Taking back political discourse for the nice bigots

James Gannon used to write for the Wall Street Journal.  Now he writes for American Spectator, and he's bringing his insights about public discourse to bear on the rhetoric leading up to the mid-term elections in his recent "Hayseed Rebellion".  He makes some observations about how his side of the debate is being portrayed:

If you believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman, you are a homophobe and a bigot.

Yep, that's right.  If you believe that, you are a homophobe and a bigot.  Where's his problem there?  Be proud of your bigotry, right? (Spoiler alert: Gannon says just that.)

If you believe that the U.S. Constitution means only what it actually says, you are an extremist who ought to be wearing a powdered wig.

Uh, no.  It means that you likely haven't read the Constitution, or that if you have read the Constitution, it's with the radio on,  watching television, while smoking crack.  Seriously, even folks who knew the framers had to read the Federalist Papers to understand what's going on, what's being said, at times.  And then there's stare decisis.  The world's a complicated place, and that means that 18th century legal principles may be relevant, but not perfect fits every time.  Whatever, maybe powdered wigs are in.

If you have misgivings about the morality of abortion, or any doubts about the absolute right of a mother to kill her unborn child, you are a religious fanatic, an anti-feminist, and probably a right-wing Catholic.

OK. I think I get where Gannon's going, now.  He thinks that if he can tell bigots, homophobes, re-enactors of 18th Century legalisms, and religious fanatics that liberals think they are bigots, homophobes, religious fanatics, and general nincompoops, then they'll get mad and act like the bigots, homophobes, fanatics, and nincompoops they are.  And he can do this while noting how generally nice they are, until they've been angered.  Liberals wouldn't like them when they're angry.

And the docile, largely silent majority of ordinary Americans, who don't relish confrontation and controversy, have allowed these institutional forces to have their way in changing American culture. Up to now. . . .

Hey, all you bigots and extremists and homophobes who still believe in all that stuff this country used to stand for — it's time for your Willie Stark moment. It's time to stop being so nice, so naive, so accommodating to the movement that is intent on changing your country radically and permanently. It's time to stand up, speak out, reject the unfair labels being pinned on you and reject the redefinition of everything you care about.

First of all, I can hardly believe that Gannon thinks that the exemplars of this movement are mostly nice.  They are mostly people who think they are nice, but those are often the least nice of all.  Moreover, at this point, who's making these "nice" people angry?  Is it the liberals?  Or is it the blowhards who have been telling them what they believe? 

A quick point on analyzing ad populum arguments to close.  Many are arguments from authority — the authority of crowds.  In this case, this argument is another form of argument from authority, but one less from numbers.  This form of argument is one from persecution conferring authority.  Here's a rough try at the move:

P1: People with identity X are widely persecuted for their views

P2: Persecution is wrong.

C: It is wrong to persecute identity X.

P3: If it is wrong to persecute those with identity X, then X must be right.

C2: X and the views coming with it must be right.

The problem is all with P3, clearly, as there are plenty of stupid views and identities that have been treated shabbily, but that bad treatment hasn't been instrumental to the improvement of the views.  Wiccans, anyone?  So what is the "Hayseed Rebellion" that James Gannon is suggesting?  Not sure, but I have a feeling it involves voting Republican.  That's a good way to let off some steam, you see. 

Of course, they could try to do things that would make the rest of America not think they are homophobes, bigots, racists, and nincompoops.  But that'd be, you know, accommodationist, and they're done being nice, apparently.

42 thoughts on “Taking back political discourse for the nice bigots”

  1. "Yep, that's right.  If you believe that, you are a homophobe and a bigot.  Where's his problem there?  Be proud of your bigotry, right? (Spoiler alert: Gannon says just that.)"
    Can you substantiate the claim that everyone who opposes gay marriage actually hates gay people? That is a pretty serious charge to level without any support for it.
    The most common anti-gay marriage argument is that the state has an interest in promoting straight marriage (because of the children), where as gay marriage doesn't usually lead to any children. I DISAGREE WITH THAT ARGUMENT, I think society benefits from marriage even without children. I think Gay marriage would probably benefit society in many ways, and we can make arguments for gay marriage without resorting to childish Ad hominem attacks.

  2. Hello Ben.  That's called a rhetorical flourish, not an argument.  Not even ad hominem, dude. Wasn't even pretending it was an argument.  Read closely. You see, the post at that point has me playing along with Gannon's line of reasoning, not me making an argument.  Gannon says: everyone on the left thinks those who oppose gay marriage are bigots.  Me: yep.  That's not an argument.  That's me agreeing with him.  The line that says, "OK, I think I know where Gannon's going now…" is when things are different. MY argument comes later, once Gannon's game is clear.  No ad hominems there. Instead, it's an analysis of how a specific form of ad populum argument goes.
      So next time you try to do some argument analysis and fallacy-accusation (especially here), please: 1. Read the post.  The whole thing, Ben.  2. Know what ad hominem arguments are. 3. Read the post again. And 4. Take pains to at least be in the ballpark.

  3. "That's called a rhetorical flourish, not an argument.  Not even ad hominem, dude. Wasn't even pretending it was an argument."
    I'll take your word for it that no argument was intended. As a reader it sounded to me like it was a separate point independent from your main argument, and the point was opponents of gay marriage are bigots ergo their arguments must be wrong. To me personally it sounded like a classic abusive ad hominem. To add to the confusion the title of your post is, "taking back political discourse for the nice bigots."
    My 2 cents.

