“Not a one of us has the right to deprive any others of their humanity, regardless of the provocation.”
[This blog was originally published on MySpace in September 2010. MySpace, as many of you no doubt already know, has completely messed up their blogging utility, especially comments, which was the best part of this particular blog. I’ve reconstructed the comment threads down below, as well.]
The following discussion is in response to Denese’s blog, “Why does it matter so much to you who loves whom?” With Denese’s cooperation, I’ve posted this here because it is just WAY too long to be posted as a comment on someone else’s blog. To read Denese’s blog (which I strongly recommend), click here.
An understanding of human ontology (which includes the spiritual!) is vitally important–I would add that it is important as an ongoing recursive process, rather than as something we must nail down first before taking action. We are not omniscient. (Instead,) we do create meaning. Within certain gross borders (“gross” as in “generally defined, moving target”) the landscape of possibility for human endeavor is virtually infinite, and nothing–NOTHING–is written in stone (pardon the biblical reference, but this, too, is perhaps a part of our Christian narrative that needs to be examined). So, it is not possible to nail everything down first.
[Note: a friend of mine speaks in terms of “placing a peg in the sand” in contrast to “nailing things down.” I like this because it allows you to set parameters for a specific discussion without sacrificing flexibility for change. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a lot easier to move a peg in the sand than a nail.]
I have been dancing around the words “hierarchical xenophobia” for a while now with you folks, mainly because I am not well enough versed in the idea to be convinced that an innate (or instinctive) tendency to “hierarchy” and “xenophobia” exists for humans; that it does (or that it is claimed to) is often used as an argument to support a “laissez-faire” approach to problem solving (i.e., “we can’t help it”). Instead, I would argue that whether or not it is innate is beside the point. The point is we DO this, yet we also and quite obviously DO have an innate ability to think, make choices, and act.
What is hierarchical xenophobia?
Hierarchy, in this case, is the tendency in humans to assign relative value to human beings and human endeavor within a social system.
Fair enough, eh? Yet typically, and certainly in modern times in the US, this scale of relative value is vertical; that is, it has a top and a bottom. The top is highly valued and considered “good,” the bottom is less valued, and can be considered “bad” or at least marginal and/or incidental, with a sea of degree of value in between these two points. What I observe about this is that, whereas it may be that assigning relative value is a given since we DO and WILL create meaning–to my knowledge, for example, it is not possible to know about something without comparing it to what it “is not”–the shape or structure of the framework for assigning value is not inevitably a vertical scale, with a top and a bottom such that some people win while others lose. What happens typically with this vertical scale of ours is that there are two definitions of “value” that are conflated and periodically mistaken for each other: value that is relative to a specific endeavor versus value that is nearly arbitrarily assigned and has to do with taken-for-intrinsic general worth (moral value). A friend of mine might call this an “off by one error.” We come up with a model for a social system, but then we mistake this model for the reality, and thus it loses flexibility, becomes static, and eventually it fails us.
By way of contrast, consider what might happen if we assigned relative value on a horizontal scale–one which emphasizes collaboration (which tends to place humans and human well-being at the center of any endeavor), as opposed to competition. Food for thought, to be sure, but in the meantime this is an example pointing to the idea that “vertical” is not the only answer, and is thus not inevitable (which, if you think about it, says a lot about imagination and our ability to create meaning–i.e., even things that don’t actually exist can be real–different blog for later, kay?).
Xenophobia? Here’s a quote from the good ol’ Wikipedia, which in my opinion is succinct enough for this discussion:
“Xenophobia is an irrational, deep-rooted fear of or antipathy towards foreigners. It comes from the Greek words (xenos), meaning “stranger,” “foreigner” and (phobos), meaning “fear.” Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity. Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an ‘uncritical exaltation of another culture’ in which a culture is ascribed ‘an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality’.”
So. “A fear of losing identity,” and “an uncritical exaltation of another culture in which a culture is ascribed ‘an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality.” To me, again whether or not this is intrinsic to human behavior, xenophobia means that we assume there must be some kind of ultimate “right” that is static and never changes regardless of any new knowledge or understanding, and which we may use to settle our identity. I would hazard that for many who practice homophobia, fearing loss of sexual identity is a big factor–and in our culture, MIND YOU, sexual identity, ESPECIALLY male sexual identity, is inextricably tied to our model of hierarchy, which has to do with the preeminence of the heterosexual “masculine” male. So, in order for homosexuality to become entirely acceptable, on the surface it seems we’d have to unravel our current system of social hierarchy, which for many, if not most, may mean a significant change in personal identity. This is a big deal, eh? I’d say be careful about sneering at “fundamentalists.” The fear is real and very painful, and you are asking them to give up or at least significantly change something huge.
