“Why do you care?”
If I haven’t been asked this question enough lately, I could definitely do without for the remainder of this year.
Depending on the context of the situation, the question can be asked defensively or it can be phrased offensively. In the specific context of my situation- and more specifically in the situation of millions of other people also- it was a mixture of both.
A couple of weeks back when the news that the SCOTUS (that’s Supreme Court of the U.S.) declared that marriage in the United States was to be allowed for all persons of legal age regardless of gender, race, or creed, I, like millions of Americans and millions of people around the world, was ecstatic! Before that day, America was slowly moving in the right track toward social equality, city by city and state by state. However, I’m sure that like me, a lot of people never anticipated that it would come this soon and this fast. In my mind this was a process that would drag on for years to come only to culminate in some far away date no one would predict. Imagine our surprise. But once it came, as you know, the wave of euphoria spread throughout the land. There wasn’t a news channel, newspaper, or social media platform in the United States where the decision did not make news, and those who did not support it made their voices known only to be drowned out that day by those who did. A major part of that wave of positivism was the product of progressive social media campaigns, sometimes pushed by social media giants themselves such as Facebook and Twitter. That day, for example, millions of Americans from celebrities to politicians to regular people alike all took to Facebook and Twitter to show their support by either Tweeting about it or by adding the rainbow flag as a background on their profile pictures.
A few days later, a friend of mine asked me in earnest curiosity why I- a straight man- was celebrating something that clearly did not affect me in the least bit. The question was funny to me for several reasons and at that point I was thinking that perhaps he meant marriage in general, since aside from being straight, I also don’t wish to ever be married. But I understood the point as I understand it now.
That’s when it dawned on me that when it comes to civil rights issues- or many other everyday issues for that matter- there is still a very deep disconnect in our understanding of other people’s suffering; but also that we often do not question the things that truly matter and we do the things that don’t.
With utmost sincerity I explained to my friend that this huge change that had just happened in America had to be celebrated by everyone because essentially it pertains to everyone’s interests in the way that the Civil Rights Movement of last century pertained not just to African-Americans (or rather just Americans) but to humans. In effect, this was a victory for humans, not just for some humans.
If you are offended by the comparison I suggest you get your head out of your ass. I am well aware that the suffering for both black Americans and the LGBT community has been different in many ways, as well as their respective socio-political movements have been. But there is no doubt that where we are concerned they are both social issues where people have suffered as a consequence of other people’s ignorance and indifference, and therefore they should be addressed.
The problem I see regarding social and political movements nowadays is that people have taken too much trouble to compare one to another. The bigger issue here is learning to realize that a social movement that aims to create progress is never over and it’s continually progressing. In fact, it’s in any social movement’s ethos to continue that progress essentially forever.
To know the history of the LGBT movement in America we really don’t have to go that far back, merely a few decades- almost a hundred years to come to an honest timeline proximity. However, if we wind back the clock a bit further we find that even though the attitudes towards homosexuality and hemophilia are dependent on specific historical settings, we see that in general, homosexuality has been frowned upon by more societies than we can count.
One could make the case that unlike the suffering of black people throughout history, LGBT members of any society have been less marginalized simply for their ability to blend into that society easier, having no discernible exterior features that give away their innate condition other than their sexuality. But playing devil’s advocate for a second, are we not wrong in making such distinctions, or even dismissing the suffering of one group by comparing it to the suffering of another?
Although tolerance lies in the objective mind, there is no doubt that it is also a subjective experience. It’s then that we begin to see that social change is not so much going in circles as it is spiraling upwards as far as progress is concerned. To compare one progressive movement to another is to denigrate the very meaning of social progress, precisely because it’s social, meaning it affects society as a whole, and it’s progress, meaning it moves society forward.
Just from common sense alone you might infer that every “race” as we know them today (and even every race within a race) has been, at some point in human history, victimized by another. Take a look at the history of military conflicts and you will see that it is always the losing side that gets pulled down to the bottom of the social scale. This even happens in modern times. Where in the 1800s and early 1900s Chinese, Italians, and Irish immigrants were the “flavor of the month” as far as the most persecuted races in America, now Hispanic immigrants are. Of course there are a few groups that throughout history have been more hated than others, Jews for example who have had to endure antisemitism for over two thousand years. But to say that because Jews have had a hard time throughout history to really care about any other group of humans, would not only be a blatant disregard of social order, it undermines the kind of morality we are trying to instill in future generations and it is exactly the kind of potentially harmful learned social behavior that breeds ignorance, hatred, racism and the propagandist vitriol that disseminates it.
Do we have to be one race or another to ONLY understand their suffering?
Granted, most educated people in the world now don’t see it this way. But there are still those that make the comparison with a certain degree of animosity.
It seems to me that the reasoning behind the alienation of supporting cooperative social progress is flawed, and in fact it is downright illogical.