  4. OK, Ben. That's a good clarification.  Thanks for that. 
    Two things.  First, it's important to see how Gannon's piece works.  It goes like this: (1) people think we're bigots for opposing gay marriage. (2) but we're nice people. (3) so they're wrong, not just about us, but about gay marriage. (4) so we get to stop being nice, at least to them.
    My point was that I agree with (1) but disagree with (2) and (3).  You can buy Gannon's premise, but not the rest of the argument.  Agreeing with (1) but not with (2) is not an ad hominem argument, but one that's an inference to the best explanation (running: these people withold rights from those who clearly deserve them for no defensible reason. they must be bigots).  That argument's not in there (admittedly), but you know… postings can't do it all.  And it wasn't my objective here to defend gay marriage rights, but to analyze *Gannon's* argument, which wasn't directly about gay marriage, either.  It was all about tone.
    Second, the setup was to highlight the ad populum form of Gannon's overall argument.  Take a look at my follow-up posting on the NS about it (linked at the top of the comments here). 
    A final thing.  I don't think all cases of assessing the character of our interlocutors are cases of ad hominem abuse.  If people giving arguments make a habit of fudging details, gerrymandering evidence, not responding to criticisms, and all with issues of moral import, then I'm fully confident that it's appropriate to call them nincompoops, idiots, bigots, and worse.  These are not ad hominem arguments (of the form: he's a bigot, so he's wrong), but rather inferences of the form:  he's wrong, demonstrably so, and when shown the evidence, he is incorrigible… so he must be an idiot, dolt, willful bigot, or other.  We do the same with people of good character…

  5. Scott,

    "….(running: these people withold rights from those who clearly deserve them for no defensible reason. they must be bigots)….."

    That's the problem, they might not seem like good reasons to you, but that doesn't mean the people advancing them are any less sincere about them. The second problem is your framing of the issue presupposes that any two adults have a right to get married (unless there is some other overriding factor), which is precisely what opponents of Gay marriage disagree with.

  6. Ben, you may charge me with a hasty move here, but I don't yet see it, as political reasons must  not be mysterious reasons available only to the elect, but also to most any person to whom the law applies.  I have yet to see an argument against gay marriage that doesn't start or end with something like "it's a conservative thing".  Regardless, however this point comes down, the argument you'd called an ad hominem fallacy isn't of such a form. 
    I have no doubt that those who oppose gay marriage are sincere in their opposition and that they think it is an issue of dire moral importance.  In this, Gannon and I agree.  But, again, I'm not giving an argument for the acceptability of gay marriage.  I've assumed that it is morally acceptable and should be legal.  So what?  My analysis of Gannon's piece wasn't about that, but about how inferences that I make about people who oppose gay marriage makes them resent me…  Gannon tries to turn that into more opposition to gay marriage.   That's what's being criticized.
    Now, your point may be that calling these folks bigots plays right into Gannon's hands. Here's how I see it in dramatic fashion:
    Gannon's saying: Look at all those liberals… they think you're bigots. 
    Me: yep. you are all bigots.
    Him:  don't you resent that? 
    Them: Yeah!
    Gannon: Then let's show them liberals what big-ass bigots we can be! 
    Me: uh oh! Didn't I have a post about how crazy this is?
    Ben: Aikin, you made them mad! Don't do that!
    Me: But I was saying that it's crazy that they can make their case on the basis of the simple fact that people think they're baseless and wrong!

    Now, the problem may be that in calling out bigots as bigots, we enrage them.  That may not be good policy, as they tend to vote more when you call them bigots.  Or it may be with respect.  But  respect is not a matter of not being called names.  It's about being given the space to make an argument.  Harshness just comes with the territory.

  7. Scott,

    I've tried to make this post as concise as possible, unfortunately it's still long.
    " I have yet to see an argument against gay marriage that doesn't start or end with something like "it's a conservative thing".
    The problem is marriage in this situation involves three separate issues; It is a contract, a title, and a set of benefits. The issue of benefits involves whether society should provide incentives for couples to stay together, the issue of title concerns tradition, and the issue of contract is a question of legal rights. In this context anyone who opposes extending any one of the three to same sex couples would be an opponent of gay marriage. Most arguments against gay marriage address on of the three issues, tradition, legal rights, or incentives. 
     
    "I have no doubt that those who oppose gay marriage are sincere in their opposition and that they think it is an issue of dire moral importance."
    The point about sincerity deals with whether the people making the anti gay marriage arguments actually believe them. They could be sincere in their opposition to gay marriage, but advance arguments against gay marriage that they don't actually believe because their real reasons would be unpopular. For a variety of reasons I think that this is not the case for most of the opponents of gay marriage. I also think that the goal of discourse is to advance our understanding of a topic, and even insincere arguments further that aim.
    " My analysis of Gannon's piece wasn't about that, but about how inferences that I make about people who oppose gay marriage makes them resent me…  Gannon tries to turn that into more opposition to gay marriage.   That's what's being criticized."
    I agree with you. What proponents of gay marriage think about opponents of gay marriage is obviously irrelevant to whether gay marriage should be supported or opposed.
    As for Gannon's piece, it's not a political argument it's political cheer leading. Because of that it's hard for me to take a critical look at his overall thesis since his overall thesis is basically, "go team, go." If Gannon has an overall thesis it is that the other side is going to do bad stuff so make sure you vote. Where it get's tricky is where he talks about the bad stuff, Gannon writes:

    "If you admit to having some queasy feeling when boarding an airplane with people dressed in Muslim garb — you are not only a bigot but you are FIRED…
    ….If you have misgivings about the morality of abortion, or any doubts about the absolute right of a mother to kill her unborn child, you are a religious fanatic, an anti-feminist, and probably a right-wing Catholic….
    …..If you think people should not be allowed to break into our country illegally, then get free education, health care and jobs and to march in our streets to protest the violation of their "rights," you are a racist, a xenophobe, and your state should be boycotted….."
    I think the bad stuff he refers to isn't simply abortion, illegal immigration, etc. But what he refers to is the silencing of debate on these issues, through social ostracism and name calling. I would agree with you that his argument falls apart because the party in power doesn't define the socially acceptable parameters of debate. There is a very weak connection between a democratic victory in a midterm election and societal tolerance for different opinions; it simply is not a legislative matter.
    Sadly his criticism of American liberals and leftists is probably true. In my experience conservatives and libertarians are far more tolerant of different points of view and far more supportive of traditional protections of free speech. Look at the left wing protesters who shout down anti-immigration speakers, or academic supporters of hate speech laws, these are clear demonstrations of disrespect for the principles of free thought and open discussion.
    While his criticism of certain people on the American left is perfectly justified, it just isn't relevant to the recent midterm election. Largely because the leadership of the democratic party is much more conservative then the base.
    "Me: yep. you are all bigots.
    Him:  don't you resent that? 
    Them: Yeah!
    Gannon: Then let's show them liberals what big-ass bigots we can be! 
    Me: uh oh! Didn't I have a post about how crazy this is?
    Ben: Aikin, you made them mad! Don't do that!
    Me: But I was saying that it's crazy that they can make their case on the basis of the simple fact that people think they're baseless and wrong!"

