liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
So Gerv posted a call for people to sign the petition to keep marriage restricted to one man and one woman. This offended lots of people, and appears to have turned into one of those internet imbroglios. I didn't realize just how far it had spread until I was idly browsing Geek Feminism, of all things, and stumbled across some commentary.

In some ways this has played out exactly like every other internet imbroglio where a fairly high profile person makes inept or offensive comments about members of a minority group, and there is a rush to condemnation and links get passed round and the argument reaches a much wider audience than the people who were involved in the original discussion, and it all turns ugly. You've got people trying to make completely irrelevant arguments about free speech and censorship, ridiculous attempts to quantify just how offensive the original comment was, lots of posturing about who is the most righteous, tone arguments and arguments about the tone argument. (I'm not convinced Addie's analysis is entirely correct, but it at least has the advantage of being charitable towards the people on the "wrong", ie harmful to members of a minority, side of the argument.)

The difference is that this time, the person at the centre of the controversy is a friend of mine. I've known Gerv since first year chemistry lectures in 1997; that's pretty much all my adult life, and a lot of history. I'm pretty sure he's not "homophobic" in any obvious sense of the word. But of course, entering the discussion to say that would be thoroughly unhelpful, it's what everybody always says: he's my friend, he can't possibly be a bad person! What he is is a committed, active member of a religious group, as an Evangelical Christian, whose leadership can be quite homophobic. This means that his reasonably balanced, sincere remarks about gay issues pick up the connotations of frothing homophobia from players in the US culture wars who take a similar position, but much less reasonably.

It's incredibly difficult to break with your religious leadership on a matter of conscience, because people are naturally strongly influenced by the accepted position within their communities, and that's even more intensely the case if you are actually a sincere believer in the key tenets of your religion. I belong to a religion that doesn't have much of a centralized hierarchy, and a denomination within that which is even more decentralized than most, but I definitely do still experience conflicts between my commitment to redressing social inequalities, and my religion's official positions. In my case I have bigger problems with the treatment of converts and with anti-Muslim / anti-Arab prejudice than with homophobia (not that Reform Judaism is perfect on that score, but it's reasonably good), but I feel that it's more individuals not living up to our shared religious ideals, rather than the leadership trying to drag its membership socially backwards.

It's a bad idea for me to come out in support of a non-homophobic person because he's coming from a religious context with harmful views about homosexuality. That just contributes to the further marginalization of QuILTBAG folk. It's basically irrelevant that Gerv is a decent person; even though he meant well, his words still contributed to harm, and people have the right to push back strongly against that. The issues are muddled because that's what happens with internet discussions, but the main problem here is that his blog post can be interpreted as a official statement on the part of Mozilla, and this could be said to contribute to creating an unsafe environment for volunteers and employees of Mozilla who aren't straight. I don't know how Mozilla should address this; I'm not part of that company or that community, but I do know that attempts to address the problem should not automatically be dismissed as "bullying" or "censoring" the poor widdle homophobes.

I am a little concerned that Gerv's call to sign the gender-specific marriage petition is being regarded as hate speech; it seems a bit much that anything at all except the party line of completely equal legal status for same sex marriage is in the category of homophobic hate speech. Last I checked, there were divisions even within the QuILTBAG activist community about whether marriage equality is the best outcome we should be fighting for. What happened to the assimilationist versus separatist debate? What happened to the faction who think the best solution is to get rid of state-sanctioned marriage altogether? Is it homophobic hate speech now to question whether marriage in its current form is an institution worth supporting?

And on a personal level, you know, Gerv is still my friend whom I disagree with about lots of stuff. I am forever grateful that university brought me into contact from people of all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of views. I argued with him a bit on his original post, but I know I'm not going to change his basic opinion all sex is sinful except within a highly gendered marriage between a man and a woman. There are some opinions I might consider disowning a friend for, but I don't think this should be one. But it's always tricky to balance loyalty to a friend with loyalty to principles, and my deep commitment to pluralism and diversity with my commitment to ending oppression.

One thing I do find encouraging is that it seems like even the political voices most strongly against marriage equality are falling back on the argument that civil partnerships are good enough, not that gay people are sick and disgusting and perverts and deserve to be cast out of society. So at least in the UK, it seems like the battle is very close to being won.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-12 11:22 pm (UTC)
hairyears: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
The world moves on, and some people are left behind: Gerv appears to be one of them.

