Quote of the month:
"If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race,
creed and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon."
The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life, by
Gays and lesbians in the military, a collection of links.
of the Rational:
Essays About Nature
& Humanist Web
I never understood what the “gay problem” is all about. As far as I am
concerned, the moral aspect is simple: as long as the people involved are
consenting adults, what they do in their bedrooms is only and exclusively their
own business, end of story. Alas, plenty of people who are otherwise adamantly
against any interference of the government in the private life of its citizens
(e.g., when it comes to business practice or guns control), cry out loud for a
government-imposed “morality” that extends from the treatment of gays to that
of abortion practices and school prayer.
It was therefore no surprise that last November the US Army dismissed nine
of its linguists—all experts in crucial languages for the “war” against
terrorism, such as Arabic, Korean and Mandarin Chinese —invoking that most
unfortunate Clinton doctrine, the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that has
regulated dismissal of gays from the military over the past few years.
As readers may remember, President Clinton started out his first term with a
couple of bold moves, one of which was an executive order that would have made
it as normal for gays as it is (now) for blacks to be in the army (the other
bold move was the call for a universal health care system, which ended in total
catastrophe despite Democratic control of both the House and Senate, but that’s
another story). Soon came immediate criticism from the far right, coupled with
the obvious fact that the gay community can’t muster more than a limited number
of votes which usually go to the Democrats anyway (ah, the beauty of a
two-party system with essentially no choices!). The predictable result was that
Clinton “moderated” his stance and ended up proposing his infamous “don’t ask
don’t tell” compromise.
From a moral perspective, the new policy makes no sense: one either thinks
that a gay lifestyle is incompatible with the “values” of the military, in
which case allowing gays to stay just because they don’t declare themselves is
simple opportunism; or one thinks that the sexual habits of one’s soldiers
matter not to the functionality of one’s army, in which case the policy is an
example of moral cowardice. Either way, Clinton, gays, and rationality lose,
while bigotry scores points.
From a practical viewpoint, furthermore, not only there is absolutely no
evidence that the presence of gays in the military has any negative effect on
troops morale (remember, the same was said of blacks and women, before those
issues were settled), but we have at least one glaring example—the
Netherlands—of an army which openly embraces gay culture and doesn’t seem to be
any worse for it.
But the more interesting point one can take from this and similar
discussions (e.g., those about abortion and school prayers) is that the
standard distinction between “liberals” and “conservatives” in terms of being
respectively in favor and against a large role of government in our lives just
doesn’t cut it. In reality, we need to consider at least two major axes along
which political positions and public opinions can be distinguished: on the one
hand, there is the “economic” axis, on the other hand, the “social” axis.
One can call for little governmental interference in economic matters while
at the same time cry out for a large role of big brother in people’s bedrooms
and public schools. Such person would be a religious conservative. But it is
also possible to be a libertarian and favor little or no government influence
in any sphere of life (except perhaps national defense). A third position is
occupied by people who would want a large role of government in the control of
the economy (to balance the natural tendency of big business to act amorally
and with reckless disregard for the public good), but little in the sphere of
personal life. That would be a progressive liberal, such as myself. Then there
is the strawman “pink” liberal that most people in America seem to love to
hate, the guy who wishes for governmental control of everything,
communist-style. Needless to say, this fourth corner of our logical space of
political positions is essentially empty in this country (though certainly not
throughout the world).
Reality, of course, is more complicated that this simple classification may
hint at, but thinking along the two axes of economy and social issues at least
brings us beyond the simplistic dichotomy of “liberal vs. conservative.” It
also strongly suggests that we should have at least three, and possibly four,
parties to represent the four corners sketched above. Instead, we are forced to
choose between two alternatives that don’t quite fit what a growing number of
Americans actually thinks. I therefore propose to split the Republican party
into one of economic conservatives but social moderates, and one of economic
and social conservatives (the latter mostly populated by the Christian right).
Democrats could split into social and economic liberals on one hand, and social
liberals but economic conservatives on the other. But who is going to force
such healthy multiplication of political choices: the people, or the