Thursday, May 10, 2012

Endorsing Tribalism and Gay Rights

I submitted a brief editorial to AND Magazine regarding the liberal reaction to President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality.  Hopefully it will go up tomorrow.  Having thought about the topic a little more, I feel I would like to use this space to post something of a supplement to my previous comments.  In my AND piece, I pointed out that there was a tumblr blog launched almost immediately after Obama’s television interview, which consists entirely of animated gifs emphasizing celebration of the newfound vocal support for gay marriage.

My first criticism of this sort of reaction is that it’s making a celebration out of something that doesn’t really warrant it.  It shouldn’t have taken this long to get President Obama to make a basic statement of support for the gay community, and even now that he did, that is now what they need; they need legislative and judicial action, which the President can push for and support.

But apart from the fact that their singing and dancing is an overzealous response by some liberals to a very modest change, what may actually be more significant is that it demonstrates a hideous tendency in private citizens’ engagement with the political process.  The people making the gifs for tumblr and otherwise celebrating yesterday’s announcement must be aware of the fact that nothing has substantially changed.  The celebration, then, isn’t about progress; it’s about popularity.  The sad fact is that in the modern political landscape, we are so caught up in the excitement of the process that we consider high-profile endorsements to be tantamount to actual political victories.

The most damnable feature of our typical approach to social issues and governmental procedure is the impulse towards tribalism.  There are few better examples of such tribalism than widespread rejoicing over the affirmation that our ideas have a place among the powerful and the popular.  That is something much different from cheering over the affirmation that our ideas are correct.  But the more we indulge this impulse to gloat over demographics rather than substance, the less clear that distinction will be to us.

I hope that as gay activists continue to express this misplaced pride in who is coming over to their side, they will approach a breaking point whereby they realize that the fallacies of appealing to popularity and authority only serve to make them more like their irrational political opponents.  Hell, anti-gay activists largely believe that they have Jehovah and most of human civilization on their side.  Even if that were true, it wouldn’t make them any more correct, and it wouldn’t prevent progress towards equality.  That kind of certitude provides nothing other than a sense of self-congratulations, which has no place in politics if politics is to be a rational, productive endeavor.

Of course, it is thoroughly at home amidst the sort of politics that we actually do have in this country.

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