Saying that a group or a person should only offer their support for one of the things they believe advances social well-being, and adhere to what it is only their concern due to race or creed- or any other self-serving reason really- is discrimination at its finest. That mentality narrows conversations and excludes others who are of a different race or creed or sex to be part of a positive change that’s being created for the world and for the future of the human race as a whole.
Imagine for example if the hatred of Jews had evaporated just as soon as it began, there is no doubt we would have different problems in the world right now, but not that specific problem to try to fix. In fact, imagine if hatred of any race had never existed in the first place, where would we be?
It is a waste of time to study history in the hopes of “what would’ve been,” so instead we should study history in the hopes of understanding how we can, once and for all, eradicate hatred now that we have a deeper understanding of the social structures that we create and the tolerance that we have come to acquire through much pain and suffering.
Selective Urgency/Selective Tolerance
Sometime before the SCOTUS announced equality in marriage I announced in some social site or other that equality in marriage is basically, or should be, a non-issue and that more urgent matters required our attention.
Of course from everything you read in the sections above it might sound hypocritical of me to even say that there are more important things to think about than gay rights, or ridding our world of racism, sexism, classism, etc.
By this I did not want people to confuse the intention- I don’t believe we as an entire nation should be discussing something that is so foreign to our national priorities. But I also don’t want people to confuse the underlying message- the fact that we are discussing these matters effectively proves that we have been ready for quite some time to move past the kind of social roadblocks that prevent us from creating a near-perfect society.
At first reading it sounds as though I don’t consider human rights to be part an urgent matter to discuss. I’m saying that given how much we’ve known about ourselves historically, the issue of human rights is one that in today’s day and age should take no longer than a coffee break. It is imperative that we force each other to recognize that human rights is for all humans- not for some, not for the best, but for all. And it is something that, in brutal honesty, should have been resolved by now.
One of the reasons why this moment hadn’t arrived sooner is because of selective tolerance.
We as individuals do not devote all of our attention to one unbelievably huge problem, one that seems to be out of our reach (e.g. the imminent death of our galaxy, the existing threat of nuclear war, or even global warming) especially when our lives are already buried beneath an avalanche of problems of our own that we must worry about. Instead we limit the laundry list of problems to what we can carry individually and devote decreasing slices of our time to those problems that seem to be out of our reach (e.g. gay rights, and within that bracket, gay marriage; drugs, etc…) Unfortunately in this case the problem comes about when in the interest of self-preservation we often run contrary to the benefit of the whole “colony” to benefit ourselves, in smaller and smaller numbers.
A little thought experiment.
Whether you are poor, middle-class, or filthy rich- provided you have had some kind of education- you know it’s a fact that mass poverty is something that affects millions around the world everyday, and that in some countries poverty is so extreme that people die by the millions because of it and because of the slew of social consequences it produces. You are aware that poverty affects some percentage of the total global population, and depending on the country we’re talking about you know that some areas are more affected than others, maybe even in your own town. Of course you know this.
But when TV ads about the poor, dying kids comes on television do you jump to the chance to donate money to sustain a child in some poor faraway nation?
Congratulations to those who said they do/would. But how many of you asked yourselves in this hypothetical scenario what their own financial situation was before donating- or even whether you should? Doubtless there’s a moral echo going off in the back of your head while you guiltily check your bank account. But don’t worry, I would- and have- asked myself the same thing. The point is that the majority of us have done it practically on cue. While intrinsically altruistic people do exist in the world, they don’t by any means constitute any majority- intrinsically selfless people being an even smaller circle.
However, there are obvious evolutionary advantages for that kind of selfish attitude, and we have done well to translate them to our modern times; we just cannot help but weigh out how helping others will shortfall us in some way. This is something we all do regardless of anything. We are, to a certain point, selfish. Of course the situation is not as black-and-white as it sounds, and you are not selfish as I made you seem. Perhaps you donate to Amnesty International, or you devote your time to recycling programs, or you anonymously bought the next table over their meal. Maybe you’re even more selfless and you donate time and money to a cause- and maybe religion is a big part of that course of action. But the fact remains that there are degrees of selfishness and reasons to be so. For example we are selfish enough not to give to those faraway starving children, but selfless in that we would provide for our own children before we provide for ourselves. Our altruistic motives only go as far as we allow them to.
Coming back “to the gay thing,” it appears that logically we cannot all care about all the issues that happen so we select those that affect us in closer social proximity. It is a logical step to take and it would make sense that most people would consider equal-rights as being something more important that something that appears extraordinarily complicated and long- something like global warming per se. But ask a starving person if they consider global warming a pressing issue, or gay rights for that matter. I’m quite sure they would disagree with you while trying to instill enough urgency in you to feed them.
It is important that you as the reader understand that by this I am neither shaming you, nor pushing a hidden agenda here- I actually do believe global warming is the more important issue here-but people would benefit greatly by understanding the ridiculous comparison between one issue of overdue resolve to one of yet-greater potential damage to us as a species and for the planet itself.
