About God, sex, women, Darwin, fundamental rights and other really deep stuff I just don’t understand

Sometimes I spend enough time typing a comment that if feels like it should be a separate post. So it is with my reply to Bud, on the whole “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” controversy. I had hesitated to put the subject on my Virtual Front yesterday (and sorry there’s not one today; I’ve just gotten tied up late in the day) because I just don’t like these interminable Kulturkampf issues, mainly because few of the pat answers that other people find satisfactory work for me. But it was the biggest story of the day, and that’s that.

So we went around and around on the subject, and finally Bud did something that people occasionally get fed up with me and do — asked me to explain whether I was serious or just being argumentative:

Brad, do you want to retain DADT or are you just being a bit contrarian? There are really 3 issues here:

1. Readiness. The evidence from militaires around the world suggest readiness is unaffected by allowing openly gay men and women into the military. Plus, we are losing highly qualified individuals on account of the current policy. Seems like the readiness issue favors repeal. The old soldiers who resist do so because of tradition. Sometimes traditions need changing.

2. Rights as a citizen. Even though Brad won’t acknowledge this I find it critically important that we allow all citizens to participate in the defense of our country. It’s appalling to me that this aspect can be so cavalierly dismissed.

3. Politics. This concerns Obama. Politically I believe he would enhance his standing with the American people by getting rid of the policy via Executive order. Sure it would be best to do so with the consent of congress but given that a majority in congress just voted for repeal I don’t see how it would be bad politically to support majority rule.

So I answered him as follows

Bud, I’m inclined to keep DADT, but it’s not a hugely important thing to me. And yeah, I’m being contrarian, because the way we speak about a lot of issues, in flat ways that lead to the polarization of our politics, bugs me.

I push back against libertarians who see a new “right” everywhere they turn because I think it’s an excessive, extreme way of framing an argument. In this country, once you say something is a “right,” you are trying to shut down discussion of other considerations. And the other considerations should be discussed.

For instance, y’all know that I’m for single-payer. But not because I consider health care to be a “right.” I think it’s a rational way to order society. I think it would eliminate a problem — a lot of problems, actually — and that it is a positive good to see that people get good health care if you can figure out how to provide it. I also think it would liberate our economy if people could work at their passions instead of clinging to bad-fit jobs (or merely safe, comfortable jobs) for the benefits.

It simply makes sense to eliminate all the for-profit intermediaries that stand between us and our doctors. It’s not about “rights;” it’s about what makes sense if we want our country to be a good place to live.

Ditto with DADT. If, as Kathryn says, “the brass wants to get rid of DADT,” cool. If they really want to, and it’s not just what one or two generals say when when they’re testifying before Congress with the Secretary of Defense sitting next to them — a situation in which, to use a Tom Wolfe phrase from The Right Stuff, a wise career officer keeps a salute stapled to his forehead.

I don’t know. But it’s not a simple, slam-dunk issue. Nothing about sexuality and how society deals with it is.

For instance, some of my friends here like to believe that embracing the latest right invented by an interest group is a sign of unalloyed progress, a reflection of inevitable movement in a single direction by a species that is consistently evolving toward being better and better all the time.

Uh-uh. It’s not that simple.

Frankly after 56 years of being straight (like a Woody Allen character once confided, I don’t think I HAD a latency period), heterosexuality is still a big mystery to me. I’m astounded by the mechanisms that cause us to have such urges.

Back when I was a kid, quite frankly, I didn’t really believe homosexuality existed. It just seemed so unlikely, so unimaginable. Some guys wanna do WHAT? No way. I thought it was a made-up thing that existed only as an insult for young people already confused and insecure about sexuality to fling at each other. Like “your mother wears Army boots” — you’re not literally making an observation about the other person’s mother’s footwear. Or “Go f___ yourself” — you don’t expect it to actually happen.

But as I grew older and had gay friends, and they communicated in various ways that THEY weren’t kidding; this was for real, I thought about it and realized that HETEROsexuality, as a fundamental force in our characters, seems equally unlikely. I mean, why would I be so attracted to women and their bodies even when I was too young to know anything about what that was all about? How could I want to do something I had never heard of, or thought of?

Actually, I know the answer to WHY — it’s essential to reproduction, whether you think in terms of God’s commandment to go forth and multiply or an evolutionary imperative or both. Organisms with this urge had offspring; those without it did not.

What mystifies me is HOW that works, and all the complexities involved.

