This post is part 1 of a 3-part series about ongoing frame shifts in certain current issues. This article doesn’t endorse or advocate any position in particular, but rather explores the largely-unrecognized implications of the two dominant frameworks-of-understanding in social discourse about sexual orientation and legal rights. The real lessons I am trying to drive home are that, from the conservative perspective, a broken clock is still right twice a day (but it’s still broken!), and from the liberal perspective, same-sex marriage advocates unknowingly bit off more than they could chew, and are going to have to deal with this before they choke.
As I said in my introductory post, one of the things that concerns me most about American social, political, and economic discussions is that I don’t believe people understand the extent of the discussion they are having. Not only do they not fully understand the framework they are advocating, they have no idea that their opponents are often advocating not only a different position, but a different framework altogether. While many people point to hyperbolic rhetoric as a cause of polarization in our politics, I think this is actually just a symptom. The root cause is that each side is fundamentally misunderstanding the other side, and having become frustrated that the other side isn’t listening to their argument based on their own framework, has resorted to yelling as loud of possible in an unconscious attempt to force their framework on the other side.
The first example I am going to address is the example of LGBT rights.
When conservatives discuss sexual orientation, they do within the framework of descending orders of morality. Graphically, this can be represented like so:
One implication of this framework is that it enables the “slippery-slope” argument against the legalization and normalization of LGBT rights. This argument has been and continues to be heavily utilized by conservatives. The argument is basically stated, “If we legalize gay marriage, what’s to stop us from letting a man marry two women? Or his dog?” The concern is that once we step outside traditional boundaries, we will enter into a sort of moral free-fall:
Despite conservative fears, the majority of advocates of same-sex marriage aren’t waging a campaign towards legalizing necrophilia. They countered by saying that they were merely campaigning to legalize their genetically-determined orientations. To conservative ears, this sounded like a promise not to continue the descent into immorality depicted above. However, what I believe few people understand is that same-sex marriage advocates were not simply advocating “taking one step down” the conservative morality ladder, they were advocating an entirely new framework for understanding sexual orientation. Prior to same-sex marriage being legalized, the framework they advocated looked like this:
The same-sex marriage campaign, as I have discussed before, was won on the grounds that sexual orientation is a genetic trait and the equation of discrimination on this basis to discrimination based on race and sex. In this vein, the SSM argument advanced the framework above; which sought to rectify the unequal legal status of two equally-genetically-determined conditions.
Note the four greyed-out orientations leftover from the conservative morality ladder. The problem with this framework is identical in structure to the conflict between genetically-determined sexual orientation and gender-as-a-construct blank-slatism. Although it is a tautology, it needs to be said: Within a framework that describes sexual preferences as genetically determined, all sexual preferences are genetically determined. To be clear, I don’t believe that the SSM advocates were secretly preparing to use SSM as a political beach-head from which to advocate additional orientations. What I am driving at is that a framework must frame an entire issue, and when the SSM’s framework is taken to it’s logical conclusion, it looks like this:
As depicted above, the SSM framework is a package deal with unavoidable implications beyond the legalization of same-sex marriage. If all sexual orientations are genetically determined, and same-sex marriage was legalized on the basis that it is unlawful to discriminate against an in-born preference, than on what grounds do we permit heterosexual and homosexual marriage and continue to outlaw the remaining categories?
Having examined these two frameworks; let’s revisit the conservative concern of the slippery-slope. A conservative hewing to his morality ladder will look at same-sex marriages and see that society has come to tolerate an increasing degree of degeneracy. Any advocacy of any further loosening of social mores will serve as proof in the conservative mind that permitting same-sex marriage granted socio-political momentum down the morality ladder. What the conservative doesn’t realize is that the framework now enshrined in popular understanding and the law is not that we are tolerating increasingly less moral behavior, but rather that all such behavior has been de-categorized as a moral behavior and re-categorized as an amoral concern. While he predicts that he will have to “fight another fight,” he does so on the understanding that he is fighting one more step towards moral degeneracy. He has no idea that the fight now already includes any and all “levels of degeneracy,” but that his argument based on morality is an attack in the wrong direction. His fight now is not with morality, but with the scientific understanding of what exactly sexual orientation is. Correspondingly, the average same-sex marriage advocate has no idea that their own framework, (which they understood in terms of the greyed-out model), has set the stage for any and all behavior to become legal.
All this leads to the article I wanted to link from The Guardian: Paedophilia: Bringing Dark Desires to Light. In this article, the exact dialogue one may expect plays out. Scientists address the concern that pedophilia may be genetic. Others express outrage that we would consider something that seems so obviously morally wrong. (Note: these two sides are already discussing the issue according to my two different frameworks.) Still others draw parallels to same-sex marriage, saying, “we outlawed homosexuality, and we were wrong. Perhaps we’re wrong about paedophilia.” It bears re-emphasizing that the conservative, with his “out-dated” morality-ladder framework, will say “I told you so!” even though he has no idea the extent or the true cause of the problem. Same-sex marriage advocates will be surprised, and perhaps forced to recognize the entirety of the framework they advocated. What they do from there, I have no idea.
Related Reading: Why liberals love pedophiles