Monday, June 2, 2014

The Real War on the Family

Today I am rather upset.  For some time now, I have lived in an apartment complex with unrepentant hypocrites, punks who are perfectly happy making trouble for me (drunken parties at all hours, furniture falling the middle of the night, ear-ringing music, singing, cleaning, running, jumping, moving, whatever) but periodically complain--quite insistently--that my kids make more trouble than they can possibly be expected to bear (running, playing, laughing, being punk kids).  I accept that my kids are sometimes obnoxious.  I try to contain them.  I do not accept that this requires me to abandon my job (to become a full-time denizen of local parks with my offspring), to force my wife to abandon her job (she works at home), to chain my kids to the wall with gags when they are in the house, or anything similar (e.g. the demand that no movement occur in our house after 7 PM: sometimes, people have to go the bathroom; sheets get pooped on and must be washed; kids wake up scared and need to be comforted as part of putting them back down, etc.).  My neighbors' obnoxious insensitivity is an acute stress in my life, and the life of my family, which does not live quieter or more peacefully as a result of constant complaints and threats (overt and implicit) from people living close to us.

Periodically I hear rumors that there is a war on the family, that the family is under attack in America (or the West or the world generally), and that the Enemy is some ideology or behavior that is "weird" or "unnatural" or "non-sharia" (forbidden in some holy book like the Bible).  Frequently the Enemy is called out as homosexuality or liberalism (conceived in a very odd fashion) or non-Christianity (some religion that is obviously neither Christian nor Jewish; Jews get something of a pass for being ur-Christians and enduring the Holocaust).  Most recently, my ears have been subjected to a more or less unremitting din that the Enemy is using "gay marriage" (in particular) as a tool to destroy families like mine, which happens to be cis-gendered heterosexual with kids (a picture-perfect image of what the religious right in America has decided to call "the traditional family").  Let me lay my cards out in the open here: I have serious rational doubts that "gay marriage" of any kind represents a serious threat to my family or families like mine.  I hear from time to time that government recognition of "gay marriage" as a thing will force churches to solemnize unions against their creed.  That is nonsense.  As a heterosexual, I have no right to a Jewish wedding.  I cannot make a rabbi marry me; the fact that my local courthouse will marry me changes nothing about my relationship with my local rabbi.  The Mormon wedding I had, in the Salt Lake Temple (very beautiful!), did not permit a sizable number of friends and family to be in attendance.  The fact that the local courthouse would have made them welcome did not--and does not--change that.  The push to make us all marry the same way, to make there be something we call "the American marriage" (and worship together as an entire nation), strikes me as fundamentally evil (fascist, authoritarian, destructive, arrogant)--and frankly un-American, insofar as it violates the clear strain of disestablishmentarianism that runs through the American experiment from its inception (in the 18th century).  I don't want the power to make other people marry the way I would marry, to make them live as I want to live, to make them have kids as I want to have them, to make them make noise the way I do, etc.   

The American religious right wants me to believe that my marriage is not real (or legal, or safe, or useful to me in public venues like the court) unless it passes muster with a board of experts or elders somewhere (who might be nice, reasonable people or raging lunatics: that is irrelevant).  For these people, the greatest threats to my family arise from "weirdos" who live outside it (e.g. homosexuals)--and must be forced to keep their weirdness in check.  I have long felt that this is simply bullshit, that the real threats to my family are more mundane.  I think the collapse of American social institutions (non-governmental organization and associations, small businesses, small churches, small schools, small farms) that has been going on since before the Great Depression is more threatening to my family, and "the family" generally (however anyone conceives it), than gay marriage (which doesn't threaten the family at all).  The people killing families in America are those who support corrupt business (Wall Street), corrupt government (Washington and most state legislatures), and corrupt religion (big churches and schools who care more for their own power, and bottom-line, than for the well-being of the people who fill their pews or their classrooms).  The thing that all these corrupt forces have in common is bigness: the worst organizations are always the huge ones, pretending to serve millions (which in practice means serving thousands well at the expense of treating ten-thousands badly). 

