Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dangerous Lives

(Boys Will Be Boys)

There is an article posted on Red Dreher’s Crunchy Cons site, called “The dangerous lives of boys.” A rather lively discussion has been shut down there, noting that “a pretty sick threat has been made, implicitly, and the police have been called.” Fair enough, we live in a dangerous world. Dreher had cited at length from a Catholic writer and scholar, named Tony Esolen who "has some wise and astonishingly un-p.c. words about sexuality, the abuse scandal, and masculinity." I am all for un-p.c. words, no matter what their political point of view. We should all learn to argue with each other in un-p.c. words. The discussion, before its untimely demise, rambled through some predictable paradigms, but fell short.

Esolen is concerned about boys. He is mortified by the institutional record of his church, because “to seduce a boy, to corrupt his manhood while it is yet in the bud, is to sin against his nature, his essential created being.” Well and good. Then, Esolen takes a leap of logic, though hardly of faith, to observe “Governments and foundations shovel money into programs to teach math and science specifically to girls, but not a penny, not for any subject, devoted specifically to boys. Why is that? Nowadays in some places a boy growing up with a father is as rare as an orphan used to be. These boys need more than ever the male discipline of sports -- so what do we do about it? We cut their rosters. Sometimes, against common sense, against plain decency and charity, we force the boys to play on the same teams with girls, even when there are girls' teams available. Why that happy cruelty?”

Several comments responded that it is unfair to take money away from girl’s programs to compensate for the Roman church subjecting boys to sexual abuse. It was hardly the fault of girls presently still in their childhood that priests now in the fifties or eighties subjected boys who are now adults to unspeakable horrors. That is an obvious and entirely valid riposte. But don’t write off Esolen. He’s not all wrong.

“Now of all times, when fatherhood itself is under siege from no-fault divorce, from feminism, from a sneeringly misandrist educational system, from popular culture, and from our chase of the almighty dollar at the cost of sanity and order at home, in short from the manifold sins of men and women, now of all times we need a St. John Bosco. ... The boys are invisible, and now that our Church has caved in ever so slightly but ever so noticeably on the issue of homosexuality, it has helped ensure that men with vocations to work with boys will not be able to fulfill them. Did it never occur to our soft-minded leaders that one of the reasons why we cordon off male homosexuality as unnatural is to give boys the breathing room to develop such friendships as Jesus Himself enjoyed?”

I said he’s not ALL wrong. Several cynical commentators wrote off that entire line of thought. Others defended it tooth and nail. I would like to suggest that what Esolen offers, stripped of its pretensions to universality, is ONE PART of what the world needs, what our culture needs, what SOME boys need. Sort of.

I particularly appreciated the repartee between one Franklin Evans and his counter-point, Rich:

“How about programs, period? How about setting aside gender discrimination and judging children on their skills, merit and potential instead of first dividing them into boys and girls?”

“Because boys and girls are fundamentally different. The differences between the genders is not just a social construct, no matter how much people wish it so. It is a difference in biology. They behave differently because their brains function differently.

Franklin, since you seem worked up over sports, let's take Title IX as an example. It compels equal sports spending between the sexes. On the face of it this sounds fair and reasonable. But what if girls are just less interested in sports than boys? What do you do then? Well we know because we have a couple of decades of experience. You eliminate sports programs for boys and devote resources to recruiting girls into athletics. You make the numbers balance or else.

You mention vocational training. Are boys and girls equally interested in pursuing careers as plumbers or welders or mechanics or carpenters? Of course not. But most such programs are a thing of the past because our schools now assume that every kid should be on a college track. Now females outnumber males in colleges almost 60/40.”

Nomilk later responded to Evans “Typical liberal flight from reality. I take it you don't have children, but guess what? Boys and girls are different and need different educations.”

Now let’s really be real here. There are fundamental differences between boys and girls. There are also fundamental differences between one boy and another, between one girl and another. Some boys are urgently in need of “the male discipline of sports.” Other boys can do fine without it, or only wish to play now and then. Some girls are motivated by role models who are professional basketball players – and as a male who only watches occasionally, I find the women’s league is more interesting, because it shows more strategy and teamwork.

Let’s try a little un-p.c. diversity. Boys who do well in, or desire, an all-boys school, should not be denied such a thing just because some boys, and some girls, do well in a co-ed school. Some boys might even end up there because their parents decide it is best for them. Some girls, likewise, will do better in an all girls school. It is entirely possible that some fields will attract more women and some fields will attract more men. Larry Summers may have been right that there just aren’t as many women who want to be engineers as there are men who want to be engineers. (Disclosures: my mother was a very good industrial engineer, and she agrees. Every woman doesn’t have to follow in her footsteps.)

Some juvenile delinquents will shape up with the discipline and role model of a he-man adult male who will challenge them to “be a man.” Devotion to feminist paradigms should not deprive them of the experience. (Incidentally, done right, the he-man adult male role model COULD include being respectful to women – if we go down this road, let’s make sure that it does.) Some perfectly well-balanced boys will retreat into themselves and become anti-social if forced to endure the he-man treatment. Let’s not try to force anyone into stereotypes, but keep lots of options available. The hard part is, can we do this without ending up giving 90% of the money to boys-only activities, 9% of the money to co-ed, and 1% of the money to girls-only, while 50% of each sex is in single-sex mode, and a full 50% of each sex is in co-ed? We don’t want to go back to the “good old days,” because as Moms Mabley said, “There wasn’t any good old days.”

Then Charles Foster Kane, who may be signing in as himself, offers this challenge to Esolen:

"Did it never occur to our soft-minded leaders that one of the reasons why we cordon off male homosexuality as unnatural is to give boys the breathing room to develop such friendships as Jesus Himself enjoyed? In poisoned air the most salutary meal will smell sour."

“I hope the fact that nobody's eviscerated that remark yet doesn't mean that gay readers are finally abandoning this blog. Memo to Rod: If you don't like being called out for homophobia, maybe think twice before endorsing remarks that label homosexuality as "poison," and that use the word "boys" to mean straight boys only. I mean, that's Bigotry 101.”

Once again, let’s try a little un-P.C. diversity. Fixation on homosexuality really does infringe on perfectly healthy friendships and mentoring between heterosexual males. If I give a young man a hug, am I being “gay”? No, it can be an important reassurance, nothing sexual about it. But concern over certain men in positions of trust who did perform unwanted sexual acts on vulnerable boys casts a pall of suspicion on perfectly appropriate non-sexual affection from a man to a boy.

Kane apparently is standing up for homosexuality being healthy, as did another commentator earlier, who challenged Dreher about “the healthy masculine instinct toward homosexuality that exists in those men or boys who are gay. Or indeed healthy instincts - masculine or feminine, gay or straight - toward sexuality in general.” I don’t buy that. Assuming that a certain percentage of young men, and young women, will develop a natural sexual affection for their own sex, rather than the opposite sex, even so, most of us do not. No matter how it makes individuals of a formerly persecuted and now pampered minority feel, their hormonal responses are NOT the norm. They never will be.

There is nothing wrong with offering boys companionship and adult role models based on the heterosexual norm, which is precisely what most need. If they seek out homosexual role models and mentors, I wouldn’t steer them away, but, I would remind everyone concerned that adult sexuality with a child is a crime, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Complicated? Sure it is. Life is complicated. Here is another complication: there is no reason a homosexually inclined male can’t teach a normal heterosexually inclined boy about math, science, woodworking, or coach him in rugby – the only thing said adult should not do is flirt with the young man. Neither should an adult woman teacher.

Dreher threw in a comment about pedophilia in the church: “Tony hits on something that to me, was one of the most astonishing mysteries about the whole foul business: why almost nobody, when learning what molester priests were doing to boys, acted like a real man, and stopped it. Not bishops, not brother priests (for the most part), and not laymen. You may hate me for saying this, but if some men of the parish had taken Father Pederast out back and beat the hell out of him, and run him out of the parish, a lot of this evil wouldn't have happened. But rightful Church authority was deployed to neuter healthy masculine instincts at every level.”

Some people objected to the “vigilantism,” or to Dreher’s reference to “healthy masculine instincts,” but several professedly gay commentators said they had the same “healthy masculine instincts.” A member of Dignity (for those who don’t know, that is an organization of gay Roman Catholics) recounted efforts by Dignity to bring priestly pedophilia to the attention of a bishop, who ignored them.

Let’s stop pretending there are simple answers, much less pretending that “what works for me is the simple answer for everyone else in the whole world – or at least everyone who shares my sex.” My way or the highway is the essence of political correctness. Human beings are extremely complex, and varied. It takes incredible hubris to say we understand exactly what any human being needs. It takes the same hubris to say either that all boys should make the football team, or that all boys should play with dolls, to say that girls are just going to spend their lives cooking and cleaning house, or to say that all girls should want to be astronauts. Some will. Some won’t. Solutions are individual. Gender differences are real. Solutions are individual.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Nuking Gay Whales for Jesus

Rod Dreher, who is not quite as red a Tory as I would like him to be, has posted some interesting material on politically committed people who ask how dare you disagree with whatever the speaker is passionate about. The question happened to come up with regard to gay and transgender issues, but no political clan has a monopoly on priggish self-righteousness. Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, Karl Rove, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and a host of others have been known to puff themselves up over the audacity of anyone who offers a contrary opinion, or lives their life in a manner that disproves a cherished assumption. Generally, people do this by analogy. Everyone’s favorite analogy is the civil rights movement, or slavery, or both. These analogies are generally self-serving, misleading, and unworthy of any cause capable of standing on its own two feet.

Contrary to popular delusion, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1930s to the 1970s was not about everyone’s right to do their own thing. Nor was it about demanding that everyone notice that some of our fellow citizens were black, or colored, or Afro-American, or whatever the term du jour was. That is a basic difference between African Americans and gay Americans: we could all see at a glance who was African American. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans with a congenital melanin deficiency thought that was a significant distinction. Equally unfortunately, a lot of darker-skinned Americans came to believe them, lending skin color some added significance. Not so for gays. Gay Americans had to jump up and down and scream “look at me look at me look at me.” They wanted us to take notice of their hormonal state as a significant distinction. (Oh, are you gay? Do I care? Is there any reason I should?) OK, if they all got together at a gay bar, the NYC cops knew where to find them. But they had to congregate to even be noticed. African Americans had the opposite problem.

Nobody wrote laws saying “gay men and women may not marry.” Many states wrote laws saying “men of one color or national origin may not marry women of another color or national origin.” Is the difference clear? Someone had to go out of their way to make race a criterion. It’s called “positive law,” not meaning good, but that the law made a distinction that does not exist naturally. (Come to think of it, nobody ever required separate bathrooms for gay men and women, although that would make a lot more sense than separate bathrooms for “colored” and “white.”) Nobody writing marriage laws was even thinking about gay men and women, much less discriminating against them. There was this biological function which pre-dated human history, which involved a man and a woman, and it needed a social context. Every gay man IS a man, and every gay woman IS a woman. If it were not so, the notion of “gay,” or the more technical term “homosexual,” would have no meaning at all. How can you be a same-sex couple if you don’t have a sexual identity? Marriage was something a man entered into with a woman. Men, married or not, also did various other things in their lives, but they were not relevant to marriage. Ditto for women.

Even in the many human cultures where homosexual acts were accepted and respected, such as ancient Greece, Persia, medieval Japan, nobody thought it had anything to do with marriage. Greek men married the women who bore their legitimate heirs, played around with prostitutes for pleasure, and had satisfying liaisons with fellow warriors when away from home for several years, sacking Troy or conquering Babylon or whatever. Remember Achilles love for Patroclus? Alexander the Great was famous for the passionate kiss he gave the late Persian Shahanshah’s favorite boy. But nobody called it a marriage. Everyone knew that homosexuality, however acceptable, was statistically a deviation from the biological norm for the human species, or any other species more complex than a sponge or a hydra.

Now personally, I have nothing against the state issuing licenses to two men, or two women, who think they can have a life-long committed monogamous relationship, and want to share property, hospital visitation rights, etc. I don’t much care whether it is called a marriage or not. But it is a new innovation, it is not “equal rights” to something “everyone else has.” Rights are vested in individuals, not demographic groups. Every individual man has the right to marry any individual woman who will have him. Some men, and some women, don’t want to exercise that right.