I am well aware that I would share his views were I living in the nineteen-forties in Ireland; I might well share these views today if I were immersed in a religious community and a social circle that still held such views and values in the present day. But I do not, and I am more fortunate in my friendships than I deserve to be.

Perhaps we all are.

Which raises the question: how do we ensure that we, in our influence on others, are beneficial? Cutting off Gerv would reinforce him in his views; and managing the inevitable 'distancing' as he finds himself further and further behind mainstream society is going to get harder - but that is going to happen.

I think the 'ideal' is that you remain enough of a friend to be a source of support when the World comes crashing in on him; and nonjudgemental, unconditional support is the only thing that brings round truly dangerous, blindly-hurtful zealots - I hasten to add that I do would not put any of you friends in that category, known or unknown to me! - but you'll need to be quite calculating, and at times quite cynical, in managing the friendship in such a way that you never give validation to his more toxic beliefs, nor allow yourself to be seen supporting him in actions which *will* be hurtful to others.

Yes, it's distasteful taking that calculated approach to a friendship. Some people have the natural grace to do it all subconsciously, and I envy them. Some people can't, at all; and some people conclude - correctly - that some friends and some friendships can't be 'managed', or salvaged.

Place yourself somewhere in there, and see if it's a useful view.

My best advice would be to pursue whatever courses leave choices open, rather than close off avenues of communication: 'putting things off' and muddling through aren't always a bad way to go.

Also: the phrase: "They've crossed the line this time" is always worse than useless.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-13 08:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I am well aware that I would share his views were I living in the nineteen-forties in Ireland; I might well share these views today if I were immersed in a religious community and a social circle that still held such views and values in the present day. But I do not, and I am more fortunate in my friendships than I deserve to be.

Perhaps we all are.

To my eye, there's something distinctively Rawlsian ( about that sentiment - I think I approve, but I'd have to read more to know for sure. The basic idea is to imagine a group of people drawing up a social contract and principles of justice from behind a veil of ignorance, such that:

"no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance."

Emphasis mine; the business with the conceptions of the good is what makes me see a parallel here.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-13 08:33 am (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Ooops, that was me, the emphasis on "I shall ... of the good" doesn't seem to show in [personal profile] liv's style. Oh well.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-13 02:34 pm (UTC)
elf: Leetah & Nightfall in the woods (Femslash)
From: [personal profile] elf
I think it's just as likely that the liberal bubble will burst,

I don't know about the UK, but in the US, the split isn't liberal/conservative as much as it is young/old. And it's a steady progression, not a bubble. And support is growing across all groups, with "younger than baby-boomer" being the strongest supporters:
Among those 18 to 34 years old, 58 percent said same-sex marriages should be legal. That number drops to 42 percent among respondents 35 to 49 years old, and to 41 percent for those 50 to 64 years of age. The poll indicates that only 24 percent of Americans 65 and older support recognizing same-sex marriages as valid.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-13 08:45 pm (UTC)
elf: Many Americans have all the virtues of civilized people (American virtues)
From: [personal profile] elf
It doesn't matter which Republican gets nominated. (For humor value, I'm hoping it's Santorum.) Absolutely none of them can go toe-to-toe with Obama in an open debate. None of them can persuade anyone who doesn't already agree with the far-right Repub anti-women anti-gay platform to vote for them.

The people in that group have sharp opinions over which one is better... but the majority of the US isn't there, and none of the current candidates are going to convince anyone they should be.

Romney would be least embarrassing for the Repub party; he'd just waffle a lot and not actually say anything coherent. After a debate, his supporters would say he won because he said nothing that offended them (or anyone, really) and Obama said things they didn't like. However, people who don't support him would notice him dodging questions that aren't part of his pre-established list.

Gingrich would be raked over the scandal-coals so sharply you could watch the sparks from where you are. Websites of "worst quotes from The Newt" would pop up and be widely tweeted. The macros would be *hilarious.* And aside from that, his political history haunts him--the "contract with America" didn't do what he said it would, and he'll have a hard time explaining why gay marriage is a threat to the US economic future. Newt's probably the best politician in the bunch--but he's made too many mistakes to be a serious candidate in *this* race.

