What Facebook Taught Me About Middle America’s Moral Stamina

stilltongue

On issues like gay marriage that require saying “no” out of principle, the average American’s sparkling self-image–or sometimes just his spiritual weariness–freezes the word on his tongue.

I’m new to Facebook.  Only took it up in order to promote my two latest books.  (Oh, and by the way… google Climbing Backward Out of Caves or Hitting Secrets from Baseball’s Graveyard.  Support shameless capitalism!)  Now where was I?  Yes, so the other day, being a tyro in this kind of skirmish, I read the following post by a man we’ll call Joe:

Quick rant: if people would worry about the things they can affect most like themselves and their families… Gay marriage would be so far down the list of problems.

If you want to make changes in this state or country start with you and your family, then your work.

If all you do is gripe about politics you are virtually worthless to this state and country. Spend your time more wisely on the things you can impact.

Rant over.

Naively, I dove right into a response without realizing that there were thirty others ahead of me. My hasty comment: “But if you want to DESTROY the state, then the family is the perfect place to start.”

‘Nuff said, as I supposed.  But no… I had entirely misread the intent of Joe’s post, and an almost instant return-comment alerted me a) that Joe was somehow uncomfortable with my sentiments, and b) that he appeared to be nailed to his Facebook page 24/7.  The return-fire read, “I understand what you are saying but I still feel like if people focused on imposing their beliefs and creating the culture they want—at home, then gay marriage would not be a problem for them.”  This retort brought me little by way of clarification, but its mere delivery in “I understand… but” terms proved that it was meant to take issue with my thoughts.  I read more closely.  Ah, I get it!  Joe is saying that we shouldn’t give a fig about wedding-cake lawsuits or Supreme Court decisions.  We should live and let live, cultivate our garden, and let others likewise have their own space to do what they want.  Protesting the SCOTUS decree was whining impotently and not keeping your eye on the proverbial ball.  It was rendering yourself “worthless to the state”.  (And how I long to be of worth to this state!)

For some reason, I took one more shot over my shoulder, Parthian-like, as I rode away.  “Absolutely. But this is all being pushed at its highest levels by ppl who want to make Big Brother everybody’s daddy. And some are on record as saying so. That’s what I meant.”

Well, I think Joe knew what I meant all along.  I think he was just saying that good citizens should mind their own business instead of stirring everyone up with conspiracy theories and witch hunts.  When he was referring to those who “gripe about politics”, he was defining yours truly.

Trouble is, Joe, that our ability to govern the upbringing of our own children is precisely what’s at issue.  If you think that you’re still free to rear your children in the belief that homosexuality is wrong… no, Joe.  They’ll be suspended from school if they ever express this view beyond your home’s threshold.  The truth is that children have been harassed over the past couple of decades if they even espoused a homespun view that premarital sex is wrong.  They’ve been branded as troglodytes, at best—or as “haters” who judge others.  That’s the gist of the thing, Joe: though you may still (for a while) teach your children whatever you wish at home, they are not allowed to learn it as a value system.  It’s just an alternate etiquette, rather, for a certain small spot on the map.  Mama says to take our shoes off in the house, and Papa says homosexuality is wrong while we’re at the dinner table.  Nella chiesa coi santi ed in taverna coi ghiottoni—“A pious psalm-singer in church, a hearty guzzler in the bar.”

What Joe and millions of other well-intentioned Americans don’t understand is that a free society allows its citizens to teach their children principles—and that principles do not shift as one crosses the street.  If my family lived beside a Pakistani who murdered his daughter because her skirt was too short, am I to tell my children, “Well, you see, it’s okay in his house”?  I realize that homosexuality isn’t murder; but if my child asks, “Daddy, why were Mr. Chuck and Mr. Dan kissing like you and mommy do?”… okay, Joe, what do I say then?  Do I answer that it’s okay in their yard but not in ours?  Is this the blueprint you have in mind for values-instruction?  Wouldn’t the clear implication be that no absolute virtue and vice exist–that it’s all a matter of geography and timing? Exactly what retention-rate for paternal moral lessons delivered from such a platform do you anticipate when your daughters turn sixteen?

When the state (that same state which we are to serve by minding our own business) deprives us of our right to disapprove—not to tar and feather, but merely to teach and proclaim publicly, “this is wrong”—then we no longer control the values imbibed by our children.  Television and the Internet have already usurped this right from us almost irretrievably.  Culture isn’t a taco dinner or a pizza that you warm in the microwave for ten minutes. You have to mean it to pass it along—and to mean it, you have to apply it in day-to-day experience.