Animal rights activists are even more ridiculous trying to draw analogies to the Civil Rights and abolitionist movements. I am just old enough to have lived, as a small child, at a time when a man with dark skin walking into a bar would be charged a dollar more than a customer classified as “white.” Why? Because when he finished drinking, the glass he used would be smashed to the bottom of the trash can, so that no “white” customer ever had to use it. I wasn’t old enough to hang out in bars then, I read about it later, described by people who were. Essentially, the bartenders were responding the same way I responded when I saw a bowl, that I might have eaten cereal out of, used to provide water for a dog. I marked that bowl carefully, and made sure never to eat out of it. What has that to do with animal rights? Simply this: when animal rights activists compare themselves to the Civil Rights movement, they are implicitly saying “The problem wasn’t that our nation used to treat Negroes like dogs, the problem is that we still treat dogs the way we used to treat Negroes.”

Now if you really love animals, you might claim that there is no difference between the rights due to a dog and the rights due to a human being. But most African Americans would strenuously object to the comparison, as would most other human beings. Homo sapiens sapiens are not canines, just as being gay is not “the new black.” IF there is a case to be made for equality of humans with other mammals, it must be made on its own merits, not by analogy to how humans treat other humans. I, for one, do not buy it. I don’t allow cute little furry animals in my house, whether domesticated or not. I wonder how devoted cat lovers would respond to a “mouse liberation movement”? Would they teach their little darlings to be vegetarian? (OK, I’m sure somewhere there IS a Vegan who has gotten their cat to embrace such dietary principles, but it is pretty darn rare.)

That is the next problem with analogies from one liberation movement to the next. There has never in human history been a newly liberated bunch of people who didn’t turn around and clobber some other oppressed people. Americans fought England, among other things, for the right to exterminate and dispossess Shawnee, Cherokee, Iroquois, Creek, Choctaw, Fox, Sauk, Ottowa, and many others. Whatever the merits of Israel’s war for independence, it has ended up a wealthy and militarily powerful force lording it over a subject population which accordingly hates it. When the Dutch threw off Spanish rule, they proceeded to take over the slave trade from Portugal and establish some of the most brutal plantation economies the world had ever seen. Etc. Etc. Etc. When people who associate with each other as “gay” get a steady run of good press, they demand that everyone else rearrange their religious principles to accommodate the new dominant cultural czars.

What are the rights and reasonable expectations of Gay men and gay women, who are offended by a church teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin? About the same right as a social drinker and wine connoisseur, on the one hand, or an alcoholic, on the other, who is offended by a church teaching that drinking alcohol is a sin. Give it up, or don’t join that church. Join a church that is prepared, socially and theologically, to accept what you are not willing to give up. Is that all right with God? I don’t know, I’m not God. There are no guarantees. You will have to work around, or reject, certain rather pointed verses in the Torah and in Paul’s epistles, to justify yourself. Don’t go crying to me, make up your own mind. As long as I am not put at risk by your behavior, I won’t try to stop you. Leviticus also prohibits eating crabs, lobster and scallops. Millions of Christians have rationalized their way around it.

Animal rights activists have the nerve to demand that I must LOVE their dirty, disease-ridden, over-pampered little parasites. I don’t. I also am not “in solidarity with” gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgenders. I think its all kind of disgusting. There are people who have been friends of mine who defined themselves as gay. I have never had any problem hugging them, in the same spirit I could hug a married man (or woman) after church. They knew the difference, I knew they knew. I am not really interested in what it is they do that defines them as “gay.” That is their own private business. It has nothing to do with why we were friends. It was no obstacle to being friends. As for those devoted to animals, I refrain from exterminating domestic pets, the way I feel free to exterminate other mammals, such as rats. But I don’t love the little critters.

It is in the nature of constitutional government that we ARE going to offend each other. If we all appreciated every word of each other’s speech, we wouldn’t need guarantees of free speech in the first place. If my speech offends you, be an adult about it. If your speech offends me, I will carefully parse it, analyze it, tell you why you are wrong, and not really expect you to agree with me. Grow up everyone. And let your own beliefs, ideas, goals and causes speak for themselves. Don’t borrow someone else’s cause as a cloak to wrap up your own.