Saturday, April 4, 2015

Wrong, so very wrong.

I read Booman Tribune quite a lot. I never comment over there because the comment system is difficult to navigate and, in the end, the commenting community just pisses me off and so though I often get angry enough to comment the rewards of doing so aren't worth the work involved.  Booman can be very, very, good on some political things but he's terrible on women's issues and often just bizarre on some others. Here is one.


We’re all familiar with signs in stores and restaurants that read, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Maybe they won’t serve minors or drunks or people without shoes. We gladly give businesses this discretion, but we call a foul when they refuse service to people based on their gender, religion, or race.
If there is a Church of Progressive Liberalism, what it is pushing is the idea that gays fit into this class of individuals who cannot be denied service based on who they are.
Now, if you ask most conservatives if it’s okay to deny a piece of pizza to someone because they’re a woman they will say ‘no.’ If it’s because they’re not wearing a shirt, then ‘yes.’ In this dichotomy, your perception or even knowledge that someone is gay is more like the first example than the latter. Therefore, most conservatives will acknowledge that it’s wrong to deny someone pizza simply because they are gay. But if they want to use your catering services for a gay marriage, then it less about who they are than what they are doing. They’re getting married. This is a choice more akin to going shirtless.
So, then, the argument shifts a bit and it becomes, for progressives, an argument about what is fundamental to who or what someone is. Not everyone gets married, but heterosexuals all have the unquestioned right to get married. It’s in these grooves where the real contention arises, because we don’t want to burden someone’s religious beliefs unless it is absolutely necessary to preserve something even more important. If we insist that the right to get married trumps the right to be unburdened in your religious beliefs, we have to explain why this is the case.
Someone else can provide that explanation better than I can, but the basic outlines are that who we choose to marry or even our decision to get married or not are fundamental to who we are. To deny us this right is to deny us part of our humanity. You can agree with that or not, and it still has to overcome the same argument applied to the right to practice your religion according to your own conscience.
But, here, at least, is where the debate belongs.

 I can not begin to express how wrong this is and how much the debate doesn't need to "belong" here.

Its true that we are " all familiar with signs in stores and restaurants that read, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” But its not true that those signs are aimed at " minors or drunks or people without shoes. "  Those signs have always been aimed at preventing some kinds of people--poor, lower class (no shirt, no shoes means exactly that) or African American, or Irish, or Native American from accessing what in some places is a very limited chance for commerce.  Signs like these prevented AA or other minority people from travelling safely or staying in hotels or eating in restaurants along their journeys through this country.  Of course there are polite ways of preventing people you don't want to be in your store from shopping there--I'm old enough to remember Point o' Woods on Fire Island when the Island wasn't noted for its gay partys but for being split between Jews and Wasps.  Point o' Woods had one store, and it ran on a scrip system like a private club.  They didn't issue memberships and scrip to Jews and therefore no Jews could live there.  My grandparents sometimes took a summer house in the part of the Island where Jews could live and buy food and years later I met a lovely woman whose family had summered in Point o' Woods. She was so delighted to find out that we both loved Fire Island, so surprised that we had never played together as children or bumped into each other.  I wasn't. She had no idea that her beautiful childhood memories were segregated because the segregation was invisible to her.

So to me this whole line of argument is a distraction--and one we settled with the CRA--there are very good reasons, even overriding reasons, not to permit private businesses to create "no go" areas for our citizens or visitors to our country. Its bad for the community, its bad for business (as a whole), its bad for travellers, and its bad because it creates a segregated world in which bigots don't have to acknowledge the basic humanity of their fellow citizens.

Not only does it make African Americans, or Jews, or Gays out of sight, it makes them out of mind.  What can't be seen can and will be imagined as a horror, as something terrifying. And if you read any right wing comment threads about how the gays are coming to their stores and demanding pizza, or cookies, or whatever you see that people are being whipped into a frenzy of fear and rage that has literally nothing to do with reality.  Adam and Steve are not planning to gyrate naked into your place of business to make their pizza order. Calling you up for ten pies, or having their heterosexual parents do so, is not going to affect your religious situation at all.  But people are being whipped into a frothing, mindless, rage over this like the pathetic people interviewed in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 who are convinced that the Muslim Terrorists are going to target their Monthly Pasta Supper in Nowhere Tiny Town.

The Pizza owner of the store in question was quoted as saying that he believed Homosexuality was a choice and therefore didn't have to be respected, just like his being a Christian or a Heterosexual was a choice. Interestingly enough he didn't complete the thought but left it hanging there. He appears to be saying that when people make choices they should suffer for that choice, their exercise of free will may lead them into conflict with different people and they just need to shut up and take it. He'd take his lumps, presumably, if someone refused to do business with him as a Christian or as a Heterosexual--he's not asking for any accommodation. Oh but wait--he is. And they all are. They are specifically asking for an accommodation and for protection of Heterosexuality and Christianity as important choices, protected choices. So what is the problem for Indiana and the Business owner if people boycott them--refuse to do business with them? Apparently what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander here.  Straights and Gays don't have the right to refuse to do business with people whose free choice to be bigots disgusts them, but supposedly religious florists or bakers <i>and by extension all other businesses including hotels, restaurants, conventions, hospitals, doctors, pharmacists</i> do have the right to refuse ordinary commerce to us?


