Monday, May 30, 2016

The rhetorical appeal of The Donald

The Donald is a demagogue and central to demagoguery is wish fulfilment politics. Demagoguery is not about believing in things, but in saying whatever the audience wants to hear. (The real trick is saying what they want to hear but haven’t articulated themselves yet.) Say it well enough and almost any amount of contradiction will work, as the wanting-to-believe audience will grab what they want to hear and discount what they don't.

The fascist error
If we are to understand The Donald, we have to keep focused on the dynamics of demagoguery. The Donald is not Hitler redux, he is not Mussolini redux, he is not a fascist. He is not fascist in so many ways--no overt rejection of democracy, no paramilitary movement, no organised street violence (except by opponents), not in favour of a belligerent foreign policy, no fetishising of violence. (Indeed, a persistent theme in comments supporting voting for The Donald, is that The Donald is the less belligerent choice.) He does engage in Jacksonian rhetoric, but the notion that violence is the way the deep nobility of man manifests (a deeply fascist idea) is not what he is selling.

Moreover, fascism has an ideology (albeit somewhat protean one) and if you think The Donald has an ideology, you haven't been paying attention. Looking at the list in Umberto Eco's 1995 New York Review of Books piece on Ur Fascism (pdf) certainly shows The Donald's rhetoric has some echoes of Italian Fascism, but rhetorical echoes are not enough. The Donald simply lacks the notion of purifying and ennobling violence which is so central to fascism in its various forms.

If you want an Italian model for The Donald, it is media billionaire turned recurring Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was not good for Italy.  (Though his scandals had a certain entertainment value.) Italian-American economist Luis Zingales previously (2011) pointed out the Trump-Berlusconi similarities, and has sensible and informed things to say about Italy's in his conversation with economist and uberblogger Tyler Cowan. But the career of Berlusconi cannot be usefully analysed using the "fascist" metric.

The "Trump is a fascist!" rhetoric does appeal to those addicted to the rhetoric of denunciation. With the added appeal that no further thought is needed. (The Donald is Just Bad and Bad people support him.) Which is, of course, much of the appeal of the rhetoric of denunciation ("racist!", "homophobe!", "Islamophobe!", "transphobia!" etc). But what if addiction to the rhetoric of denunciation is part of the problem?

Expressing appeal
So, what do The Donald's supporters see in him? Start with academic, philosopher and blogger Keith Burgess-Jackson:
My support for Donald Trump is easy to understand. I am sick to death of Republicans standing idly by while Democrats destroy them. Think back to the way John McCain and Mitt Romney campaigned in 2008 and 2012 (respectively). Neither defended himself against the vicious attacks from the Left; both lost (and deservedly so). I saw early on in the 2016 presidential campaign that Donald Trump is a street fighter. To put it in the vernacular, he doesn't take shit from anyone. He will smash the Clintons in their faces, as they so richly deserve. This tit-for-tat response is long overdue, and it is discombobulating not only the Clintons in particular but the Left in general. George Neumayr touches on this issue in his latest column. What excites me is that Trump hasn't even begun to hit Hillary. By November, she will be staggering, if not knocked out. Get right with Donald.
This is echoed by academic refugee, philosopher, author and blogger John Pepple:
This post by Keith Burgess-Jackson pretty much sums up why I will vote for Trump, even though he is not my ideal candidate. Trump will fight against the Democrats as hard as he can. Trump also seems to have more control over the media than the other Republicans, though I’m sure that is not what the media intended. They intended to show how ridiculously un-PC he was, but it didn’t work. Their attention just drew more voters for him, and then they couldn’t stop because it would mean lower ratings. I remember a liberal expressing the hope last summer, as Trump began gearing up, that the Republicans would nominate him because I’m sure he thought of Trump as unelectable. I have the feeling he is having second thoughts about it now.
So, The Donald is good because he is rhetorically effective, which is certainly easier to be if you are also rhetorically shameless (see demagoguery).

Then there is retired US diplomat and now active blogger W. Lewis Amselem:
My reason for voting Trump is probably very similar to that of millions of other Americans. I will explain why I think so many of us vote for Trump--let me know if I have it wrong. As the military say, however, "bottom line upfront" (BLUF.) After all the verbiage I will spew, it comes down to one thing: I am tired, sick and tired, of seeing my country, our country, our laws, our history, our values, and our very civilization spat upon, kicked around, and degraded by hordes of low-information, pampered cretins allied with malevolent criminal thugs both at home and abroad. ...
If one seeks to defend the values of America and the West, one gets labelled a racist, a xenophobe, a supremacist, a patriarch (see here, for example). The assault on dissent, on diversity of opinion, on individual freedom is unrelenting. The truth must remain unspoken.
So, The Donald is good because his rhetoric celebrates America (and he drives those who don't wild).

Here is retired academic, philosopher and blogger Bill Vallicella:
Whatever you say about Donald Trump he did us all a great service by dispatching low-energy Jeb! early on. Jeb Bush and the rest of his family are decent people. His brother and father are gentlemen. No one could confuse Trump with a gentleman.
Unfortunately, in this age of post-consensus politics we need fighters not gentlemen. We need people who will use the Left's Alinskyite tactics against them. Civility is for the civil, not for destructive leftists who will employ any means to their end of a "fundamental transformation of America." For 'fundamental transformation' read: destruction.
It's a war, and no war is civil, especially not a civil war. To prosecute a war you need warriors. Trump is all we have. Time to face reality, you so-called conservatives. Time to man up, come clean, and get behind the 'presumptive nominee.'
Don't write another article telling us what a sorry specimen he is. We already know that. We are a nation in decline and our choices are lousy ones. Hillary is worse, far worse.
Consider just three issues: The Supreme Court, gun rights, and the southern border. We know where Hillary stands. We also know where Trump stands. Suppose he accomplishes only one thing: he nominates conservatives for SCOTUS. (You are aware, of course, that he has gone to the trouble of compiling a list of conservative candidates. That is a good indication that he is serious.) The appointment of even one conservative would retroactively justify your support for him over the destructive and crooked Hillary.
Jonah Goldberg recently made the point that his vote doesn't matter. True. Each of our individual votes is vanishingly insignificant. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether conservatives as a group should support Trump. The answer is obvious: of course.
The alternative is to aid and abet Hillary.
Are you a conservative or a quisling?
So, Hillary is identifiably worse and The Donald is rhetorically effective against the progressivists. (Nowadays, I am not keen on the use of the term "the Left"because the fading modernist Left is a rather different thing from increasingly dominant postmodern progressivism.)