    I wasn't defending Gannon's column, his article is a steaming pile of crap. I was defending the idea that reasonable people can disagree on the question of gay marriage. His article is moronic us against them rhetoric designed to get voters who'd rather watch, "The Bachelor,"  to the polls during a midterm election.

    "Now, the problem may be that in calling out bigots as bigots, we enrage them….."
    I don't think you can substantiate the charge that those who oppose gay marriage are anti-gay bigots. Your position seems to be that opposition to gay marriage could only be justified by anti-gay bigotry. Now I have never seen anyone, you included, provide anything close to a satisfactory defense of this position. At the same time I can see many reasons for opposing gay marriage that would have nothing to do with bigotry.
    As I mentioned earlier the issue of marriage in the United States contains three basic areas, contract, title, and benefits. I can't think of any reason to oppose two people of the same sex entering into a similar contract to marriage. OTOH, people might oppose granting same sex couples the title of marriage simply out of a since of tradition (IMO a weak argument, but whatever). The strongest argument concerns the question of benefits. In this area the question isn't so much why not, as why. Why should anyone get benefits? People could argue that the state has an interest in incentivizing heterosexual marriage but not gay marriage (IMO this is the strongest argument).
    You could substantiate the charge of bigotry by claiming that opposition to gay marriage is itself bigotry. But that leaves the question of why it's bigotry unanswered, and I have never seen anyone even attempt to answer it.
    "But  respect is not a matter of not being called names.  It's about being given the space to make an argument.  Harshness just comes with the territory."
    It's about defining the boundaries of respectable debate. Once a particular view is labeled 'bigoted,' it's declared morally repugnant and very few would dare to defend it. That is why I insist people substantiate the charge of bigotry, so issues aren't taken off the table before they have been fully evaluated. 
    In conclusion let's keep discussion open and not just dismiss people who disagree with us as bigots. If I thought that the charge of bigotry was a well thought out and substantiated charge, I wouldn't object to it; but since the charge is unsupported I strongly object.

  8. Ben,

    At some point in debates about people's rights and lifestyles, we cross a line.  On one side of this line are people who have no argument for their position against the rights of other groups.  Oh, they make arguments alright, they even believe them wholeheartedly, but their arguments blow, as it were.  The gay rights debate–which includes marriage–has crossed that line.  The "benefits" issue you raise–which seems to be the only reason you advance in favor of the status quo–underscores just how eroded the position on gay marriage is.  But nonetheless, that's not even the position of most opponents, as I understand it.  They oppose gay marriage because they think it's immoral, icky, going to bring about the end of society, etc.  Those are crappy reasons.  The benefits reason you mention you mention is even worse: you are saying that people need to demonstrate why they should get the same benefits other people do, when rather they opposite is the case.  Besides, the state's interest in promoting family units is achieved by recognizing gay marriage–gay people can have children naturally or by adoption.  But, on your argument, there is a legitimate intrest on behalf of the state in granting those relations unequal status.  I'd call that bigotry.  Even if you believe it in your heart of hearts.

    The broader point you see Gannon making is unfortunate.  Gannon casts his view in the most reasonable possible way (if I have misgivings. . . ).  Bullshit.  It's more than misgivings that certain people have about this stuff.  It's vigorous advocacy for their position often (as in this case) accompanied by misdirection and name-calling.  He hasn't defended his view at all here (other than to abandon it rhetorically) he has claimed rather, as was Scott's point, that drawing the right conclusions about his attitudes is out of bounds. 

    That his views are bigotted and ignorant, however, is the conclusion of an argument.  An argument he lost.    

  9. John,
    "At some point in debates about people's rights and lifestyles, we cross a line.  On one side of this line are people who have no argument for their position against the rights of other groups.  Oh, they make arguments alright, they even believe them wholeheartedly, but their arguments blow, as it were.  The gay rights debate–which includes marriage–has crossed that line. "

    I would disagree with you on two counts:
    1. I don't think the debate as too how our legal system should deal with both marriage and sexuality is settled at all, neither in a practical or philosophical sense. People might want it to be settled, but it isn't.
    2. I'm not sure you disagree with this, but, simply because their arguments are bad doesn't make them bigots.

    "you are saying that people need to demonstrate why they should get the same benefits other people do, when rather they opposite is the case."
    Nobody has a right to benefits, I think that is obvious. The important question is why should anyone receive benefits; why should married people receive greater financial compensation than unmarried people?
    "Besides, the state's interest in promoting family units is achieved by recognizing gay marriage–gay people can have children naturally or by adoption.  But, on your argument, there is a legitimate intrest on behalf of the state in granting those relations unequal status."

