Gay Marriage and the “Majority Rule” Problem

26 02 2011

The Barack Obama administration in the U.S.  issued a statement recently through Attorney General Eric Holder saying that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act)—a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage. It is a huge step forward for gay marriage proponents in the U.S. But, while Obama’s administration wields executive influence over the legality of the ban, right-wingers are in a shit-roar over the consequences of its repeal: most people oppose gay marriage, they claim, therefore gay marriage should be banned. That’s democracy, they say.

 I say that that isn’t democracy. I say that recognition of gay marriage should not be banned, because the majority have no concern in the affairs of the minority. If Jeff wants to have the same pension plan as his partner Chris, it is not the business of their neighbours. They are not throwing their gay pension plan over the picket fence and onto their neighbour’s lawn. Caring about what your neighbours do on their own property, when they are mutually consenting adults, is just plain nosey. As much as you want it to, it doesn’t concern you. IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

Let us define democracy:

1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

2. a state having such a form of government: The United States and Canada are democracies.

3. a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.

4. political or social equality; democratic spirit.

5. the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power.

So democracy is a means for the majority to voice their concerns–when this applies–or it is a system of government in which all groups are equal. It is funny that, traditionally, the minority was privileged, while the majority was not. Now it seems to be the reverse: the majority is privileged, while the minority is not.

Here is my chief argument: A democracy is a form of government in which the majority rule on issues which affect them, not on issues which do not affect them. Whether or not Joan and Linda receive federal marriage benefits such as the right to file a joint federal income tax return does not affect the majority. Therefore, it is undemocratic to allow the majority to rule on whether Joan and Linda should have the right to marry. It’s simply nobody else’s business.

“Ah, but no matter which branch of government makes the decision, it is always going to be a matter of majority rule”, you will argue (and from here it goes down a slippery slope and keeps getting weaker and weaker). “For example, if a panel of judges rule on the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is still the majority opinion that rules.”

But there is a crucial difference between a majority of judges, and a majority of the people. Judges are obliged to adjudicate the law, not rule on the basis of personal preference. That’s why a person is appointed a judge–that person is deemed proficient in interpreting and implementing the law for the law’s own sake. Therefore, when a majority of judges rule on a matter, it is not just because they want their voice to be heard–rather, it is because of how they interpret the law. That is why the archetype of Justice is blindfolded. She is impartial. So, no, a majority on a panel of judges is nothing like the majority voting in a public referendum.

“But the law itself had to be ratified by a majority”, you will argue. “The U.S. Constitution was ratified when nine out of thirteen states–a majority–approved it.”

But, again, this was not your run-of-the-mill polling booth populated by old grannies cringing at the thought of two men rubbing up against each other (and God knows what else). These states were run by lawmakers who ruminated over the meaning and significance of a document which would affect the daily lives of people for centuries to come. That’s what judges and lawmakers do. They were not basing their decisions on flippant, arbitrary, impulsive prejudices; they were basing them on well thought-out arguments about human rights–which, in fact, were inspired by French Englightenment philosophy, not the Bible. In other words, they were not your average granny at the voting booth with the IQ of a rock. Besides, the original plan of the Constitution’s framers was to seek out unanimity among the states–in order to avoid the whole majority vesus minority scenario. Benjamin Franklin was one proponent of unanimity.

“But lawmakers are elected by the majority as agents of the majority in order to enforce the will of the majority. Lawmakers must reflect the will of their constituents.”

But this is fallacious repetition, because I have already explained the proper place of majority rule above. As already stated above, a democracy is a form of government in which the majority rule on issues which affect them, and not on issues which do not affect them. And, in light of what has been acknowledged, when a majority must rule on minority issues, they must do so under pressure of reason, impartiality, and foresight, because personal preference is not applicable to all. Thus, a representative is not obliged to reflect the views of the majority of her constituency when the issue at hand does not affect the majority of her constituency; in fact, she is obliged to reflect the views of the minority when minority issues are at hand. After all, whether or not Joan and Mary file a joint income tax return does not involve the majority. Why, then, should the majority be allowed to vote on it? Why, then, should a representative reflect the views of the majority, and not the minority?