I can’t believe I just weighed in on the side of fundamentalists. But if you read carefully, actually I didn’t. What I said was get your compassion and have it firmly in place. After all, not a one of us has the right to deprive others of their humanity, regardless of the provocation.
All THAT said, what to do? I gave a hint of what I think when I italicized the word uncritical in the first line of the paragraph but one above. Instead of being uncritical–that is, taking as given and unquestionable our standards for valuing ourselves and others–we need to be critical. We need to think about how we think and what we do, how it affects others, and how others doing the same thing affects us.
An example of taking as given might be the practice of “cherry picking” the bible for quotes that can be arranged to support one’s vested point of view and presenting conclusions based on this superficial read as a rigorously inclusive and universal correctness. Another example is taking the bible as a seamless, non-self-contradicting rule book to start with, rather than as the living historical guide that it actually is, and which does not anywhere presuppose that you have no need to do your own thinking. That so many of us practice the former rather than the latter is indication of the discomfort of existing in uncertainty with a seemingly endless field of unknowns. On the other hand, that the bible exists to begin with is evidence that this discomfort has been known for quite some time, and several really smart somebodies over course of history tried to help mitigate this discomfort by coming up with a conglomerative narrative that has as its entry point the idea of orthopraxy in conjunction with orthodoxy, in that orthopraxy allows us to be critical of our beliefs for their consequences.
This orthopraxy is inherent in the idea of Love Thy Neighbor, part of our Christian narrative. Does this mean will yourself to do so regardless of any discomfort you feel? NO! This means WHEN you feel discomfort, look at it directly in the face and seek to resolve it, even if the best you can manage is to hang the problem on God’s hook and let him deal with it, if you can’t find it in yourself to do so at any given time. This does NOT mean resolve your discomfort by eliminating (or at least marginalizing) your “non-orthodox” neighbor so that therefore the question of loving him becomes moot.
Another example of orthopraxy in narrative is the idea of “turn the other cheek.” Does this mean if someone abuses you, you must literally offer the other side of your face so that they may continue the abuse? No. Who does this? None of us, it’s nearly impossible, which is why none of us enjoys things like oppression. Does this mean give up your identity in favor of the one being imposed by the abuser? No. This rather means seek to resolve having been shamed (aka “loss of face” aka identity) in a context that actually solves the problem, rather than simply evening the score. “Vengeance is mine” (more Christian narrative). Is this because God wishes to maintain his authority? No, my interpretation is that this is because only God knows enough to be able to do it properly–the corollary being we DON’T. Turn the other cheek means to try to understand who you’re dealing with and/or the surrounding context of the situation. Work toward and attempt to enact a solution that renders having your cheek slapped a moot point. Sometimes, again, this may mean hanging someone or something on God’s hook. And don’t forget, there’s a LOT of us other humans running around (6.7 billion). There may be others working on the same problem who have resources you don’t that will allow them to make further progress, but from which progress you will still benefit. It’s not all on you.
Currently in the US (since I’m most familiar with it), it is my opinion that we are something of a “hostage population.” What I mean by this is that whereas we live and enjoy a relative life of plenty (so far), at least materially, especially compared to many other parts of the world, yet we are circumscribed and constrained significantly in our ability to act as individuals AND as a cohesive community. Strife, though subtle (and sometimes not so subtle), is rampant in that we are victims of an insidious campaign (whether or not it is deliberate) of divide and conquer, in which our fears are used against us as cattle prods to separate us not only from each other but from God (or more generically, a spiritual life) and ourselves, so that the focus is almost entirely in favor of that material existence–and the structure of that material existence favors the status quo, with a very small group of individuals occupying the top of a material vertical hierarchy.
What does this have to do with gay rights? The same thing it has to do with all other “rights,” which is that we buy into the idea that we all have a vested interest in, and are even dependent upon, the status quo, and that this status quo must be preserved at all costs, even to the extent of rendering a huge and growing portion of the population into the chaotic realm of the lunatic fringe as outcasts, in which, ironically, all we have left for sustaining our personal identities depends on maintaining that same status quo.
If you’d like an example of what I’m talking about, consider this article: Revisiting Megan’s Law. This article discusses some of the consequences of this law, brought into being by a brutal offense against a child by a sex offender who had already been convicted twice of sexual abuse crimes, in terms of its effect on innocent citizens, convicted sex offenders, and the larger surrounding communities. What it does not directly address is why is it laws like these come into being, except in terms of “feel good legislation.” I would posit a more sinister reason: it is easier to control sheep who do not ask questions or think, and “feel good legislation” is a slam dunk.
