Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Willful Stupidity of Anti-Gay Prejudice

This post began as a response to a series of comments on my FaceBook page, where I posted a video of Rachel Maddow interviewing Rep. Patrick Murphy, an 82nd Airborne Iraq war veteran, winner of the Bronze Star, and Congress's point man for the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy. You can find the full text of those comments here, and a similar exchange with a woman who conflated gays and child molesters, here.

After writing my response to the anti-gay commenters, I realized what I'd written would serve well as its own post. Here it is.

You know why these discussions can be so sterile? Because the people who talk the most and listen the least are the ones with the most nonsensical, ill-considered opinions. I guess this makes sense, in a way. After all, if you know deep down that your opinion will be exposed as nothing but ignorant, empty prejudice in the face of evidence, logic, argument, and even common sense, your best strategy will be to ignore such things any time you encounter them in favor of throwing up an unending stream of thoughtless bullshit.

So, Brentt and Colin, you ignored my request to substitute the word "blacks" for the word "gays." Here, let me do it for you in your own comments:

"It all comes down to following orders. If you can't abide by having to serve in an all-black unit and not being able to serve with whites, then you deserve whatever comes your way, and it makes me happy to see it... Just because you're black doesn't mean you get special treatment so grow up, man up and follow the rules... All I am saying is that in order to maintain professionalism in an all volunteer military, you volunteer once, and then do what you're told to do after that. It doesn't mean you have to like it, you just have to do it... Just because they are black they are exempt from the rules? I think not."

"I think all the blacks should be put into their own regiment. That would give them a way to show their true merit and defend or avenge their black buddies in battle."

How does that read to you? It's exactly what you're arguing.

Brentt, your thoughts on the discriminatory nature of DADT also ignore previous comments -- again, presumably because you're not reading them. As others here have said, and as even the most elementary common sense ought to suggest to you, DADT is indeed discriminatory because it only applies to gays. The only way you could miss a point so obvious is if you're motivated by something other than reason.

Here, let me clarify by substituting the word "straight" for the word "gay" in your comment:

"If any of you try to make this a debate about discrimination, you'd be wrong. The military is not saying that you can't be straight and serve in the military. They are only saying that you can't ask anyone if they are, or tell anyone that you are. It's perfectly fine for you to be straight and serve in the military and has been for 15 years or so when President Clinton enacted this policy."

Do you see it now? A law that allows one class of people to acknowledge their sexuality and punishes another class of people for acknowledging their sexuality is inherently, obviously, discriminatory. If you want DADT to apply across the board -- such that anyone who acknowledges his or sexuality, straight or gay, will be discharged -- then it won't be discriminatory. Otherwise, by definition, it is.

Really, to miss a double standard so blindingly obvious, you'd have to start with the premise, conscious or unconscious, that gays are in some way illegitimate. Which I guess is where you're coming from and is unlikely something you can be reasoned away from if you're sufficiently motivated to adhere to your view.

"So, the question here is this: Is the Military ready for homosexuals to openly serve?"

But I already specifically addressed this exact question in one of my comments above, in which I referenced Truman's desegregation order, the Civil Rights Act, and the attitudes of the military and society at large. I argued, in fact, that this is not "the question," nor should it be, nor was it or should it have been then. Now you're raising the question again as though for the first time, suggesting that for you, it *is* the first time, because the most charitable explanation I can devise for why you would ask the same question that has been responded to previously without even noting the existence of that previous response is that you're not reading the comments to which you purport to be responding. And because you haven't responded to a single one of the arguments Rep. Murphy lays out in the video interview I linked to, and because many of his points contradict your own, I imagine you haven't watched the interview, either.

Discussing -- if that's the right word -- an interview you haven't even bothered to listen to is odd behavior. I wonder what would motivate it.

Your conflation of sexual assault with homosexuality is borderline insane and regardless, has already been addressed in other comments here. Sexual assault and other forms of assault are and should be illegal, in the military and elsewhere. Assault has nothing to do with homosexuality or heterosexuality, and the fact that you would argue otherwise again suggests that your views are motivated by something other than reason.

As for your conflation of sexual orientation with marital affairs, this is as worthy an argument as your conflation of sexual orientation and sexual assault. Once again, if you can't understand the difference between orientation and behavior -- about the same as the difference between being left-handed, on the one hand, and a left hook, on the other -- something is going on inside you, and it isn't reason.