What do America’s founders think about this issue? Thomas Jefferson, like many men in his day, may have been a slave-owning misogynist, but he had at least one highly perceptive thing to say about the proper function of majority rule:

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

In other words, according to Jefferson, when the majority rule, they must do so on the basis of reason, and not irrational prejudices. He also concedes that majority rule must take into account equality between the majority and the minority, and we have already established far above that this is one sense of the definition of democracy. I disagree with Jefferson only on the point that the majority should always rule. I do not think that the majority should always rule. I think that the majority should rule when the issue at hand involves the majority, and not when it involves only the minority. But when a majority must rule at some level, it must be based on objective reasoning. In the case of gay marriage, the ruling majority should consist of serious decision-makers (legislators) who are not compelled to reflect the interests of their majority constituents on an issue which does not concern their majority constituents.

Oh, by the way, Jefferson sort of supported the more left-wing senses of the definition of democracy provided at the beginning of this blog entry. He invoked equality. Yes, originally it was meant to boost up the plebeian (underprivileged majority) to meet the level of the patrician (overprigileged minority), but, in an ironic reversal, in this case it is the underprivileged minority trying to meet the level of the overprivileged majority.

In summary, gay marriage should not be put up to a public vote because gay marriage is of no concern to the greater public. Whether or not Joan and Linda get to file a joint tax return is of no concern to their neighbours. Who makes the final decision, you ask? Informed, well-educated, impartial judges and lawmakers who demonstrate an appreciation for reason, justice, and compassion, separating their obligations to their majority constituents from those to their minority constituents. Because the majority do not have a say in the lives of the minority. What do you think?

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Isabella Rossellini on Sex Ambiguity and Biblical Veracity

21 02 2011

How does she do it? With what grace, panache, and drollery? With what sort of esoteric knowledge? As much as ever, I am mystified by the enigma that is Isabella Rossellini.

I wanted to spread the word about veteran actress Isabella Rossellini’s brilliant, largely self-made series of short films entitled “Green Porno” and “Seduce Me”, produced for the Sundance Channel. For those of you who are still unfamiliar with these amusingly artistic gems, they are an effort to promote ecological sustainability by educating people through scientific research about the sexual habits of animals. In other words, they offer insight into the need for preserving biodiversity by revealing in a fun and lighthearted fashion the often shocking and scandalous sex lives of our biological brethren. They show us how animals have sex to help us sympathise with them. And that is good.

Technically, the “Green Porno” series is an offshoot of the “Seduce Me” series, the former being more focussed on the environmental aspect, but both are equally deliciously bizarre treats to devour. I think this idea is genius, not only because it’s outlandishly humorous, and not only because it teaches us about sustainability, but also because it teaches us that sex ambiguity is truly a universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom–including human beings.

The episode that I think touches best on the issue of sex ambiguity is “Noah’s Ark”, from “Seduce Me”. Keep in mind, the theatrical piece itself is basically the brainchild of Rossellini: she wrote, directed in, and starred in the feature, basing the script on scientific observations of animal habits. Basically, she shows that Noah loaded his ark with one female and one male of every species in the world, but she then points out all the myriad species that do not rely on copulation between one female and one male in order to reproduce. Finally, she asks, how did Noah account for these non-heterosexual species? And, oh, do the permutations stretch the imagination. Truly. Without further ado, let us wrap our minds around the fantastic world of animal sex in the eyes of one of the most elegant dames of modern film:

First of all, I just have to enumerate the different types of sex that are possible in order to reproduce (let alone to bond socially or experience pleasure for pleasure’s sake):

Hermaphroditism: an organism can copulate by choosing one sex role or the other, because it possesses both

Segmentation: an organism can procreate by splitting into two and creating a clone

Transsexuality: an organism becomes the opposite sex in order to mate

Parthenogenesis: all members of the species are female, and they develop eggs without male fertilization; they give virgin births, and so do their young

Masculine obsolescence: the species no longer needs males; females mate with one another by simulating sex with one another, thus stimulating one another’s hormones in order to ovulate, develop eggs, and reproduce–without male fertilization

Homosexuality: some organisms have sex with other organisms of the same sex–sometimes, this results in oval maturation via mutual same-sex hormone stimulation

Semen is so overrated!

