It's more right to be loving, than to be right

"LIBERAL senator Cory Bernardi has been forced to resign as shadow parliamentary secretary to Tony Abbott following his remarks linking gay marriage to bestiality." The Australian, 19th Sept 2012

Thus spoke The Australian newspaper. Almost right. Further down the story, if you cared to read so far, the paper clarified a little.
During a debate last night over proposed gay marriage laws, Senator Bernardi said legalising same-sex unions would prompt calls for more extreme changes.“The next step ... is having three people that love each other be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people,” Senator Bernardi said.
“There are even some creepy people out there, who say that it's OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?”
As usual, the nuanced and "ill-considered" remarks of a politician, were spun into a simpler, and less accurate proposition. "Gay marriage leads to bestiality" became the strident message of the day. Gays were offended. Who could blame them? It appeared some ratbag Senator was suggesting that same sex relationships inevitably lead to sheepy-sex.

You can read what Senator Bernadi actually said here: http://goo.gl/i4kwt  and make up your own mind. But my intention here is not to debate the merits of the argument, but rather to bemoan the inability to actually have an argument. Bernadi's proposition was not debated. It was merely attacked.

Bernadi's proposition was that legalising same sex marriage could lead to demands to legalise other kinds of unions. Surely this is a proposition that could be considered soberly and rationally. Why is it so hard to have a sensible conversation about propositions? Why does everything descend into personal attacks, name-calling, half-truths and outright lies?

After all, same-sex marriages have been legalised in some places for quite a while. Is there any evidence from these places that they are on a slippery slope? How many sheep have been asked to be married to humans in the Netherlands after eleven years of experience? And, by the way, how was the sheep's consent determined?

In the media rush to put Bernardi into a strait-jacket hardly anyone paused a nanosecond to consider the merits, or frankly demerits, of the proposition. Bernardi was hoisted on his own petard, and perhaps he deserved it, but not because anyone had bothered to say how he was wrong. If indeed he was. Who knows?


The Other Side Of The Coin Looks The Same

This week Judy and I attended a presentation by Bill Muehlenberg on behalf of The Australian Family Association. The AFA exists under the umbrella of the National Civic Council (yes, B.A. Santamaria etc). For non-Aussie readers, let's just say Conservative Catholic, and that Senator Bernardi would not feel out of place at a meeting of the Australian Family Association. 

I was familiar, but hardly intimate, with Bill's style. Like me, Bill has a website - http://www.billmuehlenberg.com  When Judy asked me what he was like, I described him as "a radical conservative" which I suppose sounded too oxymoronic to be enlightening. 

Bill was advertised to speak on religious freedom. In particular, that those freedoms were under attack. I thought we might hear an analysis of the recent Alabama Immigration Law court case and the successful use of the American justice system to overturn laws which would have made criminals out of anyone who offered help or work or shelter to an "undocumented immigrant". See here for further information.

But no. Not an argument. Not a debate. The very techniques of stereotyping, half-truths and distortions used by Bernardi's attackers, were on show on this other side of the ethical divide.

Surprisingly, Bill's evidence for the (quite reasonable) proposition that religious freedoms were under attack, came entirely from the mass media. An odd authority, I thought, given the popular media's inherent tendency to over-promote minority views, to generalise from isolated incidents, to report opinion as fact, to extrapolate future certainties from minor possibilities.

It became clear to me, if not perhaps to all present, that the polemics on both sides of this argument are identical. Neither side respects the arguments of the other. Neither side is attempting to argue at all. Cultivating fear is a short cut to action. Ill-informed and knee-jerk action, but action nevertheless. Shrillness is the goal. Enlightenment is not.

One should not be surprised. As Rene Girard has pointed out, those engaged in this kind of rivalry end up being mirror images, doubles, of each other. The arguments fall away. The rationales become more irrational. Defeating the rival becomes the end goal. Defeat by any means.

And here, as in every endeavour, the ends do not justify these means.

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