Here is well-known, and mildly prolific, SF author Jerry Pournelle:
It’s official. Trump has enough delegates to win a majority on the first ballot, so barring an assassination – not an impossible event – he will be the Republican nominee. The Republican Establishment got both houses of Congress and a majority of Governors, but was a miserable failure at opposition. The deficit rose and rose, the budget grew and grew, the size of government went up and up, government workers got more and more pay, and meanwhile the Depression continued. Unemployment officially went down to manageable levels, but only because definitions were changed, so that those who just gave up and stopped looking for employment were no longer “unemployed” and were not counted in figuring the unemployment rate.
So we don’t have long lines of people looking for work; instead they sullenly stay home, or a few joyfully take the dole, food stamps, and all the other entitlements. Most Americans don’t like doing that. They want jobs. But the jobs are gone, sent overseas along with the equipment they worked with, and the economy settled into one of opening containers of goods from China, and “paying” for these cheap goods by borrowing the money from China to give it to the not-unemployed people who used to have jobs but don’t any more. And the deficit grows, the economy stagnates, people get more angry, and many of the Republican establishment long for the old days when nobody expected them to WIN for heaven’s sake. They were the permanent opposition, always employed with great benefits and retirement, and no ambition to be much more. They ran the only man Bill Clinton could beat in 1996, after which the defeated candidate made Viagra adds.
It may be that Mr. Trump can’t put America first, but he says he wants to. No one else even thinks it is a good idea. At which point I conclude that what the Republicans want to conserve is their jobs as opposition leaders who don’t have to govern. Maybe I’m just bitter. Of course for a while they did govern. They invaded the only real opposition Iran faced, hanged the former leader, disbanded his army, set an oppressed majority up to govern after disarming their former master, were shocked when the Shia began to oppress the Sunni – shocked, I tell you. But it was done democratically, wasn’t it?
Any business run the way the government conducts its business wouldn’t be in business long; fortunately they have an infinite capacity for borrowing money. Each of us owes north of $50,000 so far. You say that’s not that bad, and I point out that each means just that: a family of man, wife, and two children owes more than $200,000, each baby born owes $50,000. Sand that’s this year. Four years from now it will be well over $60,000 each. And the debt goes ever upward.
Salve, Sclave.
Mr. Trump is not an ideal candidate; but when we did run what looked like good candidates, they grew in office, and the budget went up, the deficit went up, the Depression continued, we entered wars in which our interest was not easily discerned and certainly was not served. I guess I had better get me a Trump hat. (Emphasis added.)
So, we tried conventional Republicans, which did remarkably little good, both at home or abroad, with the White House or without it. At least The Donald has positive-about-America rhetoric.

Jerry Pournelle's endorsement is rather less fulsome than the previously cited, but does cite the rhetorical appeal. It also picks up a strong recurring secondary theme in support for The Donald that is even clearer in this post by academic and blogger Gene Callahan:
Our foreign policy over the last couple of decades has wrecked the lives of millions and millions of people in the Middle East. It has reduced country after country to anarchy in the bad sense: starvation, lawlessness, civil war. And surprise: all of this chaos enriches American corporations that sell weapons and "security" to foreign governments.
There are many important issues dividing the American electorate: SSM, gun control, abortion law, etc., etc. I don't wish to downplay the significance of the debates on these topics, except to note that every one of them, on a global scale, pales in significance to the moral necessity that we stopdestroying the lives of millions and millions of people in the Middle East.
And it is clear to me that Hillary Clinton will eagerly continue to pursue the policies that create this destruction: indeed, she was the prime architect of some of the past destruction.
Donald Trump is not my ideal candidate for president: I would like to resurrect Dwight Eisenhower and vote for him, if I could. I agree that Trump is a wildcard, and we don't really know what he will do once in office. But we do know that Clinton is the bought candidate of the merchants of death, and gambling that Trump is not so beholden to them is not really much of a gamble at all.
Let us put aside our differences on who is entitled to poop in what bathroom, and defeat the military-industrial complex's attempt to profit off of creating continual chaos in other countries!
So, the The Donald is less about interfering militarily in other countries, because his opponent has a proven track record and all we have to go on (shameless rhetoric) suggests he will not be. (Though, to be fair, so does The Donald's set piece foreign policy speech.)

Now, whether anything can be inferred about what President Trump would do from what The Donald says is a very good question (because, hey, demagogue) but the claim that he is the less belligerent candidate than Hillary is far from self-evidently false. If The Donald was actually a fascist, even a “fascist for the C21st”, it would be.

Notice, these are all intelligent, informed men of accomplishment (though it is also possible to find women who support The Donald). One may, of course, quibble about, for example, some of the economics. But they are not knuckle-dragging grunts. What they have in common is a profound sense of cultural alienation.

Cultural alienation
Reading posts and online pieces of the “I will vote for Trump because …” variety, the overwhelmingly dominant theme is cultural alienation. What they are culturally alienated by is fairly clear: relentless and ever-expanding moral bullying; rhetorics of denunciation pretending to be politics of compassion; a civilisation portrayed as if it was without achievements only crimes, a culture as if it was without virtues only sins; bearing lots of blame yet having little power; being the only folk with cross-generational guilt, and so on. With the abusive syllogism of:
we do X in order to achieve Y,
you are objecting to us doing X,
therefore you are against Y
being constantly deployed against anyone who arcs up. The rhetoric of denunciation so relentlessly employed is fundamentally based on both assuming, and attempting to impose on the public sphere, the illegitimacy of disagreement. It is the weaponising of morality and of (pretend) civility.

Nor is the cultural alienation surprising, as the information industries (media, entertainment, academe, IT) are overwhelmingly dominated by a narrow ideological range, increasingly disfigured by the pathologies that ideological echo chambers create.

And I mean the weaponising of morality and civility. The ludicrous lie that political correctness is about civility expresses either the deep duplicity or the deep self-blindness of its adherents. There is nothing "civil" about point-and-shriek (as Sir Tim Hunt and comet scientist Matt Taylor found) or the rhetoric of pc denunciation.

The concluding sentence of a Crooked Timber post against Jonathan Chait's mild critique of political correctness--"Seriously, fuck right the fuck off, Chait"--expresses the actual dynamics of pc splendidly. As this piece expresses particularly clearly the deep, pervasive disregard, indeed blindness, to achievement involved. (Boris Johnson gets the point.) But, then, landing a probe on a comet is hard; inciting and joining an online/public space moral sneering mob is easy: even inviting, as it drowns status from achievement with status from collective moral sneering. (And those who delight in attacking other people's motives are typically outraged when someone questions their's.) This plus crybullies blocking speech, no platforming, disinviting and all the other deeply uncivil abusive nonsense.

This is weaponised morality, weaponised civility, which extends all the way down, via "codes of conduct"*, to your local workplace. In other words, not civility at all. Instead, what is being run via the moral bullying, rhetoric of denunciation is a moral caste system, where you are allowed to hold someone's race against them--if they are white. You are allowed to hold someone's gender against them--if they are male. You are allowed to hold someone's sexuality against them--if they are heterosexual. You are allowed to hold someone's religion against them--if they are Christian. (And you are allowed to hold the existence of another country against them--if they are Jewish.) Treating Western civilisation as if it is not one of achievement and emancipations, but of crimes and oppression, and Western cultures as if they were without virtues, only sins. All the while bleating about heteronormative white male supremacy and being shockedshocked, when those whose civilisation, culture, country and identities are under serial attack arc up.

The notion that only "good people" would play identity politics was always a remarkably silly one.

Of course, when they do arc up, it gives you millions of fellow citizens to sneer at and feel superior to. No wonder, as historian Niall Ferguson points out, there is something of a turn to populism across the West; in cultural politics alone there is so much for them to work with.

Destroying civility
It turns out that, if civility and morality are weaponised, that removes important constraints within the body politic which — surprise! — has unfortunate implications. And those implications are likely to keep turning up as long as the underlying causes continue to operate.

And all this without considering the Alt Right, who are also obviously a product of cultural alienation and the toxic public culture of weaponised morality and civility. (Though prominent Alt Righter Vox Day's blog commentary turned out to be much more accurate about The Donald's Republican primary prospects than almost any mainstream media commentary.)

Online supporters of The Donald support him because of his rhetoric, his refusal to bow to the moral bullies that have so poisoned the public sphere. The shouts of "racism! racism!" and "fascism! fascism!" in response to The Donald's rhetoric are using the rhetoric of denunciation against someone whose success is fundamentally predicated on a revolt against the very same rhetoric of denunciation. That is not likely to be a successful strategy.

But nor is copying populists the way to undermine them -- that just legitimates what they say. The trick is to steal the underlying issue(s) in a way which leaves the populists with a lot of associated negatives. None of The Donald's Republican opponents were clever enough to do that -- partly because they did not take him sufficiently seriously until too late and partly because they were conventional politicians who did not understand the nature and level of angst in significant sections of the electorate and, when it did dawn, did too much implicit or explicit agreeing with The Donald, rather than stealing the underlying concerns his rhetoric played to.