    The reason the benefits exist is not for the benefit of the recipients but to encourage people to do certain things. In this situation the benefits are designed to encourage unmarried people with kids to get married, for the benefit of the children. Heterosexual couples have children by accident, and so there are straight couples that are setting on the fence and can be pushed to the right side of the fence by partner benefits and tax breaks. Gay couples can only acquire children through previous relationships or deliberate efforts.
    In the case of previous relationships the original parents are already separated, so there is less reason to encourage remarriage. People who deliberately acquire children are financially secure so they will be less motivated by material gains.
    Finally, it's an open question whether children are better off being raised by heterosexual couples then gay ones. Nobody would claim children are categorically better off if raised by heterosexual couples, but perhaps being raised by a gay couple isn't the ideal circumstance. If you think it's not the ideal circumstance then it doesn't seem reasonable to encourage it.
    Do I agree with the above arguments? No, I'm not convinced by them, but I'm also not convinced they're wrong.
    "I'd call that bigotry."
    How do you define bigotry? If those who think homosexuality is immoral are "anti-gay bigots," then those who think masturbation is immoral are also "anti-masturbator bigots." There are very few people who would actual fit the description of "anti-gay bigots," in the United States.
    For a view to be bigoted it doesn't merely have to be ridiculous it has to be morally repugnant (among other things). No matter how hard I squint at them anti-gay marriage views do not appear to me to be morally repugnant.
    "The broader point you see Gannon making is unfortunate.  Gannon casts his view in the most reasonable possible way (if I have misgivings. . . ).  Bullshit. "

    The only place that I defend Gannon is his contention that American conservatives are more tolerant of debate than American liberals. On this question I think he's right, even though some American conservatives are also quite intolerant. 

  10. I'm sorry that you fail to see that making distinctions among otherwise equal people doesn't constitute unfair discrimination.

    And I'd define "bigotry" in this case as treating individuals on account of a completely self-regarding characteristic as less than fully equal citizens or less than fully realized human beings (on account of this characteristic).  If you don't see people doing that to gay people in this country, then you need to take a second look.     

    On the other point (about conservatives being more tolerant), my sense is that you're completely wrong.  Perhaps, as just one anecdote, you'll remember the summer of the tea party, when people shouted down those who advocated for a mildly less capitalist form of health care, when they showed up to public debates with firearms, and when they accused anyone who didn't agree with them of being unpatriotic, socialist, fascist, or communist.  Please. 

  11. Hi John and Ben,
    Thanks for carrying this conversation on without me.  I've had a pile of  grading to get to the bottom of. 
    John's got the point about bigotry down.
    Ben you've claimed a number of times that conservatives are actually considerably more tolerant of debate and disagreement than liberals.  How do you substantiate that?  Want some counter-examples?  Take a look at the behavior of most commenters on any of the conservative sites we link.  Heck, take a look at the sites themselves! 
    One thing you're right about, Ben, is that it's important to be careful about rhetoric.  one person's throw-away line is another's perfect articulation of what the view is.  But  it's also important to be a good reader, and writers can't be held hostage by bad readers.

  12. John and Scott,
    “I'm sorry that you fail to see that making distinctions among otherwise equal people doesn't constitute unfair discrimination.”
     That’s the problem, people are treated as equals; the same rules apply to gay and straight people, neither can marry persons of the same sex. The way it’s discriminatory is that it prevents Gays from exercising their greatest preference, which would be to marry their same sex partners. But we already discriminate against people in this way we keep them from marrying close blood relatives, for example. And since presumably everyone agrees with this rule, there is no blanket protection from this type of discrimination; therefore this is not a question of rights.
     Since people don’t have a right to gay marriage, and the law applies equally to all, it doesn’t meet your criteria for bigotry.

  13. I think grouping gay relationships along with incestuous ones is an example of a pretty appalling justification for discriminating against homosexuals.

  14. For some reason my last post didn't go through. Let me try again.
    "I think grouping gay relationships along with incestuous ones is an example of a pretty appalling justification for discriminating against homosexuals."
    Because the state has a right to decide what types of marriage are allowed, it isn't a question of rights. Because everyone is treated equally it isn't a question of discrimination. Since it doesn't involve unequal treatment or a violation of rights, it isn't bigotry.

    "On the other point (about conservatives being more tolerant), my sense is that you're completely wrong."
    For some reason this blog doesn't allow the posting of links, but I would refer you to the following things; campus speech codes, foreign hate speech laws, gross misapplication of hate speech laws, censoring criticism of liberal policies (i.e preventing affirmative action bake sales), disruption of anti-immigration speakers, etc.
    A good account of left wing intolerance was written by Nat Hentoff, himself a man of the left.

  15. “The state has a right to decide. . . . ” requires no response, I think.

    On the other point, seriously–evidence of your position is “gross misapplication of hate speech laws.” I should say the same about yours–what about “selective Fox News quality anecdotes”? A person who makes arguments such as yours, I’d caution, ought to “watch what he says”*

    *http://www.slate.com/id/2149377/

  16. “The state has a right to decide. . . . ” requires no response, I think.
    There are different ways of looking at questions of rights. Conservatives, and libertarians both look at rights as limitations on government, negative rights. Are people actually treated differently because they're gay? No they receive the same treatment, so it isn't a question of unequal treatment. Since marriage between adults is an area the government can regulate, it isn't a question of rights.
    This is a different way to look at rights, and perhaps it's the wrong way to look at rights. But someone who holds this view of rights (that they are strictly negative), can oppose gay marriage and not be a bigot.

    "On the other point, seriously–evidence of your position is “gross misapplication of hate speech laws.” I should say the same about yours–what about “selective Fox News quality anecdotes”? A person who makes arguments such as yours, I’d caution, ought to “watch what he says”"
    What would suffice as proof that one group was more intolerant of disagreement then another? Whatever standard you supply could not possibly be satisfied by anecdotes, or by anything within the space of this blog. So yes I used anecdotes, you also did. Don't believe my anecdotes? I'll gladly post links tomorrow when I come home.
    The best evidence for my position is the current conservative treatment of President Bush. Donald Trump called Bush a horrible president, Ron Paul was against the war, etc. I've heard conservatives talk about how Bush hurt their brand. On the other hand, in Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas," (a book written in the mid 2000's that attempted to explain recent republican electoral success), in that book there isn't a single substantive criticism of a single liberal program or position, besides that they compromise to much.
    Thomas Frank never offers a single criticism of the actual view points held by liberals, except that they aren't liberal enough! I'm sure there is some policy position he disagrees with his fellow liberals on, but he never expresses it. To me that's evidence that he thinks his audience won't buy the book unless they 100% like what they hear.
    On it's own, these would be just anecdotes, but they accumulated and led me to form a personal impression. I realize personal impressions aren't proof, but they aren't baseless.

