Cautions Regarding Gay Marriage
Calm down, this isn’t your standard and by now trite right wing denunciation of gay marriage to the effect that homosexuals have no civil rights and marriage is a gift from godot (Listen godot, take your gift and stuff it up your ass). Any rational person can’t but be happy that homosexuals and lesbians have in many jurisdictions had civil rights and equal treatment under the law extended to them with respect to an institution that others take for granted. No, my worries come from the cultural left. Or rather from the libertarian right. Or else, if you absolutely need a label in order to misunderstand what I am going to say, from a convinced anarcho-libertarian capitalist tool. My concerns are twofold:
I. Will the sweet song of alienation be extinguished? The extraordinary cultural contributions of homosexuals could very likely stop or at least palpably diminish and they could join the rest of us in Papagenist squalor. Homosexuals have made contributions to world civilization far in excess of what their percentage of the population would seem to justify. And much of the great homosexual art and literature is tightly linked to the psychological (contingent and explainable) and philosophical (objective and unavoidable) negativity that is more easily embraced by members of a despised minority. Homosexual supremacy in the arts is most visible in the great arc of European civilization that stretches from the Italian Renaissance through the end of the 20th century and may very well be a localized historical phenomenon.
It is not by chance that Jean Genet and Robert Mapplethorpe, who dominated their respective art forms in the closing decades of the last century, should produce work expressive of negativity and alienation, nor that homosexuality should explicitly in Genet’s case and implicitly in Mapplethorpe’s be the behavioral scaffold informing the content of their art. The factual experience of rejection felt by the homosexual leads to a revelation on the part of the artist of a less resolvable sort of unhappiness that he makes perceivable in the sexually oriented metaphors of his work. For what one might boldly call totalizing alienation is not a curable disease or a social ill that could be eliminated by appropriate legislation and social change. Likewise the theme of homosexuality in the art of the great homosexuals serves as no more than an inductive device, a family of revelatory images and verbal figures that permit us to glimpse totalizing alienation. This is why the elimination of prejudice against homosexuals, however laudable that may be in real societies, does deprive us of a powerful thematic for giving artistic form to the insoluble tragedy of totalizing alienation. It may also serve to distance us from the very special beauty in Genet’s prose and Mapplethorpe’s spare quasi-linear style. The flowers of that melancholy may no longer bloom on threatening desert stalks.
Mapplethorpe is not alone in using sexuality as a photographic theme. Other homosexuals such as Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel dominated fashion photography in the decade of the nineties making thereby significant contributions to fine art photography as well. Because they emerge from the fashion world, their work exhibits the ambiguous kind of bisexuality that uses mostly female subjects as both co-conspirators and objects of sexual desire. I’m not sure whether Ben Westwood or Tony Ward are homosexual, heterosexual or both, but Ward at least clearly plays Delacroix to Mapplethorpe’s Ingres.
A case could be made that Genet and William Burroughs were the finest novelists of the 2nd half of the past century and that they dominated their respective literatures. A further case could be made that their perspective of exclusion prevented them from reaching the kind of sentimental conclusions that you find in a Henry Miller, for example.
It is true that the flowery bank of negativity is not the private garden of homosexuals. We need only think of Baudelaire, Egon Schiele, Chad Kultgen or Kurt Cobain to realize that some of the best contrarian art and literature is not only the product of heterosexuals but actually thematizes heterosexual sexuality. And certainly much homosexual, heterosexual and pansexual literature is different in kind from the dark writings of the alienated. There is an undercurrent of negativity in the novels of Margaret Atwood, but her purpose is more an indirect sort of social commentary. The sexual fantasies of Anne Rice, Nadine Monfils and David Hamilton are not alienated in the slightest. In fact they seem to be written from the point of view of those who have emerged into a world free of sexual oppression. Nevertheless the outsized contribution of homosexuals to culture may diminish now that they are permitted to occupy the picket fence house across the street.
In fact you don’t have to be factually disadvantaged or materially oppressed in order to understand and embrace negativity. Someone who has no disadvantages such as can be picked upon by the Papagenos of the world as the sole source of his “affliction” embraces a far stronger kind of negativity, a metaphysical negativity, so to speak, that rejects human life in whatever configuration. And of course, there is no justice in hoping someone suffers just so he may sing more sweetly. That would be on the order of brass bulls or foie gras.
