Monday, February 20, 2012

Utopian cruelty revisited

The fundamental claim of utopianism is that public policy can change human nature. This can either be based on the view that human nature is malleable or that there is a “true” human nature that has been distorted by (dispensable) aspects of reality.

This is a claim that leads directly to tyranny and murder, for it de-legitimises any manifestation of humanity that contradicts how human nature is “supposed” to be. No manifestation of “erroneous” nature provides any moral constraint on the utopian project. Which, by natural extension, includes any action that can be deemed to get in the way of the project. It becomes a program of moral exclusion, based on some all-trumping vision of how people should be; one that morally discounts how people are.

We can see these patterns operating in monotheism’s apparently endless war against human sexual diversity. Either human nature is “properly” heterosexual—in which case no homosexual love, aspiration, experience or whatever has any legitimacy—or human sexuality is malleable and people can be forced into, or should choose, heterosexuality. Indeed, if homosexuality is not repressed, it will spread.

Both claims are clearly nonsense. People do not choose their sexuality. In all the words, songs, tales, poems, ballads people have composed on love, lust, romance and passion none are about the moment when people choose what they fancy, about choosing their erotic orientation, because no one has that moment. Nor is there any program, therapy or treatment that has anything other than a derisory success rate at changing sexual orientation.

Even the claim that the objection is merely to acts, not orientation, is nonsense, since the acts flow from erotic longings. If the acts are wrong, so is the orientation; it becomes something to be repressed; and, of course, completely illegitimate.

Just to state the obvious—public policy cannot change human sexuality—is to see the utopian nature of the sexual uniformity project. Sure, it is a highly traditional form of utopianism. Sure, it is a utopianism with a narrow focus on a vulnerable minority. But it is utopian all the same.

If public policy cannot change human sexuality, what it can do is punish people for being different. That it can do very well. In particular, it can punish people for being standing contradictions of a theory of human nature.

The cruelty involved is profound: beyond the cruelty of judicial murder, of incarceration, of public denigration; of the panoply of barbarities inflicted in the name of sexual uniformity, there is the cruelty of denial: to deny that you are “properly” human. A cruelty that the war has regularly led parents to impose on their children. If you tell people something is against God and nature, of course some parents will reject their children over it. Poisoning relations between parents and children is a given. As is poisoning people’s sense of themselves.

All utopianism is cruel, for it denies people the right to be themselves. But a utopianism that reaches in and poisons relationships between parent and child, that poisons people’s sense of themselves—that is a truly insidious form of utopian cruelty.

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