Then Australian Prime Minister John Winston Howard provided a classic example of how to steal while undermining. In response to the populism of Pauline Hanson and One Nation he did not steal any of their policies or their specific rhetoric; he captured the underlying issue of control, of having a say, with the brilliant line of "But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come".  All while running a high immigration policy, and the least Eurocentric migration policy Australia had ever run.

Yes, he may win
I am, however, not convinced that Hillary is clever enough politician to adapt to a situation where past rhetorics are the problem not the solution ("vast right wing conspiracy" really isn't going to work).

So, those who don't want President Trump are going to have to hope he alienates enough of the electorate by his rhetoric to get Hillary over the line. But The Donald is a shameless rhetorician, a demagogue, that the media cannot look away from because he is such good copy/viewership.

The Donald is also, as Dilbert author Scott Adams has been explaining for months, a very effective rhetorician. And Hillary is such a good target for a shameless rhetorician.

In a fight between the two most disliked candidates in US Presidential politics for decades, fighting over a public sphere poisoned by the rhetorics of denunciation and the weaponising of morality and (even more problematically) basic civility, the media-savvy shameless rhetorician who represents a revolt against the dominant culture of denunciation has a much better chance than those who have no clue about the politics of cultural alienation, or why it has such power, are likely to realise. In which case, we better hope that this is not just a puff piece and there is someone of substance under the shameless rhetoric.

* How can one object to codes of conduct? When they create ideological sins not remotely subject to precise definition empowering the politics of denunciation; especially when accompanied by dubious complaint procedures. They are, as suggested here, easy weapons for budding little totalitarians.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

I cannot recall reading a work of historical scholarship clearly written out of sheer irritation until I read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Spanish-American historian Dario Fernandez-Morera.

Fernandez-Morera is clearly irritated and annoyed by recurring failures of Anglophone scholars to acquaint themselves with Spanish and French language scholarship on medieval Spain when writing about medieval Spain. He is clearly irritated by the failure of many such scholars to use the available Muslim and Christian sources; by their preciousness about using the word Spain (which, as he points out, many Muslim writers happily used); by their presenting medieval (particularly Muslim-ruled) Spain as some sort of golden age of multicultural co-existence; he is irritated by the notion that the invasion by Arab-led mainly Berber armies somehow raised the cultural level of Visigothic Spain; he is irritated by the dismissive treatment of Christian resistance to Muslim rule; he is irritated by the positive, even glowing, treatment of Muslim conquest and rule.

One way to tell he is so irritated--apart from simply reading the text--is his habit of starting chapters with quotes from noted scholars which the chapter then presents evidence clearly contradicting. There is no doubt about who his scholarly jeremiad is aimed at: he tells you in general in his Introduction and then by quoting from specific scholars at the start of chapters. No strawpersons allowed; they are hardly necessary, when so many large targets present themselves so clearly.

The irritation clearly helped motivate writing the book, and it does add a certain spice or zest to the reading, but it in no way detracts from the scholarly value of the book, which is very extensively footnoted--reading the footnotes is an education in itself--and filled with quotes from Christian, Muslim and Jewish sources. (The book is a particularly informative entree into the Jewish communities of medieval Spain.) He may push some arguments a bit far, as this sympathetic reviewer suggests, but effective rebuttals would have to be at least as well supported in the evidence.

Fernandez-Morera is also quite cutting about some obvious, and persistent hypocrisies--such as turning the Christian calendar into "Common Era" but being very respectful of the (equally religious) Muslim calendar. Or being dismissive of wider Christian connections but respectful of Islamic ones.

Really, it was jihad
It is startling to read claims by contemporary scholars stating or implying that jihad was not a significant motivating factor in the original Muslim conquest of most of the Iberian peninsula by Arab-Berber armies. Fernandez-Morera points out that the nice, sanitised, "inner struggle" contemporary Western construing of jihad is not actually supported by the Muslim or Christian chronicles. He is not above a bit of pointed irony in doing so:
Now, it is certainly possible that, for centuries, the medieval Muslim scholars who interpreted the sacred Islamic texts, as well as Muslim military leaders (including perhaps Muhammad himself when he led his armies into battle against infidels unwilling to submit), misunderstood (unlike today's experts in Islamic studies) the primarily peaceful and "defensive" meaning of "jihad" and that, as a result of this mistake, Muslim armies erroneously went and, always defensively, conquered half the known world. (Chapter 1)
Moreover, when the texts of the Maliki school of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) which dominated in al-Andalus are consulted:
... they talk of war against infidels--a Sacred Combat, or Holy War, or Holy Struggle or whatever other name one may choose to give this religiously mandated war against infidels. ... Thus what many Islamic studies academics call today "little jihad," as opposed to "greater jihad" (the "spiritual" one), turns out to be the only jihad examined in Maliki religious treatises and actually practised in Islamic Spain. (Chapter 1)
I started reading The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise while I was finishing Perfect Soldiers, veteran journalist Terry McDermott's book about the 9/11 hijackers. It was striking, even startling, to come across the same rhetoric from Islamic sources across a gap of over 1300 years; one contemporary, the other from early periods of Islamic conquest. Notably:
This willingness to die is found, for example, in the words of the Islamic Caliphate's Arab commander Khalid Ibn Walid in 633, ordering the Persians to submit to Islam, or else: "Otherwise you are bound to meet a people who love death as much as you love life." (Chapter 1)
The same rhetoric can be heard in our times from Hamasfrom Osama bin Laden, from the Fort Hood killer, from jihadis in the US, in Francein the UK.  All ultimately derived from the QuranSura 62:6.

Fernandez-Morera cites or quotes a series of Maliki and other medieval Islamic sources emphasising jihad as fighting the infidel who do not convert or submit, citing Medinan suras, noting that Bukhari's collection of hadith elevated such jihad to a key obligation on free Muslim males after believing in Allah and His Prophet.

Fernandez-Morera also notes some controversy about how late in Islam the notion of inner struggle jihad and defensive jihad may have arisen. In Destiny Disrupted, Tamin Ansary dates the promotion of "inner jihad" as the "greater jihad" to Sufis during the Abbasid period, (p.107) though, as he also points out, some Sufi orders effectively became warrior orders (p.167). (Moreover, the original connection to Muhammad is via a statement of one of his companions of doubtful authenticity and apparently fails to appear in any of the six authoritative collections of hadith.) Fernandez-Morera is quite right to insist that the notion of Crusade (a late, and terminating, development in Christianity which required Papal authorisation) is quite different from jihad (a universal obligation on free Muslim males operating from the origins of Islam).

The original Muslim invasions included tabi'un, in charge of establishing proper Islamic rule and the first mosques. As with the invasions of Sassanid Persia, it included burning of captured books of philosophy and logic. The evidence of the religious motives are extensive, including from archaeology:
Coins minted in North Africa shortly before the invasion of Spain call upon the protection of Allah for jihad. (Chapter 1). 
The notion of separate political and religious motives does not really apply, and the Islamic histories themselves are clear on the religious motives for conquest. Muslim chronicles mention the destruction of churches--usually in triumphal terms and often to celebrate their being turned into mosques (Chapter 1). Southern Spain has no churches built prior to the Catholic reconquest (Chapter 2).

Destructive conquest
The speed of the Islamic conquest (less than 10 years) was, as Fernandez-Morera points out, not that historically remarkable and was aided by deep divisions with the elite of the Visigothic kingdom. He uses the Arab conquest of Persia to illustrate the common patterns in both conquests at the opposite ends of the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern region. The willingness to offer protection for (humbling) submission as an alternative to war and death or enslavement was part of the conquest strategy. (The Mongols would later offer a very similar choice; most conquerors offer some version of it--with Islam, it is sanctified and incorporated as the default mode for dealing with non-believers.)