Want to know who really has it in for my family--and the family generally?  Here is my beginner's list: the Federal Reserve, the White House (no matter who occupies it), the Senate, Congress, the Pentagon, GoldmanSachs, JPMorganChase, Citibank, General Motors, Merck, Pfizer, TimeWarner, Comcast, Harvard, University of Michigan, Monsanto.  These motherfuckers, and people like them, people who expect society to eat their failures while they reap outlandish profits for success, represent a serious ongoing threat to the family's existence.  Want to confirm my bias?  Go read about every industry these people wreck: healthcare, housing, travel, banking, education.  It is always the same.  They come in with huge mounds of capital, wipe out competition from small competitors (which operate close to failure as a rule), and then use government goons as their enforcers--writing laws to make it impossible (or at least really hard) for people like me to get decent shelter, healthcare, travel, food, or religion without putting money in their greedy fists.  When the service they provide is lousy--when I am poisoned by bad debt, bad education, bad religion, iatrogenic medicine, etc.--they blame me (for being ignorant and foolish: "if you took proper care of yourself, loser, you would be like our star performer, Ms. X, over here, who is putting her Harvard degree to good use!") and keep right on trucking, selling their schlock to dumb kids like me who have yet to be burned (and lose their house, their travel, their career, their time, their relationships, their money, their illusions, their dreams).  And then monied interests on the religious right come in and put all kinds of effort into banning gay marriage, like that matters.  I am being strangled slowly by the Great Society that saved my grandparents and great-grandparents' bacon, but we cannot notice that.  No, it cannot be that "the family" is under threat today from ordinary human beings (most of them heterosexual, male, and white, just like me!) doing their utterly normal and boring thing (i.e. creating socio-economic asset bubbles that help them at the expense of hurting everyone who deals with them).  It must be Satan, the Illuminati, the Lizard-people, feminazis, illegal immigrants, terrorists, and the gays!  Guys, it's clearly a demonic conspiracy by the weirdos.  Think how cool this would be: we could form a Fellowship of the Ring to sneak behind Enemy lines and throw gay marriage into Mount Doom.  Unfortunately, people seem to take this sort of nonsense really seriously.

This brings me full-circle to my recent experience with awful neighbors.  Know something interesting about these punks I live with?  I am pretty sure most of them are straight (not gay!).  I am pretty sure they have opinions that might in some environment qualify them to pass as "conservatives" (though I hate the way this word is used today, much as I hate the way people use "liberal" or, God help us, "progressive").  But I don't know: maybe my neighbors are gay (and neo-Nazis, Illuminati, Lizard-minions, feminists who want to stick it to the Man, etc.).  What I know for sure is that one of the few people I will miss when we leave this neighborhood is a gay Buddhist--an older guy who went out of his way to befriend us, to make us feel welcome in a neighborhood that otherwise hates our guts.  It is possible that his gestures of kindness (like the friendly conversation we had yesterday) are a cloak for some devious agenda: he probably just wants us to like him so that he can begin the process of destroying our family.  It is possible, but I really, really doubt it.  How does it make my marriage one bit stronger when I join a big group of bullies to make his marriage illegal (or impossible)?  How does this action do anything (1) to make his life better (rendering thanks for the charity and consideration he has shown us)--or (2) to confront the real threats that assail my marriage (like the existence of organized gangs who think that I owe them fealty, that "religious freedom" and good society generally require me to pay them money and time for goods I taste as spurious fakes, cheap knock-offs that don't deliver anything like what the salesman promised)?

