March 20, 2006

The Slippery Slope

An interesting article by Charles Krauthammer, which I found at Benador Associates:
by Charles Krauthammer
Washington Post
March 17, 2006

And now, polygamy.

With the sweetly titled HBO series "Big Love," polygamy comes out of the closet. Under the headline "Polygamists, Unite!" Newsweek informs us of "polygamy activists emerging in the wake of the gay-marriage movement." Says one evangelical Christian big lover: "Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle."
As Newsweek notes, these stirrings for the mainstreaming of polygamy (or, more accurately, polyamory) have their roots in the increasing legitimization of gay marriage. In an essay 10 years ago, I pointed out that it is utterly logical for polygamy rights to follow gay rights. After all, if traditional marriage is defined as the union of (1) two people of (2) opposite gender, and if, as advocates of gay marriage insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one's autonomous choices in love, then the first requirement -- the number restriction (two and only two) -- is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.

This line of argument makes gay activists furious. I can understand why they do not want to be in the same room as polygamists. But I'm not the one who put them there. Their argument does. Blogger and author Andrew Sullivan, who had the courage to advocate gay marriage at a time when it was considered pretty crazy, has called this the "polygamy diversion," arguing that homosexuality and polygamy are categorically different because polygamy is a mere "activity" while homosexuality is an intrinsic state that "occupies a deeper level of human consciousness."

But this distinction between higher and lower orders of love is precisely what gay rights activists so vigorously protest when the general culture "privileges" (as they say in the English departments) heterosexual unions over homosexual ones. Was "Jules et Jim" (and Jeanne Moreau), the classic Truffaut film involving two dear friends in love with the same woman, about an "activity" or about the most intrinsic of human emotions?

To simplify the logic, take out the complicating factor of gender mixing. Posit a union of, say, three gay women all deeply devoted to each other. On what grounds would gay activists dismiss their union as mere activity rather than authentic love and self-expression? On what grounds do they insist upon the traditional, arbitrary and exclusionary number of two?

What is historically odd is that as gay marriage is gaining acceptance, the resistance to polygamy is much more powerful. Yet until this generation, gay marriage had been sanctioned by no society that we know of, anywhere at any time in history. On the other hand, polygamy was sanctioned, indeed common, in large parts of the world through large swaths of history, most notably the biblical Middle East and through much of the Islamic world.

I'm not one of those who see gay marriage or polygamy as a threat to, or assault on, traditional marriage. The assault came from within. Marriage has needed no help in managing its own long, slow suicide, thank you. Astronomical rates of divorce and of single parenthood (the deliberate creation of fatherless families) existed before there was a single gay marriage or any talk of sanctioning polygamy. The minting of these new forms of marriage is a symptom of our culture's contemporary radical individualism -- as is the decline of traditional marriage -- and not its cause.

As for gay marriage, I've come to a studied ambivalence. I think it is a mistake for society to make this ultimate declaration of indifference between gay and straight life, if only for reasons of pedagogy. On the other hand, I have gay friends and feel the pain of their inability to have the same level of social approbation and confirmation of their relationship with a loved one that I'm not about to go to anyone's barricade to deny them that. It is critical, however, that any such fundamental change in the very definition of marriage be enacted democratically and not (as in the disastrous case of abortion) by judicial fiat.

Call me agnostic. But don't tell me that we can make one radical change in the one-man, one-woman rule and not be open to the claim of others that their reformation be given equal respect.
My problem with this article is that Krauthammer obviously has to ARGUE with his fellow-Americans about the points he makes. Does the "Each-time-[insert name of Politician of whom you disapprove]-sneezes-a-puppy-dies"-faction have really permeated the thinking over there so much that even the most basic things become muddled? Of course each and every time we are opening Pandora's Box again when we are challenging one of the cornerstones of our society and culture, of which monogamous heterosexual marriage is one.

I have taken things one step further than "polyamoury" at this very blog already some time ago, after I had found a specifically irritating article, by the way not too surprisingly in the Al Guardian, which was supposed to sell us that "polyamoury" is just another way of life.

It's so easy. Just exchange "poly..." for "omni..." and include even more than several humans of different sexes and lo and behold, you have a most frightening (frightening because so CREDIBLE) scenario:

"'It is extremely important that people realise it is not just about sexual encounters. What distinguishes the omni community from swingers is that we want to make multiple emotional bonds. Most critters in the omni community won't have casual sex,' XYZ said, 'not even my dog.' It does result in complicated sexual and emotional patterns. Some omnis are in 'triangles', where each critter in a threesome has a relationship with the other. Or they can be in a 'vee', where one is involved with two others who are not involved with each other, irrespective of the number of legs. Or omnis can be in 'primary relationships', such as with a Great Dane or other partner, and have one or more 'secondary' relationships with, say, lesbian Siamese cats. Through it all the sexes can be mixed, as omnis can be straight, gay, bisexual or into sex with our four-legged friends, who may be, in turn, straight, gay, bisexual, or all of the above."

No homosexual person should be forced to live in fear and indignity, but it nauseates me that a --yes-- deviant lifestyle is now sold as a "normal" or even prefered one and of course this is BOUND to have serious consequences for our way of thinking and entire culture.

It's the same with abortion, the killing of a human being, or at least so I argue. It started with the understandable intent to relief the suffering of the mothers and to end social injustice and has led in the meantime to a moral and ethical monstrosity like "late term abortion". Why? Because we have started to tell ourselves that it is "normal" to do it.

And I don't even WANT to think what its further way might imply.

Krauthammer is right. The minting of new forms of marriage (or, as I would argue, any challenging of civilisatory cornerstones) is a nothing but a symptom of our culture's contemporary radical individualism and not its cause. And it's not so dangerous to challenge them. Very often this is done in the attempt to right a real or perceived injustice and challenging something can be a fruitful thing. It's dangerous not to be aware of what we are doing and to where it may lead.