Without denying its weaknesses and oppression of Jews and heretics, Fernandez-Morera seeks to rehabilitate the Visigothic kingdom, arguing that the Islamic conquest saw the destruction of a nascent civilisation built on Roman, Germanic and Christian foundations. He notes that:
Spain was under Roman control and influence longer than any Western land outside of Italy and produced more Latin writers and emperors than any other Roman province. ... the Visigoths were the most Romanized of all the peoples took over the Latin Roman Empire ... (Chapter 2).
A civilisation that was legally innovative, included ruling queens and the establishment of which was much less disruptive than the subsequent Muslim conquest. Muslim sources refer to the wealth and splendour of the society they conquered (even if the major measure of the wealth was the acquired loot).

Fernandez-Morera points out how deeply implausible the notion is that an Arab-led army mainly of Berber nomads somehow raised the cultural level of a urban civilisation drawing on Roman and Classical heritage. Especially given that much of the cultural sophistication the Arab elite had acquired had come from their Iranian and Christian-Greek subjects. He is somewhat caustic on the notion that the Islamic world "preserved" the heritage of Greek thought, given that the Greek-Roman Empire never lost it and it was Islamic conquests and piracy that profoundly disrupted the previous connections across the Mediterranean (Chapter 2).

Being Romans
Fernandez-Morera shares my dislike of the "Byzantine" formulation for people who regarded themselves as Romans and were called such by their contemporaries:
... the term Byzantine Empire was invented in 1557 by the German scholar Hieronymous Wolf, who as a Protestant would not have been sympathetic to Eastern (or Orthodox) Christians. to indicate that these culturally Greek people of the Eastern Roman Empire were not Romans, and somehow not even Greek ...
Eighteenth century Enlightenment scholars such as Montesquieu, who despised Orthodox Christianity perhaps even more than Roman Catholicism, adopted the term, thereby emphasizing that these presumably retrograde Christian Greeks had nothing in common with those pagan Greeks admired by the Enlightenment. (Chapter 2).
About the other
One of Fernandez-Morera's continuing themes is how the juxtaposition of Muslims with Christians and Jews led to great concern (particularly among religious scholars, clerics, priests and rabbis) with not having defections among the faithful to the blandishments of other faiths. One of the strongest responses to living with other religious communities was to more strongly define what differentiated them.

In the case of the Jewish communities, that led to strong efforts against the non-rabbinical Karaites, who were pushed into marginal status. The rabbis clearly had an interest in encouraging hostility to those who denied their authority, but it is also clear that their success was partly based on their success in portraying the Karaites as being a path to defection from the Jewish community (Chapter 6).

But there were similar concerns, and analogous responses, within the Christian and Muslim communities. Except, of course, the Muslims were the ruling community, so Islamic law, administered by the ulama, the religious scholars, ruled all. The existence of significant Christian and Jewish communities tended to elevate the role of the ulama:
As several Spanish and French scholars have pointed out, in no other place within the Islamic empire was the influence of Islamic clerics on daily life as strong as in al-Anadalus. (Chapter 3)
Al-Andalus was dominated by the Maliki school of fiqh, which took decisions by early Rashidun caliphs as sources of law, particularly Umar. Including the Pact or Condition of Umar. Andalusian Maliki jurisprudence was intolerant of adherents of other Islamic schools of jurisprudence, let alone non-Muslims:
... the practice of Islam in Spain was much more rigorous than in the East. If anything, the presence of large Catholic populations to the north and in their midst, along with the conversion to Islam of many of their earlier inhabitants, seems to have exacerbated the Andalusian clerics' zeal in adhering to Maliki teachings. In other words, far from being conducive to tolerance, living close to Christians exacerbated Islamism in al-Andalus. (Chapter 3).
Andalusian Maliki fiqh forbade musical instruments and singing. The ban was less than entirely successful, but was a major impediment to the development of a musical culture. Strict purity concerns also got in the way of interactions as the founder of the school:
... forbade using the water left over by a Christian, or using for ablutions anything a Christian had touched, or eating food left over by a Christian. (Chapter 3)
These and other food purity rules meant that "breaking bread together" was not a practical option between a devout Muslim and a Christian. As I have noted before, it is not morality that buttresses the role of clerics as gatekeepers of righteousness, but moral taboos.

Just because three different religious communities lived in the same cities and under the same rulerships did not mean there was much in the way of mixing, beyond that useful for commerce. The public celebration of non-Muslim religious festivals was banned, for example. Living in different areas was a practical solution to the religious barriers to mixing:
... "fear of the "other" as a source of influence and possible conversion, the three religions' marked differences in worship and purification practices, and the religious laws' exclusionary dictates and warnings against socializing with other groups made living even in the same block difficult at best. (Chapter 3)
As the Reconquista proceeded, Muslim clerics issued fatwa calling on Muslims to leave Christian-ruled areas. The pressure on Christians in particular was such that the last Andalusian state, the Emirate of Granada, largely became a Christian-free state (Chapter 7). (Catholic Spain would, of course, eventually expel all its open Jews and Muslims.) The last Emir of Granada, in the treaty of surrender, insisted on a provision that no Jew would have authority over any Muslim or collect any taxes from them (Chapter 3). Fernandez-Morera notes that the Muwatta, a key source of Maliki fiqh in particular, says that:
Zakat is imposed on the Muslims to purify them and to be given back to the poor, whereas jizya is imposed on the people of the Book to humble them. (Chapter 1)
Yet there is this persistent myth of Andalusian convivencia.  Particularly under the Umayyad's, there was considerable repression internally and regular raids and attacks externally:
The celebrated Umayyads actually elevated religious and political persecutions, inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions to heights unequaled by any other set of rulers before or after in Spain. (Chapter 4)
Something Fernandez-Morera establishes from both Muslims and Catholic sources. The implications are not all that encouraging for simplistic multiculturalism:
... multicultural and pluralistic al-Andalus was plagued with religious, racial, political, and social conflicts, so that the most successful rulers must apply brutal and terrifying force to keep the place from disintegrating, as in fact it ultimately did. ....
In contrast, the relatively more ethnically and religiously unified Catholic kingdoms did not present the same problems for their rulers and therefore did not encourage the same drastic solutions. (Chapter 4).
And (to continue the story beyond where Fernandez-Morera takes it), having completed the Reconquista, the eventual response of the Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal was to use forced conversions and expulsions to re-create such unity.

Status of women
It is no surprise that concern for clear differentiation between the faithful and other faiths fell particularly strongly on women. Indeed, the higher the status of the Muslim woman (status which derived from the key man in her life), the more strict the requirements of separating differentiation.

The cultural and other activities of Andalusian women cited by those keen on pushing the convivencia narrative were either slave girls (or, in the case of celebrated love poetry, largely about slave girls) or otherwise restricted to the private sphere. While, as one would expect in a polygynous society where stealing infidel women was sanctified, sexual slavery was rife. So rife, that (along with the aforementioned expulsions) there is very little Arab or Berber genetic imprint in the present-day Spanish population. Conversely, the situation of Catholic women in Catholic Spain was markedly better than that of even high status Muslim women in al-Andalus (Chapter 5).

Submission and domination
As for the dhimmi system for Christians and Jews, which is presented as enlightened toleration under the convivencia model:
The system of "protection" then, was in reality, a system of exploitation and subjugation. (Chapter 7).
With Muslim historians emphasising that the various conditions and requirements were structured to humiliate Jews and Christians. Nor can we look elsewhere for this alleged Andalusian tolerance:
There was no more a culture of tolerance in what remained of the Christian community in Islamic Spain than there was in the Muslim or Jewish communities (Chapter 7).
An issue which preceded the Muslim conquest. Upon the conversion of King Recared (r.588-601) to Catholicism (589), Visigothic law persecuted Arianism and Judaism, aiming for the extinction of both. In this it did not succeed, but it did alienate the Jewish community enough that the invading Muslims successfully used them as allies against the Christians. Fernandez-Morera notes various parallels in the exclusionary laws and rules of Christians, Muslims and Jews (Chapter 7).

