Thursday, April 4, 2013

It Makes Perfect Sense...If You Don't Believe Women Are People

As a personal perspective rule, I give people the benefit of the doubt. Working in retail, I see a lot of selfish, thoughtless, behavior, but, in my mind, I find a rational explanation for the behavior. Since I can't really do anything about people acting like spoiled children, I see it as a stress reduction technique, to find an explanation that lets me believe they are rationally acting adults. It's just a lens that lets me come home from work every day NOT feeling like the world is filled with selfish assholes, even if, in many ways, it totally is.

I try something similar with different political opinions. When I encounter a political opinion I disagree with I try to figure out a way for that opinion to make sense to me, going beyond how the opinion holder defends it, to reasons that fit with my logical process. Even if I still disagree with the opinion, I find a way for a rational person to hold it. I do this partially for some of the same reasons as above, but also because it is a lot easier to change an opinion if you actually understand how it came to be. If you can't even imagine how someone could hold an opinion, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to argue against that opinion. Furthermore, sometimes this leads to finding similarities between apparently distant opinions or fundamental common ground, and sometimes I even change my mind, essentially winning the argument for them by exploring my own explanations.

In terms of politics, this was a lot easier ten years ago. At the base of nearly every bad policy/opinion coming out of Republicans and Democrats was a devotion to corporate capitalism rooted in money. Essentially, the defining opinions of that era made sense to me, even if they were wrong, because they ensured somebody made a lot of money, whether it was executives, bankers, or politicians themselves who won elections by running campaigns funded by executives and bankers and then went on to work directly for those executives and bankers and/or the lobbying firms they owned, after leaving office. It's wrong, but I can understand it in terms of personal benefit. Same thing goes for much of the erosion of civil liberties with the Patriot Act; it was wrong, but I could at least wrap my head around how people could come to value it.

But some things have changed and it is a lot harder to make some of the opinions make sense. I can kind of get a handle on the economic elitism of the Republican party, thinking of it as vestigial thinking from the Cold War where “socialism” was the “enemy,” and anything that could be construed as “restraining capitalism,” was “socialism,” mixed with a bunch of rich assholes spending a shit ton of money to make sure nobody notices just how assholic they are.

Apparently all logical roads end here.
But this whole gay marriage will lead to pedophilia and bestiality thing, I mean, what the fuck, dude. I mean, what are you looking at when you can't tell the difference between two adults, an adult and a child, and a person and animal? How do you organize the things in your world in your mind if there is somehow a slippery slope connecting the three? But clearly people not only believe that, but believe it strongly enough to say it out loud to other people holding recording devices. What the fuck, dude?

But still, no matter how crazy it seems, you try to stand on Boo Radley's porch for a moment. If people see those three things as connected, why do I believe they are disconnected? It feels so obvious that it was never a question I'd asked, but there has to be some difference beyond what is apparently apparent to me, for someone to believe they are connected. The fundamental moral, ethical, legal difference between the three is a consenting adult. Gay marriage involves two people who can morally, ethically, and legally give their consent. A child cannot give consent and an animal cannot give consent. In order for there to be a connection between those three things, the idea of a consenting adult needs to be removed. You need to not see that distinction. But in a debate about marriage, how do you not see two consenting adults?

And then, it hit me. It all makes perfect sense...if you don't really believe women are people. If you don't believe women are actually able to give adult consent, then heterosexual marriage involves only one consenting adult, the man. Sure, he asks her to marry him and sure she's not legally obligated to say yes, but that is all more social politeness than moral truth. (And yes, I also know that a marriage between two gay men involves, um, two men, but given that the idea that gay people really aren't people tends to be a corollary belief that contradiction usually just clears itself right up.) Louie Gohmert and Ben Carson can argue that legalizing gay marriage naturally leads to legalizing pedophilia and bestiality because they don't see heterosexual marriage as a marriage between two people, they see it as a marriage between a man and a woman.

Sadly, there's nothing surprising about misogyny, especially from a belief structure that leans heavily on a strict (though selective) interpretation of the Bible (parts of which read like Animal House fan-fiction, no disrespect to Animal House), and which is socially (though not economically, of course) nostalgic for an era when The Man worked (at a union job, but, you know, Unions, Stalin, Lizard People from Mars, OPEN YOUR EYES PEOPLE!) and the Woman stayed home and raised the kids, but I, personally (naively perhaps) find the centrality of misogyny to contemporary conservative politics shocking. I mean, they know women vote right? How exactly do they expect to get elected telling half the population that they are baby vending machines?

Which brings us to what might be a crisis point in American politics. Unbridgeable basic assumptions. All political opinions are ultimately based in irrational assumptions, beliefs that simply cannot be fundamentally proven true or false, and the key to political progress is finding policies that compromise between fundamental irrational assumptions. For example, I think there are tons policy bridges between the humanist assumption “Human life is important” and the religious assumption “Human life is sacred.” We can find ways for there to be fewer abortions in the world, without restricting a woman's right to control her body and her life. (Comprehensive sex education and affordable birth control spring immediately to mind.) I'm not sure there are policy bridges between “All people are people,” and “Some people are people.”

In fact, you can look at the history of American politics through this lens; we started as all believing “Some people are people,” and then parts of our population amended that to “Many people are people,” then “Most people are people,” “Pretty much all people are people,” and finally “All people are people.” Since this division in assumption, the two assumptions have just kind of kluged along between violent crises. We seem to be approaching some kind of crisis now, though there is every indication that the result of the crisis might be the end of the political relevancy of the “Some people are people camp.” The slow progress of justice, despite the best efforts of some, seems to continue.

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