Show me a naked woman, and you boggle my mind (and not just for physiological reasons). I behold eternity, and the immediacy of the moment, promised pleasures, guilt, excitement, freedom, responsibility, the irresistible continuum of Life, God and man and Satan and Darwin, Eve, Wisdom and ultimate foolishness, something that is very adult and yet all about little babies. And on and on. It is the very ESSENCE of complexity, and simplicity at the same time.

That is more than enough to puzzle me for the rest of my life; I’m certainly not going to presume to tell you what homosexuality is, because I don’t get that at ALL.

And don’t tell me that society’s ways of dealing with sexuality are simple, that they’re all this way or all that way.

I know better.

12 thoughts on “About God, sex, women, Darwin, fundamental rights and other really deep stuff I just don’t understand

  1. SR

    End DADT.
    The people who hate queers should be delighted at being able to count dead ones and write them off as non-casualties.
    What should IMO matter is what younger enlisted think, not what civilians (who aren’t affected sitting on their butts while warriors fight in their behalf), since it is the young enlisted who bear the brunt of war.

  2. jfx

    “What mystifies me is HOW that works…”

    Bingo. Perhaps a concerted demystification of such sensitive matters would help clarify the most reasonable policy positions. As things stand, it seems so many people have allowed themselves to remain passively mystified, for so long, that the best we’ve managed, at least up until very recently, is a sort of groping (err, bad choice of word) around for a way to AVOID dealing with these orientation matters head-on.

    That seems to be the essence of DADT. “Please don’t make me or you talk about it!” A coward’s compromise. Thank you Bill Clinton, you big sissy.

    For starters, it would help to get at the root, the biological root, of homosexuality. And there does seem to be one. I’ve known and talked to enough gay people to know that this thing unfolds at puberty just the same for them as it does for us. Yeah there are some people who CHOOSE to be gay as a lifestyle choice, but from what I understand those are outliers. Many adolescents who find themselves manifesting differently than their peers don’t actually WANT to be gay! It’s rather a large dilemma, and very difficult to sort out.

    There’s been some intriguing work done on studying the chemistry of the womb, but it’s still early yet. Some of the research suggested a higher incidence of homosexuality in boys born to mothers who had already given birth to a son previously. It is proposed that there is a chemical signaling corruption that occurs in the womb during or after the first male child is brought to term. I was surprised when I heard it, because I personally know of several family units that follow that paradigm, i.e. the younger of the sons is gay.

    As I said, it’s early. And what about the ladies? But supposing this line of inquiry firms up into something that is empirically demonstrable and undeniable, I think it will be hard to make a case for any further discrimination, of any kind, on matters of sexual orientation. The truth is, it’s already hard to make a case. It takes a lot of looking the other way, not talking about, not thinking too much about it, etc. It takes a lot of willful mystification.

  3. Brad

    Two points:
    — It’s hard to discuss this when it’s framed as between people who want to end DADT and “people who hate queers.” If that was what you meant. If not, pardon me.
    — regarding the attitudes of the “young enlisted”…

    That’s another big mystery to me. It seems like the same young folks, brought up by MTV to a certain absolutist faith that gay marriage and other things that go way beyond the traditional concept of mere tolerance must NOT be questioned (and believe me; I’ve heard the lectures from my kids), nevertheless exhibit behavior — or at least speech — that is reminiscent of that of our own earlier, benighted generations.

    You know what I mean — from the obviously pejorative “that is SO gay” to, say, that funny exchange between two young characters in “The 40-year-old Virgin” who keep up a running stream of insults while playing a video game, saying things like “You know how I know you’re gay? You like Coldplay.”

    Anybody else notice this trend? It seems really familiar to me (like, something you’d have heard in the 60s, or 50s), and makes me question whether society has “advanced” as much as some of the more sanguine opponents of DADT believe…

  4. Burl Burlingame

    Pretty simple to me. Gays are citizens too. When you deny a citizen the “right” to participate in society — including the military — then it’s a civil-rights issue, whether or not it’s been recently identified as an “issue.”
    Surveys among the troops during World War II indicated they were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping blacks and Jews out of the military. Many still are in favor of such restrictions — but that doesn’t mean we have to put up with their prejudices.
    Brad and I grew up in a military that had many blacks and Jews — and all sorts of “others” — in the ranks. We seem to have survived.

  5. Norm Ivey

    Straight Soldier sits in the barracks holding forth on the girl back home. He talks about how she make him feel, and how he can’t wait to get home to see her again.

    Gay Soldier sits quietly, listens and understands how Straight Soldier feels, but says nothing about his loved one who inspires exactly the same emotions and pangs of absence in him. He is quiet not because he is ashamed of who he is but because he is forbidden by the US government to talk about it.