Now, not all cultural traditions are good: much pernicious brainwashing can take place in their name (e.g., “honor killings” of daughters in short skirts).  All moral instruction of children, however, has to begin in cultural conditioning.  Children are not capable of grasping abstract principles.  We teach them first not to throw things in anger, not to gorge on sweets, not to monopolize a toy.  Later, we hope that they have internalized the core principle of not being ruled by passion.  That they should merely want something is insufficient reason for them to abuse others in obtaining it, to abuse themselves in surfeiting on it, or to create a kind of solipsistic reality around it.  Homosexual marriage, to me, embodies all of these moral failures.  It’s about sex: for if about friendship, why the need of a sexual union?  It’s about self-centered sex: for if about other objectives, what are they—certainly not childbearing!  And isn’t the “marriage” side of the equation clearly about insisting that surrounding reality bend its tastes and laws to flatter one’s personal whimsy—for when over the past half century or so has our society brutalized any gay couple for pursuing its fancy discreetly?  This high-handed legislative fiat visited upon us by unelected, appointed-for-life egomaniacs is all about forcing the general populace to honor a practice that utterly undermines the conventional condemnation of an appetite-ruled will.

And indeed, rule by appetite is just as pernicious in heterosexuals–a point made far too seldom. Marriage as a means of getting some luscious morsel into bed is not a sacriment, but sacrilege. We don’t seem to understand the difference, even at that level. We stir in some of Justice Kennedy’s patented mush if our sexy magnet also listens to the same music as we do and claims to like the same movies, and… we’re good to go. In an age of incessant Viagra commercials where tarts lolling on mattresses tease old men, what would you expect?  Wherein has the heterosexual community preserved any sense of honor in its couplings?  How do heterosexuals argue to their occasional offspring that marriage is about family when abortion has proliferated until some progressive academics want the execution boundary line nudged past toothing?

Naturally, none of this would fit into a Facebook post—and I stand by my original telegram to Joe that the state-sponsored uni-family is the ultimate objective of the gay agenda.  (And Joe—there is a gay agenda: the enormous resources driving this movement are not being contributed by good little citizens who stay out of politics.)  Nevertheless, the most interesting—and deeply upsetting—part of my initial Facebook foray was the chain of responses that Joe had elicited before mine, and that I hadn’t read until much later.  Here’s a small sampling:

You should rant more often.

I totally agree.  More Joe rants is [sic] bound to make the world a better place.

True words.

Well said.

If I copied and pasted ten times, you’d pretty much have the whole string. Now, it’s entirely possible that I was just receiving a quick baptism into Facebook etiquette.  “So true.  Rant on.  Peace out.  You’re so right.  Like!  Brain empty but happy.” In other words, maybe Facebook exchanges are the equivalent of normal conversation.  It all reminds me so very much of certain scenes from The Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan version). People who have been kidnapped and stuck in a gilded cage for the rest of their lives by a multi-national Big Brother pretend that they’re on holiday. If they say anything at all, it’s, “Lovely day! Chance of showers later. Be seeing you!” The uncooperative are “hospitalized” for “psychiatric evaluation” (i.e., reprogramming). Happiness requires cooperation, cooperation requires positive thinking, and positive thinking requires a steady resistance to thought. The zen of stupidity, one might say.

My favorite entries on Joe’s Facebook page went deeper than a mere, “Amen, brother!”… deeper in the peculiar sense of clarifying their worrisome shallowness.  One plunging little bluebird chirped, “Ahhh so agree! Sometimes I feel like people pick sides purely for the sake of picking sides, and then to lecture each other on the merits of their argument. Aghhhh! I tell the mirror each morning, ‘we starts with me, so stop whining and start shining.’”

Bluuuuggghhh!  No, my dear, moral reality doesn’t really begin in your battery-operated sparkle.  It begins in principle—which begins, again (from a classical perspective: i.e., without stirring God into the formula) in the obligation of human beings to be ruled by mind rather than gut.

Another response: “Wish more people had this attitude instead of trying to be in everyone’s business. Take care of number 1, that’s all you can control.”  Yeah, that’s the spirit.  Begin with “me”—and then it doesn’t really matter if you get any “we” out of it or not. And I thought I was a cynic!

