Monday, February 24, 2014

This is surprisingly easy to understand.  We had a pretty good discussion about this at Alicublog yesterday and I summed it up this way:

...I think there is some really weird way in which the very people voting for these bills, and even those who support these bills, actually do imagine that the bills are largely harmless and even innocent of real malice. I think we never go broke underestimating the total inability of these people to add one and one and get to two, or to plumb the depths of their own malice, or to recognize that what differentiates collective action from private action is scale.
For example I think that people who support these discriminatory laws actually fail to think it through--just like anti abortionists who talk windily of abortion as murder routinely deny a willingness to actually lock women up as murderers and are even shocked that anyone interviewing them would take such a sharp tone about things. People really don't take any moral or intellectual responsibility for the logical implications of the acts they support or the legislation they write. My guess is that a large number of these people don't even think that their fellow bigots are actually planning to make life miserable for a fairly large subset of the community as in all gay people. When they imagine the impact of the law its like this:
Elderly wedding photographer can refuse flaming queer couple...
My grandma the pharmacist can refuse to poison a baby in the womb...
They totally don't imagine the havoc caused by wholesale refusal to provide services to an unknown and indeterminate number of people by everyone from the registrar of deeds to the parking attendant at the mall. They don't imagine the deaths potentially caused by some nurse refusing to give cpr to that "old gay guy" and they don't imagine that people like them, or cousin sal, or whoever might get "mistaken" for gay and not be served somewhere.
In short they lack honesty, probity, forethought, and the basic principle upon which democracy rests: that which is hateful to you, do not do to others/do unto others that which you would have them do unto you. Put yourself in the position of the person being legislated against as well as in the position of the imaginary top dog whose rights are being protected.

They are acting from what they perceive as a position of weakness, like a child that strikes out at a parent, breaks a lamp, and then wails "I didn't mean it!"  Or perhaps I mean a child who breaks the lamp to get the parent's attention and then realizes, after the fact, that negative attention is not what they really wanted at all.  This explains their surprise when people outside of the state, and people with whom their state does business, began protesting and proposing boycotts.  They operate from the perspective that gays are both everywhere and a mere fringe minority. They legislated against a hated, frightening, everywhere bogeyman and now they are shocked to discover that there are enough friends of dorothy out there, and concerned fellow citizens, to make little bits of local legislation seem highly problematic and uneconomical.

Aside from the obvious point that the legislators involved in voting for this bill didn't read or understand it I think its also the case that they see such legislation as permitting a small number of passionate voters (voters like themselves, their base voters) to experience a little temporary relief from an oppressive new majority moral code which makes them all feel sad, bad, and all minority-ish.  The law was an expressive act, a gesture, not meant to be taken factually or understood in any utilitarian way.

 For us the bill is a slippery slope--deny gay people access to one set of rights and you have, in effect, denied them food, water, and fire as the old Romans did to their exiles. Deny these rights to gay people and you deny them to all of us.  But to the legislators, who prefer to think in concrete, tiny, comparamentalized units, the bill merely prevents gay people from pushing their way into individual shops.  Not all the shops at the same time.  Merely prevents gay people from forcing granny to rent to them.  It doesn't potentially prevent them from renting from everyone.  You could hear them explaining this on the radio and in interviews. For example they kept stressing that if your pharmacist chose to begin shrieking "baby killer" and refusing to give you contraception that the large corporation would probably have someone else serve you, or direct you down the road to the next nearest babykilling corporation pharmacy which would no doubt be very near.  They saw, or pretended to see, this as merely legislating a compromise of rights, a carve out, quite small.  They are genuinely shocked to see a stable full of horses, gay people, and allies bolting for the door.  Its a bit rich coming from the party of slippery slope fame where any attempt to stem mass gun violence, even by a blind man, is prevented in the name of absolute second amendment rights.



  1. That's a very charitable interpretation, and I don't think it is accurate

    Taking a legislative stick to the queers plays well, gets attention, upsets the dreaded liberals and it is so very easy. The man who introduced the bill got it from another legislator who got it from some free-range bigot.

    If they didn't see any real harm in it, it was because they didn't think they were harming real humans. Gays and lesbians? They aren't humans, they're freaks. The don't count.

    They remind me of the man in Texas who met a gay man through some chat and invited him over. The perp then severely beat the man, shoved him in the trunk of his own car and drove the car to a friend's house. He must have told them what he'd done, because they threatened to call the police if he left the car there.

    The victim was in the hospital for 10 days.

    The perp. kept referring to it as a joke that got out of hand.

    I'm sure to him, it was funny, right up to the point that the cuffs snapped shut.

  2. I'm not saying it to be charitable. I think its pretty damning, actually. But I think that the evidence is that a lot of people just don't think things through all the way to a conclusion, especially if the conclusion makes their heads hurt or makes them think of themselves as bad people. And you can see it in the repeated calls by the legislators themselves, or people who are willing to talk a pretty good anti-queer game--for the governor or someone to veto the law. Of course they are doing it because there is a popular outcry and they worry (now) about unintended consequences and about looking bad to the general populace--in other words their concern is as fake and self interested as the original legislation. But I think studies have shown again and again that people just really don't think very coherently about certain things--law is one of them, justice is one of them. I see some people as honestly shocked by discovering that the proposals and laws they are pushing are taken at all seriously or taken to their logical conclusion. Like I said this came up with the rhetoric of around criminalizing abortion and declaring it murder. When protestors--the hottest of the hot, the angriest of the angry--were asked point blank whether a woman should "go to jail" for the "murder" of her own fetus the majority of people interviewed were honestly confused--they think in hyperbolic terms, they protest in totalizing, end of the world language, but they (for the most part) don't actually want to follow all the way down the rabbit hole.

