Monday, February 2, 2009

Prop 8 and the merits of inflammatory language - Conversation with Curt

Okay, I'm putting this up here just because it's the only interesting conversation I've had with anybody on this subject. It seems that either people agree with me or they're repeating easily refutable talking points I've heard a million times. (Shit, I can really be a smug prick, can't I?)
Here it is. It took place over the last month or so over on my Facebook photo album.

Curt – 12-26-08 - The argument is a non-sequiter ("opposition to same-sex marriage equates to hate"). It's also a bit inflammatory.

Me – 12-27-08 - I must concede a point and then respectively counter with another. While I understand that hatred and/or bigotry is not necessarily the motivation for everyone who disagrees me on this, it's always troubled me that so much energy is poured into this one issue. (Whether or not homosexuality is actually a sin is a whole other debate and I think most people know what side I come down on that one.) It makes me wonder what else is going on when the reaction, in my view is disproportionate to the way American Christendom looks at other issues. I guess if people who claimed to be concerned with defending marriage spent as much time talking about things like divorce, adultery, honesty or many of the other things that actually ruin marriages, it wouldn’t feel so disingenuous when I hear people equate honoring traditional marriage with an attempt to legislate it.
(Sorry, there’s a character limit so this comment is coming in two chunks.) Yes, it may be a little inflammatory, but keep in mind, it’s a response to the insinuation for years that pro-family and pro-gay are mutually exclusive, which is a notion that I resent. And, when I see people I care about actually being hurt by things like this, yes it tends to draw a more dogmatic reaction than if we were just involved in an abstract, philosophical discussion.
Also, it’s good to hear from you, man. How’s it going?

Curt - 12-29-08 - It goes well. Thanks for dialoguing. I would agree that hypocrisy can be infuriating. Though attacking it is risky since it is an invitation to examine the consistency of the attacker. I'm not quite that brave, it seems. I would say that American Christendom does not have the corner on that market, either. In fact, the groups that I have heard openly opposing same-sex marriage have also been vocal about the other issues you listed. As to your second post, is your issue with Prop 8, or with general hatred towards homosexuals? I have always enjoyed interacting with you, Josh.

Me – 01-03-09 - Actually, I'm referring to the wave over the past four years of state after state banning gay marriage before it was ever legally recognized. I think it’s dubious that this happened in battleground states on 2004, when getting conservatives to the polls in the first place was paramount. I do remember seeing e-mails, pamphlets, fliers, etc. referring to advocates of marriage equality (I decided that we on the left need to be as crafty and manipulative in our phraseology as conservatives. You come at me with ‘death tax’ and I come back with ‘marriage equality.) as “enemies of traditional marriage.” I don’t mind telling you that pissed me off to no end.
As for the hypocrisy, yes, these same groups address things like divorce and adultery, but they don’t pour nearly the amount of money and energy into it the way they do when it comes to legislating what marriage is. I think the bottom line is that whatever you and I think of the morality of it (and we most likely disagree) I think that private things such as marriage and sexuality are best left to individuals. I know that a lot of people find this a mischaracterization, but the way I see it is that there are a lot of Americans, many of them very dear friends, who do not have the same basic rights that I have the luxury of taking for granted. Under the law, Joia is my partner. It’s a no-brainer and nobody would ever question or undermine that. I love having that and I believe it’s wrong to deny it to anyone.
Is that sanctimonious enough? ‘Cause I can do better if I really try.

Curt – 01-04-09 - I'm not sure it is fair to say that the amount of money spent is an indication that the issue is somehow more important. Remember, this was an election and time sensitive. The other issues are ongoing and not up for election. Also, I agree that what happens within individual marriages is a private matter. But the issue at hand is redefining what constitutes marriage. To say that changing the definition does not affect those already in the institution may not be fair (If they allowed boys in the Girl Scouts would the cookies taste the same? ;-). Changing the definition and requirements is a change to the traditional institution of marriage. It may be that everyone should be allowed to define marriage any way they want. But that is something that citizens have the right to decide. It's okay to disagree with the decision. But inflaming the conversation tends to stifle dialog. Not good for anyone.

I believe that puts me ahead on the sanctimony meter.

Me – 01-10-09 - You’re going to have to do much better than that to pull ahead of me on the sanctimony meter, my friend. Many have tried to match my smug self-righteousness and all have failed. Also, I'm off work for six days and plan on doing nothing but playing video games and reading comic books, so it's going to be a couple of days before I can give my full, disdainful and egotistic rebuttal.

Okay, it seems that there are like three different arguments going on at once. First, there’s the original argument about the merits of marriage equality. (I’m going to keep referring to gay marriage as ‘marriage equality’ because we lefties aren’t so good with marketing and cool sounding phrases that nobody can argue with like ‘family values’ and ‘death tax,’ and we need all the help we can get.)
Second, should this question be up to the citizens?
Third, does inflammatory rhetoric ever have value?
Again, it’ll be a few days since I’m off to go play Silent Hill 2 now.