  17. One more thing-
    Since this discussion began my position has shifted somewhat. The main thing I found objectionable to the charge of bigotry was that I believed it to be leveled frivolously. Because I can see that you and Scott genuinely believe this is a serious violation of people's civil rights I can see that it's not a frivolous allegation. And I also appreciate that where people's rights are being violated strident rhetoric is called for.
    As I stated in a previous post I don't see disallowing same sex marriage as a violation of people's rights, I see it as a further regulation. If they changed the speed limit on the free way from sixty five to fifty five is it a violation of people's rights? No, because the government already put's limits on how fast you can drive this is simply a further regulation. Similarly, as long as the government sets limits on marriage between adults then restrictions on same sex marriage are just a further regulation.
    Further, arguing that same sex marriage isn't a right doesn't compel one to believe that it shouldn't be legal. Just because I think the government has a right to set speed limits doesn't mean I think the speed limit should be 45 mph. Luckily, I think a case can be made that gay marriage will benefit both those getting married and society at large. Also, the evidence coming in seems to indicate that children adopted by gay couples turn out okay (I'll try and find the article). I think as the evidence comes in people will see that the rights based argument for gender-neutral marriage is both incorrect and superfluous.

  18. The "watch what you say" remark, in case you didn't follow the link, was Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.  Here is what he said:

    "

    A: I'm aware of the press reports about what he's said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it's unfortunate. And that's why—there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party—they're reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."

    Even on the charitable (and correct probably) interpretation of that, Fleischer is suggesting some kind of limitation on speech based on propriety–just the kind of thing you lamely allege "liberals" promote.  Beyond this, you began the anecdote exchange by conflating conservative and libertarians on the question of freedom of speech.  I'd say first that there's an obvious distinction to be drawn between those two groups on that question.  And second, liberals on the whole tend to side with libertarians on questions of civil liberties.  Some liberals, however, think that perhaps in a classroom at school, or in some other similar setting, one ought to behave oneself, and not other people racially or sexually demeaning things.  The punishment for that, however, is merely institutional, not legal.

    There exists, I will grant, an argument against gay marriage such as you have described.  (1) this argument is terrible as it violates the equal protection clause–i.e., if the state recognizes legal status to some, it must do so to all of analogous status (to put it very roughly) as far as is reasonable; (2) few opponents of gay marriage actually make this argument (probably because it's even weaker than the tradition argument you dismiss); (3) finally the question of what kind of affective contractual relationships two people of the same sex can or cannot have is absolutely a question of fundamental rights–especially for most opponents of these arrangements, who hold that marriage is a fundamental right and duty (sometimes), the foundation of all of civil socieity, and so forth.  It's absolutely not, in other words, analogous to which speed one is allowed to travel on the highway.  It's more properly analoguos to denying that certain people in certain cars can't drive at all on the highway (while others can).  That's the very essence of discrimination.

    One final note.  I don't know why the topic of gay marriage brings out the crappy arguments (such as you've made).  The most commented on posts here are on that topic.  Curious.   

  19. John,
    I want to write a more in depth response to the question of Gay marriage. Since the question requires in depth consideration on my part I will address it briefly, and provide a more in depth answer later. I also want to address your other point about hate speech. Even if speech codes in America are not legal restrictions on free speech, but institutional ones, they indicate a disagreement with Mill's ideal of discourse.
    My brief off the cuff response to your gay marriage argument is this. Bans on gay marriage treat people differently based on gender, bans on interracial marriage treat people differently on the basis of race. I think treating people differently on the basis of gender under certain conditions may be acceptable, but treating people differently on the basis of race isn't. For example we have separate bathrooms for men and women but not for different races. OTOH, you may actually be right and opposition to benefits for same sex couples is totally indefensible.
    As to your next question:
    1. I used to agree with you that libertarians were socially liberal, now I'm not so sure. I think libertarians and conservatives actually agree on a deeper level about the role of government and the nature of rights. I think both groups see rights as restrictions on government (negative rights), where as liberals believe in both negative and positive rights (rights to things).
    Thomas Szasz wrote an essay on sex-ed where he criticized liberals and conservatives. Essentially what he argued was both groups preferred curriculum contained a moral agenda, the conservatives agenda was more explicit whereas the liberals was tacit or implied. The libertarian perspective favored a cold biological explanation of sexuality without counsels on good and bad sexuality; because to do so would be outside the proper scope of government.
    2. As for my examples they don't deal simply with institutional rules (speech codes), they also deal with actual laws banning certain types of speech. There exist in many other western nations laws banning certain types of speech (holocaust denial for example), there exist some on the left who would like to have similar laws in America.
     
    Further, how you run an institution indicates (I think) a persons level of tolerance for differing opinions. Banning criticism of policies you support, (shutting down affirmative action bake sales), indicates an intolerant mindset. Not to mention the experience of Nat Hentoff, whose speaking offer was rescinded due to feminist objections to his pro-life beliefs; the people who shouted down Tom Tancredo, etc. IMO, those behaviors are indicative of an intolerant mindset.
    3. I think historically liberals were more interested in civil rights then conservatives. What changed is they abandoned questions of individual rights and became obsessed with outcomes. Look no further than the ACLU's racial justice project. In the 90's they didn't really handle issues of discrimination at all, according to the ACLU rep. who came to my High School it wasn't their focus. Now they're focused on whether the system treats all races the same, instead of whether the criminal justice system is fair. Identity politics cost liberals the moral high ground, and also caused them to lose sight of their universal ideals.
    Links as promised
    *http://thefire.org/article/6794.html
    *http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/at-unc-student-protesters-crash-tom-tancredos-party/Content?oid=1214989
    *http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2007/06/german-pastor-convicted-under-holocaust.html
    *http://www.no-violence.info/consistent/hentoff_pro-life_left.html

  20. To your claim about conservatives being interested in freedom, I respond thusly: "The mosque at ground zero."

    More generally, you started the anecdote exchange, which is silly.  But in any case I can't see how you can make that claim (think restrictions on what goes on TV, what sorts of books the library can have, and so forth) with a straight face.

