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Briefly Noted: Reasons For Long Term Pessimism
Launching a war on reality is ultimately a losing proposition—as we’re daily reminded in so many ways. The entire project of Western liberalism—including libertarianism—is in the last analysis based on the delusion that man can somehow finesse reality. We all get to make it up as we go along. That’s “who we are as Americans”, that’s the only “value” that counts—the very word “value” indicates a fundamental subjectivism, a decoupling from objective human nature. It’s taken us several hundred years, beginning in the late Middle Ages, to approach the bottom of the slippery slope, but we’re getting there.
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Clambering back up a slippery slope is a daunting process for any society, so there’s no guarantee of success. It all starts with that first step—insisting on first principles. Being is being. The denial that we can attain an objective knowledge of being—and preeminently of human being, of human nature—the denial that there actually is such an objective reality, leads inevitably to feeling (!) that the proposition that “ideas have consequences” is simply tyranny, a threat to our “freedom”. Freedom, of course, being then understood as having no purpose, no finality: freedom as an end in itself. The refusal to admit that ideas really do have consequences, that one thing really does lead to another, is key to how we got to where we are.
Today Rod Dreher addresses one of the most acute manifestations of our war on reality, but one which is at the heart of so much else that is desperately wrong about who we are as Americans. He does so mostly by quoting others, so I’ll tag along:
Michael Brendan Dougherty observes that the crazy religious bigots who predicted in the Dark Ages that same-sex marriage would devalue marriage more broadly are now shown to have been correct. He writes:
America is retreating from marriage. Of course the radicals imagined that what would replace marriage would be better. But by and large, Americans are replacing it with nothing. Resigning the married life and having fewer children means more people will live without dense networks of kin. They will live atomized lives marked by more and longer periods of intense loneliness and despair.
This is in addition to an editorial by NR’s editors, commenting on a current Congressional effort to codify the right to same-sex marriage. NR’s editors write:
Same-sex marriage was not the first step away from this model of marriage. Many social trends and legal developments have weakened the links between sex, marriage, and child-rearing. But that weakening has generally been regrettable rather than laudable. The need for a marriage culture that channels adult behavior in a way conducive to the well-being of children remains as vital as ever. Same-sex marriage obscures the purpose of marriage as an institution and therefore makes the institution less capable of achieving it.
And more bad effects have followed in its train. The bullying, unfairness, and sheer illogic of the trans movement have all drawn strength from same-sex marriage. The attempt to give same-sex couples the same legal and social dignity as married couples had demanded the expansion, and diminished the possibility of criticism and correction, of a market in human flesh: embryos and surrogates, an entrepreneurial field in which the most vulgar eugenics is practiced.
The facile argument that government recognition of same-sex marriages “does not affect you” has turned out to be risibly untrue. Countless lawsuits after Obergefell have worked to diminish the religious liberty of Jews, Muslims, and Christians who hold on to the historic moral and metaphysical commitments of their faith. It is not just bakers and florists, but religious universities, schools, religious orders, and adoption agencies that have faced all manner of legal threats since this alteration to our laws.
To give NR credit, they clearly see the fundamental rejection involved here. The rejection of the truth that ideas have consequences—forseeable consequences. But when Being is being is no longer a self evident principle, no consequences are considered foreseeable and we are constantly assaulted by nasty surprises. For liberals, the consequences of our actions are never foreseeable, because that would somehow detract from our “freedom.”
Ye who have been reading me for the past 20 years on this topic know that I don’t blame same-sex marriage for the destruction of marriage. I have always argued that the demand for SSM arose out of the decline of marriage culture. To disconnect marriage from a transcendent obligation to children, and to make it rather an expression of individual romantic feelings, is to fundamentally alter its character. Straight people did that before gay people ever started asking for marriage rights. Nevertheless, people like me correctly understood from the beginning that SSM was a Rubicon moment in advancing the Sexual Revolution. However strained the connection between marriage and its traditional purposes was under post-1960s cultural change, there was still the possibility of reform. With the normalization of same-sex marriage, that ended.
I don’t read MBD as blaming gays for the collapse of marriage. But he is showing that the promises that extending marriage to same-sex partners would strengthen marriage culture is every bit the nonsense that the cultural Right said it was. And, per NR’s editorial, it undeniably has broken down barriers to thinking in a more fluid way about sex and gender. As Camille Paglia, no right-wing Christian, has noted, this sort of thing historically precedes the collapse of a civilization.
There’s much more at the link, of course. Dreher never writes anything that brief.