Most poignant is the ending, where Rossellini quizzically asks the viewer, “How did Noah do it? Hermaphrodites, transvestites, transgendered, transsexual, polygamy, monogamy, homosexual, bisexual. How could it all be heterosexual?” Immediately conservatives will respond, “human beings cannot change sex to reproduce, they cannot segment and clone themselves, and human females cannot reproduce among themselves”. True. But this is reductive. It is like saying that aphids can’t do what earthworms do. Humans are a part of the spectrum–they have their own permutation of sexual possibilities. They can be homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, and intersexual (hermaphroditic), and any combination of these can raise rather healthy children. They don’t need to do what crabs do, or what limpets do, in order to be a part of the spectrum of animal behaviour.

“But that’s just showing sexual diversity across species”, says the conservative. “It doesn’t mean that a single species in and of itself is sexually diverse”. You’re right. So let is move on and show a species that does show sexual diversity. Ah, here is a species that shows sexual diversity. Dolphins.

Damn. I was going to send you an embedded code, but the Web site wouldn’t let me for this particular clip. Anyway, if you want to see exactly what dolphins do for fun, go here, http://www.sundancechannel.com/greenporno/, and look for “dolphin” on the right side of the screen. But listen to me, because I know what they do in the clip. Let me tell you. Really. Straight dolphins do it in the missionary position, some dolphins masturbate against coral reefs, some lesbian dolphins stick their fins into other females’ vaginas (kind of like fisting), and gay male dolphins stick their penises into other dolphins’ blowholes.

Wow!

Talk about a blow!

Thanks, Isabella!

In sum, we should appreciate Rossellini’s artistic panache–that is, her talent as a filmmaker. I knew she could toy with us in a feature-length film, but I never expected her to create such pithy and stylish mini-documentaries in short-film format. We should also recognize the urgent state of overfishing–it really is serious, and we shouldn’t joke about it, even though it’s fun—AH–HAHAHAHA—because it affects every person who puts a piece of calamari in her hole. Finally, we should be amused by Rossellini’s creatively bizarre style, for all of the eyes it opens, the minds it bends, and the chortles it creates in the chests of those who understand exactly what she is going for. But we should also appreciate her articulate commentary on gender ambiguity. You just don’t see too many stars doing that.

I think my work here is done.





The “Straight-Acting” Sham

18 02 2011

In my last post, I discussed gender dimorphism and challenged the biological determinist notion that we are and should be slaves to our biology. I explained how this position is highly questionable, biased, and potentially destructive—for both women and men. As it turns out, attachment to gender roles is not limited to heterosexual people, but includes homosexuals as well. This is rather ironic, because one would think that if anybody were cynical about gender roles, it would be gay people.

In contemporary gay society, there is a subset of lesbians who concern themselves with being feminine, and gay men who concern themselves with being masculine. For these lesbians, femininity equates with heterosexuality; for these gay men, masculinity equates with heterosexuality. Because I have been more immersed in the milieu of gay male society, I will focus on gay men who try to be masculine. Some gay men seek to emulate straight men because they believe that conventional heterosexual manhood embodies masculinity. There are three problems I have with this attitude: 1) it is sexist, 2) it is heterosexist, and 3) it is hypocritical and just plain illogical.