Your suggestion that most gays are just malingerers who are using their gayness as an excuse to get out of the military is similarly revealing. The only evidence you cite is that you have "seen many people" do so -- as though someone as prejudiced as you could be counted on to adequately account for someone's motivations -- and you ignore the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Rep. Murphy points out that over 13,000 military personnel -- over three combat brigades worth -- have been discharged for being gay. And you assume that a significant percentage of that number were malingerers? Based on a few people you claim to know? Without offering any other evidence for your opinion? Tendentious would be a charitable way of describing your views.

If you really believed your "they're all malingerers" theory, and you really wanted to stop the malingering you assume is so widespread, you would support ending DADT. But you don't -- leading me, once again, to wonder what's really motivating you.

Your fear that straights might freak out if they knew there was a gay in a communal shower is also strange. First, there already are gays in the showers, and good order and discipline seems to go on. Is your point that good order and discipline can be maintained if straights know there are gays in the shower, but not if straights know who some of these gays are? I guess you're arguing then, as Col. Jessup might say, that straights "can't handle the truth."

Well, what was your previous advice for gays? "Man up and follow the rules." I could be wrong, but I have a feeling most soldiers devoted enough to serve and brave enough for combat can handle knowing some of their comrades, equally devoted and brave, are gay. But don't take my word for it: watch the Rep. Murphy video you're pretending to discuss and see what he has to say on the matter.


I promised in a previous post to do an article on how to argue. I haven't forgotten and in fact have outlined some of the points I want to make. But the new book, a sequel to Fault Line called Inside Out, is due at the end of the month, and I've still got a ways to go, so I'm trying to keep my blogging semi-under control.

Pending the article on how to argue, I'll just say this: if you want your argument to be persuasive, and if you hope to be taken at all seriously, at a minimum you have to: (i) familiarize yourself with what's being discussed, whether it's an interview, an article, or the comments of other posters; (ii) respond to points that other people are making, ideally by quoting their exact words; and (iii) understand the difference between opinion and evidence and use the latter to bolster the former.

Final point: for anyone who wants to hear from me a little more frequently, I've been posting updates on Twitter. I confess when I first heard of a 140-character-per-post social networking medium, I thought it sounded silly. It's actually interesting, useful, and productive, though it can be a hell of a distraction, too. Anyway, if you're on Twitter, follow me, and I'll look forward to seeing you there.


Doug M.Cummings said...

If they're ready to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," and as Rep Murphy says, are able to fire an M-4 and kick down doors, I don't care if they have two heads, green skin and are sexually oriented toward thorny roses.
If we're going to make sexual orientation the issue, let's talk about straight sex addicts who serve in the military. How can they backup their buddies when they're distracted all the time thinking about the hot men or women they want to bed the next time they have a chance? How about straight sado-masochists? You want to serve with one of them?
Yeah those are looney arguments. Just like those offered by folks who favor DADT.

Elise Logan said...

Interesting substitution arguments - they do make things stand out in stark contrast. I'll have to remember that technique.

I can understand resistance, and I have a strong belief that people are entitled to their opinion, no matter how stupid that opinion might be. What makes no sense to me in this debate is that many people who are strongly resistant to repealing DADT don't see their own resistance. This level of self-delusion is more than a little disturbing.

Anonymous said...

The thing I love best about your blog, whther here or on myspace, is how meticulously you hoist the nonthinkers by their own petards.


KT Grant said...

What does someone's sexual preference matter when serving their country? The same goes for someone's nationality and gender.

Colin Liddell said...
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Rick said...

Having served in the military let me just say this. When the fecal matter hits the fan I don't care who the person in the foxhole with me sleeps with in his off time. Only that he has my back and can do his job.

Colin Liddell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PBI said...

C.B. Liddell said...
I think gay regiments would actually be quite formidable and be more than the sum of their parts, although I have my doubts about all-African-American outfits.

How about the Massachusetts 54th during the Civil War (or as I'm guessing you might refer to it, "The War of Northern Agression")? The Tuskegee Airmen in World War II? While dealing with segregation and discrimination in the United States, when they were actually allowed to fight, black units have pretty universally excelled.

