24 December 2013
An American cultural revolution
Everyone's had their say on Phil Robertson and Duck Dynasty by now, and the debate, such as it is, boils down to what's still subject to debate in the U.S. That's why Robertson's defenders can portray him as a victim of gay-lobby or cultural-elite intolerance; they want to perpetuate a debate over homosexuality that the other side presumes or wants to be closed. This isn't politics as usual; the subject isn't gay marriage but homosexuality itself, which Robertson declared not just sinful but illogical. That was a rhetorical shot fired in an ongoing cultural revolution. This sort of revolution is a closing of debate; it doesn't allow for counterrevolution. When the stakes are higher, counterrevolutionaries get shot, while Robertson faces little more than a temporary halt to part of his livelihood. But in one respect he's as much a "victim" of revolution as anyone dumped in a gulag, because the revolutionaries will allow no going back. The goal of the revolution is a world where it's unacceptable for anyone to say that homosexuality is wrong in any sense. From the revolutionary standpoint, it should be no more acceptable for anyone to assert the wrongness of homosexuality than it is for anyone to assert the inferiority of another race. To this day, you can find people who'll say that that taboo is oppressive, that it sacrifices scientific inquiry to political correctness, etc. Resistance to a similar cultural revolution against homophobia may grow more entrenched because so many homophobes deem it their duty to denounce "sin." Such resistance, should it persist, may provoke an anticlerical backlash of the sort this country hasn't seen since the days of H. L. Mencken, because this revolution rejects the characterization of homosexuality as a particular sin, and will not accept the right of conscience or religious expression as an excuse for homophobia. If the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong, the revolution says the Bible is wrong and will tolerate no contradiction. The moral neutrality of homosexuality (if not its positive good) simply isn't subject to the sort of debate the Robertsons and their apologists want to keep going. If some liberals feel that Robertson's been harshly treated by A&E, or unfairly vilified by fellow liberals, that's because their instinct is to keep debates going forever rather than compel anyone's silence. But revolutions by nature are radical, not liberal, and the passions stirred by Robertson's GQ interview acknowledge this. How long this cultural revolutionary war goes on most likely depends on how much the old regime, so to speak, feels is at stake. Perhaps I'm optimistic during the holiday season, but my gut feeling is that unless many reactionaries really feel that the revolution courts the wrath of God, they'll find other issues to make a stand on in defense of a social order that'll need more than a cultural revolution to topple it.