  3. Under the law, unintended and intended harms are treated differently. You're saying the harms here are unintended because they didn't think it through.

    "Oh, we were just riling up the base by dangling a scapegoat in front of them because the economy sucks and suddenly we had a bill that would cause severe harm to those same scapegoats. Whoops. How did that happen?"

    Nope. They knew exactly what they were doing and will no doubt try something else, because be it against black, brown, Jewish, Muslim, female or gay (or some combination) legislative bigotry is an old, old skill for conservative legislators who want keep their jobs in difficult economic times.

    As for anti-choicers, there have been laws introduced that would make performing an abortion a capital offense that have met with their approval (in addition to the self-appointed executioners). So some of these people realize that some things are so loony and a-logical that they say "Whoa"? OK, most humans do have a line they won't cross either because they realize it is stupid or they don't want to look ridiculous. So ... Yay?

  4. Oddly, I think I have even less faith in my fellow citizens than you do. Again--I'm not excusing the legislators, or ALEC and the drafters of this legislation, or even the base voters--I'm simply arguing that for some none negligible number of them the real impact of the laws that they are drafting, promoting, and passing is inconveivable to them for the same reason that a lot of shit is invisible to them: a lack of empathy and an inability to think logically about minority rights and majority rule. These people don't grasp the concept of the categorical imperative or the role of precedent in US law. The (hideously evil) legislators in Mississippi or Louisiana (can't remember which) who pushed public money into christian schools were stunned to find out that logically and legally the word "religious" would cover Muslim schools as well. These people don't grasp the aggregate nature of social events. And the reason I'm emphasizing this is that I don't think we can understand why our converations with them make so little sense until we grasp how their underlying thinking works. To me reading their own explanations for why this kind of legislation makes sense is a bit like working with a brain damaged person with lesions on some important part of the brain that leads them to be unable to make certain connections. Like its natural for a normal brain to be able to go from one hat to the concept and image of "many hats" or "black hat" might include the basic concept of "hat" and you can extend it to hats of other colors. But when you read/listen to these guys its like they don't have this grouping or extending part of the brain at all. You point out the forest and all they can say is Look! A tree! and another tree! and another! but they don't understand that the totality of trees creates a different thing.

    You might also say that they think they can create and maintain distinctions where, legally and socially, none can be seen as though the world were a tiny village of face to face interactions with known people, each labled permanently "butcher, baker, candlestick maker, gay guy, straight guy, priest...." In reality there's no way for the law or the constitution to handle an "except for gay people" exception without some form of tagging or labeling which is not possible or legal. So these guys write and promote legislation which fails to be responsive to reality on a fundamental level.

  5. I'm talking about things like this (via tpm today):

    Cooper then tested Melvin with a hypothetical: what if he were a loan officer, and thought it was against his religious beliefs to do business with an unwed mother or a divorced woman?

    That's when Melvin's argument imploded. "I think you're being farfetched," the lawmaker told Cooper.

    "I don't know of anybody in Arizona that would discriminate against a fellow human being," he later added.

    "Really? Discrimination doesn't exist in Arizona?" Cooper asked.

    "Well, maybe you ought to move to Arizona," the lawmaker responded. "We're more people-friendly here, apparently."

    --This exchange between Cooper and the AZ lawmaker isn't offered to demonstrate that these people are acting in good faith, they aren't. But you literally can't make this argument--that discrimination laws such as the AZ one can't also be extended (tomorrow) to discriminate against any type of person unless you have an incredibly stunted view of human action, law, and governance. Unless you have so compartamentalized your thinking that you can't grasp the nature of precedent and law or, as I said up thread, add one and one and get to two.

  6. Good piece. There's much, much more to be written on this subject. Basically, conservatism means never having to say you're sorry. It means you don't have to care (for those outside one's group), and that you're justified in not caring – and moreover, that not caring is moral and caring is immoral. (Big gummit needs to stop helping moochers! Also, keep your gummint hands off my Medicare!) After the righteous ideological stance has been struck, one's work is done. The consequences simply don't matter – unless they're negative to your conservative group. It's a much simpler, self-satisfied world view, and that's a key appeal to its adherents. Or, as I've put before, conservatism can be summed up like this:

    1. Your misfortune is your own fault.
    2. Therefore, I don't need to do anything.

    Of course, in reality, #2 comes before #1; #1 is merely justification after the fact for their preferred behavior. (I've seen some better-read libertarian assholes actually try to justify this as prizing the deontological over the consequential, but it's just a fancy way of trying to make being an asshole respectable. John Kenneth Galbraith had 'em all pegged when he said, "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.")

  7. Argh. Not sure if blogspot eated my comment... anyways, wondering if you have a way of contacting you privately.

  8. If you wanna spy with your little eye, why not with the spy cam