Curt – 01-13-09 - You make some good and cogents arguments, Josh. I have purposely avoided coming down on either side of this issue because my real argument is with the campaign you have aligned yourself with by posting the picture. I think your arguments are cheapened and their impact lessened by attaching them to the slogan above. It is a technique employed by many - attaching negative and divisive words and phrases to one's opponents in order to sway others to move away from them. Fred Phelps uses that technique (how's that for inflammatory?). The result, it is often hoped, is that the proponent is freed from having to produce a logical platform, or to answer criticisms leveled at them. It is a dangerous thing to adopt the tactics of one's enemies. It makes us like them. I enjoy exchanging ideas and thoughts. But I think it is a mistake to attach them to such a divisive slogan.
I think we may have reached the limit of what photo comments is supposed to be. Perhaps a new venue is in order. Is there a chapel door we can post our theses on?

Be well, my friend.

Me - 01-29-09 - Okay, on to the merits of inflammatory language. I think the difference between inflammatory and incendiary is, aside from one having a negative connotation and the other a positive one, (I’m sure you’ve heard documentaries, comedians, etc. promoted as being ‘incendiary’ as if it were a selling point.) Primarily, the difference is that one is clever and the other is not so much. For the most part, people are willing to look past a remark they would normally find offensive if it’s funny. (that’s why Sarah Silverman & Bill Maher still have careers but Don Imus has been relegated to the dredges of satellite radio. Imus just isn’t funny.)
Also, there are differing degrees to how inflammatory statements are that people are willing to tolerate. (the preceding sentence was grammatically awkward, but I’m having a brain fart and can’t think. Great, now I forgot where I was. Oh yeah, I think that the logo I tagged myself on is probably closer on the inflammameter to assertions that proponents of these marriage amendments that people who support gay marriage that we are ‘enemies of traditional marriage.’ And yes, hearing that did piss me off a little bit, so I understand why people on the other side of the argument would take offense at the insinuation that they believe what they do because of bigotry or hatred.
For the record, I think that there are countless reasons why people fall on each side of the issue. Some on the side of banning same-sex marriage believe and vote accordingly because they believe that it would be wrong to legitimize something that the Bible says is immoral. (This is not a point I’m conceding, since I don’t think that’s the case at all, but that’s another argument.) Others are simply traditionalists and don’t want to change the definition of what marriage is. Many of these don’t have a problem with gay people or their lifestyle and would support some kind of civil recognition that was called a ‘civil union’ or something other than marriage. While I disagree with them, I don’t think that all of these people come from a place of bigotry or hatred. But I think it would be na├»ve to say that prejudice isn’t a factor at all.
So now, on to the merits of the phrase, ‘I am a victim of H8.’ I think there are several reasons one would use inflammatory language, some of them more valid than others. And, I’d like to emphasize for the record, that I am talking about my opinion about what is polite and how people ought to argue, not how they should be allowed to speak. Any time we talk about how we communicate and look at our discourse critically, I feel it’s important that anybody should be allowed to say anything. That’s exactly what free speech is. It is an absolute. (even Don Imus, even the Dixie Chicks, even Fred Phelps, even professor Churchill, even neo-Nazis & skinheads.)
First, inflammatory language does generally get noticed. For better or worse, people respond (not always favorably) to overstatements. This is one of the reasons I don’t think is valid because while it gets attention, it really doesn’t help.
Second, there is a ‘tit for tat’ thing going on here. They something nasty, so I say something nasty. Of course, this is not a valid reason.
Third, language like this, while not persuasive, does rally the troops. It gets people who already agree with you to get angry and get up and take action. In other words, it galvanizes one’s base. This is usually done when trying to bring people who think like you out to vote when they might otherwise stay at home. Again, pre-election season is when I’m most likely to be called an opponent of traditional marriage. Is this a valid reason to use inflammatory language? I think that depends on how offensive or degrading your language is. I think that there comes a point to where the end doesn’t justify the means and no, it’s not worth being that insulting just to rile up your allies. And now, it gets murky because we’re now in the arena of taste, which is hard to argue.
Let’s take the inflammameter and say that ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ is a 1 while the kind of stuff Fred Phelps says is a 10, just for the sake of measuring speech. You might give my ‘I am a victim of H8’ a 6 on the inflammameter where someone else might give it a 9 and someone else might give it a 3. I don’t think that the statement, strong as it is, steps over that line, because it doesn’t accuse everyone who voted for Prop 8 of being bigoted, it simply argues that prejudice played a part. The statement that those who favor marriage equality are opponents of traditional marriage, is in my mind right about at a 6, while some might not find it inflammatory at all. So, to sum that one up, yeah, in this case I think it’s valid because I think that the benefits of getting our people out to take action was important enough to go up to a 5 or 6 on the inflammameter.
Lastly, a fourth reason for using inflammatory speech, and the primary reason why I tagged myself on this particular photo in Facebook is to show support to people you care about whose lives are affected by this stuff. While you and I have the luxury of debating this, there are people I care about who were very affected by this vote. I was asked to show my support for them by tagging myself in this photo and, whatever the arguments for and against marriage equality are, I think it’s important to remember that there are a lot of people for whom this is not a philosophical question, but very real legislation that limits their freedoms.
So, while I was, in part, trying to rally the troops and preach to my choir, the primary reason I tagged myself in that photo was to let the people I care about whose civil rights I believe are being disregarded that I was with them.
Next, we’ll tackle the issue of whether or not this should be ‘up to the people.’ Short answer, no. Long answer will come later.

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