Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Cultural-Conservative Right: Irrational Bigots?

[General blog-note: The "perfectivism" (or whatever it will be) book is still in the works, but taking considerably longer than originally expected. I guess there's no big surprise there. The project seems to keep on evolving/"perfecting" as new information is continually inducted/integrated. In any event, progress on the book is not advanced in a meaningful way, from what I can tell at this point, by significant amounts of blog-activity. But items of note will be posted from time to time.]

It looks like, with the crash and burn of the moronic Perry campaign, and the visceral unlikeability (among other things) of Newt Gingrich, the new darling of the conservative evangelical base of the GOP is Rick Santorum, of "gay marriage logically leads to interspecies marriage" infamy. The very fact that a fucking moron like Santorum is still in the race at this late a stage is undeniable proof that the GOP is intellectually bankrupt. (As if the fact that a fucking moron like Sarah Palin was VP nominee in 2008 wasn't proof enough!)

Anyway, same-sex marriage has been the pet issue of the religious right in the USA in the last decade; it's safe to say that this issue has been so important to the GOP's electoral politics that the Right essentially staked its intellectual credibility on this issue. How have they fared?

To get an idea, look at the following two perspectives on the recent court ruling striking down Prop. 8, one from's Dahlia Lithwick, evidently a supporter of same-sex marriage rights, and Maggie Gallagher, a leading opponent:

Is That All You Got? How the proponents of a gay marriage ban just ran out of arguments.

Ninth Circuit to 7 Million California Voters: You Are Irrational Bigots

The first piece, by Lithwick, consists of more than a dozen paragraphs of substantive analysis, giving ample time to the dissenting judge's argument, noting that he cites as precedent a case known as Baker v. Nelson, then mentioning that the majority "suggests that Baker raises different questions and is less relevant than subsequent cases, including Romer v Evans." Lithwick then cites Western State University College of Law professor David Groshoff: "Baker's relevance in this debate more or less disappeared in Minnesota in 2001, and several years later nationwide, when sodomy laws no longer applied to consenting adults."

Meanwhile, Gallagher's piece essentially consists of all of the following as it relates to the case at hand:

Dishonestly, the court claimed it did not require any heightened scrutiny to reach this result.

The very timid dissent (“please don’t go after me!”) points out that Baker v. Nelson is ruling precedent and that the differences between same-sex and opposite sex couples in terms of the state’s interest in responsible procreation could be rationally related to a legitimate state interest.

That's it. That's enough, in Gallagher's mind, to oppose this decision. Now, I'm not an expert on law, so I don't know what "heightened scrutiny" refers to without googling it up. In any case, we're told that the court was dishonest in claiming it did not require heightened scrutiny. How is it dishonest? Gallagher doesn't say.

Gallagher does mention Baker v. Nelson, claiming that it is "ruling precedent," though does not so much as mention the other considerations brought up in Lithwick's piece. (The "please don't go after me" part of Gallagher's posting is actually quoted and linked from Lithwick's article, BTW; both agree that the minority judge's dissent was flimsy.) Is it because Gallagher doesn't acknowledge that those other considerations exist? Is it because she ignores them? Is it because she doesn't grasp what they're about? We just don't know. All we know is that she apparently thinks that precedents shouldn't ever be overturned, or at least this one ought not be. Why, we are not told. The whole point of the Prop. 8 trial, however, is in part to determine what legal merit or weight such precedents might carry, assuming they even come to bear on this case. The whole idea is for the Prop. 8 advocates to come up with compelling rationale for denying marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Lithwick's piece goes into detail as to why these arguments simply didn't hold up, namely because they don't rest on any good evidence. This is pretty much what ordinary common sense and political back-and-forth had figured out all along, as the Cultural Right threw up one shoddy argument after another. The Prop. 8 trial only formalized this debate under fair rules of argument and evidence, where hysterical 30-second ads and hit-and-run op-eds don't count. The Right, predictably, failed. What the commonsensical and informed people suspected - that the "arguments and evidence" presented against same-sex marriage are little more than intellectually-disreputable rationalizations built on disapproval of gay sexual relationships - is now quite solidly confirmed.

After a detailed analysis, Lithwick sums it up thus:

So there you have it: That’s the best case that can be made against gay marriage. An appeals court dissent that rests on the premise that states needn’t act rationally, or offer evidence of rationality, or even be rational in creating classifications, so long as someone publishes a study and someone else believes it. That’s the best they’ve got, it seems.

That is not legal argument or empirical evidence. It is the death rattle of a movement that has no legal argument or empirical evidence. Nobody disputes the fact that Americans opposed to gay marriage believe passionately in their ideas and arguments. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those arguments should win in a court. The best thing that could have happened in the Prop 8 case just happened. The dissent has no clothes.

Gallagher might interpret this statement to say: "Ninth Circuit to 7 Million California Voters: You Are Irrational Bigots."


What this goes to show, at the very least, is the importance of philosophy to a culture, in determining how well and how critically people think. Will the Right take a hint?

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