Friday, January 27, 2012

Violating Western civilisation

Picking on a vulnerable minority group has a great advantage and a great disadvantage. The great advantage is that one can sell effortless virtue to a large majority: lots of people can feel superior without any effort. The great disadvantage is that one clearly picking on a highly vulnerable group: without some cover, it is just members of a large majority bullying a small and vulnerable minority.

There is a standard response to this problem: claim that the minority group is some great and corrupting threat to "civilisation as we know it". Preachers of Jew-hatred turned this into a fine art. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, aptly labelled a 'Warrant for Genocide', is merely the most famous manifestation of what was, and continues to be, a continuing theme of Jew-hatred.

Jew-hatred is no longer an acceptable technique of mainstream Western politics (or religion). Queer-hatred still is (though less so as time passes). And queer-hatred has exactly the same advantage (effortless virtue to large majority) and disadvantage (bullying a small and vulnerable minority) as Jew-hatred. Hence the standard accusations against Jews are recycled against queers (that they are enemies of God, of Christianity, of Western civilisation; that they prey on children; that they spread disease; that they corrupt everything thing they touch or institution they are let into; and so on).

So, in a recent conference call with evangelical leaders, in the midst of some apocalyptic language from participants about the impending fall of the United States, Christianity and Western civilisation, Presidential hopeful Newt Gringrich offered the following:
It's pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it's a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization.
(Via) A claim that could be (and was) previously cited against Jewish emancipation and female emancipation. (It was also used against other emancipations, but usually against less venerable restrictions.)

It is perfectly true, oppression of queer folk has been an enduring feature of monotheism. But one reason we no longer talk of "Christendom", but instead of "Western Civilisation", is that it has become a civilisation which no longer defines itself religiously. Its most defining feature is precisely its dynamism, its capacity for evolution and change. Including in moral perspectives: those of the C4th and C5th (when Jews, women and queers were stripped of rights they had enjoyed under Roman law) are no longer determinative.

Which gives conservative Christians no end of frustration. The reality of human sexual diversity is endlessly useful for certain conceptions of religious authority; as an endless war against human sexual diversity creates both endless selling of effortless virtue and endless training in moral exclusion. But this notion of a "frozen" moral perspective attacks one of the most fundamental features of Western civilisation--its capacity for growth: in knowledge, in moral understanding, in encompassing human aspirations. The notion that Western civilisation is so fragile that giving a small minority equal protection of the law will bring it down is nonsense.

But a necessary type of nonsense is one is going to pass queer-hatred off as anything other than a large majority monstrously bullying a small and vulnerable minority.


  1. While I agree with your article in general, sadly I can't agree with your example. Jew-hatred is making a strong political return with new excuses replacing the older religious cant. The BDS is an obvious example.

    Further, I think the political strength of the homosexual movements are much more strongly supported by the silent majority in western society today than the jews have been historically, apart from the years from 1945 to 1960.
    I don't believe this negates the reality that persuasive speakers/politicians/media etc are well able to use well worn tactics to create a groundswell against any minority. We remain tribal.

    1. How much anti-Zionism is a cover for Jew-hatred is a very good, but alas not simple, question. Though it is clear it is used as both a cover for Jew-hatred and a path to Jew-hatred.

      It is true that the queer rights movement has, in recent years, been doing better than the Jewish emancipation movement did prior to 1945 in getting popular support. That may be part of a more general trend, if Stephen Pinker is correct.

      Also, Israel was doing fine up until 1967, perhaps even 1973, in Western opinion while the seeping over into Jew-hatred of Israel's loss of opinion support has been a more recent phenomenon. But Jewish citizens do not have their legal standing under threat. So it is a mixed story.