    On the gay marriage issue, I concede that you can make an argument, however, it's going to be a crappy one.  Furthermore, it's not going to be the one most advocates of the prohibition endorse. 

  21. Quick reply:
    I didn't  say conservatives were tolerant…..I said they were more tolerant. Ari Fleischer condemned speech that was grossly bigoted by a congress person, that strikes me as slightly different then banning an affirmative action bake sale.
    But I agree with you anecdotalism is a horrible way to prove anything. Conservatives are willing to tolerate a much broader discourse when it comes to issues around women, minorities, gays, etc. They are more easily offended by issues like swearing or nudity. Conservatives are horrified by Janet Jackson's nipple, liberals are horrified by Stephanie Gracie. I think political discourse is more important than nudity on T.V, and thus more worthy of protection.

  22. John,
    I have returned. Let me start by addressing the issue of gay marriage.
    "(1) this argument is terrible as it violates the equal protection clause–i.e., if the state recognizes legal status to some, it must do so to all of analogous status (to put it very roughly) as far as is reasonable;"
    That is a legal argument, not a moral one. The important moral question is, "would it be immoral in all possible worlds not to recognize gay marriage?" I personally think that's ridiculous, so that brings me to the next question, is it within the legitimate scope of government to decide issues of marriage? Yes. Then the next question would be is it arbitrary? The answer is obviously not, since gay relations, lesbian relations, etc. are very different.

    "(2) few opponents of gay marriage actually make this argument (probably because it's even weaker than the tradition argument you dismiss);"
    The question of title is largely a symbolic question. Under the civil unions situation the rights and benefits are the same but the granting of title is reserved for heterosexual marriages. This is a symbolic issue that doesn't have much practical significance; I don't think any argument for or against could be particularly strong.
    "finally the question of what kind of affective contractual relationships two people of the same sex can or cannot have is absolutely a question of fundamental right"
    Sure. But, because you agree with certain restrictions of this kind on who can marry then you agree that there isn't a right to marry any consenting adult. To argue that same sex couples have a right (not just that they should be able to), get married is inconsistent with your other views on polygamy and incestuous marriage.
    The obvious question is why does the government have grounds not to recognize polygamous and incestuous marriages between consenting adults? Here are some reasons I think are decent for doing so:
    1) Certain things may be legal but we want to discourage them, because they are bad for society. This applies to polygamy, I agree with the claim that polygamy is bad for society.
    2) Bad for the participants. You can't sell your self into slavery for example. The same could be said for incest and polygamy, these are inherently self destructive ways of living and so should be discouraged.
    At this point I would point out that there is a BIG difference between allowing something and encouraging or endorsing it. The title of marriage is a form of societal endorsement, and the benefits are a form of incentives. In the case of polygamy or sterile incestuous relations, perhaps outlawing them would be inconsistent with a Millian understanding of personal freedom. But even if we are obligated to recognize polygamous marriage contracts, and tolerate sterile incest, the government doesn't have to endorse or encourage such practices.
    An opponent of gay marriage might argue that while gay/lesbian relationships aren't intrinsically immoral, they should not be used as a substitute for heterosexual relationships since they are inherently less fulfilling; ergo, we should encourage heterosexual marriage over its less satisfying alternatives. Such a view would be difficult to defend with regards to gay men, but female sexuality is much more fluid. Somebody could argue that many lesbians would be happier in relationships with men.
    As regards benefits, the benefits are provided with the aim of helping current and future children. While same sex couples can be good parents, the most ideal situation for a child is probably a stable heterosexual home (with two biological parents). Since we have limited resources to devote to benefits we should direct our efforts toward the intended targets, this excludes gay couples.
    Whether the above claims are true is irrelevant to our discussion, when the government has the power to decide questions of marriage these questions are within the realm of legitimate discourse. My (moderate) support for gay marriage is based on the belief that gay marriage would help some people lead happier more satisfying lives, and wouldn't harm anyone else. Your position is inconsistent because you say it's within the legitimate scope of government to not recognize certain marriages because they are bad, and then claim that gay marriage is a right.
    By definition if something is a right then it is beyond the legitimate scope of government to regulate. The corollary point is that if it is within the legitimate scope of government to regulate, it isn't a right.

  23. John,
    "The "mosque" at ground zero.  The mosque just about anywhere else in the US, etc.  Please."
    Outside of the Lower Manhattan Islamic community center I haven't seen any mainstream conservative oppose the construction of mosques. All of the conservatives defended the right to build the Islamic Community center they simply said it was a bad idea to build it so close to ground zero.
    That is a far cry from the insane reaction many liberals had to Larry Summers, a reaction that eventually forced his resignation. Larry Summers simply listed proposed explanations for why there were men then women in certain fields. Any kind of legitimate inquiry into a subject means that you have to consider all plausible explanations. The reaction from the left leads me to believe that if they had their way scholarship would be impossible.
    To me that is a much graver threat then people suggesting that it's a bad idea to build an Islamic community center three blocks away from ground zero.

  24. The Larry Summers issue involved more than just that remark. And on that remark, you have people objecting to someone’s a priori-ish views on gender. Summers wasn’t qualified to make that judgement. And you’d think as president of Harvard he’d have better sense.

    I get the sense that you conflate “supporting free speech” with “being a dowsh”. Those are different things. Summers is a perfect example of someone who has every right (no one denied that) to say what he did, as president of Harvard, however, one would expect better.

