INCEST AND GAME THEORY

James D. Miller talks about the externalities of incest and homosexuality. He argues, persuasively to my mind, that allowing private incest, even among consenting adults, undermines the trust necessary to form families for all of us. He fails to see how allowing gay people private relationships does the same thing. I think the core issue is actually a simple one: many social conservatives think that homosexuality is something you do; others believe it is something you just are. I’d argue further that it is as critical a part of who you are as being heterosexual. (I explain why in the introduction to Virtually Normal.) Actually, I wouldn’t just argue that. I know that. And once you do know that, equating it with things like incest – which are choices, not orientations – appears offensive and wrong. That’s why I wonder if Santorum has ever had such a discussion with an actual gay person. While I’m at it, here are gay conservative Bruce Bawer’s reflections on the affair.

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POOR MAILER

Norman Mailer used to be an actual writer and thinker. Some of his prose in the past has been peerless, if, to my taste, overly-swaggering. But his recent piece in the Times of London gives hackery a bad name. His theory is that this country went to war in Iraq for the sole reason of appeasing the battered ego of the white American male. For Mailer, the symbol of the WAM is the military. But isn’t the military actually one of the most racially integrated institutions in American life? At one point, presumably after having written half the column, this dawns on Mailer. But he carries on nonetheless. Ironically lamenting the rise of ethnic minorities in many parts of the culture, Mailer argues that

the good white American male still had the Armed Forces. If blacks and Hispanics were numerous there, still they were not a majority, and the officer corps, (if the TV was a reliable witness), suggested that the percentage of white men increased as one rose in rank to the higher officers. Moreover, we had knock-out tank echelons, Super-Marines, and-one magical ace in the hole x97 the best air force that ever existed. If we cannot find our machismo anywhere else, we can certainly settle in on the interface between combat and technology. Let me then advance the offensive suggestion that this may have been one of the cardinal reasons we went looking for war.

Yes, it is offensive, in as much as it is offensively stupid. Mailer also ignores the other obvious facet of the new military: the presence of women. So apart from the fact that the military is a showcase for feminism and racial integration, it’s a symbol of white male supremacy? Does no-one even edit this drivel?

TARANTO VERSUS KURTZ

James Taranto had a very sane column yesterday rebutting Stanley Kurtz’s tireless efforts to describe homosexual equality as inevitably leading to polygamy, bestiality, incest, prostitution, child-abuse, or whetever the latest bogey-man might be. (Isn’t it strange that the only thing some conservatives never associate homosexuality with is the one thing it is most like: heterosexuality?) Taranto makes a sharp point in this respect:

Echoing Santorum, Kurtz raises the possibility of a “slippery slope” leading from same-sex marriage to polygamy. But one can easily draw a distinction. The widespread practice of polygamy would have great social costs. It would distort the sexual marketplace by creating an undersupply of marriageable women. (Polyandry, the practice of women having multiple husbands, is too rare to be worth discussing.) The result is the creation of what Jonathan Rauch calls a “sexual underclass” of “low-status men” whose prospects for marriage are virtually nil… By contrast, it’s hard to imagine any great social harm arising from official recognition of same-sex unions. Just about anyone who would consider “marrying” someone of the same sex is outside the ordinary marriage pool anyway…

Precisely. Taranto sees no real social costs to encouraging this formerly marginalized group to have relationships that are recognized and faithful and durable. But then he says he doesn’t see any actual social advantage for granting gays marriage either. But surely the obvious conservative reason to back same-sex marriage is that it would encourage gay couples to care for each other, build responsible families and reduce promiscuity. All of these are conservative goals. So why can’t conservatives endorse them for homosexuals? I made this point way back in 1989, and I still haven’t heard a convincing argument against it. Taranto posits a compromise for those who worry that marriage would somehow be tainted by the inclusion of gays. He suggests ‘civil unions’ as an alternative way to foster gay responsibility and ensure gay equality, while leaving ‘marriage’ exclusively heterosexual. I disagree, but I can certainly see the rationale for such a proposal. Civil unions are backed by almost every Democratic candidate, and by many consistent conservatives. If I were trying to avoid gay marriage, I’d push civil unions as an obvious alternative. But the religious right won’t even tolerate that. If they have to choose between exclusion and true conservative principles, they pick exclusion every time.

