Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Dennis Prager, whom I have criticized here on several occasions for dishonestly equating secularism with leftism, has just penned a column against gay marriage in which he claims that it is wrong to equate opposition to gay marriage with opposition to interracial marriage. On top of this -- and much more important -- his whole argument rests on yet another false equation of his own.
Prager, like the vast majority of society and most moral thinkers before him, equates altruism, the belief that man exists to serve others, with morality, the practice of the rules for proper conduct. In fact, altruism is only a type of morality and it is detrimental to man's life at that. Ironically, Prager's own argument, as much surface plausibility as it will have to most people, can help us see that last point, so let's consider it briefly.
There are enormous differences between men and women, but there are no differences between people of different races. Men and women are inherently different, but blacks and whites (and yellows and browns) are inherently the same. Therefore, any imposed separation by race can never be moral or even rational; on the other hand, separation by sex can be both morally desirable and rational. Separate bathrooms for men and women is moral and rational; separate bathrooms for blacks and whites is not. [bold added]Men and women, unlike, say whites and blacks, differ in fundamental ways that make accommodation of those differences moral and practical. So far so good. But it is important to keep in the back of one's mind the following question: "What has this to do with how two consenting adults choose to lead their own lives?"
[N]o religious or secular moral system ever advocated same-sex marriage. Whereas advocating interracial marriage was advocating something approved of by every religious and secular moral tradition of America and the West, advocating same-sex marriage does the very opposite -- it advocates something that defies every religious and secular moral tradition. Those who advocate redefining marriage are saying that every religious and secular tradition is immoral. They have no problem doing this because they believe they are wiser and finer people than all the greatest Jewish, Christian and humanist thinkers who ever lived. [bold added]Let's set aside, for the sake of argument, the question, important though it be, of whether a moral code accepted absent (or even contrary to) evidence and logic even can provide meaningful opposition to bigotry, racial or otherwise. The supposed merits of "Judeo-Christian values" are merely a smokescreen for an even greater crime against the truth.
Prager's argument here boils down to something like, "Everybody else opposes same-sex marriage. Who are you to say otherwise." Or: " You are immoral if you hold that two consenting adults who happen to be gay and wish to form an exclusive, life-long legal commitment to one another should be able to do so."
This is despicable. This is dishonest. And this is an example of what one great moral thinker, Ayn Rand, named the argument from intimidation. Rand describes the argument from intimidation as follows.
[It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent's character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: "Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X's argument is false." (The Virtue of Selfishness, 139)You will note further, from the book title, that Ayn Rand was a rare moral thinker: She opposed the idea that man is a sacrificial animal and upheld the idea that one's life is, properly, an end in itself. Not only that, she proposed a viable, rational alternative to altruism: Egoism. (She often referred to it as "selfishness", a word she frequently noted was almost always misused by altruists.)
Even if we grant most moral thinkers the benefit of the doubt as specialists in their field, the question remains: "What if they were wrong?" The Judeo-Christian values Prager squawks about like a parrot didn't save Galileo from persecution when he dared to defy all the past "experts" on the question of whether the Earth or the Sun was at the center of the Solar System. Not only that, but that historical episode shows the true worth of subordinating one's own judgement to the wisdom of the crowd, as Prager would have us do here. Where would we be without rare, independent individuals like Galileo?
So much for that part of Prager's "argument".
But so far, Prager's altruism has only been implicit in the sense that his moral authorities all profess altruism. That's okay, though, because Prager makes sure to remind us that he feels that we don't own our own lives:
[T]o oppose interracial marriage is indeed to engage in bigotry, but to oppose same-sex marriage is not. It simply shares the wisdom of every moral system that preceded us -- society is predicated on men and women bonding with one another in a unique way called "marriage." [bold added]Really? I was laboring under the delusion that my life was my own and your life your own, and that we could both benefit by trade so long as we each respected one another's right to live the other's life as he best sees fit -- that we could enhance our lives by participating in a society. But I see that we are really just pieces of a machine! Thanks for clearing that one up, Dennis my boy!
Although Ayn Rand, as far as I know, never explicitly stood up for gay marriage, she was an uncompromising advocate of the individual's right to live his own life by his own lights. From Dennis Prager's argument -- and every other argument I have ever seen against gay marriage -- I see that the fundamental issue is this: Does an individual have the freedom to live his life as he sees fit, so long as he does not violate the rights of other individuals? Prager's answer is, "No!"
This -- individual rights -- is the essential similarity (or "true equation" if you will) between gay marriage, racial equality before the law, and the relevance to the daily lives of this issue to everyone. Jim Crow laws violated the individual rights of nonwhites. Preventing committed gay couples by law from enjoying the same legal benefits enjoyed by straight couples violates the individual rights of gay couples. Both types of law set the very bad precedent that -- contrary to the proper purpose of government -- individual rights can be trumped by other considerations. There is no place in the law for the enforcement of any form of discrimination against the individual.
So, "society" calls for no gay marriage, according to Dennis Prager. I'm not gay, but if I don't stand up for this, who knows what Prager and his ilk will decide "society is predicated on" its members doing next? And when will he start issuing marching orders that do directly apply to me?
I reject the idea that I exist to serve others and to its enforcement by law. I will work for the day that that my inalienable right to live a proper life, as a free man, is protected by law.