Andalusian Muslim society was a stratified one:
Arabs were at the top of the social scale, with Berbers in the middle, followed by freed white Muslim slaves who had become mawali; the muladis, further divided into first-generation converts and the rest, occupied a lower echelon, above that of only dhimmis and slaves. (Chapter 7)
With the muladis being a recurring source of unrest and revolt.

Something which clearly particularly irritates Fernandez-Morera is how Islamic imperialism in Spain often gets remarkably favourable treatment by Anglophone scholars, while Catholic resistance is ignored or belittled. As he notes:
... the relative scholarly neglect of the Christian sources on the Islamic conquest as testimonies of the Christians' loss--a neglect of the vision de los vencides ("the views or testimonies of the defeated") not present, for example, in studies of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. (Chapter 7)
He continues:
The implication is clear: these people should be grateful to the tolerant Muslim authorities for so graciously allowing them to practice their religion. Never mind the lowly status Christian dhimmis and even muladis occupied in Muslim society; the harsh restrictions they lived under; the extortion and humiliation they suffered through their special "taxes" (the jizya); the destruction of their ancient churches ... or even harsher punishments Christians faced for violating Islamic laws. Those punishments included drastic measures such as ethnic cleansing ... The punishments also included, as we have seen repeatedly, executions of the most painful and public forms.
Such was the spirit of Islamic Spain's "convivencia", which Norman Roth hails as "one of the many things that made Spain great, and which the rest of Europe could have learned from it to its profit". (Chapter 7)
Fernandez-Morera brings the threads together in the Epilogue, including the central thesis of the book:
Few periods in history have been more misrepresented than that of Islamic Spain.
A misrepresentation that wildly over-praised Islamic tolerance and treats the achievements of Visigothic Spain, and subjugation of Christians and Jews, remarkably dismissively. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is at once an informative corrective to much historical misrepresentation and a worrying documentation of scholarship going systematically wrong.

Motivated misrepresentation
In his Introduction, Fernandez-Morera wrestles with why this persistent scholarly mythologising has occurred. He raises various possibilities--including the significant flows of Muslim oil money into funding academic activity. With associated pressures:
Doubtlessly, professional self-preservation as well as political correctness and economics as well as political correctness and economics have affected academic research in certain fields of study in contrast to the fearlessness demonstrated by professors when unmasking horrors in such dangerous areas of investigation as Christian Europe (the burning of witches! colonialism!) and Catholic Spain (the ubiquitous Spanish Inquisition!). Islamic Spain is no exception to the rule. University presses do not want to get in trouble presenting an Islamic domination of even centuries ago as anything but a positive event, and academic specialists would rather not portray negatively a subject that constitutes their bread and butter. In addition, fear of the accusation of "Islamophobia" has paralyzed many academic researchers. (Introduction)
The farce over the Yale University Press published work on the Mohammad cartoons sans cartoons provides him with an excellent illustrative example. It is not surprising that the Introduction also includes a strong plea to focus on where the evidence leads us, while being aware of the context of what we use as evidence.

There is also, as Fernandez-Morera points out, something of a prejudice against religious motives as explanations:
Failing to take seriously the religious factor in Islamic conquests is characteristic of a certain type of materialist Western historiography which finds it uncomfortable to accept that war and the willingness to kill and die in its can be the result of someone's religious faith--an obstacle to understanding that may reflect the role played by religious faith in the lives of many academic historians. (Introduction)
And even more so in other humanities and social sciences.

There is, of course, something of a tradition in Anglophone writings to be down on Catholic Spain; a tradition kept alive, at least in the popular mind, by the tales of Gloriana and the Spanish Armada. After noting the "stakeholder" problem, Fernandez-Morera suggests that:
Or perhaps since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment the critical construction of a diverse, tolerant and happy Islamic Spain has been part of an effort to sell a particular cultural agenda (Introduction).
Perhaps indeed.  Moreover:
In the past few decades, this ideological mission has morphed into "presentism," an academically sponsored effort to narrate the past in terms of the present and thereby reinterpret to serve contemporary "multiculturalism," "diversity," and "peace" studies, which necessitates rejecting as retrograde, chauvinistic or, worse, "conservative" any view of the past that may conflict with the progressive agenda. (Introduction)
Something that the decreasing ideological diversity of the academy (particularly in the humanities) tends to aggravate.

Still, while scholars such as Fernandez-Morera are willing to take a well-wielded scholarly axe to pretentious pieties, there is hope.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What starts in Palestine does not stay in Israel

Years ago, in answer to the question about why gentiles should care about what happened to the Jews, an answer was that the Jews were "the canary in the mine"; one needed to pay attention because the Jews might be first on the hit list, but others would follow.

A similar question could be asked now: why should sensible folk be concerned about the obsession with Israel and its alleged sins that disfigures so much of postmodern progressivism? The answer is, because the Jewish state is also a canary in the mine: the pathologies that Western reactions to the Israel-Palestine disputes have given rise to do not stay confined to that issue.

Pathology petri dish
Those particular pathologies include wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial, fantasy Islam.

Wicked facts are straightforward--things which are true, but only Bad People mention or give significance to. That Palestinian media and schooling are saturated with crude Jew-hatred is a wicked fact, for example. That there have never been any serious Palestinian peace proposals is another wicked fact. (Especially if conjoined with there having been serious Israeli peace proposals, notably by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmurt: the Palestinian Authority did endorse the Arab Peace Plan, but was hardly in a position to refuse to do so.) The Palestinian insistence on the right of return, a "right" with no equivalent for any other case of population transfers, essentially blocks any serious possibility of an agreement, another wicked fact.

That Palestinians are the only refugees to be denied citizenship by their ethnic confrere state(s) (because the Arab states wanted stateless sticks to beat Israel with) is a wicked fact. That the current state of Syria, Iraq, Libya and the past history of Lebanon might raise issues about what a Palestinian state would be like, or the virtues of Israel, is another wicked fact (or wicked implication, strictly speaking). Other wicked facts are that a majority of Israel's Jewish population is of Middle Eastern origins, or that Jewish refugees from Muslim countries outnumbered Palestinian ones from the creation of Israel.

They are not the same level of wickedness, but they are all things Good People don't mention, or pass over as quickly as possible.

A classic wicked fact is that Israel is the most stable democracy in the Middle East with the most liberal society. This wicked fact is also a case of achievement avoidance: one is absolutely not to see Israel as any sort of achievement. Thus, referring to Israel's vastly superior performance on queer rights to the rest of the Middle East is pinkwashing. If Israel does not represent any sort of achievement, then no awkward issues are raised by, for example, proposing the abolition of the most stable democracy in the Middle East with the most liberal society (aka the One State Solution).

The lack of serious Palestinian peace proposals, the corrupt failures of Palestinian politics, the systematic stoking of the politics of hatred, these are more wicked facts which are also cases of responsibility denial: as an "oppressed people" Palestinians are not to be held responsible for their own situation or their actions--even those that if done by Westerners would lead to furious denunciations. 

Finally, there is fantasy Islam, not merely in the sense that Islam is not to be seen as in any way a causal factor in the Arab-Israel or Israel-Palestinian disputes (both a wicked fact and a contradiction of responsibility denial) but the reason it is not to be seen as such is that Good People adhere to a fantasy version of Islam and Islamic history. 

That Palestinian politics and society is rarely, if ever, subject to anything remotely resembling critical scrutiny by the mainstream Western media means, of course, that Israel is always in the wrong and the cause of everything that goes wrong: the sins of Israel become THE story--indeed, the only possible story, given enough adherence to the notions of wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam.

Not quarantined
The problem is, there is no quarantine that stops the pattern of wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam being applied elsewhere. On the contrary, Israel-Palestine because a sort of petri dish, where these pathologies can be tested, developed, dry run and before being extended to other issues, and to Western societies themselves. If applying such is acceptable, indeed "good reporting", on Palestine-Israel then it is acceptable more generally. It is not that these notions were invented to apply to Palestine-Israel; it is that Palestine-Israel provides a media realm to prove their acceptability and develop their application.

Thus, that African-Americans (around 13% population) commit half the homicides in the US is a classic wicked fact. (If you doubt that, try using it as a response to Black Lives Matter.) Similarly, the current buzz term of white supremacy is an exercise in responsibility denial (due to the oppression of white supremacy nothing negative in the situation of African-Americans is in any way a responsibility of African-Americans). While Western civilisation has become, in postmodern progressive parlance, an entire zone of achievement avoidance.

One of the bridges from Israel-Palestine to the West in general is how issues to do with Muslims (particularly Muslims in the West) are framed. Thus, the depth of Jew-hatred in the Muslim (particularly Arab) world (wicked fact) and how embedded it is in Islamic Scriptures are not things Good People mention (fantasy Islam).

Which makes the Holocaust something of a problem. As James Kirchick points out in a recent essay, the push is on to universalise the Holocaust so that it in no way provides any shielding to Jews in general, or Israel in particular. In Europe especially, this is pushing at an open door because it has long been obvious that much of the European elite can never forgive Israel for the Holocaust, as the Holocaust tarnishes European elite pretensions to being the moral arbiters of the planet. 

Underlying wicked facts, achievement avoidance and fantasy Islam is a wish for a simple framing that buttresses moral pretension. The complex idea that yes, other folk were subject to the Holocaust and yes other genocides have occurred but the specific targeting of Jews was at the heart of the Holocaust is apparently too complex an idea: the diversity of real apparently just doesn't work for ease of Virtue. While dismissing the Holocaust as white-on-white crime points to the intellectual degradation identity politics naturally leads to. 

But the last is so far from an irrational move, it is a natural part of the pattern. One way the Jews are so awkward is that they demonstrate that a group which is oppressed and excluded from political power can nevertheless achieve considerable social success. (They are hardly the only group that demonstrates that, but they are a particularly salient group that does so, especially from a Western perspective.) So they seriously get in the way of blaming everything bad that happens to any group on white folk. Declaring them to be white folk (who therefore don't count in the oppression stakes) is a natural move to block that bit of inconvenient complexity.

If one bothers to become seriously knowledgable about the history of European Jew-hatred, then the strength of Jew-hatred in the Muslim world is hardly a surprise. Essentially the same patterns apply as applied in C19th and early C20th Europe--angst over modernity that seems threatening and foreign, hostility to a historically despised group that seems to be doing "unnaturally" well, religious hierarchies acting as gatekeepers of righteousness encouraging Jew-hatred as a tactic to buttress their own authority. The factors that led to rampant Jew-hatred (indeed, exterminatory Jew-hatred) in C19th and early C20th Europe are alive and well in the contemporary Islamic world. 

They are, indeed, if anything stronger in the Islamic world. Modernity was at least created within the West; Islam experiences modernity even more as a foreign intrusion. While the Catholic Church's investment in encouraging Jew-hatred (though continuous and extensive) could never reach the level it does among contemporary Islamic clerics because there are barriers within Christianity to full blown exterminatory Jew-hatred--the most obvious being that Christ and His disciples were Jews and that Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself was originally preached by a Jewish man to Jewish audiences. However far Christian Jew-hatred could extend, one had to take steps beyond Christian doctrine to embrace exterminatory Jew hated. (Which, over the centuries, plenty of folk calling themselves Christians did.)

Islam has no such internal barriers--Muhammad and his Companions were not Jews, his audiences were (mostly) not Jews. Worse, Jews were specific targets of homicidal retaliation by the Prophet and the Quran has many negative references to Jews, which a famous hadith takes further (also). 

Taking Islam as a belief system seriously (rather than concocting a fantasy version of it), taking a critical look at patterns within Islamic societies (rather than treating such as a collective aggression against Muslims) and taking Jew hatred itself seriously, all give grave grounds for concern about where the level of Jew-hatred within Muslim countries leads. But if one is committed to the deep stupidities of wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam, then all this becomes invisible. For the Virtuous, Ignorance is Strength

But, having been tried and tested and shown to be completely acceptable in reporting on Israel-Palestine wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam are all now coming to a media outlet near you. What starts in Palestine does not stay in Israel.

ADDENDA Richard Landes points out a quite different and, at the sharp end, murderous effect of such journalism back in Europe.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

(Not) coping with the diversity of the real

The heterosexual/homosexual distinction is relatively recent, being coined in the mid C19th. Like all binary classifications, it is somewhat problematic in dealing with the diversity of the human. That being said, it is not merely a social construct: there is a real underlying diversity in human sexuality that it tries (somewhat clumsily) to grapple with.

The attempt by Michael W. Hannon in his essay Against Heterosexuality in the Catholic magazine First Things to employ the works of queer theorists and Michel Foucault to entirely dismiss the concepts of heterosexual and homosexual fails on various levels, but its most basic failure is simply not acknowledging any aspect of the sexual diversity of the human that the distinction tries to grapple with. (It is hardly surprising that the term bisexual does not turn up anywhere in the essay. [In contradiction to a famous study of a few years ago, it appears that bisexual males do exist.])

But there are a lot of problems with the piece. First, Michel Foucault is a notoriously unreliable source for historical facts. Second, just because the terms heterosexual and homosexual are relatively new, does not mean that a sense that people differed in sexual orientation was not much older. Rictor Norton's The Myth of the Modern Homosexual is a good source for that (see also here).

The reality of diversity
Third, there is now significant scientific evidence of diversity in sexual orientation. Such as differences in reaction to the smell of sweat, to visual stimulation (the more so among men than women), and in cross-gender brain structures and cognitive traits. (Really, is anyone surprised that lesbians tend to have more typically "male" cognitive features and gay men tend to have more typically "female" cognitive features?) This is still a developing field. There may well be problems with the heterosexual/homosexual construction as it has developed, but it is an attempt to grapple with a real phenomenon--human sexual diversity.

(Oh, and a tip for female authors in particular: gay men are not girls with penises, they have testosterone; it makes a difference. For example, gay and straight men may look at different porn, but they use porn in essentially the same way.)

If, as our author alleges, the matter is all social construct and not any underlying awkward reality, then one does not have to struggle with why said social constructions popped up in the first place, let alone why there has been a decades-long queer rights movement. Nor any awkward questions about why it has succeeded as much as it has.

The author does make reference to:
Over the course of several centuries, the West had progressively abandoned Christianity’s marital architecture for human sexuality. Then, about one hundred and fifty years ago, it began to replace that longstanding teleological tradition ...
The older teleological view measured morality against man’s rational-animal nature; in the sexual realm, this meant evaluating sex acts by reference to the common good of marriage, which integrated spousal union and the bearing and rearing of children.  
If the reality of human sexual diversity is ignored, then the long persistence of said "marital architecture" is completely unproblematic. Conversely, if humans are, and always have been, sexual diverse, then how did such a tradition persist for so long?

The short answer is brutality: it was brutally enforced. Somewhat intermittently, and with periodic moral panics and purges, but the basis of its maintenance was brutality. As the necessary enforcing brutality faded away, the reality of human sexual diversity began to emerge into the light, so to speak. Why the movement for gay rights? Because people were able to connect who were tired of being treated like crap. (There was also a much broader resistance to the very narrow and controlled conception of family the Church pushed that has won out.)

The growth of science provided non-religious grounds for knowledge and authority; the interaction with other cultures created an awareness of the diversity of human gender taxonomies and sexual ethics; the growth of transport and communication technologies allowed smaller and smaller minorities to connect; mass urbanisation allowed folk to congregate together. In other words, much the same patterns as underlay the other steps in the Emancipation Sequence. And you cannot put the genie back in the bottle without the necessary enforcing brutality.

