Blind and deaf in the face of spreading evil

Occasionally my training as an engineer prompts me to ask, “why aren’t conservation laws more useful in social science?”  In economics, everything is held together with bungee cords (which is OK, all physical mechanisms are more or less elastic) but the quantities of everything, including money, seem to be spongy as well.

Analysis of gay marriage, as I understand the opponents, seems to be an exception, and I thought it would be comforting.  They tell us children are better off raised in conventional marriages. OK, but exactly what children are these that will be so raised if we forbid gay marriage? There must be a fixed number of preconception souls and a fixed rate of births, that force soul 43569 to be born in a marriage of a man and a woman (not, of course, to a single careless teenager) when the avenue into a gay marriage is closed. Loony, incomprehensible theology/ontogenic science, but it does entail a conservation law (perhaps that’s why conservatives like it?).

Next line of attack: gay marriage is bad for heterosexual marriage. I get it: marriages are fixed in number, and if we prevent gay people from marrying others of the same sex, they will have to marry someone of the opposite sex, and those will be better marriages, whether a gay guy paired up with a lesbian or a heterosexual married to a homosexual, than the respective partners would have had in like-gendered couples (I’m using gender to denote a sexual identity). Right.

I may have the wrong idea entirely here; maybe good marriage karma is the thing that’s fixed in quantity, and every gay marriage sops up some that is therefore not available to a straight couple. As a co-proprietor of a conventional marriage, I note the  warning that more gay marriage will damage my own, but I despise the community of bigots and haters for giving us absolutely no guidance about how we can protect ourselves against the danger that’s now spreading despite their best efforts to nip it in the bud. It’s like the oil spill: sure, we should prevent blowouts before they happen, but we should also have a backup plan.

Is the evil something that leaks out of the apartment of the gay couple down the street and into our windows at night if we leave them open – can I at least see it (rainbow colored, maybe) in time to put on sunscreen, or a respirator, or long underwear?  Does it go the other way; can sacredness be vacuumed out of our happy home into theirs (and will it be happy there and stay)? Can I get it back while they’re away skiing? Or is it the kind of thing we catch watching Rachel Maddow more than three nights a week, and would more coverage of John Ensign’s and Newt Gingrich’s very straight domestic histories cancel it out?

As important as prophylactic guidance is, we also need public service announcements with symptoms clearly described, and I call upon the gay marriage early warning system to step up. What, dammit, are the seven signals of a straight marriage succumbing to gay marriage injury, and what are harmless distractions we can ignore?  I had to decide between pleated and plain-front chinos in Costco and realized that even recognizing the difference could be a tiny cloud on our horizon; my wife’s last haircut seemed to be a little shorter than the one before.  Are we in trouble? If the Supreme Court leaves us naked before this threat, would firearms help, or more throw pillows on the furniture? Or will we need to hit the streets with pitchforks and purify our neighborhood (in Berkeley, that’s a major project, not to mention who in Berkeley even has a pitchfork? so we’re hoping for something smaller scale, maybe with incense or spells).

Please!  Tell us what we really need to know, and soon: I’m going to a gay wedding in two weeks – will I be OK if skip the cake, or do I have to keep my fingers crossed during the vows?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

21 thoughts on “Blind and deaf in the face of spreading evil”

  1. "Please! Tell us what we really need to know …"

    Okey-dokey.

    Currently, there is a line. On one side, there are the people who can marry — one man/one woman. On the other side, everyone else. It is not true that we are removing that line, so that "everone is equal", or so that "marriage will be available to everyone who is in love", two points often made by Andrew Sullivan and many others.

    Instead, we are moving that line just a bit so that one man/one man, or one woman/one woman, can also marry. The current narrative is that the other people behind this line do not want it moved even further. They are being good and reasonable. They "understand" that their relations are unnatural. This narrative is important because those who proclaim it do not want to ruin the chances for SSM.

    But it is clearly wrong to think that the others will remain silent. We already have "psychologists" proclaiming that children initiate sexual relations with adults, that first-cousin marriages are more stable that other marriages, that polygamy has a long history and is only forbidden by Christian superstitions. We already have words like "paedophilophobia". We are already told that preventing childhood sex is a form of sexual abuse. Granted, these voices are not loud, but they will get louder. Here's why — the reasons we use to justify SSM require only minor modifications to justify just about anything else.

    Will SSM change the nature of marriage? Yep. If you think it won't, then … "Please! Tell us what we really need to know …"

  2. Josh Larios wrote this comment on my blog:

    I always thought it went something like this:

    1. Being gay is a choice.

    2. The only reason I haven’t chosen to be gay is that there are societal disincentives in place (my church says it’s wrong, and the government backs them up).

    3. Without the government supporting the church, there wouldn’t be enough holding me back, and I could no longer keep myself from looking for sex in airport bathrooms.

