02 Aug 2012

Douthat Endorses Forcible Conversion

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The New York Times’ idea of a conservative, Harvard-man Ross Douthat warmly defends the practice of the establishment community of fashion elite “using every means at its disposal short of banning speech outright” to coercively change American culture and the private views and opinions of Americans generally in directions it deems more enlightened.

Douthat is nowhere nearly as offended as such liberals as Kevin Drum, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Greenwald by quasi-legal harassment of heretics by politicians on the fashionable side.

[Glenn] Greenwald wrote:

    As always, the solution to noxious ideas like the ones from this chicken CEO are to rebut them, not use state power to suppress them. The virtue of gay equality has become increasingly recognized in the U.S. because people have been persuaded of its merits, not because state officials, acting like Inquisitors, forced people to accept it by punishing them for their refusal.

Greenwald and I have been over this ground a bit before, so I’ll say again what I said then: This is an idealized view of how cultures change, and it doesn’t acknowledge the link between law and culture, and the crucial role that [emphasis added -jdz] stigma, harassment and legal sanctions can play in changing attitudes and behavior. The cause of gay marriage has indeed advanced because many millions of people have been persuaded of its merits: No cause could move so swiftly from the margins to the mainstream if it didn’t have appealing arguments supporting it and powerful winds at its back. But it has also advanced, and will probably continue to advance, through social pressure, ideological enforcement, and legal restriction. Indeed, the very language of the movement is explicitly designed to exert this kind of pressure: By redefining yesterday’s consensus view of marriage as “bigotry,” and expanding the term “homophobia” to cover support for that older consensus as well as personal discomfort with/animus toward gays, the gay marriage movement isn’t just arguing with its opponents; it’s pathologizing them, raising the personal and professional costs of being associated with traditional views on marriage, and creating the space for exactly the kind of legal sanctions that figures like Thomas Menino and Rahm Emanuel spent last week flirting with.

This reality is not a judgment on the cause of gay marriage itself. Many admirable causes, including the cause of civil rights for African-Americans, have advanced through a similar legal and social redefinition of what constitutes acceptable opinion, and obviously gay people have historically been the victims, rather than the victimizers, where the human tendency to use law and custom to pathologize difference and marginalize dissent from respectable opinion is concerned. But it’s naive to think that gay marriage is only winning because of the power of sweet reason, and that the climate created by the bluster of figures like Menino and Emanuel isn’t a big part of the story as well. When David Blankenhorn, heretofore one of the leading critics of same-sex marriage, wrote last month that he was “bending the knee” on the issue, it was an explicit nod to this reality: Causes advance by persuading people to change their minds, but they win their final, sweeping victories by inducing people who haven’t really changed their mind to simply give up the fight. And there’s no surer way to gain that kind of victory than by adding legal hassles — or even just the threat of legal hassles — to the list of reasons why the fight isn’t worth having anymore.

The Jesuits used to say: if the ends are lawful, so are the means lawful. Obviously many prominent representatives of our elite establishment agree, and consider themselves empowered on the basis of their own allegedly superior moral insight to forcibly cram any change in morals, culture, faith, or opinion that they believe to be desirable right down the throats of their less powerful and influential fellow citizens, because they can and because it makes them feel so righteous and so powerful.

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