Saturday, November 4

Frum Here to Moronity

Via Roy, David Frum's Hypocrite Gambit in defense of Some Unnamed Hypothetical Christian Fundamentalist Leader who becomes the target of unsubstantiated charges of, oh, let's imagine a monthly crank-fueled Bonerfest with his poolboy. I started to leave a comment over there, but it went on so tediously it had to become a post. First, Frum lets us know that, of course, The Left is having a field day:
On much of the left, the reaction is gleeful delight: See! He is no better than anybody else!

Pssst. Dave. Anyone to the left of Amy Sullivan already thought that, assuming they feel like being generous, and anyone to the right, and religious, is supposed to think that, too.
Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse.

One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives.

The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution.

Which man is leading the more moral life? It seems to me that the answer is the first one. Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue - or at least as a mitigation of his offense?

After all, the first man may well see his family and church life as his "real" life; and regard his other life as an occasional uncontrollable deviation, sin, and error, which he condemns in his judgment and for which he sincerely seeks to atone by his prayer, preaching, and Christian works.

Yet it is the first man who will if exposed be held up to the execration of the media, while the second can become a noted public character - and can even hope to get away with presenting himself as an exemplar of ethics and morality.

How does this make moral sense?

Here's a tale for you, David.

I used to be a semi-regular viewer of Bill Buckley's Firing Line, but somewhere in the first Reagan administration I began to feel that either Buckley was losing it, or the strain of defending a supposed purist Conservative administration which was proving to be among the most venal and least competent in US history was becoming too much. The last show I remember watching was a program on or around the '84 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, and Buckley jocularly posed a moral conundrum for the panel: "Could one construct a conceivable moral universe in which the moral force of Mother Teresa was subservient to that of Sister Boom-Boom?"

Older readers may recall that Sister Boom Boom had gained a measure of fame by 1984 for having run for mayor of San Francisco, and that her fifteen minutes were extended by the Democratic Convention by the Bay. A quick Googling of "William Buckley" and "Sister Boom Boom" reveals, unexpectedly, that Bill was still milking the former head of the Nun of the Above ticket for the Roman Catholic snicker quotient at least as late as 1998, or fourteen years after anyone outside of San Fran had given her another thought. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, Buckley's mock question was met with derisive laughter, and I seem to remember uttering three words as I walked over and snapped the teevee off (remotes weren't that big in those days, kids):

"Alan Turing, motherfuckers!"

Because, of course, the answer to this "absurd" moral equivalence is so sophmoric that anyone reduced to laughter at the very thought is either an illiterate or a hopeless bigot. I didn't even have Christopher Hitchens' book on Ol' Agnes in my arsenal in those days. If you couldn't imagine a possible moral universe made better because homosexuals lived a life free of persecution, shame, psychiatric intervention, or tax-free religious denunciation, and if, conversely, you couldn't imagine a possible universe in which promulgation of a false and antiquated belief system was responsible for any number of historical ills, then you weren't paying attention to the real universe you were hypothetically moving through.

So that's the simple answer, David, not that it couldn't have occurred to you if you'd tried, not that it would change that brain-dead commentary of yours if it did. The question needs to be put the other way: what, other than your claims of moral superiority, would possibly make the dishonest man the exemplar in your example? Nothing. Which side can be demonstrated to have done real harm to real individuals? Yours. And isn't courage still a moral virtue, or did that one dive down the rabbit hole right after honesty and integrity?

We don't know what more Alan Turing might have accomplished had he not been driven to suicide by the forces of law and "morality". We don't know if the proverbial cure for cancer might have been lost along with some kid imprisoned, lobotomized, or hounded to an early grave somewhere. We don't know the cost of treating people as pariahs for no good reason, the costs of leaving children in foster care, or worse, rather that letting Those People adopt, just as we'll never know the full costs of slavery and racial discrimination. But we do know that sometime, somewhere, some imbecile former speechwriter will be sure to praise a hypothetical white Southerner for recognizing his mistake while ignoring the people who suffered at his hands.

We know something else. We know the morally superior preacher of Frum's invention wasn't working as a male prostitute to earn enough money to spread the Word of God; he was living in tax-free splendor while hiring man meat on the side. How convenient. How moral. How Republican.


Uncle Mike said...

So, in essence, Frum's argument is this: one is being dishonest in his life, and the other is being honest in his life.

And the dishonest man is somehow more moral?

I know it's a cliche to say "we're down the rabbit-hole where black is white, etc.," but sweet jesus, we are down the effing rabbit-hole.

apocalipstick said...

small quibble, but the church itself does not have to pay property or income tax. If a minister purchases his own home, he has to pay property taxes and he sure has to pay income taxes.

Scott C. said...

In David Mamet's play Edmond, the bigoted white protagonist is arrested and sodomized by his black cellmate, which leads him to conclude, "every fear hides a wish."

If Frum and his intellectual homies want to tout repression as a social panacea, they need to recognize that such societies inevitably produce hypocrisy the way internal combustion engines produce carbon monoxide. And since the social compact -- eveything from business transactions to electoral politics -- relies to some degree on trust, a smog of hypocrisy is going to choke the commonweal no matter how obstreperously our moral leaders denounce those people who do freely and unashamedly the things they do only secretly and compulsively.