Think of it this way, if homophobia (and sexism and classism and cynicism) suddenly vanished from the human condition- think how much could be accomplished. Without straying far from the context, the amount of time humanity has been talking about sexuality- or people’s personal lives for that matter- is far too long for us to have conceived any honest notions of planet colonization a thousand years sooner.
Perhaps, the pats in the back we give ourselves for our great achievement of finally advancing social reform will show us just how capable we are, as a thoughtful, tolerant society, of moving past ignorance while at last revealing just how tedious the subject actually is.
Of course not talking about it isn’t as easy as it sounds, after all entire ad campaigns have been formed around issues that shouldn’t be pressing and not enough time is being devoted to issues that truly are a matter of life and death for all of us (but that’s for another blog). However, until our collective understanding of social equality catches up to this future we’re living in, talking about human rights for that matter is one of the most important thing to think about. Ironically if we want to fix the world we inhabit we must first fix ourselves.
The Role of Religion
Think hard about the following question: How does gay marriage affect me?
The short answer is that it doesn’t.
The long one is that you want it too. And over time it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy that you have made it affect you. Am I not talking about it now?
The fact is that same-sex attraction exists within all species of living creatures in the planet. It’s natural because we are part of nature itself. And it’s not abominable because sexuality- even if it’s practiced responsibly- will always carry some kind of risk no matter what, homosexual sex is not exclusive. Think how slower AIDS would have spread had we as a society been more tolerant. Instead of shaming our kids for being who they are, we could’ve informed them to practice sex and love, safely.
This is where our other prejudice comes from, and in this case it is deeply rooted not in our DNA but rather in our voluntary convictions- something much more terrifying.
If we haven’t presented a voice to speak for those we alienate in society, we might get away with it by putting it on our very own intrinsic selfishness. But if the human race is already alienating towards those we don’t’ like, there is one thing I can think of that puts those doubts into overdrive- voluntary conviction, and nothing does a better job at it than religion.
Just in the same, but opposite, way that we are selfish not to give to those children in Africa, sometimes it is to our advantage to make other people’s lives miserable. If you don’t believe that, read up on… pretty much every single war ever.
Even if you consider yourself a good person, it serves some purpose to enslave people, or at the very least deny them the same rights that you’d grant yourself. In the case of financial motivation I can at least understand its nefariously logical ways to make us be a bit more selfish with others and a bit more selfless with ourselves or our own.
But a more curious- and hopelessly lost situation- is when we enslave others, or deny them rights, with the inviolable conviction that what we are doing is a good thing. There is no moral ambiguity here, the only way any human will adhere to morally reprehensible ideas while keeping a clean conscience, is either by being medically psychopathic or by being devotedly religious. You can see for yourself when you ask a question like: should gays be allowed to marry?
If you were one of the few who said no, I would challenge you to think of a valid reason why they couldn’t that was not based on religion. Without wasting anyone’s time I will say that outside of religion there is no valid reason for why gay people shouldn’t marry or form relationships, and those who insist on quoting scripture should do well in reminding themselves why they have just denied a human the right to love.
Once on Facebook I debated a person who believed that without a doubt all human life should be respected and that all humans should have the right to live free and happy lives. The caveat here was that as long as they weren’t gay they should be.
I can think of only one way in which an obviously intelligent and decent person would get it into their heads that happiness is not deservedly equal unless blank.
The simple fact is that religion has taken too much of our time in idiocies that not enough people would believe had it not offered some kind of reward that is “too big to fail.” Or in fact, too big for us not to take notice. Something so large that it can only be received in the one life we are not even sure exists- go figure.
So it seems that religion while in some contexts is benevolent, at the root it is just as selfish as our natures can go, and then some.
Global warming- yes again with that- is a problem that is significantly more urgent, although more distant, in scope if not in time. This is one of those pressing issues that if we fuck up, has the potential to annihilate not just the human race but pretty much everything else. And yet, we approach it with the same patronizing urgency we show kids.
In the subject of religion, decency, like public discourse, seems to go only as far as the word of god allows, it appears. Whereas in any other context the diminishing bubble of religious influence allows our decency to go much further, even if it’s not as far as it should be.
John Lennon once said, “Imagine all the people living life in peace…”
Lennon used to beat his wife. And while some have elevated him to near mythical status, Lennism isn’t a religion- that I know of. That should tell you something about the fanaticism of some, while reminding you of the objectivity of most.
Lennon was truthfully an incredible human being- but he was no god and in fact he was very flawed . And the rest of us, like sheep, are smart, and perhaps a bit selfish as a few, but very idiotic and corruptible as a flock. The moment we realize that we are betraying our own humanity for ideas people had about how to live two thousand years ago, the faster we can start talking about the things that will take us, quite literally, to the stars.
Instead, check this out: