Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why I Wish I Could Ban "Moral Issues" From Public Debate (UPDATE)

I recently read a story about a New York state representative, a Democrat from the New York City area, who was a pivotal player in killing that state's attempt to legalize gay marriage. He was busted for being part of an extortion/bribery racket . . . with his long-time male partner as enforcer/bag-man. When I read the story, the first thing I thought was, "Well, at least there are some Democrats out there for whom the closet is a comfortable place, too." After the parade of Republicans kicking open their closets, it was a relief, really, to have a Democrat own up to being a real wanker.

The conservatives gave a real run in the hypocrisy marathon, though. David Vitter? Devoted family man who also had a diaper fetish he felt the need to pay someone else to assist him with, rather than trust his wife. Mark Foley? Let's write a bill going after pedophiles on the internet, which should have been a huge clue that he might well have odd feelings about those underage. The late Henry Hyde? Let's prosecute Pres. Clinton, try to get the guy booted from office, because he had the temerity to receive oral pleasure from a woman not his wife. Oh, and by the way, he had a years-long affair. The latest entrant in this rogues' gallery - well, not really latest because he's haunted our public life since I was a young adult - is Newt Gingrich, out there in force talking morality and the joys of monogamy, something at which he has been spectacularly unsuccessful most of his adult life.

I try to avoid talking about most public issues in moral terms, because talking about "morality" is such a slippery thing. Most of the time, when "morality" rears its ugly head, it's a stick others use to beat down those they don't like. Don't like gay folk? Well, then, whatever it is they do, it's immoral! Don't like young people whose lives are different from the previous generation? Well, then, they're immoral!

Elaborate intellectual structures, with all sorts of references to various sacred texts are invoked. The threat to the survival of our society, our very way of life are intoned in what is hoped is the kind of stentorian voice the Hebrew prophets may have used.

It's all a sham.

Social and cultural mores - what we call "morality" - are an ever-changing, never-quite-solid set of rules and expectations that are nice, to be sure. They add to the way we understand and accept one another. All the same, there is no way, apart from near tyrannical strictures and structures, the political arena - the various branches of the federal government, the states, what-have-you - can legally address the way mores change, grow, and move. I would much prefer we deal with matters about which the political process is well-equipped to deal - the economy, foreign policy, addressing our common life through support of the arts, supporting environmental, health and safety, labor organization, and other ways we discovered in the 20th century to improve our common life. We get sidetracked arguing over nonsense and all the while the real barbarians - the thieves and bandits we like to call corporations - steal us blind, strip away the various fig-leaves of protections we have constructed to protect ourselves and enhance our common life.

I noted the Republicans caught in various stages of moral turpitude not to say, "See, aren't they a bunch of hypocrites?", because, frankly, I detest calling people out for moral (or other) hypocrisy. It's easy, it's cheap, and it usually boomerangs around and smacks us in the face. I am quite tired of the "gotcha!" game that goes on far too often, in which this or that person who has spent quite a bit of time pontificating about how horrible our moral choices as a nation may be, only to end up caught, sometimes quite literally, with their pants down. Far better to leave that latter kind of thing in that category that young people refer to as "TMI" and concentrate on matters over which we have actual control.

UPDATE: This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about here.
When it comes to the cost of environmental rules, industry scaremongering is virtually always wrong. And not just a little wrong. A lot wrong. Yet serious people continue to stroke their chins and take their pseudo-studies seriously.

Anyway, read the whole thing. Mercury is a huge health hazard, the new EPA rules have been in the works for decades, and mitigation technology is available that works pretty well at a reasonable cost.
We are bombarded by bullshit that every little environmental regulation will cost jobs, kill the economy, leave us no better than Zambia, economically speaking. Yet, the fact is that mercury, which not only leads to a kind of dementia but is also a mutagen, is the real threat. Not the regulations to control its use and disposal in to the environment. That won't hurt anyone, costs little to nothing, and benefits everyone.

We are incapable of having this discussion, though, not least because some people seem to think that gay people are destroying America, unwed mothers will leave us impoverished and culturally backward, and masturbation kills. I mean, seriously, people. We were once a country that managed its affairs with at least a modicum of intelligence and maturity. We are, it seems, incapable of governance because we manage our affairs like poorly-trained 19-year-olds, worried about our appearance and whether people will say bad things about us. The real tragedy is that, I think most people get this. Yet, we still have to treat seriously people who should be patted on the head and told to go in the other room while the adults deal with things.

Virtual Tin Cup

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