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The Prince Of Puerility

[ 0 ] February 16, 2006 |

Ezra noticed perhaps the most ludicrous part (and it’s a tough call, given that he’s doing stuff like comparing box office takes from two weeks of ride release versus F 9/11′s entire run) of Mickey Kaus’s interminable jihad against Brokeback Mountain: his claim that giving gay people equal rights will involve “actual differences in behavior”–unlike racial integration. This is so baldly stupid that to say that Kaus is just being dishonest is the charitable interpretation. Is he really arguing that Truman’s racial integration of the Armed Forces–when many soldiers were products of the Jim Crow south, and over the objections of a general who when he succeeded Truman would inform the Chief Justice of the United States that southern segregationists were good people who were understandably worried that their “sweet little girls be seated alongside some big black bucks”–didn’t require any behavioral changes? Take your pick: either a man who is scandalously ignorant of even the basic facts of American history is being paid to talk about politics, or he’s willing to make up abject nonsense in order to justify his homophobia. Not a pretty set of alternatives.

But even leaving aside the ahistorical nature of the argument, it proves far too much. We’re all familiar with this kind of complacent reactionary: “I’m all for the social change I support in the abstract–unless it causes anybody any discomfort, requires people to change, or adversely affects entrenched interests in any way.” These kinds have arguments have been routinely used against all struggles for social justice, and the difference between Kausian “liberals” who make them and outright reactionaries is nothing, except that the greasy coating of bad faith makes the former much less palatable–obviously, no social change meets this test, so there’s no difference between the two positions in practice. Moreover, of course, if the claim is that introducing the possibility of sexual tension into the workplace is intolerable, this is also an argument against heterosexual men and women working together.

But wait–at least Mickey is consistent. Here he is (in the course of, natch, defending the virulently homophobic Robert Knight):

Doesn’t Mr. Knight have a point? I was thinking some of the same things myself–in particular that the public tolerance for porn contributed to the Abu Ghraib scandal (certainly to the willingness of soldiers to preserve the images on CDs). And the story of Private Lynndie England is not exactly a triumph for the new sex-integrated military (or for the broader argument that you can introduce new sexual dynamics into a long-standing institutional environment without any ill effects).

Um, excuse me? What the hell does Lynndie England say about “the sex-integrated military?” If you look at the very first photo in Salon’s horrifying Abu Ghraib collection, you’ll note that a male soldier is engaged in the sexual humiliation of a prisoner. Can we infer from this that Abu Ghraib is a severe setback for the idea of men serving in the military? Is Kaus arguing that sadism and torture were absent from taking prisoners in wartime until women started serving in the armed forces? Is he saying that women should only be permitted to join the military if they don’t break rules that men are also breaking in dismayingly large numbers? It’s not clear, but there’s certainly no interpretation of these remarks that renders them anything but utter idiocy unless you just have an a priori opposition to women serving in the military. And, again, we see his bizarre obsession with the strawman that “you can introduce new sexual dynamics into a long-standing institutional environment without any ill effects,” implying that this should be a robust argument against changing the arrangements (which, again, is also an argument against heterosexual women being allowed to work with heterosexual men in virtually any context.) Obviously, that modest changes in behavior are required is no reason to oppose social justice, or to limit important social positions to heterosexual males. Yes, sure, human sexuality can present problems in ordinary human relations, no way around it. Still, I think there are two principles that people with some maturity realize, and which allow them to overcome the idea of mixed-gender (or mixed sexual orientation) work environments: 1)people will, in the course of day-to-day life, sometimes be attracted to people they encounter–and sometimes this will not be welcomed by the attractee, and 2)you cannot have a sexual relationship with everybody you find attractive. There are a few Mickey Kauses who can never stop tittering about it; everybody else learns to grow up. And how badly would you want to share a foxhole with someone who isn’t mature enough to learn how to deal with it?

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