    4. And then my marriage would break up.

    5. Therefore, gay marriage harms straight marriage.

    My response to his comment:

    Actually, I think you’re onto something. The scenario that you describe is that of a person desperate to hide/deny their own homosexuality and, if social barriers are removed, will finally be unable to resist the temptation—and because they are still hiding/denying, they MUST have those social barriers kept in place—or then everyone would know…

    This is consistent with the scientific finding that, with nominally heterosexual men viewing gay porn, those who are homophobic experience arousal (as measured by penile strain gauges), those who are not, don’t.

    That study is not a joke. And me, I think it’s revealing.

  3. You omitted one social sciences conservation law: Conservation Of Terror, otherwise known as the Flypaper Theory, in which we reveal (and fight) those inclined to be terrorists, without creating more.

  4. Dom: I'm personally aquainted with quite a few same sex couples living togeather in commited relationships. Giving such people legal standing won't really change their relationships to their partners but it will change how they relate to the rest of society, no doubt.

    I am not aware of any polygamous, adult/child or child/child cohabitors who are sexually involved. I'm sure these things exist but are so rare as to be pretty much a moot point in this issue.

    No doubt somewhere here someone is going to drag in beastiality or robot love or some such.

    Oops! I forgot to mention the cousin thing. Ya got me there. Cousin lovers could be all around me and I wouldn't have a clue. Were Franklin and Elanore Roosevelt first cousins? Could be more common than I think.

  5. Gay marriage IS a threat to traditional marriage. In traditional marriage, the man is the unquestioned master of the family, whose judgement is always to be deferred to and who must always be obeyed. He is also solely responsible for discipline, of both the wife and the children, and any interference with how he decides to mete out punishment is a threat to his authority. Women and children are wholly subservient to the man of the house.

    When conservatives talk about the assault on "family values", this is the family that is under assault. Anything that gives women independence, like jobs, birth control, or no-fault divorce, is a threat to the family. Anything that limits a man's ability to dominate his family, like laws against abuse or rape, or child custody laws that allow mothers to have control over the kids while their father pays child support, is a threat to the family. Anything that challenges the idea that men are to dominate, and women are to be dominated, like gay relationships or even equitable heterosexual relationships, are a threat to the family.

    Now, let me be clear: all of this is for the good. This model of the family is evil and corrupt and should have a stake driven through its heart and be buried in a shallow grave. But when conservatives talk about the assault on marriage and family, they are correctly perceiving the nature of the situation.

  6. Conservatives belive that gender roles and relations are built into the deep structure of the universe, and to alter the definition of marriage is to weaken it and undermine the foundations of not only morality, but reality.

    So there's no real point in arguing the (fairly obvious) truth that there is no harm to individual heterosexuals caused by gays getting married. A world in which gays can get married is threatening not to their mundame material interests but to their conception of the cosmos.

  7. "Gay marriage IS a threat to traditional marriage. In traditional marriage, the man is the unquestioned master of the family, whose judgment is always to be deferred to and who must always be obeyed. He is also solely responsible for discipline, of both the wife and the children, and any interference with how he decides to mete out punishment is a threat to his authority. Women and children are wholly subservient to the man of the house."

    If that's how you define traditional marriage, there's nothing that could ever threaten it, because it's been deader than a doornail for my entire life. Strikes me as more of a parody of traditional marriage.

    "Dom: I’m personally acquainted with quite a few same sex couples living together in committed relationships. Giving such people legal standing won’t really change their relationships to their partners but it will change how they relate to the rest of society, no doubt.

    I am not aware of any polygamous, adult/child or child/child cohabitors who are sexually involved. I’m sure these things exist but are so rare as to be pretty much a moot point in this issue."

    The fact that the latter relationships can land you in prison might have something to do with that lack of observations…

  8. The fact that the latter relationships can land you in prison might have something to do with that lack of observations…

    Moreover, the fact that the latter relationships can quite rightly land you in prison might have something to do with it.

    It really baffles me that people like John "Box Turtle" Cornyn, not to mention assorted pseudonymous blog commenters, seemingly can't tell the difference between a loving, committed relationship between two informed, consenting adults on the one hand, and pedophilia and/or bestiality on the other. The possibility that they can tell the difference, but choose to pretend they cannot, would scarcely place their words in a better light.

  9. I agree that there's a world of difference between, say, a committed homosexual relationship, and a relationship between an adult and a minor. I'm not so sure there's a world of difference between a committed homosexual relationship, and a relationship between two women and one man, or two men and one woman, but the latter aren't just illegal, (Despite having much more precedent.) the SSM crowd loudly deny wanting them to be legal. Which, IMO, is rather like MLK saying he wants racial equality, "but not for those chinks, of course!"

    Incidentally, does the INS have some sort of guideline for families moving from countries where polyandrous marriages are legal, to tell them which of their life-long partners they have to break up with in order to avoid violating US law?