And really? You're arguing for "separate but equal"? Did you just step out of a time machine from the 1950's? This is some seriously bigoted ignorance you've managed to encapsulate in your comment.

Sensen No Sen

Colin Liddell said...
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Barry Eisler said...

My God, Rick, drawing on your own actual, relevant experience, rather than indulging in untested fantasy suppositions? If you keep this up, you might inspire an Internet trend (and here's hoping...).

Paul, thanks for the usual sane and insightful commentary. C.B. Liddell is the same Colin Buchan Liddell I had to ban from my FaceBook page for trollish behavior. It seems he's determined to continue it here. Sad to be unable to stop pestering someone who's politely urged you to go elsewhere, but what can you do. Trolls are just part of the Internet.

Fran said...

My wife served honorably, but she couldn't be promoted beyond a certain rank for fear of court martial, regardless of her skill or usefulness or ability.

I know that's wrong.

And she served because she loves this country and she was proud to serve, even knowing that if she was ever outed, she'd spend time in Leavenworth (she joined before DADT).

Your arguments, as always, Barry, are inspirational!

And, on a completely different note,we'd love to have you back to Seattle Mystery Bookshop next May or June. I can't wait for INSIDE OUT -- loved FAULT LINE!

PBI said...


The "inclusivist propaganda of the United States"? By what measure are the successes of the Massachusetts 54th and the Airmen "propaganda"? By the measure that they refute your argument pretty clearly? Of do you have actual evidence that the historical record has been forged? If so, please provide it; I would be very interested to see it.

I understand that you are arguing gay regiments would be a good thing, but that is not the point to which I was responding. (Nice attempted duck and cover though.)

Rather, I was speaking to your aside; you know, the one where you have "doubts about all-African-American outfits"? The one that ignores black achievement and tries to paint an entire group of people with a broad brush in order to make the world conform to your preconceptions?

Right - THAT one.

Sensen No Sen

Colin Liddell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PBI said...


Caught the Facebook string as well. I will simply say, "Oy."

Sensen No Sen

Colin Liddell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

And then there's the statistic that the anti-gay crowd never offer up: the demographic who perpetrate the most sexual violence are straight men. So if we really want to end all these shower attacks . . .

Schaz said...

After far too many decades, there is still resistance to and resentment of women in the military (though much less than in the past), and even with the repeal of DADT and the pertinent UCMJ articles, there will continue to be resistance to and resentment of homosexuals in the military.

However, whether it's women or blacks or homosexuals in question, the wrong thing for the military to do is pander to ignorance and prejudice. I served for 20 years, and yes, there were occasional problems, but by the time I retired, what had changed significantly was the institutional support of the anti-female attitudes. (Back when I was in basic, the day that the men got weapons training, we got "make-up and hygiene".)

DADT encourages and endorses anti-gay attitudes. Allowing gays to serve without secrecy (or lying) won't make their service trouble-free, but it will at least start the long process toward a military that recognizes and respects competence, regardless of inconsequential attributes.

Most everyone I've ever served with had the pragmatic attitude that Rick's comment above reflects. The few who didn't...well, mostly they were jerks who were eager to hate anyone different, if they could get away with it. Right now, hating gays is something the military lets them get away with.

Dream said...

I had a similar discussion with someone a couple weeks ago where I used the same replacement word strategy. Their response, "It's not the same thing". It's frustrating just thinking about it again. That no matter how hard you try some people will never be able to open their minds completely.

Betsy Ashton said...

Your substitution of black or straight in the diatribe hit home.

Our local newspaper, the Roanoke Times, published a rabid opinion piece from a former enlisted man in the Navy. He foamed at the mouth about the probability of having to put up with gays having sex in the berths, all the while saying that when women joined the navy, the men got used to hearing another guy "get lucky."

The ill-informed opiner went on to say that navy men know gay men will rape them. Um, rape is a hetrosexual crime more often than it is a homosexual crime.

I fear that this man's position is too firmly entrenched in redneck America to be changed. I wonder if DADT will be repealed in my lifetime.

KSR said...

Barry Eisler: improving the world, one bigot at a time.


Looking forward to "Inside Out." I hope some remnant of our conversation about money laundering makes it into the book!

Oblivious to oblivion said...

