Friday, June 19, 2009

Am I a bigot?

In my earlier post about the recent California Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 I wrote:

The overarching social trend in the United States is clear: the bigotry that drives people to deny gays the right to marry the people they love resides mostly in the older generation. Both are slowly but surely dying, and good riddance.

For this I was accused of bigotry. I freely confess to and apologize for a very poorly constructed sentence that left the impression that I was happy to see all old people die because some old people are bigots, or because statistically bigots tend to be old. I rejoice only at the prospect of the death of bigotry, not individual bigots. But that wasn't enough to satisfy my accuser, who responded:

You are tarring the "older generation" with the brush of bigotry. I hope you can see the irony.

So just to be clear: it was absolutely not my intent to "tar the 'older generation' with the brush of bigotry". It is simply a fact that prejudice against gays is more prevalent among older people than younger ones, and that the margin is substantial enough that it is a virtual certainty on simple actuarial grounds that shameful laws like Proposition 8 will eventually get repealed. That is all I intended to say.

There is, however, one form of bigotry to which I do subscribe: I am bigoted against bigots. I am intolerant of intolerance. I am prejudiced against prejudice. And in this I am an extremist. You may be entitled to your opinions, but you are not entitled to have those opinions respected merely because you hold them. Moreover, if you tacitly endorse bigotry through inaction or feigned injury (like, say, pretending that *you* are somehow hurt by the alleged damage done to the "institution" of marriage if gay people are allowed to marry each other, or by someone "insulting" your religion, or whatever) then you are in my book part of the problem. If you don't stand up for other people's rights then your forfeit your own. It makes mighty good rhetoric, but the sad fact of the matter is that we are not in fact endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. We have rights because we as a society agree -- sometimes only at the end of painful and violent struggle -- to grant each other those rights for our net mutual benefit. Part of the cost of freedom is letting others be free.

If you want to be free to worship your god, if you want to be free to marry who you want, if you want to be free to speak your mind, but you are unwilling to grant those same freedoms to others, then yes, I am stubbornly and completely intolerant of you. If that makes me a bigot then I will proudly don the scarlet B.


asdf said...

Don't you think that there should be some limits to what rights we give to individuals? I'm not referring to this topic, but I'm addressing the more general issues of your posts. It seems ironic to me that half the American population is willing to curtail the rights of the other half, whether it's speech, guns, abortion, gays, etc. And if it wasn't those issues, we'd find something else to argue about. Surely you do not intend to be interpreted as saying "good riddance" to *every* position restricting individual rights or freedoms? And if not, then eventually everybody's either an anarchist or a bigot. What a choice! Just because one side claims this is an issue of human rights, then do we automatically have to let them win?

I've observed people from both sides claiming ideological purity for themselves and hypocritical nonsense of their opponents. But as far as I can tell, all positions are far more nuanced than anybody admits publically. I'd be sick and tired of all this self-righteousness by now if I didn't find it so amusing to occasionally jump into the fray myself... :-P

Ron said...

> Don't you think that there should be some limits to what rights we give to individuals?

Of course. What did I say to make you think otherwise? There are always externalities that need to be taken into account. But I do think that the world is a better place when the scales are weighed heavily on the side of freedom.

> Surely you do not intend to be interpreted as saying "good riddance" to *every* position restricting individual rights or freedoms?

No, of course not. And not all of those positions are bigoted; some are merely hypocritical :-) Guns, for example (since you brought it up) are a pet peeve of mine. Liberals (and I generally count myself as a liberal) argue for gun control by pointing out how many people are killed and injured by people wielding guns, while completely ignoring the fact that the Second Amendment clearly states that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. It does not say that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed unless someone gets hurt, it says it shall not be infringed, period, end of story. (The bit about the well-regulated militia is a red herring.) The only *legitimate* way to regulate guns is therefore to amend the Constitution. But Liberals know that that is a political non-starter, so they choose to ignore the plain language of the Constitution on the grounds that the ends justify the means. And then they get all huffy about it when conservatives do the same thing with the fourth and ninth amendments. *That's* what drives me bananas.