Here is another place where I absolutely despise Booman's argument:

Now, if you ask most conservatives if it’s okay to deny a piece of pizza to someone because they’re a woman they will say ‘no.’ If it’s because they’re not wearing a shirt, then ‘yes.’ In this dichotomy, your perception or even knowledge that someone is gay is more like the first example than the latter. Therefore, most conservatives will acknowledge that it’s wrong to deny someone pizza simply because they are gay. But if they want to use your catering services for a gay marriage, then it less about who they are than what they are doing. They’re getting married. This is a choice more akin to going shirtless.
So, then, the argument shifts a bit and it becomes, for progressives, an argument about what is fundamental to who or what someone is. Not everyone gets married, but heterosexuals all have the unquestioned right to get married. It’s in these grooves where the real contention arises, because we don’t want to burden someone’s religious beliefs unless it is absolutely necessary to preserve something even more important. If we insist that the right to get married trumps the right to be unburdened in your religious beliefs, we have to explain why this is the case.

This looks superficially reasonable but its just completely and totally illogical.  "If they want to use your catering service for a gay marriage, then it is less about who they are than what they are doing" is a totally false dichotomy. I would argue that selling pizza to a gay wedding doesn't implicate the seller at all in the event but lets just start with the basics.  All services to people, such as buying pizza and eating it, fosters "what they are doing."  If you sell pizza to an adulterous couple out on a date you are helping them in their adultery. If you sell pizza to a murderer you are literally fueling his future murder spree.  If you engage in commerce with any person you are facilitating and fostering their life, their "lifestyle" and their choices, good and bad. Only by refusing any interaction at all can you escape being complicit in their lives.

The Supreme Court and lots of these kooks may prefer to elide the question of sincerity in religious belief but I see no reason to fall into this error. You can only know people by what they do, not by what they say they believe or by what they say they will do in the future.  Up until now none of these refusenik businesses have actually refused custom from all kinds of sinners--divorcees, adulterers, bigamists, murderers, felons, frauds, psychics, drunkards, liars, gluttons or even (gasp) non-Christians.  They have not administered a quiz to people before people buy their goods and services and they have preserved a polite silence on the question of what goes on in hotel rooms, what thoughts people have while they eat dinner, or whether the party is going to have wild and sinful monkey sex after eating pizza.  When catering they have had no knowledge of the practices of the family being formed, and while baking cakes they have had no idea whether the "welcome new baby" cake is a follow on to an abortion.

Providing a service to another person is a commercial transaction, not an endorsement. So why do evangelicals and their supporters keep insisting that it is? Because of a specific culture of busybody engagement.  When the Pizza restaurant or the Baker sells a product to a gay person they are not, contra this guy, "lending" them anything.  But the word is instructive--Evangelicals see engaging with, talking to, and selling things to gay people as "lending" support or "lending" one's good name to that person.  I get it, it comes from an ethnotheory of small town religiosity in which everyone is implicated in everyone else's business. We are all damned or saved together--your bad behavior may drag me down, my upright virtue could elevate you. If we are seen together, or known to be associates, your evil rubs off on me and you are probably trying to take advantage of my good name.  We are both providing "examples" to the community--yours bad, mine good.  In this model failure to excoriate bad behavior, and failure of the evil ones to submit to instruction and punishment, is highly destructive, truly scary.  No wonder these people are so hysterical--one gay marriage with catering, one floral arrangement--indicts the entire system of goodness, pollutes the entire community. Parenthetically, I lived with Brahmins who have a similarly extensive sense of personal purity and pollution--a sense that extends far beyond the individual's body and includes the entire space of the kitchen, or of the house, or the exterior of a water bottle, or a temple compound.  For an outsider its like living with a crazy person who has no bounded sense of self.  Things that are happening far away, physically, or not even happening at all in a physical sense are terribly threatening and can cause the crazy person to become hysterical with fear that their body and its defenses are being breached or destroyed.

Lets be honest here--because we can be since we are not professional liars to ourselves, bearing false witness against our own beliefs as well as our neighbors---the idea of refusing gay people service for florists and bakers stems from the politicization of gay marriage and the fact that some Evangelicals feel they are losing that battle. They are fighting on this terrain not because it is necessary to their free exercise of religion but because its where the action is. They are like people who hunt for a missing contact lens under the lamppost because there is light there.  Its opportunistic and, ultimately, pointless. But that doesn't stop it from being vicious and meanspirited.



10 comments:

  1. Applause!

    Letting "We are all damned or saved together" stand for the entire paragraph, that's the explanation why gay marriage is a threat to civilization. I got a glimpse of that mindset from reading Fred Clark; you've fleshed it out. More like this, please; it's a subject that cries out for an anthropologist.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Let it be noted that many restaurants ought to post a sign reading "We reserve the right to serve refuse to anyone" (from a book on typography).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, Jim. I am a big fan of Fred Clark's work and I read him...religiously. I should add that the fungibility of evil argument advanced by the Indiana Pizza place could be seen to go in the opposite direction. You could just as well argue that gay pizza buyers are funding your christian life style, that (to the extent their actions are evil) their evil turns to good when you use the money they spend in your shop to do righteous actions. But for modern day evangelicals right action seems to have become something of a frozen form, an atrophied concept. Right action is just in refusing to do something, or pointing out someone else's sin, its not very pro-active.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is a fantastic post, and at least for me, a wholly fresh and original critique of the nonsense debate over these vendors who wish to express their prejudice by a discriminatory and illegal refusal to serve those 'icky' gays.

    Well done - thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Knight of Nothing, nice to see you here.

      Delete