  10. Brett Bellmore – several years ago the Swedes faced this question, with a returning Swedish national aid worker who had been in Zambia and married two women, and who wanted to bring them both back to Sweden. They hemmed and hawed, and let them all in.

  11. Will SSM change the nature of marriage? Yep. If you think it won’t, then … “Please! Tell us what we really need to know …”

    Which "nature of marriage" is that? The one from, say, 1620, or the one from 1850, or the one from today? <——- You see what I did there? The "nature of marriage" changes all the time. That you are so vociferously opposed to this particular change speaks volumes.

    If that’s how you define traditional marriage, there’s nothing that could ever threaten it, because it’s been deader than a doornail for my entire life. Strikes me as more of a parody of traditional marriage.

    You clearly have never met anyone who belongs to the Disciples of Christ church, or the Promise Keepers.

    I agree that there’s a world of difference between, say, a committed homosexual relationship, and a relationship between an adult and a minor. I’m not so sure there’s a world of difference between a committed heterosexual relationship, and a relationship between two women and one man, or two men and one woman,

    Fixed that for ya! Partnerships with members of both genders are more like straight relationships than they are gay relationships, Brett. In all the polyamorous arrangements I've ever been acquainted with, the same-sex partners almost NEVER have a sexual or romantic relationship with each other.

    I understand you probably have an ideological need to make poly relationships look more like a "perversion," like homosexuality, therefore making it easier to damn the latter with the former. Good luck with that, because the evidence among polyamorous groups doesn't bear it out.

    Incidentally, does the INS have some sort of guideline for families moving from countries where polyandrous marriages are legal,

    How often could this possibly be a thing?

  12. I mean, from what silly premises does one arrive at, "A romantic relationship with partners of both genders is more like a gay pairing than it is like a straight pairing?"

  13. All of this misses the point, because logic is extraneous in this debate. Human beings are not logical, we are first emotional; we start with an emotional/gut reaction and "reason" to a conclusion that matches it, even if that requires manufactured "facts". In the case of gay marriage, the relevant emotion is disgust, or as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote after Prop. 8 passed, "I've never seen any argument against gay marriage that didn't boil down to 'yuck'."

  14. "I understand you probably have an ideological need to make poly relationships look more like a “perversion,”"

    Not at all. My "ideological" position is that SSM should be legalized, but not by the judiciary. I think it's not the sort of thing the judiciary can legitimately do. It's an innovation, and the judiciary should not be innovating. Their job is to maintain the status quo, not change it.

    My secondary point is that the legal case for both polygamy and polyandry is much stronger than for SSM. They're both traditional forms of marriage, practiced today in a number of nations around the world.

    I've yet to hear a principled defense of SSM that wouldn't apply to relationships among three or more people, and yet SSM advocates routinely disclaim any support for extension of freedom to marry beyond, well, themselves. Suggests to me they don't really believe any of the principled arguments, themselves. They just want to get married.

    Well, fine. I can understand the desire to get married. But don't tell me you're a principled defender of freedom, if you don't want somebody else to be free.

  15. My “ideological” position is that SSM should be legalized, but not by the judiciary.

    Actually, if you were the person you claim to be, your ideological position should be that it's an unenumerated right of the people, and that a popular vote cannot take away a right.

    It’s an innovation, and the judiciary should not be innovating. Their job is to maintain the status quo, not change it.

    Uh, what? I mean, you realize that the claim above is a claim that, e.g., Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided, right? And McDonald vs. Chicago, too, also.

  16. Brett Bellmore: "I’ve yet to hear a principled defense of SSM that wouldn’t apply to relationships among three or more people,"

    Since the arguments for same sex marriage are pretty much the same as the arguments for interracial marriage, am I right in assuming that you also haven't heard a principled defense of interracial marriage that wouldn't apply to a relationship among three or more people?

  17. On the topic of differentiating between gay marriage and polygamous marriage, I wish I could remember which observer or columnist wrote, years ago, that "the relevant number is not two, but one" — pointing out the fundamental logical error in conflating a partnership with another person, and a partnership with some multiple of persons.

  18. I think it’s not the sort of thing the judiciary can legitimately do. It’s an innovation, and the judiciary should not be innovating. Their job is to maintain the status quo, not change it.

    Brett,

    As I understood it, the job of the judiciary is to interpret facts and law. I don't ever recall reading or hearing that the judiciary's job was to maintain the status quo. When laws conflict, someone has to decide which law prevails. In our system that someone is the judiciary.

    Now, the fact is that the courts act primarily as conservative institutions, maintaining the status quo. The fact that the courts usually act that way does not mean that they must act that way. Some of the worst events in American history have been the result of misguided court decisions that sanctioned misguided policies to maintain an unjust status quo. I'm thinking of Dred Scott, of course, but the list only starts there.

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