With regard to the first of these, straight-acting is sexist because it presupposes that men, but not women, are supposed to embody traditionally masculine traits. For instance, straight-actors assume that real men are supposed to be strong, aggressive, emotionally distant, and physically active. They are supposed to like action films, working on cars, baggy jeans and t-shirts, and playing rough contact sports, because these are “manly” things, in contrast with “womanly” things; they are not supposed to like romantic comedies, talking problems out, or wearing make-up and dresses, and they are not supposed to have effeminate mannerisms.  (And don’t talk to me about neurobiological differences and all of that crap–I dealt with that in my last blog entry.) But these stereotypes simply re-inforce the stupid sex roles that create so much pain, misery, heart-ache, and suffering for people. Being gay defies gender norms, so, if anybody should be critical of gender norms, it is gay people. It is disappointing, then, that some gay men challenge gender norms when they want to have anal sex, but preserve them when a man wants to wear make-up or a dress. All of a sudden, it’s perfectly manly to have butt-sex in a hotel room, but not to walk down the street carrying a Chanel handbag. How two-faced and arbitrary.

(This reminds me of the furore that has arisen over the fact that the San Francisco Department of Health has begun distributing female condoms to gay and bisexual men. Horror of horrors! How dare they imply that we are FEMALE! Um, hello? Female condoms go in HOLES. An anus is a HOLE. Therefore, it is perfectly logical for a gay man who receives the penis in his HOLE to use a female condom. If you don’t think a man receiving a penis in his anus during butt-sex is effeminate, you have no reason to think that such a man wearing a female condom is effeminate. And, besides, if it is effeminate, so what? He’s an effeminate man. Get over it.)

But I digress. Let us move on. Straight-acting is also heterosexist. The evidence is in the word straight-acting itself. Straight-acting implies that to be a real man, one must be a straight man, or a man who has sex with women. But monks don’t have sex with women, and we don’t say that they are not real men. Nor have male virgins ever had sex with a woman, but we don’t say that they are not real men. And some men are impotent, but we don’t say that they are not real men, either. “Ah, but they aren’t real men”, you might say, “because they don’t have sex with women”. But this would mean that a man is never a real man when his penis is not inside a woman’s vagina. That’s just ridiculous. All men are born with XY chromosomes, penises and testicles, and sperm. This includes gay men. Therefore gay men are men too. You don’t have to stick your penis into a woman’s vagina to be a man. Besides, the notion that a real man has sex with women is kind of degrading to women, because, for me, it strongly connotes sexual conquest of women, and that is just dehumanizing. Women are not holes for you to grind your penis in like a pencil sharpener. The actual hole itself is attached to a human being with her own thoughts and feelings.

Then there is the fact that straight-acting is hypocritical. Don’t worry. I’m not engaging in a tu quoque fallacy–I’m not attacking the person’s failure to practise what they preach rather than what they preach (I’ve already disproved what they preach in the last two paragraphs)–I’m merely trying to show that they are incoherent and inconsistent. And that should count for something. Consider Matt Hinsley, the 22 year-old college student who recently attended America’s annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) with the conservative gay group GOproud. According to Metro Weekly‘s Ebone Bell, Hinsley—a gay man—said,

“I don’t really like gay people that much. Gay people frustrate me, the stereotypical gay people, it frustrates me…someone who puts on a total act. I understand that some guys are feminine, which is fine. But some guys, at some point, are normal, straight-acting, whatever and the next minute they’re jumping up and down. It just frustrates me. The whole conservative thing is just be yourself, be an individual and just don’t be someone you’re not. If someone does or does not accept you, that’s fine but don’t change who you are to look different to others.”

Holy shit! It’s almost like when black people call each other nigger. Here is my main contention with regard to hypocrisy (I address Hinsley and his sort directly): you say that people should not act like somebody they are not, then you criticise  gay people who act effeminate, but not gay people who act straight. Yet both act like somebody they are not. Well, that isn’t fair. You can’t criticise drag queens without criticising straight-acting jocks, too, because both are acting like somebody they are not. Besides, many drag queens are in their true form when they are in drag, but a straight-actor is still painfully awkward and affected when in his jock-drag. Ugh. Furthermore, being effeminate is not incompatible with being gay, but being straight logically is (straight ≠ gay), so, if anything, straight-acting is more treacherous to one’s own homosexual identity than effeminacy. I think I’ve proved my point. It doesn’t make sense to slander gays for being gay.

