Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stop Questioning Motives and Start Convincing People

Crookedtimber is a great blog with a lot of insightful writing. But there's also quite a bit of "Wow, look at how dumb and vicious conservatives are! Haha!" This post from John Holbo, about an editorial in National Review, is a good example:

What do the editors [of National Review], and Gallagher, really think? The
ick argument, I’ll wager. They want to stop same-sex marriage as a way of
sending a message of ‘ick’ to gays, and about gays. But they also don’t want to
be labeled homophobes. That is, although saying ‘gay marriage shouldn’t be
allowed because I believe gay sex is icky’ is actually a less terrible argument
than anything they’ve got – hey, it’s not flagrantly internally incoherent, it’s
basically honest (I’ll wager), and who doesn’t believe that on some level people
steer, morally, by emotional attraction-repulsion drive? – it’s considered
embarrassing. (Homophobia: the yuck that dare not speak its name.) And, even if
it weren’t embarrassing, it’s obviously not strong enough in the current
environment. So what do you do? You end up thoughtlessly backing into something
that’s frankly orders of magnitude worse than just saying gay sex is icky.
Namely, gays are un-persons, so far as the state is concerned.
What makes
these arguments so weird is the mildness of the underlying opposition to
homosexuals and homosexuality – the implicit inclination to be basically
tolerant. ‘C’mon, gays, you know you’re ok, and we know you’re ok, and you even
know that we know you’re ok, but we don’t like it, so can’t there be some way
that we can insist on us being a little better than you? It can be a small
thing. Symbolic, but slightly inconvenient for you, so people know it’s also
I also like the sweet innocence of the assertion that “marriage is
by nature the union of a man and a woman.” My very own daughter is charming in
just the same way. Just the other day she was asking which boy cats the various
girl cats in the neighborhood are ‘married to’. There are kittens in our
neighborhood, you see.

Now, I strongly disagree with almost everything in the NR editorial, but this sort of snarky psychoanalysis only serves to pander to the sense of superiority of people who already agree with Holbo's view. Shouldn't we be trying to convince conservatives that their view is wrong, rather than antagonize them?

I doubt the editors of National Review will be ever be convinced, but I suspect that there are plenty of people with conservative sensibilities who can be convinced that there are conservative reasons to favor the expansion of marriage rights. Heck, based on some stuff that I've heard from him, George Will seems to have been quietly convinced by the patient, non-condescending, and careful arguments of Jonathan Rauch.

I hope that it will someday be seen as common sense that antagonizing people you disagree with almost never has any constructive purpose. People who recognize this should do more to point it out.

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