    Freedom of expression is a right, and men and women we ask to defend that right are forbidden to exercise it. Human sexuality may be complex and mysterious, but this issue is not.

  6. bud

    I’m going to take a little different track here and reframe the issue. I simply do not buy into this whole concept that military service is somehow an important part of citizenship. I see the military as a necessary nuisance that needs to be tolerated. Nothing more. The concept of a peace time draft is abhorent to me. The only time in American history that a draft was legitimately called for was in the 1940s after we were attacked by dangerous military powers. Otherwise the draft has been abused and thousands of young men have suffered needlessly because of it.

    The military should be thought of as a company whose job it is to protect Americans from the militaries of other nations. They should not be involved in nation building and other such nonsense.

    Once we remove this patriotism mumbo-jumbo from the equation we are left with simply building an effective defense force based on merit. And since the military serves at the pleasure of the United States government it should do so within the legal framework of the constitution. Hence there should be no discrimination of any kind, period. A person should be hired to perform a particular duty within the military and should be able to meet the requirements of the particular job in question. It makes no sense to require a stateside translator to be as physically fit as an infantry soldier.

    At the end of the day the military should be regarded in the same light as any other government function. To deify the military is both dangerous and a bit silly. The men and women of the military perform an important and sometimes dangerous job. But let’s not make that work something more than it is.

  7. bud

    Here’s a story that may evolve into a huge news event. Coming in under the radar right now but this seems pretty big:

    HONG KONG — Sharply raising the stakes in a dispute over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain, the Chinese government has blocked exports to Japan of a crucial category of minerals used in products like hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles.

    Here’s the link to the NY Times story:


  8. Brad

    Hmm… if I lived in Nanjing right now, I’d be really worried. We’ve seen the Japanese starved for resources before…

    Bud, we do NOT make what the military does “more than it is.” If anything, we underestimate it, because civilians — or rear-echelon military types — really do not and cannot understand what is involved in combat.

    Bud illustrates part of the problem, and an important reason why it’s politically difficult to eliminate DADT. That’s because many of the people who most want it done away with either are, or are perceived (and perhaps unfairly) as, people who “see the military as a necessary nuisance that needs to be tolerated,” if that. They see it as an alien force that needs to be remolded to the values held by the people wanting to do the remolding.

    A lot of people bridle at that. I’m one of them, although you won’t hear me fulminating about it and ranting about liberals this and Pelosi that the way Joe Wilson or Karen Floyd would. I simply — and this bugs Bud no end — regard the culture and values of the military as being higher and better, and certainly more admirable, than the culture and values of most people in the civilian society that it serves, me included.

    The military MUST be under the command and control of the civilian authority. The military should go where civilian authority decides it should go, and accomplish the missions that civilian authority chooses for it. But I cannot help but look askance at any attempt to make the military’s culture adhere to the Kulturkampf trend of the moment.

    One of the issues for me is whether that’s what DADT is about, and there are a lot of indications that it is.

    The best argument to use with me — or one of the best arguments — is to emphasize that homosexual soldiers adhere to the military’s culture of honor, duty and country, and that by letting them serve openly we honor those values. And we do hear that a lot, although the message is generally weakened when we hear it from civilians who demonstrate in no other way that THEY value those traits. It’s best coming from career military people themselves. It’s not at all persuasive when it comes from people who at best “see the military as a necessary nuisance that needs to be tolerated.”

  9. Doug Ross

    Should DADT also be enforced for police and firemen? Is their effectiveness diminished by serving side-by-side with gays?

    How much of the “Kulturkampf” is really just a bunch of old guys like John McCain trying to hold onto the past? To me, it’s a generational thing and not a culture issue.

  10. Mark Stewart

    I don’t know the answer to this social dilemma we face. I can appreciate the arguments from both sides.

    My gut tells me that this is much a do about nothing and that ten years from now, this debate will have been forgotten. Despite the difficulties created, the presence of women in ships, planes and other such places now appears unremarkable in our military.

    While I only visited the country once, I am still struck by the sight of Israeli draftees (uniformed and with their assault rifles slung over their shoulders) interwoven throughout their society – men and women. On a bus. In a store, restaurant, or nightclub. Everywhere. And they represented every facet of their society – well, except for the Arab Israelis.

    I guess that’s ultimately the point for me: Do we want to have a society here in our country today that maintains second class segregation of some of its citizens? Are they a danger to “us” or are we simply blinded by prejudice?

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