    On the mosque issue: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2004-03-08-mosque-opposition_x.htm. And see right here in DuPage county (there was a post on that here a couple of weeks ago).

    On the rights issue in general. Try this one: “card carrying member of the ACLU”. Look it up.

  25. Your argument is still awful. Gay marriages are not like incestuous ones anymore than hetero ones are. Just because you don’t think two brothers and sisters shouldn’t be legally allowed to marry doesn’t entail that you can consistently reject marriages of other non-related adults. Just because you recognize the marriages of two gay people doesn’t entail that you must recognize any marriage–which is what you’re arguing.

    Polygamy and slavery have little to do with gay marriage. Recognizing gay marriages doesn’t entail that we must now allow anything. You’ve got a slippery slope of the fallacious variety going on here.

    In the end, however, the existence of gay marriages doesn’t undermine hetero ones. It’s logically possible in the most extreme sense that one can claim to be a non-bigot in their opposition to gay marriage. but you haven’t made that kind of case. Your invocation of the morally reprehensible states of slavery and incest, etc., underscore just how hard it is to make a non-bigotted case against gay marriage.

    Encouraging hetero people to marry isn’t going to make people less gay. I think that’s an empirical fact. Just like encouraging gay people to marry isn’t going to make hetero people any less hetero.

  26. John,
    Yes some people oppose the construction of Mosques because they are paranoid about Muslims. So what? They aren't mainstream conservatives. All though I will agree that many conservative leaders are ridiculously Islamaphobic
    *http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703957804575602922807855194.html
    As for Larry Summers he wasn't just being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk, he was responding to complaints about the lack of women in the physics department. He simply listed three proposed explanations and said he felt personal preference was the most likely one. We have mountains of sociological data showing men and women watch different T.V shows, have different interests, and hobbies. If more men are physicists the most likely explanation is the same one that explains why more men watch Ultimate Fighting: preference.
    Besides the burden of proof lies on those demanding the president take action, not the president. I think it's the presidents duty to question and express skepticism of the people who are coming to him with demands.
    “card carrying member of the ACLU”

    I turned five in august of 1988, that was a long time ago and the ACLU has changed.

  27. John,
    Johnathan Haidt did a study to test people's moral intuitions, he asked them if they would approve of one time consequence free incest between a brother and sister. They use two forms of birth control, don't tell anyone about it, and they go on to lead rich and full lives. Everyone surveyed condemned the incest, but they would give erroneous explanations as to why it was wrong, such as birth defects, even though two forms of birth control were used. When pressed they would provide further erroneous reasons, finally they would fall back on the position that certain things were intrinsically wrong even if they couldn't explain why.
    Some people feel the same way about homosexuality, that it is intrinsically immoral even if it appears to have no immediate consequences. Before you criticize them for this view ask yourself if you base your judgments on similar reasoning. The hard line traditional morality condemns certain acts as wrong by their nature, regardless of immediate consequences. The other (traditionalist) response is that in real life (not in hypothetical land), some actions or life styles almost always lead to dire consequences such that no rational personal would engage in them.
    Traditionalists would conclude that because something is always harmful, we can override people's judgment and prevent them from doing it (because in this case we know their decision is always wrong). The same arguments are applied to other issues like prostitution, (prostitution is always degrading to the prostitute), etc.
    I'm not making a slippery slope type argument, I'm arguing that supporters of gay marriage and opponents of gay marriage agree in principle but not in specifics. Both sides agree that some forms of sexuality, like incest, are intrinsically bad even if they occur among consenting adults, and so should be discouraged or banned.
    I'm not arguing against gay marriage, I'm offering advice to those who live in glass houses……..

  28. You seem to exclude from mainstream conservatism anyone who holds views for which conservatives are criticized.  ACLU–a rights organization–has always been on their *hit list.  But as I remarked at the beginning, your argument by anecdote gleaned from right wing blogs doesn't amount to evidence of anything.  My counter examples illustrate why.  In general, we are a long way from the point of the original post.  I suggest we close as this has become tiresome. 

  29. This is sadder now than before. Now you agree that the prohibitions against same sex marriage have no justification (whereas before you argued that they do or at least they can). Nonetheless, now you argue that there is no distinction between homosexual sex and and incest, because of one study about people’s intuitions about incest. It’s been the point all along that certain people have bigotted and wrong views about gay sex. Those bigotted and wrong views are different from people’s views about incest. Why? because we’re not talking about incest. And besides, maybe people have bigotted and wrong views about incest. In either case, it’s got nothing to do with same sex marriage.

    As far as I have been able to understand your various positions here, you have been alleging that there is a principled non-bigotted case against same-sex marriage. Now you argue that there is no non-bigotted position on any moral position, so no one should accuse the other of bigotry. I’d say you’ve done a 180 and should now go away.

  30. John,
    My apologies if you feel this has been a waste of time. I think you missed the point of my last post. You agreed that there were non-bigoted arguments against granting title, or benefits for gay couples, so I shifted my focus to contract. My point was to demonstrate similarities between arguments against all forms of civil unions, (for same sex couples), and widely accepted arguments against certain sexual practices.
    I'm going to drop the discussion since obviously it's no longer fruitful.

  31. I remember admitting that it might be logically possible to have a non-bigotted argument against gay marriage.  I aslo pointed out that you hadn't made that case.  Then you decided just to make a bigotted case.  There are scores of arguments having to do with actual facts of human flourishing, and not sophomoric bullshit about incest (etc.), that make it hard to justify prohibiting two people of the same sex from enjoying the same benefits two non-child producing heterosexual people enjoy.  That, I think (and I think Scott thinks), is where the argument is now.