Sodomising Scripture
But this does not exhaust the problems with the essay. The author tells us that:
The Bible never called homosexuality an abomination. Nor could it have, for as we have seen, Leviticus predates any conception of sexual orientation by a couple of millennia at least. What the Scriptures condemn is sodomy, regardless of who commits it or why. 
Well, that is not remotely true, because sodomy is not a Scriptural concept; for the New Testament predates development of the notion of sodomy by centuries, much of the Old Testament by about a millennia. 

Of course, later translations inserted sodomy into Scripture, but that does not make sodomy a Scriptural concept, no more than inserting homosexuality into Scripture does

Moreover, using Leviticus as an authority hardly works--Leviticus repeatedly insists that its proscriptions are an all or nothing matter: you have to either enforce the lot or none, you cannot pick and choose. (So tattoos, for example, are right out, as are priestly tonsures.) Every Christian, and every denomination of Christianity, is in breach of Leviticus.

If you are picking and choosing which bits of Leviticus to take notice of, your authority is not Leviticus, it is whatever basis you are using to pick and choose. Nor does Leviticus condemn same-sex relations per se, it condemns a man taking the female role in sex. The point, fairly clearly, is to enforce strict gender differentiation--more specifically, to not have men "unman" themselves by taking the female role. Women lying with women is, apparently, fine.

Sodomy refers, of course, to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of the plain, in Genesis 19. A good exercise is to read the Scriptural story closely and clearly without the imposing the since-traditional "it's all about butt sex" interpretation on the text. Does that interpretation make any sense from the actual Scriptural passages

Put it another way, how do you turn attempted group rape of visiting guests who were messengers of the Lord into any sort of condemnation of any sexual practice as such? Especially given there is no divine intervention until it comes to saving Lot's daughters and the messengers are there to warn Lot that God has already given up on the cities. (Does, for example, the brutal group rape and murder in Judges 19 mean that there is something wrong with opposite sex sexual relations?) The answer is, you can't. You have to add to the text to elevate same-sex relations to being the key issue. 

Note that seeing the key issue as vile treatment of visitors and guests, of the stranger among you, is very much in accord with other Biblical passages, such as Exodus 22:21 and Exodus 23:9. The notion that the most important thing was the butt sex that didn't happen, is supported nowhere. 

So, how did the since-traditional interpretation arise? By an intellectual applying an academic theory to the text in order to score points in a cultural war. The intellectual was Philo of Alexandria (c.25BC-50AD), the academic theory was Greek natural law philosophy and the culture war was between monotheist Hebrews and polytheist Greeks. 

Here is Philo the culture warrior, condemning a pagan religious parade:
At all events one may see men-women continually strutting through the market place at midday, and leading the processions in festivals; and, impious men as they are, having received by lot the charge of the temple, and beginning the sacred and initiating rites, and concerned even in the holy mysteries of Ceres. And some of these persons have even carried their admiration of these delicate pleasures of youth so far that they have desired wholly to change their condition for that of women, and have castrated themselves and have clothed themselves in purple robes, like those who, having been the cause of great blessings to their native land, walk about attended by body-guards, pushing down every one whom they meet. (Special Laws III, VII, 40)
It could be any contemporary Christian, Jewish or Muslim cleric condemning the Gay Pride parade of your choice.

Since Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of the plain, were the premier examples of God's specific wrath (apart from small matters such as the Flood), a range of (often not very specific) sins were attributed to its inhabitants in Scripture. Philo, however, focuses particularly on the consequences of prosperity:
As men, being unable to bear discreetly a satiety of these things, get restive like cattle, and become stiff-necked, and discard the laws of nature, pursuing a great and intemperate indulgence of gluttony, and drinking, and unlawful connections; for not only did they go mad after women, and defile the marriage bed of others, but also those who were men lusted after one another, doing unseemly things, and not regarding or respecting their common nature, and though eager for children, they were convicted by having only an abortive offspring; but the conviction produced no advantage, since they were overcome by violent desire; and so, by degrees, the men became accustomed to be treated like women, and in this way engendered among themselves the disease of females, and intolerable evil; for they not only, as to effeminacy and delicacy, became like women in their persons, but they made also their souls most ignoble, corrupting in this way the whole race of man, as far as depended on them. At all events, if the Greeks and barbarians were to have agreed together, and to have adopted the commerce of the citizens of this city, their cities one after another would have become desolate, as if they had been emptied by a pestilence. (On Abraham, XXVI, 135-6)
The concern for strict gender roles comes across very clearly. But it is also an introduction of the (Greek) notion of the "laws of nature" which the inhabitants of the cities of the plain sinfully discarded. It also establishes the utility of denying human sexual diversity, for such denial provides the best of both worlds: on one hand, by pretending anyone might do it, same-sex activity is turned into a huge moral threat bringing with it social sterility; on the other, by condemning something most people are uninterested in doing, you are selling very low cost virtue.

There is, in fact, a curious insecurity about opposite-sex attraction involved. (Though if being female is such a desperately inferior state, then perhaps the resilience of being attracted to them is something to be insecure about.) An insecurity there is no biological or social basis for--in no society, not even in societies where same-sex relations are a compulsory adolescent experience (yes, there have been some) do men give up having sex with women, or having children. Opposite sex desire is a reliable feature of human affairs. Merely not a universal feature of actual humans.

Philo was not conforming to the rabbinical oral tradition concerning the cities of the plain, which held that they were not immoral, but anti-moral: that is, they actually punished people for displaying moral behaviour towards the weak and vulnerable. Which has the virtue of making the both their punishment, and its extent, congruent with the moral message elsewhere in the Old Testament: it certainly makes much more sense than fearful insecurity about the power of opposite sex attraction or the apparently enormous moral significance of butt sex. (To the extent that sodomy has a precise theological definition, it means any non-reproductive sex to the point of ejaculation; but anal intercourse has always been the archetypal version of sodomy.)

Philo's conception was, however, an intellectual winner, winning converts outside Judaism, extending to Christianity and Islam. The Qur'an incorporates the notion that the cities of the plain were destroyed for their homosexuality, even claiming they were the first to engage in such.

Editing nature into convenient form
When one looks for the original argument that demonstrates same-sex acts to be unnatural, one comes across much assertion, but precious little argument. The original source seems to be Plato's The Laws. In Book One, the Athenian asserts that:
Now the gymnasia and common meals do a great deal of good, and yet they are a source of evil in civil troubles; as is shown in the case of the Milesian, and Boeotian, and Thurian youth, among whom these institutions seem always to have had a tendency to degrade the ancient and natural custom of love below the level, not only of man, but of the beasts. The charge may be fairly brought against your cities above all others, and is true also of most other states which especially cultivate gymnastics. Whether such matters are to be regarded jestingly or seriously, I think that the pleasure is to be deemed al which arises out of the intercourse between men and women; but that the intercourse of men with men, or of women with women, is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust. The Cretans are always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they wanted to justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver.
The implied argument, from the citation of animals, is that it is contrary to nature because we do not see same-sex activity amongst animals. In Book Eight, the Athenian says:
For if any one following nature should lay down the law which existed before the days of Laius, and denounce these lusts as contrary to nature, adducing the animals as a proof that such unions were monstrous, he might prove his point, but he would be wholly at variance with the custom of your states. ...
Our citizens ought not to fall below the nature of birds and beasts in general, who are born in great multitudes, and yet remain until the age for procreation virgin and unmarried, but when they have reached the proper time of life are coupled, male and female, and lovingly pair together, and live the rest of their lives in holiness and innocence, abiding firmly in their original compact:-surely, we will say to them, you should be better than the animals.
So, the argument seems to be that animals follow nature, animals don't do it, so it is against nature. If nature is the measure of the natural, then the argument is way out of luck, for nature is an incredible array of sexual, gender and mating diversity. Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity provides chapter and verse.