QUARANTINING DISSENT

More evidence of the secret service and local cops policing free speech. Did this happen to some extent under Clinton as well? Either way, the notion that people trying to express their opposition to the president’s policies must be shepherded into areas where the president could never see them strikes me as deeply worrying.

THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD: A mischievous emailer informs me that Senator Rick Santorum’s Scranton District Office is located at 527, Linden Street. At 523, Linden Street, there’s the “Silhouette Lounge,” apparently recently named the “Best Gay Bar in Northeastern Pennsylvania.” Not that there’s that much competition, I’m afraid. I hope Rick drops by sometimes for a cocktail. It might be a good thing for there to be a bit of dialogue there.

CAFETERIA RELIGION

There are, it seems to me, two big trends going on in religious faith right now. The first is an obvious upswing in fundamentalism, Islamic and Christian, a fundamentalism that challenges the separation of church and state, and that opposes internal debate about theology in favor of the rigid imposition of orthodoxy. But the other trend is that many faithful believers are working out their own views within their own religious traditions. Those who mock this development call it “cafeteria religion;” I’d prefer to think of it as religion informed by reason and individual experience. In America especially, new religions are popping up all over the place that partake of this cafeteria paradigm. A lively piece in the recent Reason magazine provides an overview of some of the wackier as well as more mainstream versions of this:

There is a wide gulf, of course, between someone who merely fine-tunes her Catholicism and someone who replaces the Virgin Mary with the goddess of chaos; between a Jew who mixes milk with meat and a Jew who practices witchcraft. If I am describing a trend, it is one that covers a wide spectrum of behavior, from the ordinary to the outrxe9. As a journalist, I have naturally focused on the latter – but itx92s the former, obviously, that is reshaping society.

Well worth a read.

FEMINISM AND LACROSSE: Some fascinating discussion going on at the Ms Magazine bulletin board. It’s a classic feminist controversy: are we for gender equality or for protecting girls from big bad boys? Oddly enough, some of these anti-male feminists might have some allies on the far right. They wouldn’t want a boy playing on a girls’ lacrosse team either.

CIRCUMCISION DATA: It behooves me to link to a new study arguing that there is no difference in sensitivity between circumcized and uncircumcized men. The Reuters piece doesn’t tell us exactly how such things were measured and the squeamish probably don’t want to know. My own anti-circumcision view, however, is not based on the idea that mutilated men have less pleasure. It’s based on the simple notion that individuals’ bodies should not be permanently altered without their consent, unless the medical evidence for such a procedure is overwhelming. It isn’t. So I’ll stick to my guns.

ANOTHER BUSH NOMINEE: This time to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, former Jesse Helms campaign press secretary, Claude A. Allen. According to the Washington Post,

A Senate Judiciary Committee aide said Democrats are scrutinizing Allen’s statements about abortion and gays. During the 1984 campaign, Allen was criticized for his response to Hunt’s description of Helms’s backers as right-wingers. Allen said Hunt had links “with the queers.”

Inclusion just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

HE’S ALIVE!

Baghdad Bob is apparently negotiating surrender. Will Roger Ailes offer him a talk show before the military nabs him?

BAGHDAD BROADCASTING CORPORATION: Guess what term they use to describe one Osama bin Laden? Sit down:

It is one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born dissident – blamed by Washington for the 11 September attacks – to justify violence against the United States and its allies.

Sakharov, Walesa, bin Laden. That’s the mind of the BBC.

BUSH AND “INCLUSION”: The Washington Post nails it. The president’s rhetoric simply doesn’t match his own reality. On April 9, for good measure, the president nominated Bill Pryor, Alabama attorney general, to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Pryor is a strong defender of anti-sodomy laws, wrote an amicus brief defending the Texas law for the Supreme Court, fought for the discriminatory Colorado law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in Romer vs Evans, and has associated homosexual relationships with “prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and even incest and pedophilia (if the child should credibly claim to be ‘willing).” Does president Bush believe that Pryor is “an inclusive man?” Or will he and his defenders keep saying they don’t even have to answer that question?