Here is my understanding of religious liberty, a very American one (if I do say so myself).  The state, our American one(s) included, is not functionally distinct from a religious cult.  (All religions are cults to me, for the record.  They all involve groups of people organized into hierarchies that exist to perform certain tasks, tasks that include some necessary goods and services and some more or less empty rituals that are also necessary insofar as they let us get along with one another.)  Historically, in America, the state is a cult that aspires to be ecumenical, embracing more than one religious community.  The Puritans who originally settled Massachusetts wanted to stone Quakers, for reasons that we might legitimately call religious.  To them the American state said, "No!"  The English adventurers who settled the South wanted to keep black slaves, for reasons that included religion (you can still read their position in the historical record).  To them the American state said, "No!  But wait: we need unity against Britain, so maybe yes?  OK, Britain is gone and we don't like your 'slaving way of life' (or whatever you want to call it: 'traditional way of life' works too).  Hell no!"  All these things might be logically construed as infringements on religious liberty (e.g. Puritan liberty to stone Quakers, southern Protestant liberty to enslave blacks).  Personally, however, I prefer to see them as legitimate victories for the religious liberty of Quakers and black people, whose right not to be stoned or enslaved trumps and should trump the rights of others to stone or enslave them.  But perhaps I am simply a naive fool, deluded by the homosexual agenda.  Today we find the religious state of America trying to decide whether to make its marriages, the marriages that it performs in courthouses and recognizes for legal purposes (in the environments wherein it decides whether to treat people as married or not), available to gay people or not.  While not being married or marriageable might legitimately be construed to constitute a burden significantly less onerous than being stoned or enslaved (I am not saying that modern gays endure the same fate as early Quakers or black slaves back in the day), it seems clear to me that the usual American principle applies to gays as to those before them.  As long as our state provides services to people, it has an historical duty to make those services ecumenical. 

Marrying gays does not constitute a heavier burden on society than marrying straights.  If there is such a thing as the "traditional Judeo-Christian marriage" that is cis-gendered heterosexual, then the place to advocate for that and practice it avidly is in private spheres, not the public one (where there is not, has never been, and never should be one single doctrine of marriage to rule them all: unlike many American Mormons today, I explicitly repudiate the Edmonds-Tucker Act and everything that it stood for).  You can wear a burkha of your own free will and choice, if you so desire.  You can choose to marry a toaster, or a dog, or anything you please, provided you do so without perpetrating criminal violence.  This is your religious freedom in America.  You cannot make me wear a burkha or marry a toaster against my will and call that "religious freedom."  That is bullshit.  (If it were the '60s or '70s, we could say it was commie bullshit, i.e. the idea that we must all be on the same page all the time for society to function well.  But communism collapsed, so it is now just American bullshit: Americans don't even know what the American tradition means anymore, if they ever did.)  Unfortunately for Americans like me, some of our fellow citizens in high places, places as high as our Supreme Court (not to mention Wall Street or state and federal governments), think this shit is gold. Like the fools who gave us Edmonds-Tucker and Prohibition back in the day, these people cheerfully waste public time and resources fighting lame crusades against gay marriage (etc.), all the while leaving the real threats to families like mine completely unaddressed--unnoticed and unchecked, proceeding to create the next asset bubble that will make it impossible for me and mine to preserve the illusion of economic and social stability that earlier generations of Americans enjoyed.  (Note that these illusions are always illusory, and some people always see through them.  I am not saying all the old folks had it better, only that their experience allowed them to create illusions that my experience will not allow, that it ruthlessly falsifies.  I need to break free from their American dream before it turns into my own American nightmare.)

To my neighbors, who think it is their right to be loud and proud while my kids cower silent in a dark room, I say, "Fuck you" (as I arrange to move elsewhere, a luxury I am fortunate still to afford).  To self-styled champions of religious liberty who think that life will improve for everyone if we block my gay neighbor--one of the few nice ones I have in the hell where I currently reside--from marrying in an American courthouse (not your local synagogue, unless that is what the rabbi wants), I say, "Fuck you, too."  I hate the high and mighty condescension of people who pretend to know better than I what my family needs, people who want to save my family by trampling all over it and remaking it in their own image.  Yes, my family has problems.  Yes, some of those boil down to our own human imperfections (we have too many kids; they are too noisy; we don't make enough money; we don't discipline them the way Dr. Phil would, etc.).  No, you cannot solve our imperfections with a heaping dose of unilateral judgement--condemning our kid-noise because it interrupts your drunken orgies, forbidding gay marriage because the thought of two men together or whatever makes you say, "Ick!"  How do you think they feel about you?  I am sick and tired of people passing judgement on others that they are not willing to eat for themselves.