But here’s our prize-winner: “There have been many families built on lies where one parent was secretly gay but ‘had’ to appear otherwise for many reasons. Ive [sic] known that in knowing the people I have known and I have known what keeping up a facade can do to ruin A LOT of lives. If someone’s gay they can go live freer and more authentic rather than marry someone they don’t prefer. Families will be the first benefits [sic] from this new legislation.”  I don’t know if you really know what you know, though, pal—knowing you like I don’t.

My fingertips itched to get at this one, but I recognized that the only suitable reply would be in a venue like IC—for such crusading champions obviously aren’t browsing the Internet for a discussion.  I would have said to Tom (as I shall call him), “Tom, my dear, there are even more families where one or both parents occasionally want an extramarital fling.  To constrain them within their vows is oppressive: it wears upon them day after day, warps their self-expression, deprives them of true happiness, etc., etc.  Why not liberate these sad prisoners to have a red-hot weekend once in a while with their secretary or the parking-lot attendant?  Why not structure marriage flexibly so that the periodic infidelity would no longer be stigmatized?  Participants would return home invigorated and prepared to make a new commitment to Johnny’s soccer team and Rachel’s tennis lessons.  Liberation, man!”

See what I mean?  In my irrepressible “sarcasm” mode, I would have lost all my invaluable Facebook friends in a trice—and forget about selling any books!

I should also have liked to know from Tom a little more about the fate of this miserable (if hypothetical) family’s children.  Would they never have been born, since the gay parent would never have walked down the wrong aisle?  Or would they spend every other weekend with Dad and his “husband”? Or would the happy new couple simply adopt them, despite alarming statistics about the psychological struggles of children raised in gay households?

Of course, that’s needlessly muddying the waters.  Marriage isn’t about kids, is it?  It’s about hedonistic happiness—or about a dash of spiritual companionship AND great sex of just the right kind—with any children added later as desired by adoption or… whatever.  Let’s keep our priorities straight.

Quickly, let me perorate by sharing with you what I believe to be going on here.  Joe is not a bad guy.  I like him. In fact, I’m very much of a “mind your own business” type myself—which is why I resent having to mingle in politics almost daily to keep the Gestapo out of my garden and my bedroom. Now, Joe is just Average Joe, a regular guy–certainly not an ideologue. Most polls appear to show that Middle America has shifted to a solid majority endorsement of gay marriage.  These Facebook exchanges begin to tell me why.  For one thing, people like Joe are busy with their jobs and their private lives, and they don’t have the energy left over to follow what institutions the robed clowns of the Supreme Court are shredding at the moment.  I think some of them probably realize, if only subliminally, that things are getting really bad; and so, to resist a depression that can be incapacitating, they adopt a “lifeboat” mentality.  “Look, I can’t do anything about that sinking ship.  I’ve got an oar, and I’ve got water, and I’m not going to sit here and pine until I get sunstroke.”  There’s a certain commendable—yet misplaced—independence to this mindset.  I call it misplaced because the same wolf pack that sank the ship is coming after your lifeboat.

Substantial numbers of Americans, alas, are less admirable.  They enjoy thinking the very best of themselves, and they’ll do it at the expense of common sense, moral decency, and the Bill of Rights.  They vote Republican when some specific issue starts to gnaw at their pocket book; but they veer Left on social issues, because these are easy occasions for them to appropriate warm-fuzzy words for themselves as they take that morning look into the mirror.  “I am tolerant.  I am compassionate.  I am broad-minded.  I have superior moral judgment to the crude bourgeois hypocrites around me.  God is love, and God loves me, especially, because I love everyone.  Those other people who are such haters… I don’t know how God puts up with them.” Mirrors, it turns out—though they may not lie—can listen to a whole heap of lies without comment.

I’ve concluded, on the basis of my e-excursion, that this is why the Tea Party suffers such a bad rap in popular culture.  It isn’t really because of a calumnious media-machine; it’s more because Middle Americans themselves need the Tea Party to be “right-wing extremist” so that they, in contrast, may preen their moral feathers before the mirror and coo about their compromising, mediating, well-balanced, fair-minded virtue.  The average American is bloody full of himself… and his children, God help them, will pay for it.  But when is the last time he really thought of his children?  When did he ever sacrifice one sparkle of his scintillant self-esteem to confront a real issue like a mature adult?

You know, Joe, I’m going to hit my garden again this afternoons—my survival garden, where I have enough peanuts to get me through at least a couple of months.  But I’m not doing it, Joe, to be “of worth to the state”.  I’m doing it because our state is virtually worthless, thanks to the complacent inattention of nice guys like you.

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