April 22, 2009

‘Homophobia’ and Other Imaginary Evils

One of my favorite hobbies is thinking up titles for books that no publisher will ever pay me to write. For example, I’d like to write a history of the paleo/neo conservative schism entitled, First They Came For Mel Bradford. Another of these imaginary titles that I’ve toyed with is Get In Touch With Your Inner Bigot, which would explain that, deep down inside, most people are far less “tolerant” than is acceptable to the archons of political correctness. Ask a few questions of the average citizen on the street, and you’ll find that he harbors at least one attitude that would automatically disqualify him from a university professorship. Yet it can be easily demonstrated that these attitudes—vehemently denounced as hateful prejudice whenever they are expressed by a public figure—are not only quite widespread in society, but are almost always entirely benign.

We see this in the controversy stirred by Miss California Carrie Prejean’s dissent against same-sex marriage, which arguably cost her the Miss USA title. However much I sincerely admire beauty, there are few things that interest me less than who wins beauty contests. Yet in the case of Miss Prejean, we see a perfect example of the totalitarian thought-control impulse of modern liberalism, which marginalizes dissent by coercive approval: Disagreement with the liberal agenda disqualifies one from any position of social prestige, and invites the accusation of mala fides.

In the case of the liberal agenda on gay rights, those who disagree are diagnosed with “homophobia,” a mental illness apparently afflicting a majority of the electorate in 30-odd states which have approved measures prohibiting same-sex marriage. Beyond its implausibility as a psychological disorder—conservatism as a species of insanity being a favorite theme of the Left at least since Theodor Adorno’s “scientific” study of The Authoritarian Personality—the problem with the “homophobia” smear is that this allegedly dangerous tendency does not correlate with any actual evil.

Nearly all “homophobes” are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who treat the objects of their supposed “phobia” with civility and courtesy. It is the object of the Left to convince homosexuals that they suffer oppression as the result of the intolerance and prejudice of their fellow citizens, yet it is extraordinarily difficult to argue that homosexuals are oppressed—the annual income of gay households, calculated as a per-capita average, far exceeds the income of most married-with-children households—much less that their putative oppression is the result of discrimination at the hands of heterosexual bigots.

Much the same can be said of other thoughtcrimes alleged against conservatives, including “racism.” The chief objection to the routine accusation of “racism” is that it attempts to explain too much. Nearly every element of conservative politics—including support for school choice and opposition to higher taxes—is viewed by liberals through this prism: Conservatives support Candidate X or oppose Policy Y or are concerned about Issue Z because conservatives are racist. This oversold explanatory power of “racism” is similarly applied to the alleged oppression of the designated victims of prejudice: Minority Group A suffers from Social Malady B because of racism.

Thus, controversies such as the current furor over gay rights present a teachable moment, an opportunity to ask reasonable Americans whether the labels and categories of liberalism—“racist,” “sexist,” “extremist,” et cetera—meaningfully describe real dangers to the commonweal, or whether they are merely politicized pejoratives that serve as convenient crutches for weak arguments.

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