Let’s sum up. Straight-acting doesn’t make sense, because it suggests that real men are traditionally masculine, that real men fuck women and not men (which is funny since straight-actors fuck men, and not women), and that drag queens put on an act, but not men who act straight. In essence, straight-acting is artificial, narcissistic, sexist, incoherent, sycophantic, opportunistic, exploitative, unfair, sophistic, and illogical. It cannot be defended. It is, quite honestly, the signature of a chap whose intellect is able enough to commute him from the high-school football quarterback position to the timid chair in the corner of the local community college philosophy course. Where he will fail.





Boys Will Be Biological Determinists

7 02 2011

What do you think of this picture of Amanda Lepore? No, it isn’t a Björk album cover.

Lepore, a nightlife hostess, model, entertainer, and male-to-female transgendered woman from New Jersey, is clearly a hyperfeminine contrivance, and we could chat till the cows come home about what sort of example she sets. Some gender theorists will argue, “She only re-inforces a stereotypically feminine paradigm for women”, while other gender theorists will argue, “She does not: she transfers that expectation from women on to men”. Personally, I hardly think that she is foisting some expectation on to the average woman to be like her. Seriously? If anything, she is saying that men can be that way, too, or, simply, she is being who she wants to be, as an individual. At any rate, we must agree that her highly ceremonial physical appearance testifies to the fact that the body is a thing to be manipulated for present-day needs and desires, and not an ancestral legacy to be embalmed.

Some people–I daresay men especially–show a profound anxiety over changing things one is born with. They don’t want women to be women, and they certainly don’t want men to be women. I don’t just mean cutting off penises or getting breast implants; I mean things like hormones, hypothalamuses, amygdalae, libido, and fight-or-flight instincts. For these people, we not only are slaves to our natural machinery, but we should be. And yet, as it happens, our natural machinery also includes a capacity for self-awareness and adaptation, a drive to meet our current needs and desires. So why should we worship biological impulses which echo ancestral traits, but not those which encourage innovation?

Let us make the following proposition:

Evolution consists in the natural selection of random genetic mutations which best accommodate the novel demands of the present-day environment.

Well, if this is so, then we should be adapting to our modern-day environment, not clinging to the ancestral one. “But this requires selection of a mate with the most desirable genetic mutations”, say determinists, “and we cannot control that impulse. It is instinctive”.

I don’t buy that argument.

First, it is irrelevant whether or not one can control such an instinct anyway, because instinct itself is adaptive. That is, instinct does the work of adapting for us. For instance, if fear of insects developed as a result of some ancestral awareness of potentially lethal insect venom, then this fear-instinct didn’t exist at an earlier date, because the object of fear was not yet present to merit it. Well, this obviously means that the instinct had to have developed. So pre-existing instincts are eclipsed by newer, more relevant ones which meet novel demands, and this is just one reason why we need not cling to tradition. Determinists often argue that conscious resistance to instinct is maladaptive, but what is really maladaptive? Clinging to an obsolescent instinct which causes undue suffering, or responding to the demands of a new one? I wager the former. Anything less would be counter-evolutionary.

Second, I’m not so sure we can’t help who we choose to mate with. As explained above, we humans have a capacity for self-awareness. The fact that I am discussing it objectively with you right now testifies to that fact. Being aware of our own condition, we are aware of those choices which most suit our present-day needs. The determinist will argue, “women instinctively choose stronger men over weaker ones, because, evolutionarily, stronger men can better defend them against wild animals”. I will agree that there is nothing sexier than a big, dumb, beefy male with a dark beard, but we know that there are some women who choose a scrawnier mate over a brawnier one. But this doesn’t make them “maladaptive” or “perverse”. Men evolved to become physically stronger than women so that they could protect pregnant women from wild animals, but some women consciously realize this is no longer necessary. In one recent newspaper article I read, a man and woman were hiking in the Alaska Range when a grizzly bear appeared out of the brush and charged the woman. The man responded not by wrestling the bear to the ground, but by pulling out a gun and shooting it–something the woman could have done if she had had the gun. In such cases, male strength is irrelevant, and, realizing this, women need not seek it out. Because they are conscious of what they need and desire.