In the meantime, my suggestion is this: Think. About. It. Let no question be so sacrosanct that it is above being asked.
Questions like “is this REALLY a problem, and if so, how did it come into being? What sustains it as a problem?” And perhaps especially important: RELAX!! “Expectations do not come to fruition all at the same pace.” It should be clear by now that humans don’t poof full blown into existence, rather we evolve. We come into being via process. Guarantees are not necessary, even if they were possible. Fear does happen. But it is an indicator of a problem, not the problem itself. Don’t succumb to it by trying to eliminate your enemy–by discrimination, oppression, scape-goating, assault, outright murder, etc. Instead, seek to understand its real source, then seek to mitigate that source.
We can choose who to be and how to act.
Yes, I’m suggesting that there is nothing inherently wrong with homosexuality. We can live with it. It does, after all, take its shape from love, especially if we can all get it through our thick skulls that “homosexuality” does NOT mean “promiscuity.” If it did, ALL homosexual individuals would be promiscuous, which is clearly not the case. It does not mean “effeminate” (and by the way, just what exactly is so bad about the feminine? Not to stir the mud or anything…). If it did, then ALL homosexual individuals would be effeminate. It does not mean criminal, except insofar as our laws are designed to define this activity as criminal. It also does not mean “pervert,” except insofar as it is perceived as a threat by a group of individuals who feel that in order to find homosexuality acceptable, they must themselves become homosexual. Homosexuality, in keeping with the same process that is operational for heterosexuality (which shouldn’t surprise anyone, since all humans are, well, human), takes as its starting point a meeting of minds in love, and this does not mean you have to be using big words when you’re having sex (I’m sure!! Not even I do that!! LMAO!), it means that you recognize, acknowledge and partake of another’s soul in respect and desire according to the person you are, in context with your social milieu. Let me point out that homosexuality is embedded in the larger social context of general sexuality, and intersects with all other forms of human interaction, either directly or indirectly, via the myriad miasma of relationships that tie us all together.
If homosexuality bothers anyone, the problem is not that there is necessarily something wrong with individuals who practice it. I’m sure. The problem is a narrative which is exclusionary, upon which we build our identities, such that change (as in when the excluded items inevitably raise their heads) becomes extremely painful and scary. We have a dominant narrative (aka convention) right now that says in order to be good, you must be “straight.” Is this true? How does homosexuality cause harm to the individual and to the community? Is the harm genuine, or is it as a result of that very exclusion? IF you can bring yourself to ask questions like this, honestly and in good faith, it will be because you have figured out that it IS possible for an entire belief system to have flaws, and because you have reconciled yourself to the idea that this is a natural consequence of the fact that we don’t know everything all at once, rather we evolve, AND that the thing to do is not to throw up our hands in panic and seek to eliminate the object of the flaw, rather the flaw itself. Your beliefs may be in need of a bit of refinement, in other words. I will say explicitly that this does NOT mean you must be willing to have sex with people whom you are not attracted to, which of course includes members of the same sex. Just that you can’t push YOUR standards of attraction on others based on an ethnocentric and hard-boiled sense of identity that has no basis in actually being good, but rather in being “right.”
If you’re not good, then being right is kinda pointless, eh? If right does not achieve good, how is it right? Facts must be interpreted within a context that examines how the fact was arrived at, by whom, under what motivation, and in terms of the consequences for individuals and the community. Truth tends to be relative to one’s objective.
Once again, not a one of us has the right to deprive others of their humanity, regardless of the provocation. If you can get a grip on this idea, it’ll solve a whole lotta problems before they even become problems.
Aaaaand under the heading of “Be Careful What You Ask For,” it occurs to me to ask this question: what is marriage just in general? What’s the idea? And how does marriage ACTUALLY play out in the grand scheme of things, particularly in terms of explicit material law? I agree that some kind of structure is needed that governs the practical aspects of daily life, but is marriage as defined and extantly manifested in our culture doing its job to the benefit of individuals and community? Can it be improved? Does it serve as a form of cohesiveness for the community? In what way? What do we want out of marriage and are we getting it, say, nine times out of ten? Does it serve as a form of discrimination? How so? Who is included and who is excluded, and why, and what are the consequences of this?
“I believe the world HAS plenty of love, what the world needs is systems (faith structures, governance, education, economic infrastructure, interpersonal relationship norms, etc.) that do not punish us for sharing it.”
PS Assuming you made it this far, and would like to really let me have it in terms of criticizing what I’ve said, or perhaps even more importantly, what I have NOT said, here’s a tip about how to be successful: Go read this article.
If you do, you’ll be able to hang me out to dry. Or, we’ll become friends for life. Likely both!
12:01 PM 58 Comments 9 Kudos