  32. John,
    I don't think you understood my post. As I said at the beginning I divide the issue into three parts, contract, title, and benefits. I never made an argument against granting the right of contract or even title to gay couples. My discussion of incest, etc. was to point out that supporters of gay marriage don't actually base their support on rights based arguments. Let me illustrate:

    "…..There are scores of arguments having to do with actual facts of human flourishing…"
    Exactly my point, the above is not a rights based argument for gay marriage. If you accepted a rights based argument for gay marriage you would probably have to re-examine your position on a host of other issues.
    " not sophomoric bullshit about incest (etc.):"
    My point was that people who oppose all three (contract, title, benefits), would probably hold the view that there is something inherently wrong with homosexual relationships. I disagree with that view, obviously. The argument against that position, that almost all advocates of same sex marriage would advance, is not a rights based argument. The argument against that position is that homosexual behavior is not intrinsically bad, or not intrinsically bad for everyone. This is a fairly subtle distinction so I'm not surprised people missed it.

    "And besides, maybe people have bigotted and wrong views about incest. In either case, it’s got nothing to do with same sex marriage."
    Correct. But I think our discussion started over whether those who oppose same sex marriage are bigots. If thinking something is wrong when it isn't makes you a bigot then all of us are probably bigots. If you are willing to apply this standard universally I can't object to it.

  33. I understood your argument, such as it was, just fine. I don’t have a clue what you mean by “rights based” if it doesn’t include instances in which people are denied the right to do something on account of something like other people’s unjustified revulsion. That is the question with gay marriage. People are demanding a right to marry. Other people say no, we can deny you the right to marry, because we deny it to other people who are not like you (people who want to marry their sister, for instance). In other words, this is a rights-based argument. Some people are denied the right, as it were, to say certain things. This does not entail that people who say other things have a right (just because it can be denied). Rights can fail to be recognized, after all, examples are legion. Supporters of gay marriage, despite their apparent inability to recognize your subtle genius, for these reasons, do base their arguments in favor of it on rights.

    You argued at the beginning that it’s wrong to call someone who opposes same-sex marriage a bigot when they admit they have no non-traditionalist arguments (or non-ick factor) arguments against it. Your first argument was that it’s possible to oppose same-sex marriage for non-exclusionary (and totally consistent reasons). This may be the case, but you didn’t make it. Such a case would involve a legal and moral definition of marriage that extended only to perfectly fertile young people and older people with children (or something like that). We could probably invent even more arbitrary criteria to define the kind of good we’re promoting (racial purity might be one). Such arguments, however, are ridiculous. They are far from describing how people marry in the US or anywhere. They do nothing to help us understand what’s at issue. Finally, no one but disingenuous or the clueless will make them in this context.

    Having failed to make that case. You then turned to the argument that we’re all bigots, because some people fail to identify why single-instances of brother-sister action (not brother-sister marriage) are wrong. So if we’re all hypocrites, so you reason, supporters of one-instance of non-hypocrisy cannot judge those who judge them, or something like that. I think this is silly, because in the current dialectical environment, there are many arguments on the table for (1) why same-sex marriage is a good thing and (2) why it’s not a bad thing.

    If someone wants to start a movement for incestuous marriage (someone will) then we can have a discussion about that. Right now, however, we’re having a discussion about same sex marriage between non-related consenting adults. That’s the issue under consideration. If you want to talk about incest, about how we’re bigotted against it, then you’re welcome to start your own blog and talk about that.

  34. John,
    " I don’t have a clue what you mean by “rights based”"
    Your argument in favor of gay marriage is a consequentialist argument, a right's based argument appeals to a broader principle.
    Ex.1 Marijuana should be legal because the costs of legalization outweigh the benefits. <===== Consequentalist argument
    Ex.2 Marijuana should be legal because it's wrong to tell adults what they can and can't do with their body <===== Rights based argument
    To save space I want to get to the heart of our disagreement:
    1. I don't think being wrong makes you a bigot. You might wrongly believe something is immoral, you might do it for stupid reasons, but that doesn't make you a bigot. Since the definition of bigotry is subjective we will have to agree to disagree on this point.
    2. I believe same sex couples have a right to get married, in the since that they should be allowed to do it; But, I don't believe that there exists some larger principle that requires us to give it to them. 
    You have convinced me on one point; to recognize same sex marriage and then deny benefits seems discriminatory.
    One final note:
    Too me a right is something people are entitled to even if it is immoral in a direct consequentialist sense. For example, I think people should be able to climb Mt. Mckinley even if it isn't in their best interests.

  35. As I said before, your argument with its many misdirections has exhausted itself.  It's pretty clear you don't have a clue what you mean by "rights."  It's pretty obvious to anyone that rights have limitations, do not get realized all at once, have different implications, etc.  Arguments–such as consequentialist ones (which wouldn't describe mine I think) are marshalled in favor of those rights or against.  Rights do not, as you seem to think, exist as separate principles which we either absolutely have or absolutely do not have. 

  36. John,
    "It's pretty clear you don't have a clue what you mean by "rights." "
    No I've been absolutely consistent through out; rights are broad limitations on what government can do.

    "Rights do not, as you seem to think, exist as separate principles which we either absolutely have or absolutely do not have. "

    The issue is a lot more complicated than you think. Most people acknowledge things that are immoral but that should not be illegal. There is an entire other field called political philosophy, it isn't simply called "applied ethics."

  37. Like I say Ben, it's obvious you don't know what you're talking about.  You assert your rather narrow conception of rights, then you complain that anything that doesn't fit your definition, isn't a right.  Well, there's more to the story than that.  But, as I've said repeatedly, you've gone all over the place here, the discussion with you, sadly, is over. 

  38.  

    Ben,
    This is the biggest red herring ever! David C. is sitting next to me, and he is straight, so he is interested in marrying a woman not a man.  So the law as applies to him means he is allowed to do what he wants to do in the first place and restricted from doing something that he never wanted to do.
     Now, I'm gay, so I am interested in marrying a man not a woman.  So the law as it applies to me means that I'm restricted from doing the thing that I want to do, and I can do the thing that I don't want to do. Thus, your argument about marriage laws being applied equally to all doesn't work, so let's get back to Aikin's original point on Gannon.

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