Taylor: Love, hate and politics

If you are thinking about submitting a column to this page in which you present gay marriage as a matter of civil rights and equality, in which you compare the issue of gay marriage to racial discrimination in the past or in which you depict opponents of gay marriage as hateful and homophobic, I would ask you to reconsider.

It’s not that I doubt your sincere concern for this topic or your ability to expound upon it insightfully. It’s just that a rough sketch of that column has been reincarnated on this page no fewer than five times in the past month or so.

I suggest we attempt to stir up this conversation before it fully solidifies into a perpetual, monotonous chant (“Rights! Separate but equal! Homophobia!”). In my attempt to do so, I turn to news anchor Keith Olbermann’s reaction to the passing of Proposition 8 in California. Olbermann exhibited the same assertions and sentiments as the columns on this page, but with an added touch of shameless sentimentality. He went so far as to say that gay marriage is not “a question of politics,” but “a question of love” — as if all it takes to enact and enforce a law is flowers, bunnies and warm, fuzzy feelings.

Not that emotion has no role in politics. But emotion must be grounded in the political virtue of prudence. While gay marriage no doubt involves love, it is also obviously a question of politics, and politics is the art of deliberating and taking action directed towards the good of society. It is just here, when we consider the meaning of “the good of society,” that we find the root of much disagreement in our country.

Olbermann has hopped onto the bandwagon of modernity in equating the good with the individual’s ability to exercise his will without constraint. Formerly, the good was thought to exist in an objective, cosmic order independent of human will. For Plato, the Good was the highest reality — the sun that illuminated everything else — and the good life for man consisted of participating in that Good through virtuous living and rational reflection. Christian thinkers adopted and modified the Greek philosophical tradition, continuing to subordinate human will to a higher order but now locating that order in a personal God.

The advent of modernity saw a sharp break. Thomas Hobbes, the inventor of the modern political order, claimed that nothing is “simply and absolutely” good. He individualized the good, identifying it with “whatsoever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire.” Having lost its belief in a transcendent order to which human will must be subordinate, modern thought conflates the good with radical liberty. As it happens, once the good has been redefined, so too must nearly everything else.

Rationality, for instance, is now considered an instrument for achieving arbitrarily chosen goals rather than as a faculty for realizing the good — whether of the individual or society. In the modern account of rationality (to use Hume’s famous dictum), “’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” Truth has been divorced from the good, and “is” from “ought.” We strive for something not because it is naturally or inherently good, but because we have chosen to value it.

Love has also been redefined. It now means something more like apathy than wishing for and working toward another’s good. Olbermann makes this clear when, in his plea for “love,” he appeals to hands-off indifference: “What does this matter to you?” Hate, in turn, has come to mean something akin to what previously might have been called love — namely, deterring someone from acting in a way that would be injurious to himself or to society.

Not everyone in the United States buys into the modern redefinition of the good. Many do not see marriage as a “right,” but as an institution by which the government can help to foster a virtuous and ordered society. They recognize a natural, fundamental difference between men and women, and they believe that a good society is made up of families that are built on the love between a mother and father (rendering null the analogy of racial discrimination). Instead of calling them “irrational,” “prejudiced” or “hateful,” the proponent of gay marriage should recognize that many of his adversaries, given their premises, are loving their neighbors in the best way they know how.

Bryce Taylor is a sophomore in Silliman College.

Comments

  • The Totemization of Marriage

    IS it ironic that "we have chosen to value" even valorize an institution which has a 50% failure rate? Why would anyone think that institutionalizing monogamy would make monogamy work? Simply consider the odds and infer Natures intent: 20 million sperm to one egg. It is clear that Nature intended the sperm throwers to have to play the game of throwing until they connected. If the object of that throwing happens to be another sperm thrower Nature"s imperative to make the odds connection succeed is no less (the same goes for two egg makers).
    Marriage is the latest totem in a world which has made egalitarianism an object of conspicuous consumption. "Look at me---I've got equality too!" Ironically while we claim egalitarianism, we have replaced the Old World aristocracy of blood lines with a non-geneteic non-heredetary aristocracy of Hollywood and Webwood lords and ladies. Oh what fools these mortals be.

