Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Who are you calling a robin, you crow?

Don’t know if you stopped to take in the news item that a certain Maryland politician named Emmett C. Burns, Jr. wrote a letter last week to Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, and told him to make one of his players shut up.  The player, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, had spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage, and Burns thought he should not be allowed to do that.

This call by a politician to remove someone’s First Amendment right to free speech pissed off  Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who wrote Burns a letter with language that flies off the page like burning coals out of a crackling fire.  Read the letter here

Reaction to the letter, no surprise, is all over the map.  Some people want to punch their fists in the air and shout out “Hit ‘em in the mouf’, hit ‘em in the mouf’.”  Others worry vulgarity always backfires and calling someone an asshole only gives the asshole a leg up.

The issue of civility is not a minor one.  We’ve all noticed an increasing lack of civility in American discourse.  Nobody knows how to deal with it.  We can’t seem to stop the in-your-face vulgarity that is in the zeitgeist these days.  Some of us console ourselves with the thought it’s the cool-headed ones who win in the long run.

I’m not so sure.  Sometimes, when all else fails, you have to let out a primal scream to make your point that you’re at the wall and you’re going down fighting, if need be.  Chris Kluwe, I understand, is not a gay man.  But he certainly is a kindred spirit.

This ridiculous place we’ve come to in America where one group of people can poke their boney fingers at another group of people, label them with the term “sinner” and use that conception to justify withholding or removing civil rights needs to be seen for what it is – the creation by the fearful of a scapegoat, the resort to sticks and stones, public derision and unjustified claims of moral superiority.

I hope we don't give up entirely on civility.  I still prefer to see public debate by politicians, academic debate, interaction across the backyard fence done with language that does not insult or incite anger.  But there are times when there is nothing that will satisfy, when the exchange of views grinds to a halt, when the only recourse is a primal scream.

I've come to think, like most Americans, probably, that politicians are a particularly ugly form of lowlife and don't deserve any better than this douchebag Emmett C. Burns got when he used his power to hurt others.  Douchebag.  That’s name-calling, like calling somebody who doesn’t share your view on victimless crimes a sinner.  He isn’t really a douchebag and they aren’t really sinners.  Those are metaphors.  He’s an asshole. 

And I'm not giving an inch when I insist that anti-gay legislation is hurtful.  It is not a “question of opinion,” not something on which "reasonable people can disagree."  Reasonable people do not quote scripture and expect people outside their religious community to take them seriously.

The discussion that followed in the comments on this story at Deadspin was the now inevitable mix of pro and con arguments on homosexuality.  I especially loved the mental masturbation of the sophomoric twit who tries to get some intellectual cred by starting out with "I will now proceed to present various reasoned arguments against this absurdity of same-sex ‘marriage’" but then immediately jumps into "Where procreation is, in principle, impossible, marriage is meaningless and logically impossible. ("In principle" means "relating to the definition of" as in "not relating to particular circumstances."   God save us from sophomores.

What this one illustrates so beautifully is that we often start with our values first and pretend we are engaged in dialogue when we defend them.  We're not.  We're way more often than not faking it, as this guy is.  And sometimes watching the charade of a discussion, where people pretend to be reasonable just gets too much for you and you have to pop off.

“Sinner” is a man-made concept, like all cultural constructs.  And like all such notions, it can be loaded with ammunition to deride and demean.   The people fond of flinging this term about, the faux Christians, use it as shorthand for “bad guy.”   And when somebody calls me a bad guy I naturally wonder why.  I’m not a bad guy.  Where the hell is he coming from?

"You do realize, don't you,” I want to say to him, “that every time you feel the right to create a fantasy notion like "sinner" and label me with it, I have an equal right to create my own notion – "asshole," for example – and slap a label back at you.   There's a difference, though.  You reach your conclusion on the basis of what you think I am.  I reach mine on the basis of what you actually do.  Who’s got the more appropriate label, I ask you?

That's what Chris Kluwe did - exchange one label for another.

He was addressing not just Emmett C., but all faux Christians.  They’re easy to spot.  Real Christians turn the other cheek.  The faux ones assume the right to cast the first stone.  Call you a sinner and feel justified in limiting your access to equal rights – and in the Emmett C. Burns case, your right to speak out.  And, this time it worked.  The Maryland politician backed down.

Unfortunately you know another one is going to pop up, and we’re going to play whack-a-mole for a while longer, most likely.  And by mole I don’t mean just anybody who thinks differently.  I mean people who assume the right to use their toxic fear-based religion to poison the body politic.

This is an interesting story for a number of reasons.  For one, Kluwe was wrong.  It was not a First Amendment issue, since the First Amendment does not prevent private corporations from muzzling their employees, if they want to.   And for another, it doesn't matter that Kluwe was wrong.  Even people who might be criticial of obscenity or of coming down so hard on a hapless politician recognize the more important issue is homophobia and the need to put things right.
Hopefully we will one day recognize it’s not the name-calling that’s the problem.  It’s getting the names right.  It may be that a rose is a rose is a rose.  But two people who show love or lust or affection for each other are not sinners.  They’re lovers.  And people who call them sinners are not morally superior.  They’re assholes.

Chris, you got a mouth on you.

Chris, you’re my hero of the week.

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