As far as gays being in the military, after serving nearly half my career in the Army, I can safely say that I never knew anyone who was gay. Maybe I lead a sheltered existence, but I never served with anyone who was gay – that I know of. And even if they were gay I don’t know if it would have bothered me one way or the other. However, my son was a Combat Medic and was stationed in Germany. He was at a very small med station and most of the surrounding units were deployed to Iraq. His roommate was a very openly gay male – and the chain of command either didn’t care or threw a blind eye at the situation. Now there may be an argument that when you are in a foxhole, gunfire and explosions all around, the sexual orientations of the person next to you is the least of your worries. But when you have to share living space with an openly gay man who brings his boyfriends into your shared living space, who acts flamboyant and loud about their sexual preference, then it admittedly can be – uncomfortable. Call it prejudice, bigotry, or what have you, but straight males and gay males are not compatible for prolonged periods in confined spaces. Lower enlisted are assigned to their living space, usually two to three man rooms with anywhere between 8 to 10 square feet of ‘personal space’ assigned to each soldier. That’s not a whole lot of room, especially when most of that space is taken up by a wall locker, a twin sized bed, a table and a chair. There are no doors. The bathroom is shared. Get the picture? And the living spaces of sailors are even worse with nothing but a bunk and a footlocker to call home. The behavior of this gay soldier drove my son nuts – his effeminate banter, his comments on how my son dressed, how he acted, who he hung out with, his girlfriends, not to mention the gay sexual innuendo was just a constant day-to-day experience for my son. Now to generalize all the gays in the military by the actions of this particular one is neither fair nor reasonable – but to say that this is an isolated incident would also be unfair in getting a handle on the problem of openly gay males in the military. And then there is the social stigma of being a straight male living with a gay male in the “Hooaah” world of the U.S. Army. I read the comments above, those of the Barry and of his readers, and though those words of wisdom who oppose DADT - your opinions and comments are right and true (for the most part) – I cannot help but wonder what idealistic and naive planet you are all living on. Have you all lost touch with basic human nature? There seems to be a major disconnect between how you think things should be and how things really are. Doing away with DADT will not make things better. On the contrary, it would probably make things worse because openly gay males will be met with openly anti-gay hostility. It’s a reality of the US Military.

Joshua James said...

"The behavior of this gay soldier drove my son nuts – his effeminate banter, his comments on how my son dressed, how he acted, who he hung out with, his girlfriends, not to mention the gay sexual innuendo was just a constant day-to-day experience for my son."

I am straight, and had many straight roommates in college in just as close quarters (two college ball players and me in a dorm room, sharing everything) and they drove me just as crazy with their antics, drinking all hours, bringing home chicks and having sex on their beds (and women weren't allowed after hours) while I was studying for a test the next day ... so banning gays isn't really going to solve what sounds like, to me, a behavior problem with roomies ... it's always going to happen.

Just as their are bad gay roomies, there are good ones, and vice-versa ... so it's a bit of a false equivalency ... which you kind of admit, but then you hold it up out there anyway.

"Doing away with DADT will not make things better. On the contrary, it would probably make things worse because openly gay males will be met with openly anti-gay hostility. It’s a reality of the US Military."

It seems to me that they said the same thing about integration, did they not? White soldiers couldn't take bunking with black, etc ... there was hostility, there would be incidents ... and yet, it all worked out. It had to.

It sounds like you're saying, "it's just too much work to make it work without hurting a few soldiers feelings, so let's ban the gays anyway, even though it violates the constitution they've sworn to defend.

And this:

"I read the comments above, those of the Barry and of his readers, and though those words of wisdom who oppose DADT - your opinions and comments are right and true (for the most part) – I cannot help but wonder what idealistic and naive planet you are all living on. Have you all lost touch with basic human nature? There seems to be a major disconnect between how you think things should be and how things really are."

You agree that Barry and his commenters are right, for the most part, but that you don't like that they're right because it doesn't reflect the world ... as you see it ... correct?

In your world, gays are too much trouble in service (though other countries have gays serving and have no problems) and we shouldn't even be talking about it ...

I don't think there's a disconnect between how things are and how they should be ... indeed, this very column addresses one such thing ... DADT is unconstitutional and wrong, and it SHOULD be changed.

So where's the wrongness in thinking that? I get you think it's going to be a pain (too much work for the soldiers to deal with, serving with gays, even though they already do) but how is it wrong and disconnected?