What makes opposition to gay marriage *bigoted* (as opposed to merely hypocritical) is that there is *no* legitimate argument against gay marriage whatsoever. There *is* a legitimate argument for gun control. Guns really do cause objective harm to our society, and that harm needs to be weighed against the benefits of the freedom to bear arms in order to reach a reasonable decision about whether we as a society ought to grant ourselves that freedom. But there is no demonstrable harm in allowing gays to marry, and considerable demonstrable harm in preventing them from doing so. The only arguments against gay marriage is that it would somehow violate the "sanctity" of marriage (whatever that could possibly mean) or some such twaddle, or Biblical arguments, which are expressly called out as illegitimate under the Constitution. What it really comes down to is that people want to stop gays from marrying because it makes them feel queasy. But the Constitution does not guarantee freedom from queasiness. What the Constitution *does* guarantee is equal protection under the law. So just as liberals would have to change the Second Amendment in order to legitimately regulate firearms, conservatives would have to change the Fourteenth Amendment in order to legitimately prevent gays from marrying. And of course both of those are political non-starters. Which IMHO is exactly how it should be.

asdf said...

I'm sure you understood this, but I want to make clear that my accusations were not against you specifically...

There are lots of issues where I'd like the option (to be on the table at least) for restricting people's rights or freedoms. Towards the end of your post, you seemed to be against this on principle, but your response to my comment was more to my approval.

I don't really have any comment on the gay marriage issue itself except to say that things are far less obvious from my perspective.

Ron said...

> your response to my comment was more to my approval.

What a relief! :-)

> things are far less obvious from my perspective.

Would you care to say what that perspective is for the benefit of our studio audience?

asdf said...

fine. i'll comment. we'll see what you can do to assuage my queasy twaddle. good luck!

historically, fecundity was a matter of national security, since it was important to get lots of children to fill your battle lines, factories, voting booths, and to provide social security for the elderly. gay marriage takes two families out of the pool. i understand that japanese, europeans, and israelis worry about their demographics all the time, and in some sense, they're a forecast for our future. our country currently has the benefit of imported labor, but how much of the financial burden for our elderly will they be willing to bear? the pyramid scheme we call Social Security is already scheduled to blow up. in your previous post you said "Both are slowly but surely dying, and good riddance." (emphasis mine). surely you do not intend to propose that as a solution to the health care questions i'm raising. as a very wealthy man in a very wealthy country who has no concerns about your future, have you considered that you're committing "selection bias?"

here's what I'm queasy about. nobody's figured out a (sustainable) way to draw more money out of a pool than you put into it, no matter how big or complicated that pool is. this is why many gov'ts provide incentives to encourage the production of children of their own, because migrant workers are maybe not going to be willing to foot the bill. i'm not sure that it's fair to allow gay people to get those incentives, or to gain full access to social security if they've been unwilling to contribute as much as others through the hard work of raising children. it makes me suspect that gay marriage is fundamentally a selfish act. it's double jeopardy; they won't have children to bear some of the direct responsibilities so their care will cost more, and they won't have children paying into the system as a part of their indirect responsibilities.

so will gay marriage raise my taxes to pay for elderly gays who draw more from the system than they put in?

the other historical purpose for marriage was to provide protection for women; financial, legal, and physical. our individualistic society has, it seems, obviated the need for this to some extent. but is it gone and will it stay away? i'm not sure, but i don't know enough to comment more on this.

i'm worried that this whole issue is merely foolish populist rage at a time when scientists are prohibited from objectively studying and producing facts about the long term effects of this on society. so we do agree that there is "no demonstrable harm in allowing gays to marry" because the one thing activist groups accomplish for sure is to eliminate objectivity. thank God we have bigots who stand in the way when crowd mentality takes over! i WANT the law to move at a glacial pace.

finally, i don't understand why people think it's so important for the gov't to play a regulatory role in their interpersonal relationships. what's the point in demanding the right to give up your rights? let gay couples sign contracts to accomplish the same thing! maybe you're not worried about what i just wrote, and you don't believe the gov't has a stake in the institution of marriage. if you believe that the historical motivations for marriage are obsolete, then shouldn't we pull the gov't out of it all together?

thanks for giving me the opportunity to solidify some of my thinking on this issue.

Ron said...

I've posted a response to quantamos here: