April 24, 2003

THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT EXPLAIN ITSELF (via a very impatient Brian Hoffman)

Incest Repellent?: If gay sex is private, why isn't incest? (William Saletan, April 23, 2003, Slate)
Let's leave adultery and polygamy out of it for the moment. Let's set aside morality and stick to law. And let's grant that being attracted to a gender is more fundamental than being attracted to a family member. Santorum sees no reason why, if gay sex is too private to be banned, the same can't be said of incest. Can you give him a reason?

The easy answer--that incest causes birth defects--won't cut it. Birth defects could be prevented by extending to sibling marriage the rule that five states already apply to cousin marriage: You can do it if you furnish proof of infertility or are presumptively too old to procreate. If you're in one of those categories, why should the state prohibit you from marrying your sibling? [...]

I'm a lifestyle conservative and an orientation liberal. The way I see it, stable families are good, homosexuality isn't a choice, and therefore, gay marriage should be not just permitted but encouraged. Morally, I think incest is bad because it confuses relationships. But legally, I don't see why a sexual right to privacy, if it exists, shouldn't cover consensual incest. I think Santorum is wrong. But I can't explain why, and so far, neither can the Human Rights Campaign.

One of the keys to conservatism, in many ways the key, is that it is largely a matter of temperament and aesthetics. The former was famously captured by Michael Oakeshott:
The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better. He is not in love with what is dangerous and difficult; he is unadventurous; he has no impulse to sail uncharted seas; for him there is no magic in being lost, bewildered or shipwrecked. If he is forced to navigate the unknown, he sees virtue in heaving the lead every inch of the way.What others plausibly identify as timidity, he recognizes in himself as rational prudence; what others interpret as inactivity, he recognizes as a disposition to enjoy rather than to exploit. He is cautious, and he is disposed to indicate his assent or dissent, not in absolute, but in graduated terms. He eyes the situation in terms of its propensity to disrupt the familiarity of the features of his world.

and by Albert Jay Nock:
As a man of reason and logic, I am all for reform; but as the unworthy inheritor of a great tradition, I am unalterably against it. I am forever with Falkland, the true martyr of the Civil War,--one of the very greatest among the great spirits of whom England has ever been so notoriously noteworthy,--as he stood facing Hampden and Pym. 'Mr. Speaker,' he said, 'when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.'

Edmund Burke captures the latter, in reference to patriotism:
For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.

So too does Nock, as regards the materialism (economism) of modern life:
Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

What Mr. Saletan has touched upon here is just such conservative impulses. He sees us perched somewhere near the top of the slippery slope and though he's willing to venture down it as far as we've so far come (to the acceptance of homosexuality), he's reluctant to travel further. The problem arises because he's already slid too far; for as he notes, having once accepted homosexuality as normal he's lost any theoretical basis for applying the brakes and disavowing those things he retains sufficient judgment to know are abnormal and ugly.

Now, I know, we are no longer to speak in this way, but all of us know, even if only in the secret recesses of our minds, those parts we don't display in polite company, that there's nothing normal about homosexuality. No one, after all, is truly ambivalent about the question of whether their own child chooses to be straight or gay. Even the most "tolerant" of folks are not indifferent as to whether the sex scene in the movie they're watching is between two men. Even homosexuals do not pretend to normalcy:
The homosexual learns to make distinctions between his sexual desire and his emotional longing--not because he is particularly prone to objectifications of the flesh, but because he needs to survive as a social and sexual being. The society separates these two entities, and for a long time the homosexual has no option but to keep them separate. He learns certain rules; and, as with a child learning grammar, they are hard, later on in life, to unlearn.

It's possible, I think, that whatever society teaches or doesn't teach about homosexuality, this fact will always be the case. No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures. And every homosexual child will learn the rituals of deceit, impersonation, and appearance. Anyone who believes political, social, or even cultural revolution will change this fundamentally is denying reality. This isolation will always hold. It is definitional of homosexual development.

That's Andrews Sullivan--here Camille Paglia:
Homosexuality is not 'normal.' On the contrary, it is a challenge to the norm; therein rests its eternally revolutionary character. Note I do not call it a challenge to the idea of the norm. Queer theorists - that wizened crew of flimflamming free-loaders - have tried to take the poststructuralist tack of claiming that there is no norm, since everything is relative and contingent. This is the kind of silly bind that word-obsessed people get into when they are deaf, dumb, and blind to the outside world. Nature exists, whether academics like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single, relentless rule. That is the norm. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction. Penis fits vagina: no fancy linguistic game - playing can change that basic fact. However, my libertarian view, here as in regard to abortion, is that we have not only the right, but the obligation to defy nature's
tyranny. The highest human identity consists precisely in such assertions of freedom against material limitation.

So, when Mr. Saletan says that he's a "lifestyle conservative" and when he laments that he can't explain why Rick Santorum must be wrong, he has in fact revealed that he knows Mr. Santorum to be right and this is what troubles him. He's suddenly awoken to the fact that he's already given away too much and can no longer find purchase on the slope. But there's still hope. Mr. Saletan can always fall back--though he'll not be able to explain it intellectually--on a sublime statement of conservative principle, this one from Mark Helprin: "It should not be necessary to explain a praiseworthy revulsion." Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2003 3:15 PM
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