ON THE RECORD

The only real guessing game about U.S. foreign policy in the next year or so regards Israel and the Palestinians. My bet is that the president is serious about the roadmap, supports Colin Powell and is going to make some neoconservatives somewhat uneasy in the coming months. Why do I think that? Because the president has said so. I take his words seriously. So does Tony Blair. I thought this comment of his yesterday was revealing: “President Bush himself is completely committed to taking the Middle East peace process forward. I would take the words of President Bush, they are good enough for me, and I think they are good enough for you.” My guess is that this explicitly was the price for British support in Iraq. Yes, it’s important that new Palestinian leadership actually emerge that can make a land-carve-up credible at all. If that leadership does emerge, it will also be because of president Bush’s under-rated insistence and patience. But if that really does happen, I have no doubt that Bush will move. Iraq has made the matter far more pliable. And vice-versa.

THE FIRST POLL? I don’t know exactly what to make of this, but the first poll of Iraqis by an Indian outfit, NDTV, has found that a clear majority support the U.S. invasion. More worryingly, the younger they were, the less pro-American. But there is considerable support for a lengthy U.S. presence, making this a kind of requested temporary neo-colonization. Is that a first?

STICKING IT TO TITLE IX: Here’s a fascinating example of genuine gender non-discrimination: a boy allowed to play on a girls’ high school lacrosse team, because there were no real spots for the guy on local boys’ teams. Actually, there were no local boys’ teams. They key, I guess, is that he weighs 140 pounds. But he’s still the biggest scorer, so to speak. And the experience brought out some choice quotes: “We were checking the heck out of his stick,” opined his female coach. I bet you were, girls. I bet you were.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “What rankles Frenchmen is the decline of France relative to other European countries. France wants to be not a world power but the foremost European nation. If the present fuel debacle brings about a decline of Western Europe, France wants to make sure that it ends up sitting on top of the heap. To solve the fuel problem by force would result in a situation in which France could not play a paramount role. Hence France will urge submission to Arab dictates. It will also be for the abandonment of Israel and the cold-shouldering of the United States.” – Eric Hoffer, “Before the Sabbath,” written in 1975. Give the guy the reverse of the von Hoffman award.

GRRRR: I’ve always been a fan of dragons, so this article today riveted me. It never occurred to me to ask why human beings had fantasized and feared such mythical creatures for so long. I assumed that the world was a scary place and that imagination had simply run wild. Nuh-huh:

In “An Instinct for Dragons” (Routledge, 2000), Dr. David E. Jones, a professor of anthropology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, posits a biological explanation that jibes with the Jungian notion of unconscious collective fears. He argues that the dragon image, fermented in the primal soup of man’s first nightmares, is a composite of the carnivores who fed on human ancestors when they were tree-dwelling monkeys: the pythons, the big cats and the raptors.

I feel robbed. Then there’s this banality:

Bones exposed by storms, earthquakes or digging were well known to the ancients, said Dr. Adrienne Mayor, a professor of folklore at Princeton and the author of “The First Fossil Hunters” (Princeton, 2000). She argues that the myth of gold-guarding griffins arose in the red clay of the Gobi Desert, a landscape literally scattered with white Protoceratops skulls, with parrot beaks and bony neck frills.

I guess it makes sense now. But don’t we as humans simply need to create terror at the end of the world, even if only to make our everyday fears seem more manageable? Humans live in relative space and time. The avoidance of dragons makes mere survival seem like security. And without them, whom would our heroes have to slay?

REALITY CHECK: “One of your letter writers asked, ‘Do any of the other three states with sodomy laws impose jail time?’ In 1999, the state of Oklahoma raised the prison term for consensual sex by gay couples from 10 years to 20 years. A felony, consensual sex between two adult men or between two adult women in Oklahoma carries the same penalty as same-sex rape.” Just more “inclusiveness” out there. More feedback on the Letters Page.