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What I have Learned from the Recent Debates on Homosexuality
“I think I can tell you why it's so much harder to present one's short stories than to enter into ideological debates. Debates "expose," so to speak, one's thinking; fiction exposes one's soul. It is impossible to keep our deepest values out of our fiction; every fiction writer reveals in his writing, whether he intends it or not, who he really is. This can legitimately be frightening because it leaves us vulnerable, and by our own choice, to those who might misunderstand us because we, perhaps, have not been fully clear, or because they do not hold sacred the values that are essential to who we are. In reading your posts to SoloHQ, … I learned some of your ideas. In reading 'The Birthday Cake,' I learned a good deal about George.”
I sincerely hope that Mrs. Branden does not take offence to my having quoted her verbatim in a statement that she intended only for me. It’s just that her statement struck me as being highly applicable to the manner of discourse that took place on the recent threads related to homosexuality. The degree of passion exhibited in this debate was extraordinary. Everyone seemed to pull out all the stops; the intellectuals became hyper-intellectuals, the bad-tempered became outright explosive, the long-winded exceeded even Tolstoy in verbiage, lurkers suddenly decided to make public statements, old ideological enemies became allies, and old friends became enemies.
Mrs. Branden’s response to me was to highlight how ideological debates by their nature tend to expose only our mental process, as opposed to our deepest and most intimate values (that express our sense of life, our soul). She is undoubtedly correct, and her response to me gave me cause to reflect. That said, the recent ideological debate perhaps suggest that there is a third category: the ideological debate that inherently exposes ones thinking process and deepest values simultaneously. The topic of homosexuality appears to be a glaring example of that third category.
Ask yourself, “How can a person who is a homosexual, has lived as such for years or decades, and is sharing that life with another homosexual who is among his highest values, how can he possibly separate the issue of his very being into the intellectual and the personal?” While not an impossible feat, I would venture to say that it is quite improbable. To call into question the moral issue of homosexuality is to call into question the person’s entire life, his entire sense of identity, and his entire value system itself. Yes, yes - I can hear your “Why are they so touchy to something they claim is so normal?”
Conversely, “How can a person who has spent a life-time living under a personal moral code of which he is certain, yield a moral sanction to that which he considers to be the most stark example of a contrast to what he has accepted as a absolute given? To do so would call into question all of his other personal moral values, it calls into question even those moral codes by which he lives that are not directly related to the issue of homosexuality, but are related to the highly personal issue of a person's sexuality specifically and his morality in general. As such, the person would have to re-access his entire thinking process and call into question a myriad of other conclusions that he has arrived at. Yes, yes - I can hear your “I don’t need anyone’s moral sanction, and they have no right to make it on me!”
Rightly or wrongly, the issue tends to act like the first domino in a long row of dominos, if you allow that first one to be tipped over – all the rest will follow. The stakes in the debate are not viewed as a single domino hanging in the ‘peripheral’ of issues, but rather the stakes are seen as having bet one's entire sense of life in a single wager. Having placed all of your chips on the table, it should be no surprise to anyone that you will shoot and kill the first player who even looks as if he might be cheating!
It’s comforting to dismiss away your opponent with, “He’s a homophobe, a bigot, close-minded, dishonest, a fascist, a conservative in objectivist clothing, a liar, and not very intelligent.”
It’s comforting to dismiss away your opponent with, “He’s traumatized, chemically imbalanced, neurotic, perverted, abnormal, a socialist post-modernist in objectivist clothing, a panderer to the ‘agenda’.”
From the founder of this web site down, over-the-top statements were made, myself included. From what I have read I can see that nearly every single person at least dabbled with the ad-hominem attack. As Objectivists, the majority of us have developed the lawyerly ability to couch our ad-hominems in articulate and intellectual terms. I do not wish to debate whether Mr. or Mrs. X, Y, Z, managed to somehow ‘stay above it all’. No doubt, I am sure every person reading this is completely innocent!
So what have I learned from the recent debates on homosexuality? That I intend to go down screaming my own innocence, and maintaining that I never once strayed from being objective. With that, I close this article on an issue that I dubbed, ‘peripheral’.
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