Santorum would make bigoted statement after bigoted statement, scramble facts almost as badly as Palin, and not understand why people are *still* using that awful joke by Dan Savage against him. If he actually got nominated, I'd expect someone to put together a a gay porn writing fest with keyword "santorum". And unlike Newt, he has absolutely *nothing* to offer, politically, to people he doesn't agree with. He has no idea how to compromise, and he thinks all sex outside of marriage is immoral and should be illegal.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-13 05:34 pm (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
If I started cutting people off for disagreeing with me, I'd be a fundamentalist myself, I'd be removing myself from the possibility that I could be wrong or that my understanding may evolve over time.

You keep saying it, as if it were a foregone conclusion, and I think it's not.

Allow me to clarify your thinking, in the time-honored way of philosophy classes: take the wrong to an unambiguous extreme, such as murder.

If someone you accounted a friend was to commit a murder in cold blood, and be unrepentant or at least equivocate about it, would you continue to feel you had a moral duty to continue to be friends with them?

As it happens, a FOAF performed a hit -- you know, a killing for money -- on an infant child. Got a lengthy sentence and died in prison. The friend between us had some interesting things to say about the experience of learning about the atrocity his friend committed.

I don't know which way you'll decide. But if you grant the question is worth considering, then you've allowed as how loyalty has limits.

And on the flip side, as someone who is staunchly pro-choice, I have much more respect for the allegedly pro-life who would have nothing to do with me socially because they see me as advocating murder, than I do those who bandy about the word "murder" but never seem to make any decision based on it as if they actually believed it.

I'm not advocating that you cut him off. I'm advocating that whatever you do, you not use the argument, "well, I'd be just as bad if I demonstrated having moral principles".

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-13 05:37 pm (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
P.S. Or put another way, this argument of yours boils down to Gerd (or "fundamentalists") are in the wrong for acting on moral principles. I would argue their wrong isn't in acting on their principles, but that they have wrong principles. Indeed, I think encouraging people to believe there is something wrong with acting on moral principles does not do society any favors.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-15 05:22 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
it's possible I'm implying

I didn't say you were implying it. I said that that was what your argument boiled down to. Do you see the difference?

I think Gerv is right to express / act on his moral principles about homosexual relationships by taking part in the democratic process. That's why I am arguing here that it's not hate speech for him to do so.

Your second sentence doesn't follow from your first. Again: if someone stumps for a political position, by blaming all the woes of the world on [ethnicity] and promising to pass legislation to kill all the [ethnicity], I'm really fine characterizing that as "hate speech", if anything is.

But this is beside the point. When you argue that "cutting people off" would make you a "fundamentalist myself", you're arguing that there's something morally unacceptable in cutting people off; indeed you're positing that that's a defining characteristic in "fundamentalist", and what makes "fundamentalism" undesirable. I don't think any of that is controversial, no?

The problem is that "cutting people off" -- withdrawing one's society from those whose conduct one cannot condone -- is in fact acting on moral principles.

I don't think the problem with "fundamentalists", as you call them, is that they choose the beneficiaries of their camaraderie on the basis of their understanding moral character. That would strike me as nothing more than good sense. And it would constitute nothing more than fiercely and deliberately leaving other people alone. I'm down with that.

No, the problem, as I see it, with those you're terming "fundamentalists", and which I suspect I might term "absolutists" or "militants", is that they wish to impose their order on others.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-15 05:36 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
obviously encouraging people to agitate politically against equal marriage is to some extent an action, but it's hardly even on a continuum with murder

Let us imagine a gay couple in your country. One is a UK citizen and the other is not, and wishes to naturalize to the UK, but is on some sort of time-limited visa. The non-citizen is from Uganda, and has done civil rights work that has resulted in him being outed as gay in his home country. He has credible fears that he will be killed if he is returned to Uganda.

Do you believe that Gerd feels that it would be acceptable or even tolerable for your government to offer either marriage or some non-marriage marriage-equivalent as a remedy to their separation? Or do you believe that Gerd's convictions are that the state should in no way endorse or tolerate an immigrant being sheltered from deportation to a lethal regime by marriage to a citizen of the same sex?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be saying that depriving people of the right to marry a partner of any sex really isn't of much or really any consequence for them. Is that really true in your country?