  • yale '09

    I applaud the author's rejection of the absurd rhetoric that has thus far shaped this argument. However, his argument does little to contribute towards the discourse.

    "Love has been redefined… as apathy"? "Hate, has come to mean… deterring someone from acting in a way that would be injurious to himself or to society."?

    Seriously? I think what you are saying is that gay-marriage advocates call their opponents hateful. Since the opponents are *clearly* just trying to help gay people do what is best for themselves and for society (by not marrying) the gay-marriage advocates have thus relabeled hate in the manner you described.

    How can you simply imply such a controversial "fact" in your reasoning without even a note of justification? If there were general agreement that gay marriage were bad for the individuals involved, no one would be interested in it, and if everyone agreed that gay marriage is bad for society, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

    This is the crux of the problem. Many gay-marriage advocates take the position "let me do what I want. why should you care about it?" and opponents say "This is bad for society (or morally repugnant)".

    Gay marriage advocates need to address this argument head on, and opponents also need to justify their assertion that it would be bad for society. But for some reason, nobody engages in this debate.

    As the author of this piece points out, how often have we heard "gay marriage is like interracial marriage". This argument will lead nowhere as it does the same thing as opponents' flat statement that "gay marriage is bad for society". The evil of preventing interracial marriage lay in the fact that it denied personhood under the law to black individuals. Or rather, it created a difference between black persons and white persons and restricted the rights of the two differently. In this case, the question can be framed in two ways: "Shall some individuals be denied the right to marry the person they love?" (Evil) or "Shall *EVERYONE* be allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex?" (Not Evil).

    Gay marriage advocates see the first question where opponents see the second.

  • Jimmer

    "Olbermann has hopped onto the bandwagon of modernity in equating the good with the individual’s ability to exercise his will without constraint."---This is the problem I had with "Joe the Plumber"'s equation of the American Dream with low taxes. As in the case the author argues here, it is to the benefit of society as a whole, including those making the most money, to have higher taxes on the very rich because a society that takes care of its poorest citizens makes everyone safer. Also, with taxes as with universal health care, it's just the ethical thing to do. Even though among the poor are many staunch Republicans who would vote against such measures, the policy changes would actually be to their benefit. (For instance, 18,000 Americans per year die because they lack access to health care). Those in favor of these measures are not, "Communist," "Marxist," "Socialist" or any other hyperbolic label attributed to them, they are just "loving their neighbors in the best way they know how."

    Good job, Bryce!

  • Goldie '08

    I understand where you're coming from, but then I want to ask, what makes gay marriage "bad for society?"

  • @Jimmer

    Illustrate how the government is the most efficient and free method for providing healthcare and I will go along with it.

    But I believe the best path is in the marketplace.

    Individuals can choose to love or hate.

    The government can do neither.

  • Hiero II

    All the pro-gay activists citing the 50% divorce rate don't stop and realize that this divorce rate is a direct product of the 60s and the sexual revolution.

    a revolution that this current anti-Prop8 sentiment is part of.

  • Tyler

    I don't really understand what this article is trying to achieve. Slim picking from Western philosophy, a serious misinterpretation of Hobbes (if modern good is radical freedom, hobbes work endorsing complete/total sovereignty of the state would seem to be against it), and a rejection of rationality. Then the author offers a redefinition of love and hate, which is not substantiated or really discussed. You could find plenty of instances in both ancient and recent history where terrible things have been done in the name of societal protection, and good things as well. Whether these instances are acts of love or hate can only be discriminated on an individual basis.

    After all that we're still at square one in this debate. And then the author tosses up the same old argumentation without any shred of evidence, only this time it is in the name of Love. And this is all after eroding and molding the definitions of love and hate to simultaneously fit any event in history, and delegitimizing a rational approach to the topic. Thanks for the discourse.