And then we get into the testosterone argument. Lordy. This has been a highly popular credo for aeons, it seems–Gloria Steinem is still trying to dispel its glamour–yet it is fundamentally flawed in terms of ethical reasoning. In its basic form, the credo states, “Men are more aggressive because of testosterone, less emotional because of the way their limbic system operates, and more libidinous because of the hypothalamus”. So, what, so what, and so what? I don’t care, I don’t care, and I don’t care. Black people are more susceptible to high cholesterol levels than white people, but that doesn’t mean they should be, and Native Americans are more susceptible to alcoholism than white people, but that doesn’t mean they should be. In addition, white people are more susceptible to skin cancer than black people because they have less melanin in their skin, but that doesn’t mean they should be–we give them skin-block so that they can live in tropical climates, because they should be able to have that experience. Why, then, should we believe that it is “natural” for males to be more sexual than females? Because of some outdated need for polygyny? Ask yourself. Is that really fair? We already know that more intelligent men are more monogamous than less intelligent men, and that both general intelligence and male monogamy are evolutionary innovations. And why should males be more aggressive than females if everybody should be as kind and as nurturing toward one another as humanly possible? After all, if it is good to be kind, why should we deny kindness where possible? To say that a man sitting at home alone with his baby shouldn’t cuddle it as much as its mother just doesn’t make any fucking sense. It’s inane and full of empty, mindless automation. And if there is some neuro-biological impediment to the realization of this vision, there is a simple solution: medicine.

People think things are good if they are natural, and bad if they are unnatural. This position is called an “appeal to nature” fallacy. What makes this position fallacious is that a thing is not necessarily good because it is natural, or bad because it is unnatural. So what if male aggression is natural? Rape and murder are natural too, but that doesn’t make them right. In fact, most rapes and murders are commited by males, but we wouldn’t say, “rape and murder are manly things”. That’s just retarded and idiotic. Similarly, airplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around saying that they’re bad. So, no, “natural” does not equate with “good”, and “unnatural” does not equate with “bad”. Therefore, the argument that male aggression is good because it is natural is entirely vacuous.

A very brilliant friend of mine, Christine (whose culinary blog Angrycherry.com, by the way, is an unparalleled source of sumptuous, gorgeously-crafted home-spun recipes), recently recommended a book to me called Delusions of Gender: How our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine. (Apparently there’s a new, much more fastidiously laid-out edition entitled Delusions of Gender: the Real Science behind Sex Differences.) The book’s thesis is that sex differences in the brain are not as fixed, black-and-white, or hardwired as the popular media would lead us to believe, and that our loyalty to sex difference may actually causes suffering. I don’t have a problem with sex differences per se, but I do have a problem with the preservation or justification of such differences in that they cause pain, injury, misery, suffering, torment, isolation, or depression. The book is quite stunning according to most reviews: it is incredibly rigorously scholastic, yet fun and easy to read. Thus, I look forward to reading this book, and I recommend it to anybody interested in the subject.

The point I am making in this prolix blog entry is that we need to start using the most of our brains. We need to start thinking for ourselves. No more of this, “Aw, I can’t help it. It’s instinct. I’m a boy” crap. Bullshit. People say that kind of thing as an excuse to be a dick–and they get away with it. They do have control over how they behave, so they need to stop using biological determinism to explain away crimes such as rape, assault, murder, and all the other horrible things they do to ruin people’s lives. Isn’t it all as simple as that? Do unto others as you would have done unto you? Why should it make a difference, then, if your ancestors didn’t care for babies because they had penises?