People in the US used that reasoning, but here it was unambiguously false. The consequences of preventing marriage for some people has had some pretty horrific consequences. Some of them (concerning spousal rights to insurance, e.g.) would hopefully not apply where you are, with nationalized medicine. But I have trouble crediting that there aren't other consequences, possibly quite significant, for people prevented from marrying.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-15 11:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
you seem to be saying that depriving people of the right to marry a partner of any sex really isn't of much or really any consequence for them. Is that really true in your country?

AFAICT, civil partnerships already confer the same immigration status as marriage (see this page ( where the experts say "the rules mirror those for spouses ... to all intents and purposes, civil partnership is “gay marriage”") so yes, it is true in the UK.

What Gerv wants is for the law not to refer to gay marriage as marriage, as far as I can tell. This is different from campaigning against gay marriage in countries which don't already have civil partnership. Possibly people from such backward places have got annoyed with Gerv because they thought that was what he was saying, though.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-15 05:50 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
Also, I expect, you empathize with Gerd and see a lot of your past self in him. You want to advocate kindness to him because you wish to believe you were worthy of kindness, yourself, back when you held such opinions.

When you think back to how your opinions shifted over time, what role was played by the people of different opinions to whom you exposed yourself? Do you remember specifics of how you came to different positions through their effect on you?

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 10:42 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
The friend between us had some interesting things to say about the experience of learning about the atrocity his friend committed.

Oh my, that's really awful :(

Having read through some of the thread about when to cut someone off, I'm still very unsure. I will take your example of someone who does something really awful. I think one failure mode (that I was previously forgetting) is that if everyone goes "tut tut" but then forgets about it and no-one withdraws from them, there'll be no pressure against doing that sort of thing. So we definitely want to avoid that.

But conversely, is it still worth hoping that someone who's done some number of bad things, may still be a worthwhile human being later? Sometimes there really is no realistic hope of that being plausible. But if there is, it probably only comes if you have some friends left, else there's no pressure not to withdraw completely from society...

I think people arguing opposite opinions are implicitly thinking "if no-one else is withdrawing from them, we need to do so to make a stand that what they think is wrong" or "if everyone else is withdrawing from them, I needn't as well".

Although of course, that's about a comparatively isolated incident. If the thing you want to reject is something that half of people -- or 90% of people -- do, I'm not sure if the dynamics are different. If 90% of us think X, then however abhorent X is, one person in ten refusing to associate with us will probably have little impact, only by constantly bringing it up are they likely to have any impact (and even that can be counterproductive).

And I'm not sure where the tipping point is: if 30% of people go on with a political point of view I find abhorent, can I successfully bully them out of holding it? 20%? 10%?...

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-13 06:44 pm (UTC)
hairyears: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
Yes, cutting people off is best approached with reluctance! The three most useful questions are:

Are they a danger to my own well-being?
Are they a danger to others' health and well-being, that I cannot 'quarantine' from people around me?
Is this stuff something they say, something they believe, or something that they are?

Beyond the personal sphere, the fluffy liberal view is winning... In the sense of Bohr's bitter remark that new ideas do not win by argument, far less by being right; the entrenched defenders of the older view grow old and die, and are replaced by younger minds who grew up in a world where these ideas were self-evident.

I worry that the conservatives, the zealots and authoritarians know that they are dying out and are becoming desperate; they relish division and may well impose their views in ever-more unpleasant ways; and, for now, they are entrenched in the media and the 'Politburo' levels of organisations with real secular power.

The imprisonment and arraignment of teenagers who miscarry is only the beginning of it: and whatever cannot be achieved by the misuse of law will be pursued by means of slander and violence.

Some of these authoritarians will waver and break when confronted with the human consequences of their actions; others will retreat ever-deeper into their closed community of mutually-reinforcing and ever-deepening extremism.

We live in interesting times. But we do, for the most part, get to enjoy the benefits of fluffy liberalism: and I am constantly delighted to discover that these benefits are *fun*.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-15 05:55 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
The three most useful questions are:

Are they a danger to my own well-being?
Are they a danger to others' health and well-being, that I cannot 'quarantine' from people around me?
Is this stuff something they say, something they believe, or something that they are?

I would think one of the crucial questions would be, "What will my effect on this person be if I stay? If I leave?" You know, the questions that lead into, "If I stick around, will I be able to help this person see another way, or will my tolerance of their behavior just be seen as minimizing it? If I leave, am I forfeiting the opportunity to be there for the teachable moment, or will a point get made with a serious that is necessary?"


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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