Monday, February 20, 2012

How We Might Compromise on Gay Marriage

To those who support gay marriage, the issue is an open and shut case of basic human rights and equality. From this perspective, it is insane and wrong to ask that GLBTQ citizens be treated as though their love, their lifestyle, their desires are inferior or sinful just to satisfy one loud contingent of the population. Allowing gay marriage would affirm the humanity and agency of all citizens, instead of just the ones who fit a certain, subjective idea of "normal."

To those who oppose it, the issue is much more complicated, regardless of what you believe as far as equality and human dignity. Most don't oppose gay marriage because they think GLBTQ citizens are inferior, or even primarily sinful people. Their opposition to GLBTQ lifestyles has to do at least in part with the fear that once gay marriage is allowed, those who continue to believe that gay marriage is a sin will be ostracized, forced to act against their beliefs, or persecuted for them; that they will be shamed and bullied and pressured by the mainstream.

It's easy for gay marriage advocates to shrug off this fear. "Of course that won't happen," they say. "No one will be forced to do anything." But part of the reason they're not worried about that happening is because if it did, they don't really care. They believe that those who think being gay is sinful are ignorant and hateful, and if those people don't get their way, good--because they're evil.

Flip that around, and you're back on the anti-gay marriage side of things: they don't believe that it's bad to ban gay marriage, not because they want to oppress or harm gay people, but because they sincerely believe that gay people aren't happy.

If you read my other posts it should be clear to you that I find it misguided to tell others what will and won't make them happy. But I think it's just as harmful to ignore the concerns and fears of those who disagree with you. We should no more shrug off the potential marginalization of Christians than they should shrug off the marginalization of the GLBTQ community. Each group thinks that the other's views are harmful to society, and therefore don't need to be addressed. Each group, in defending their own right to exist and speak up, is also diminishing the rights of the opposition to exist and speak up.

There is a possibility that once gay marriage is legal everywhere, it would eventually be illegal for anyone to deny it, no matter what. Everyone wants their way all the way, and they're willing to fight to the death because they're so sure they're right. The crux of this issue is that if gay marriage is legalized, some churches might be oppressed in their right to believe that it is a sin, but as long as it stays illegal, the GLBTQ community is oppressed in their right to believe that it isn't, and live as though it isn't.

So how about this: why don't we kick the government out of this debate altogether? We already have a legal certificate for marriage AND an optional church ceremony. What if we just called that legal certificate "domestic partnership," and the optional church ceremony "marriage"? That way, churches which don't believe in gay marriage don't have to marry gay couples, and churches that do believe in it can marry all the gay couples they want.

The government won't be dictating any kind of morality in either direction, except this: rights are rights, and all consenting adults deserve the same rights.

No church would be forced to acknowledge the marriage of/perform a marriage for anyone. On the same token, everyone's partnership is acknowledged/respected by every government body. Marriage remains intact, rights remain intact. Everyone wins.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Stop Butting Fishbowls

My parents and I have a difficult time talking about important issues, because we're operating from completely different paradigms. Their paradigm says "The only thing we can rely on in this world is God's word; the rest is madness. If we trust the holy spirit of God, it will lead us to the truth." My paradigm says, "The only thing we can rely on in this world is our reason, our senses, and our experience, which will typically point us to the truth." We are negotiating the world around us using different foundational principles, principles which are essentially and irreconcilably at odds with one another.

I know that I sometimes feel as though this essential irreconcilability is a cause for despair. I sometimes think that we must always be at war until one side or the other gets their way entirely. Even though I love and respect my parents, trust their basic goodness and think they're quite intelligent, and though I'm confident they reciprocate this, sometimes I despair that we will ever find common ground. And if we can't find common ground, we're doomed to repeat the revolution cycle: the different groups try to overpower one another until one group triumphs and uses their new power, like it or not, to actively oppress the other camp(s), until the oppression reaches such an unbearable level that the other camp rebels and takes over and oppresses their former oppressors, and so forth, until they find balance again, which only lasts until someone figures out how to upset the balance and gain disproportionate power again. It's very possible that humans will be constantly trapped in that cycle--we will never learn from history, we will never become better at mediating the tendency of power to concentrate over time into the hands of a few, or its tendency to corrupt, we will never learn to truly respect those we don't understand, we will never learn to truly listen to those we don't agree with. And when I factor in the large number of people who do not know, let alone love, respect, or trust the basic goodness or intelligence of a single member of an opposing worldview, the case really seems hopeless.

But it's not. At least, I don't think it is. We're constantly coming up with new civilizing mechanisms to help us govern ourselves fairly, equally, and with as much freedom as possible. There's a mechanism already in our collective consciousness, but maybe not foregrounded enough, which might help us find that elusive common ground, keep us in balance and peace, and save us from oppression and war. And it's all to do with humility and dialogue.

Conviction is synonymous, essentially, with enthusiasm. If I'm very, very convinced of something, it means I don't know it. Conviction is not enough of a support on which to base an argument, and I certainly shouldn't base my actions solely on conviction. My personal belief that I'm unquestionably, definitely right means nothing to you--and when I act as though it should mean something all on its own, it becomes problematic.

We all have convictions that guide us--convictions themselves aren't the problem. The problem is when we assume they exempt us from negotiating or compromising with others. This assumption is dangerous to our personal integrity, dangerous to the social fabric, dangerous to the people who agree with us and oppose us alike. This attitude is the main source of violence--violence only occurs when one or more parties are unwilling to negotiate. Intentions matter very little in this world. What matters is the way we treat others. In terms of world peace, in terms of harmony, intentions make absolutely zero difference. What I'm trying to say here is the ends never justify the means. They NEVER do.

You know Jon Stewart's "Stupid or Evil?" segment on the Daily Show? Whenever we're adopting the position that we don't have to answer to others, we're being either stupid or evil, belligerent or tyrannical. Pride is indeed the root of all evil, pride which leads us to believe the integrity of our agenda justifies pushing forward with blind belligerence, or intentionally deceiving or coercing others, tyrannizing others, to achieve it. No party, belief system, or individual is safe from this. We're ALL capable of falling into these thought patterns. Here are some examples of each:


Sometimes we recognize that those who oppose us feel just as strongly as we do, we recognize they are equally invested in the issue and have valid points, and we realize that our means will potentially harm and/or oppress them (or a third party). But we don't care. We think that the ends justify the means because:

1. We are filled with conviction that our cause is worthwhile
2. We have so effectively dehumanized our opposition that we don't care if they feel pain, or maybe even want to make them feel pain

This, people, is evil. Knowingly oppressing others or causing them pain in order to achieve, or in the process of achieving our ends, is tyrannical.


Sometimes we are so convinced that we are right, we refuse to account for evidence that our actions will harm and/or oppress others. We refuse to believe or accept that there are other ways of looking at the situation, and we won't negotiate or compromise. This is blind belligerence. We are essentially removing ourselves one step from evil by saying "The ends justify (it if I spend all of my energy defending rather than examining) the means." We do this because:

1. We have lapsed into solipsism, and don't truly understand that those who disagree with us have strong opinions and feel pain too (we all slip into this sometimes, especially when we avoid talking to people who believe differently than us for long periods of time, and only associate with those who share our beliefs--easy to do, since it's more pleasant, or at least less exhausting, to be around people who mostly agree with us rather than challenge everything we say)
2. We think the strength of our conviction and/or the purity of our intentions exonerates us if we're wrong (it doesn't--hence the axiom "the road to hell is paved with good intentions")

There's one more that's somewhere between the two categories. Not quite belligerent, not quite openly tyrannical:

We think that because of our superior knowledge, we have a kind of noblesse oblige to cause others pain in order to guide them away from greater pain, much as parents often guide their children by restricting and physically punishing them. When this attitude is directed at fellow adults, whose experiences, environments, and personalities have led them to other worldviews, it's little more than arrogance dressed as kindness. It's patronizing and, yes, tyrannical.

Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed elaborates on some of these ideas much better than I could. He describes how dialogue, compromise, and re-humanization can help us avoid the revolution cycle (oppressed rise up against oppressor/oppressed conquer oppressor/oppressed become new oppressors). Freire argues that the answer to harmony between humans is not a one-size-fits-all ideology (although this would be great, and you might even think you have it already. I know I do!), because that still leaves you with the formidable problem of getting everyone to agree with and/or submit to it...which brings us back to our game show, "Tyranny or Blind Belligerence"?

The answer to world peace is balance, negotiation, humility, and communication. I don't care if you're Tea Party, Occupy, Democrat, Republican, Christian, atheist, Muslim, rich, poor, we're all in this. We're all guilty of it. We need to stop aiming for total dominance and truly aim for solutions influenced by all of our needs.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to Appreciate Difference

Lately I've been trying to recognize and assess my reactions to difference, especially because my first reaction is so often to assert the superiority of my own way of life over another. For example, when I see a woman wearing a leopard print top and unflattering zebra spandex pants, my default reaction is often to sneer and think, "that's tacky," or "does she really think that looks good?"

Sometime over the last few years I finally realized that my reactions to difference, whether of opinion, lifestyle, taste, or behavior, say more about me (and often my own weaknesses, hypocrisies, and insecurities) than they say about the target of my judgment. Since I've realized this, I've been trying to bring my actions up to speed with my beliefs. So I've taken to stopping myself whenever I want to mock someone, and asking, "where did that come from?" When I catch myself rolling my eyes when someone says they love "Twilight," or shaking a fist (okay, fine, a finger) at Fox News, or when someone shares a political view I find particularly ignorant or hateful, I'm trying to remember this mantra:

"It's good that there is room for viewpoints and attitudes so vastly different from mine. I'm glad that we're such a free and creative and diverse society that I often encounter people so unlike myself, living freely and without oppression or restriction."

It's easy enough to wish they'd just see things my way, and to imagine what a better place the world would be if only everyone saw things the way I did. But they don't think the way I do, and they won't, as long as they're free to think differently and don't find compelling reasons to join me.

Really, the world *wouldn't* be a better place without them around. Where do you find absolute uniformity of appearance? Only where strict codes are enforced, options severely limited. Where do you find voluntary uniformity? Only where the atmosphere is subtly or actively hostile to difference (often simply by championing compliance).

Where do you find absolute uniformity of thought? Nowhere. Even within the same belief communities, different opinions will thrive unless stifled (whether by the individual or the community). If difference abounds, it's a good sign--it means people aren't being oppressed, silenced, or persecuted for their beliefs. It means we're not being forced to agree with anyone, and they're not being forced to agree with us. Let's remember to appreciate it. Let's be grateful.