Right now, I'd say American society is at a Stage 3 alert (children, the elderly, and those suffering from respiratory ailments should remain indoors).

D. Sidhe said...

So his entire hypotehtical is that it somehow damages society to stick your dick somewhere other than where David Frum wants you to? And you can get around that by just not admitting it? So the guy who fucks random boywhores and brings HIV home to his unsuspecting wife is more moral than the guy who lives monogamously with his boyfriend for years?

Such a charming set of arguments. Gays are opposed to traditional society, says David, who has already proved to not be the sharpest knife in even the spoon drawer. Possibly this is so because traditional society says they're, you know, objectively mentally ill, perverts, willing or otherwise rapists who cannot possibly love each other, demon-possessed, unable to have families, probably child-molesters, and certainly no more human than dogs and box turtles. Who could *possibly* want to reject a societal narrative that says all of that about themselves and the people they love?

I don't know Ted Haggard. I can't say whether, absent the obviously internalized bigotry that made a queer man reject the possibility that he is queer and get tangled in an apparently not-entirely-wanted relationship with a woman (even if he's bisexual, he clearly needed something other than a wife, or at least only a wife), he would be a well-adjusted queer human being in a satisfactory relationship. It's certainly possible he'd be no more happier in a gay relationship than he apparently is in a straight one, since God knows a lot of people are capable of fucking up *any* relationship they have for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with orientation.

But let's pretend he lived in a society where either people didn't believe that queer was inherently bad, or at least that he didn't give a damn what they thought. Assume that he had the whole of humanity to choose from in determining who he wanted to spend his time with, or make a family with, or fantasize idly about as he watched TV. It doesn't seem to David that he'd have had at least a chance of being a happier person with a fulfilling relationship who didn't feel a need to lie to anyone, let alone the people he loves? How's that for a virtue?

Seriously, David. When you've been this wrong about this many things for this long, the least you can do is shut the fuck up when there's a possibility you haven't thought things through yet again.

And Doghouse, I love you. And not entirely in a platonic way. Compassion, an acceptance of the differences and similarities of humankind, and common sense are beautiful things when paired with wit and smarts. They are, in fact, virtues of the first order.

Christopher said...

Why don't you have a nationally syndicated newspaper column?

You're a more perceptive and better writer then at least %90 of the pundits out there.

Enough Asskissing! On to Frum.

First of all, as many of you have pointed out, homosexuality is not, in fact, damaging to society, so the whole hypothetical is stupid.

It's like saying, "Consider two men who love model trains. One is a nice Christian family man, who succumbs to modeling once and a while in his private life, but considers it a sin. In public, he crusades for laws against model train building, and his hidden obsession is destroying his relationship with his wife.

The second man, though, openly revels in his model train building, and encourages others to try it.

And yet somehow society would consider the first man more immoral. I just don't get it."

But even moving beyond that, the hypothetical is still problematic, even when you move it to include crimes that everybody would consider heinous.

Consider two multiple murderers.

The first is "Mad Dog" McGee, notorious biker. He makes no secret of the fact that he will kill you if you cross him, and loudly announces it upon first meeting any stranger. His gun isn't concealed, and he always has a knife in his hand.

The second, Bob Jones, is an unnasuming family man. He has a wife and two children, goes to church every sunday, and is always polite and courteous. If you do something that annoys him, he'll laugh it off and say it's no big deal, but secretly he'll harbour a festering grudge that will grow until he can't stand it any more, and he'll sneak into your home and strangle you.

Now, according to Frum, McGee is much more dangerous then Jones.

A moments reflection, however, will indicate that it's Jones who is the more threatening of the pair.

In actions, both negatively effect society in the same way, but that fact that McGee is open about his criminality makes him easier to deal with. In face to face situations, you know what behavior will set him off, and you can avoid it. Additionally, knowledge of his crime allows you to avoid him altogether, and his high profile makes him an easier target for police action.

Jones, on the other hand, presents no clues. He can continue to hurt society because his crimes are hidden; he will be able to commit them for far longer, and on a much more diverse group of people, then McGee will.

And even if Jones is a policeman, that doesn't really make things any better.

This is a problem for Frum's hypothetical;

If, on the one hand, he thinks that gay sex and drug use are high-level crimes, like robbery or murder, then the fact that wassisname did those things makes him a criminal, and his continuing deleterious effects on society if he goes undetected surely outweigh whatever good he does.

On the other hand, if gay sex and drug use are low-level, model train building offenses, ones that wouldn't really screw up the society around the hypocrite, then it's hard to say why there would need to be any effort to eradicate these crimes in the first place, since their deleterious effects can easily be outwieghed/negated by the simple expediant of being a generally nice guy.

In conclusion, Frum is a thoughtless dork.

punkinsmom said...

This is why hypotheticals make me sad. They are almost always poorly thought-out and when truly considered, the "what if's" are sometimes heartbreaking.

the bunny said...

By their own rules they condemn themselves:
1 Peter 2:1
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
Luke 12:1b
...Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Matthew 23:27
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.

I couuld go on and on, Jesus certainly did. But why did Jesus condemn hypocrisy more than any other sin?

Matthew 23:15
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Begone from me, Frum, you son of hell!