Homophobes: From Common Sense to Sophistry

One of the advantages of being a reactionary is being able to resort to “common sense” to defend your positions. A radical proposal, even if it is a good idea – like a Land Value Tax – or supported by tons of empirical evidence – like tackling climate change – can be stymied by appeals to “common sense.”

What you rarely hear are sophisticated arguments attempting to philosophically undermine either position. You don’t hear people claiming often that value is so intrinsically effemerable that no taxation of it is possible, they just moan about old ladies being forced out of their homes because they are asset rich but cash poor. [1] If anything resorting to sophistry is a sign that the reactionary bigots know they’re losing an argument.

And so we turn to Cardinal O’Brien who has recently said that 1) gay marriage is on a par with slavery 2) marriage is an immutable platonic ideal and so timeless and pure it cannot and must not be reformed by governments and that finally 3) defining gay marriage as real marriage would violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No. Really. All of this nonsense was said by a real person.

Controlling what counts as common sense gives you an enormous amount of power to not only silence critics but to determine the overton window within which debate occurs. For a long time homophobes helped define what common sense was, but demographics and logic has shifted common sense and majority opinion in a more liberal or accepting direction. Losing control of common sense is thus a major blow and can only really be dealt with through attempts to recapture it, capitulation, or reaching for resentiment.

O’Brien’s sort of sophistry is introduced as a sort of resentiment, focusing internal fears of losing control onto the misbehaviour of governments, or gays, or society in general. There is no choice here for O’Brien, because the reactionary can no longer appeal to “common sense” because about half of Brits think gay marriage should be fine.

So he cannot recapture it, and neither can he capitulate to it because that would be more or less impossible to reconcile with Catholicism and he knows it. So look out for shifts from “common sense” and empirics to sophistry, because it is a sure sign you’re winning whatever argument you’re having and the other person knows it.

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[1] Look, you fuck-wits, liquidity transformation is what finance is for. If we implement a Land Value Tax, a bank, building society or whatever will help people turn their illiquid assets into liquid cash, that is one of the core purposes of finance. At the moment releasing equity in a property is quite expensive, but were a million extra customers to appear then the extent of the market would quickly increase entrants and push down costs. I could write the contract myself:

“We will pay your tax for you, but on exit from the property or your death we shall demand payment of amount paid plus seven percent for each year we paid your tax. This can be met out of sale of your property or if possible and if as your last will and testament specifies from the remainder of your estate.”

Anyway, I got sidetracked…back to the top you go.

David Cameron must, sensibly, occasionally read this blog

David, yesterday.

I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage.

And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.

Me, last month.

Changing the institution of marriage might have bad effects, but there have been none from the introduction of civil partnerships six years ago, a half-way house towards full gay marriage. This implies that previous scepticism about gay partnerships, and therefore marriage, was undue. If conservatism is about scepticism then its scepticism should now have flipped.

Rather than being sceptical about the damage being done by expanding marriage, conservatives should now be sceptical about the damage being done by treating some citizens as less equal that others. If the costs of introducing gay marriage are low, as has been at least partially proven, then equality before the law should now trump diminished conservative worries about gay marriage.

Are you sure a conservative can still oppose gay marriage, @His_Grace?

[Commenting on coalition plans to introduce full gay marriage] But gay civil partnership cannot be marriage, because Parliament decrees in the State Church ‘that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful‘.

First of all, no parliament can bind a future parliament. If they want to make gay marriage legal, religious or whatever, they can make it so. It wouldn’t be the first hypocritical contortion the church has engaged in during the last 2000 years.

I must admit, a conservative disposition is a useful thing, it helps you avoid rushing to something stupid. So being sceptical about changing an institution as old as marriage is understandable, even if I disagree.

But conservatism is a flexible position, not one based on absolutes.

Changing the institution of marriage might have bad effects, but there have been none from the introduction of civil partnerships six years ago, a half-way house towards full gay marriage. This implies that previous scepticism about gay partnerships, and therefore marriage, was undue.

If conservatism is about scepticism then its scepticism should now have flipped.

Rather than being sceptical about the damage being done by expanding marriage, conservatives should now be sceptical about the damage being done by treating some citizens as less equal that others. If the costs of introducing gay marriage are low, as has been at least partially proven, then equality before the law should now trump diminished conservative worries about gay marriage.