As for the purpose of sex being reproduction, nature is not helpful there either, as sex is used for a much wider range of purposes in nature than merely reproduction. Joan Roughgarden's Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People provides considerable detail on that. The Athenian of Plato's Laws is not a very good, nor a knowledgeable, observer of nature.

Folk became aware that nature did not live up to the alleged restrictions of the natural: animals such as hares and hyenas were identified as letting the side down. This was coped with in the way teleological conceptions normally cope with uncooperative diversity--the conclusion was used to police the premises. That is, evidence in nature which contradicted what was declared to be the natural order was declared to be unnatural--outside the "proper" order of nature. If one is allowed to simply exclude the contrary cases, then one is fine. (Marxists turned this into a fine art with respect to the social order, but natural law theorists were perfecting the technique centuries earlier.) Of course, one's theory then rests on nothing but itself, but that has never proved to be an insuperable difficulty for any faithful concerning the teleological apparatus of their devotion.

Based on nothing but assertion and a deemed license to exclude contrary cases it may be, but the classing of same-sex activity as unnatural had grim consequences when tied to monotheism. For the notion that same-sex activity is unnatural is then turned it into an act of treason against God, as nature's Creator. As early as the C4th, St John Chrysostom (c.349-407), the patron saint of preachers, is assuring folk that same-sex activity is worse than murder. (It being treason against God and all.) For:
All passions are dishonorable, for the soul is even more prejudiced and degraded by sin than is the body by disease; but the worst of all passions is lust between men…. The sins against nature are more difficult and less rewarding, since true pleasure is only the one according to nature. But when God abandons a man, everything is turned upside down! Therefore, not only are their passions satanic, but their lives are diabolic….. So I say to you that these are even worse than murderers, and that it would be better to die than to live in such dishonor. A murderer only separates the soul from the body, whereas these destroy the soul inside the body….. There is nothing, absolutely nothing more mad or damaging than this perversity.
One notes again the concern for male status and standing. Apart from St Paul in Romans, there is no Scriptural basis for claiming that women can commit "sodomy", and precious little Patristic support. (St Paul's wording fairly clearly shows the influence of Philo.)

By the medieval period, in the medieval best seller The Golden Legend, compiled by an Archbishop of Genoa later beatified for his editorial and compilation efforts therein, we are told that a miracle of the Nativity was:
And it happened this night that all the sodomites that did sin against nature were dead and extinct; for God hated so much this sin, that he might not suffer that nature human, which he had taken, were delivered to so great shame. Whereof S. Austin saith that, it lacked but little that God would not become man for that sin.
The Christmas day massacre--God kills all the sodomites so that Incarnation can happen and the Gospel of Love can be let loose on the world.

So, sodomy is not Scriptural; the claim that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was all (or even primarily) about same-sex activity is, to say the least, weak; the it-is-unnatural argument is based on a complete misreading of how nature actually is and the whole thing rests on an insecurity about opposite sex attraction which also has no basis.

(Though Christianity is a very broad tradition--St Aelred of Rievaulx suggests, in his Spiritual Friendship, that Jesus and John were married in Heaven.)

Having someone to pick on
So, what gives?

Several things. If entire sections of nature can be excised as "not counting", then a minority of humans can easily be so. The conspicuous thing about arguing that sex-is-only-for-reproduction, reproduction can only be properly done within marriage, it is all about human flourishing is that it relies on excluding the same-sex attracted--their flourishing clearly doesn't count. And that exclusion is the point.

I said there was no cost to most folk in banning something they have little or no interest in doing. But there is a cost: the cost is treating fellow human beings badly; which is actually the point--having a very vulnerable group to so easily and (mostly) costlessly pick on.

Queer folk grow up as isolated individuals in overwhelmingly straight families and social milieus. It is hard to think of any group that it is easier to isolate and pick on; particularly as it is hard to think of a group that it is easier to drive into hiding and not speaking up for themselves. They make such a splendid target--and that is the point.

For where do priests and clerics get authority most easily and graphically? From being gatekeepers of righteousness; from telling you what is righteous and what is not. And the more unexpected the markers of righteousness are, the more the "expertise" of the priest or cleric is need.

We don't need priests or clerics to tell us that murder is wrong, that theft is wrong--cultures either come to those conclusions or they don't get off the ground. But we do need a priest or cleric to tell us that heaven hates ham, that God hates butt sex, that dogs are unclean. It is not morality, but moral taboos that are priests and clerics distinctive stock-in-trade. (As it is, for that matter, for secular clerisies.)

A consequence of turning the archetypal instance of God's specific wrath into being all about butt sex meant that picking on this incredibly vulnerable group was "necessary" to preserve social order from the wrath of God. Which made it a desperately important issue--so much so, that discharging semen into someone's anus was apparently worse than murder. Well, it had to be, otherwise God was being pathological. Of course, if the story of the cities of the plain was really about systematically picking on the weak and vulnerable, then ... (One might also stop to note that the Gospel Christ has very little to say about secular authority, but a great deal to say about religious authority being used in cruel and oppressive ways.)

It is very clear that there are plenty of believers who are outraged that queers are being treated as "real people" not the targets of oppressive, no-voice repression that is how any Godly society should treat such folk.

Moreover, the queer (the sexually and gender divergent) are a natural target for monotheistic religions. First,  because the One God is not a sexual being in the way polytheistic deities are. In animism and polytheism, sex connects us to the divine. In monotheism, it separates us from the divine. Except in one form--reproduction, because that connects us to God the Creator. So, reproductive sex becomes the OK form of sex. Second, because such targeting provides a splendid point of divergence from polytheistic and animist religions; it being very clear, very low cost for most folk and picking on such a vulnerable group.

Third, because monotheism comes only from the Middle East, so only from plough-and-pastoralist societies--that is, patrilineal and patrilocal societies. If there is only one Ultimate Authority, that Authority is bound to be conceived as Male and with Male authority priests. (Polytheism tended to include third gender priests, animism third gender shamans: so another point of differentiation.) Which naturally encourages a very strict gender dichotomy.

All of which leads to monotheism's history of murderous hatred of the queer.

The various monotheisms do not use the same set of scriptures, they do not use the same set of justifications, or, in the case of Zoroastrianism, come from an entirely separate scriptural tradition, but they keep coming to the same conclusions.

But the reasons for the recurring pattern are not reasons anyone is going to use as justifications. Hence the need to create various legitimating theories when talking to non-believers (as Jews and Christians were). A need which way overshoots the actual scriptural and philosophical supports claimed for them.

Missing the irony
It turns out there is also another cost. What you do to others, others can do to you; especially if you have already set up the patterns and justifications. So Jews justified picking on pagans as against God; Christians picked that up and justified picking on pagans and Jews as against God; Muslims picked all that up, and justified picking on pagans, Jews and Christians as against God. The dhimmi, Pact/Conditions of Umar elements of Sharia are the anti-pagan, anti-Jewish laws of the Christian Roman Empire extended to Christians, theologised and generalised.

And they have all agreed about picking on the queers and never, ever saw any irony involved.

Now, in the increasingly intolerantly secular West, it is believing Christian and Jews who are on the receiving end. Folk being outraged by political correctness yet failing to see any parallels with previous gender and sexual correctness are, once again, not seeing the irony. (But, then, nor are the purveyors of political correctness at all grasping that moral fervour, far from protecting folk from being oppressive, is a great motivator and justifier of oppression.)

Though I wish queer folk would learn the lessons of history better and not join in. But it seems folk simply don't so learn, because their moral fervour is (always) true righteousness personified. Selling belief in collective moral narcissism is demonstrably a perennially easy sell.

And they always have a theory. It is just never a good one.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]