Monday, March 20, 2017

The dustbin of quackery

There’s a nice little joke life plays on you sometimes.  I'm thinking about that line in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  Remember when that nice upper middle class couple played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are faced with the black boyfriend their daughter brings home and wants to marry?  Played by Sydney Poitier?  Father/Tracy is torn between wanting to show his love for his daughter by getting behind whatever makes her happy, on the one hand, and the white racist assumption of the day, on the other, that “God knows what kind of trouble you’re bringing down on us all” by this foolish desire to marry outside the white race.  Mother/Hepburn puts her finger on the problem Father/Tracy is having immediately.  “Your problem is you’re being confronted by your own principles.”  White liberal abstract meets white liberal concrete.

I posted my views on the hostile reception Middlebury students gave Charles Murray the other day.  I’ve had a number of conversations about it since, and despite feeling some sympathy for those put out by Murray’s ideas, I am sticking to my view that this is a free speech issue and that the students who protested should face some kind of disciplinary measures for their actions. They should not have shut down the talk.

And then today I read that Joseph Nicolosi has died and I have to fight the voices in my head going, “Ding Dong, the witch is dead.” Have to hear my grandmother and imagine her wagging finger.  “Now, now, don’t you dare celebrate anyone’s death.”

Nicolosi was the Big Daddy of conversion therapy, the clinical psychologist constantly cited by the likes of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, the two chief Christian homophobe groups responsible for messing with who knows how many gay kids’ heads trying to make them turn straight.

Any person, particularly a gay person who manned the suicide prevention center phone lines, who goes back to the day when homophobia was like Monopoly, a parlor game anyone could play, will understand my desire now to sing and dance. And the desire to shut this man down. Free speech is one thing.  Holding forth with seriously messed up ideas that cause stress to the point of self-destruction is another.

I find parallels everywhere.  Imagine you’re a concentration camp survivor (there are very few left now, so it’s harder to get yourself in their shoes) and you find yourself at a lecture by Holocaust denier David Irving.  How do you sit quietly in your seat and listen?  How do you not throw the brick at the bastard’s head you smuggled in in your purse? 

Or imagine, if you are not black, that you are, and your neighbor likes to display a Dixie flag every day on his front porch.  How do you not rip it down?

Free speech is not for sissies.  It takes some pretty strong convictions. 

In the case of Charles Murray, where it’s still not clear (at least to me) that his ideas are harmful, you pretty much have to spend hours and hours reading his work, and even then there is no guarantee you will understand what he is getting at.  Or you can, like me, read the literature surrounding his argument by those who seem to know what they are talking about, and try to form an opinion that way.  If you do that, I think you should then stand back and let him talk.  Give him enough rope to hang himself with, if you think he’s seriously messed up.  It's probably easier to say that if you're not black, but I also don’t think his research results that show blacks have a lower IQ tell the whole story.  No skin off my nose, I say. Let the debates go on. It will all come out in the wash.

The Dixie flag?  I’d tear it down.  Just as I would a swastika.  I know I’m treading on thin ice here, but I don’t think these symbols are debatable.  One is the symbol of a regime which plunged the world into a war in which something like forty million people lost their lives.  The other is a symbol of a regime willing to go to war to maintain the right to keep Africans in a state of slavery.  I’d call that the equivalent of hate speech and tear the damn things down.

And I recognize that there are people more liberal than moi who would argue I’ve caught the PC virus and need to rethink what I’m saying.

But back to Joseph Nicolosi and the world of homophobia.  There was a time when I would debate such questions as whether Nicolosi is better or worse than the folks at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University for Clowns.  Sure, that’s not what they call themselves, but what are you supposed to call a "university" built by money contributed by the suckers of televangelism?  A university whose name reveals the connection right-wing Christianity has made with American patriotism, the folks convinced Jesus was an American, and probably a Southern Baptist.  They are not all bad guys, I’m willing to concede, but the hair on the back of my neck goes up when I read on Wikipedia that “it was announced in December 2016 that Liberty University will be constructing an on-campus shooting range for students to protect themselves against terrorist attacks.” Ideas have consequences.  Homophobia is not the only bad idea spawned by Falwell and company, but it’s certainly front and center.

At least Nicolosi has been thoroughly discredited and in retrospect free speech advocates got this one right.  It took friggin' forever, but the debates led to research and the facts came out.  As early as 1973 the American Psychiatric Association took action that countered Nicolosi’s contention that homosexuality was a psychological disorder.  They removed it from their list of psychological disorders.  Mental health providers are now banned in six states from practicing the kind of head rewiring he advocated, and twenty other states are working on legislation to follow suit.  When California passed protection for LGBT youth along those lines, Governor Jerry Brown said of these practices that they will “now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”  The sea change in attitudes toward LGBT people and a new generation of young people who wonder “What was the wuss?” shows he got it right.

Nicolosi suffered for his ideas.  Angry gay people are known to have spraypainted a rainbow over his front door.  

OK, I’m being cute.  They also sprayed “Nazi” and “homophobe” as well.  

Like I said.  Not for sissies.

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