phrase "those trapped in the homosexual lifestyle"? Does he mean that all homosexuals are trapped? Or only those who want to escape? I'm assuming that he has to be talking about the latter, because "trapped" implies a lack of choice, and if homosexuality is a chosen liftestyle, then how can homosexuals who chose it be called "trapped"?
As to the ones who want to esape, this raises questions I'm not capable of answering. First of all, I would need to know who trapped them, and who is preventing them from escaping. Did they trap themselves? To answer these questions requires getting inside the minds of each "trapped" homosexual -- something I am not prepared to do. It seems to me that anyone who feels trapped should have every right to escape. I just wonder whether Barber isn't claiming for himself the right to decide whether or not other people are trapped. If so, on what basis? Is human sexuality an addiction, like tobacco? I don't think it is, but even if I did, how do such speculations about psychology become an appropriate topic for Bush's State of the Union address?
Finally we come to the condom failure rate -- said to be dispositive of the "safe sex" argument. Here I think there's a presupposition that just as all homosexuality involves AIDS, all homosexual "safe sex" is said to rely on condoms (and anal intercourse):
Instead of considering a homosexual's best interests and discouraging both spiritually and physically destructive behavior, the left scandalously encourages him to walk a paper thin latex tightrope, risking up to a 1 in 3 chance that he might plunge to his death. (Studies have consistently established from between a 15 to 30 percent condom failure rate in protecting against HIV/AIDS and other STDs).Assuming he is right about what "condom failure rate" means (this study shows the percentages can be reported by people or by episode), then with a one in three rate, I'd expect all homosexuals to be dead within a very short time (certainly a lot faster than they could be replaced). I don't think that is happening, and frankly, I have not seen much of a movement to proclaim condoms safe. It is well known that anal sex is dangerous, but it is also well known that condoms make it safer, not "safe." But again, there is an assumption that the riskier behaviors are the only behaviors, and zero mention of the fact that there are monogamous gay couples. And what about lesbians? Are they homosexual? They're generally considered a low risk group for AIDS.
I realize that Barber believes homosexuality is immoral, but I think much of his argument is an attempt to conflate morality into epidemiology. It is true that anal sex is not safe, and that condoms do not afford absolute protection. These things are pretty well known.
And while I know I will never convince Barber, I have tried to address the topics in his email -- homosexual immorality, homosexual unaccountability, safe sex obtuse liberal mantras, moral nihilism, condom failure rates, "trapped" homosexuals and more.
I get sick of writing about these things -- and even though I recognize that they provide fuel for the blog, I often wish I didn't have this weird feeling of obligation.
On the other hand, might this blog be a better place for them than Bush's State of the Union speech?
Actually, that raises what I hope is a final point.
No, seriously. If I'm so sick of all these contentious issues and unwinnable arguments that I wonder whether they really belong in this blog, isn't it a bit arrogant to say they belong in Bush's State of the Union speech?
posted by Eric on 02.06.07 at 04:48 PM
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