The fact that lesbians don’t figure prominently in the homosexual cultural flowering is almost certainly due (But I do offer this without proof or argument or even recognition of the underlying assumption) to the suppression of women and the resulting limited opportunities for lesbian self-expression. If you’re effectively not allowed to create art at all aside from the odd throw pillow you can’t create negative art. Off the top of my head I can think of a couple of exceptions – Gertrude Stein, Frida Kahlo, Tamara de Lempicka – but the pickings are sparse.
The kind of “feminist” art (Judy Chicago is an appropriate example) that cannot see beyond factual injustice to the more universal structure of totalizing negativity commits the error of all political art forms. Its vision is limited to potentially solvable social ills and so remains on the level of agitprop or propaganda, a minor art form if indeed an art form at all. Of course the political fallacy is not confined to the lesbo left. Political photographers such as Alfredo Jaar and Oscar Muñoz exhibit the same tendencies. The lesbo left simply adds the inappropriate element of a misplaced hatred of men (Sexual injustice is a two way street. Michelangelo’s hostility to women, or at least to female beauty, should give one pause, but no more than the hostility of the heterosexual Rembrandt). And it is equally true that social injustices are immoral and in many cases intolerable and propaganda as a way of combating such injustices has its place. But once the ills have been cleared away or once the audience is agreed that they should be cleared away, a void remains that is expressed in the work of true artists such as Mapplethorpe and Genet. Their oeuvre is totalizing partly because it does not incorporate specific political doctrines (Genet’s later political activity is not reflected in his novels and only indirectly in his theatre) or focus on resolvable issues such as is done by, Van Sant’s film about Harvey Milk, for example. Propaganda is by nature temporary. How many of us are moved by the nationalist historical paintings popular in 19th century Europe?
Another possible though not necessary consequence is that, once homosexuals are allowed into the club of “us,” they may join in the persecution of other groups whom they begin to clearly perceive as “them.” This is just one possible course of action. Those of a mindset like Roy Cohn’s will probably embrace it. Others, remembering their own oppression, may not. There is a tendency on the part of militant minorities to gain acceptance through denying by word and upsetting by deed the accusations of collateral evil their intolerant detractors hurl at them. Thus Blacks and Hispanics are accused of being lazy and shiftless by nature. So they lobby the media and advertisers to depict them as CEO’s and prosperous family men (Filipinos don’t seem to have got the message in this respect). Atheists are accused of being immoral terrorists or Medoc sipping cultural snobs (The two are morally equivalent in the mind of the average aesthetic gamma). So some like Dan Dennett take pains to praise the aesthetic qualities of religious services and paint a picture of themselves as Bermuda shorted suburban daddies who think of little but teevee sports. And gays are accused of actively subverting family values and recruiting children to “the gay lifestyle.” So they campaign to show their family life as no different from the mores of that nice Scheisslieber family down the street. This is natural in a way. It is an unjustified rhetorical insult to be depicted as lazy and shiftless, a commie stooge or a corruptor of youth if those qualities have in fact nothing to do with your nature as a racial minority, freethinker or homosexual. But there is a downside to this form of self-defense. Those cultural phenomena that you are described as subverting may not actually be so desirable. Some “lazy” Blacks were and are in fact great musicians and writers. Overtly religious cultural commentators and artists are some of the fiercest critics of suburban squalor. And homosexuals, as I said above, have found value and insight in the experience of personal alienation. Moreover, sometimes the defense takes the form of turning on another despised minority, frequently the very minority they had unjustly been associated with, in a kind of ersatz unity with their oppressors. “I might be dirt, but at least I’m topsoil and not one of those nasty whatevers.” Thus religious Blacks at one time were in the vanguard of attacks on homosexuals and other “sinners.’” Dennett went out of his way to single out the American Communist Party and so besmirch the political left in general. His mockery of the French just to prove he was “one o’ da guys” is despicable. Pornographers are quite adept at detecting some sort of pornography (usually child erotica) that they also hate. And today we see the sorry spectacle of American Democrats becoming (probably hypocritically) more religious and morally intolerant than the Goober Right. This is indeed a way to become like your oppressor, but not one that merits moral approbation.
Almost all those who drool on about the sanctity of marriage as well as a good number of defenders of homosexuality will have no idea what I’m talking about. Bless their souls. My dog Nipper has no idea what I’m talking about either. Some of us don’t think it’s a particularly good thing for homosexuals or anybody to openly tap their toes to Donnie and Marie or gather on the couch with their perfect families to watch the new episode of their favorite teevee comedy. To those among us who are so genetically limited that they do not understand what superior art may be or the distinctions I just drew I can offer little by way of consolation. All I can say is you are probably happy the way you are precisely because, like sufferers from profound mental retardation, you cannot envisage an alternative. Not everyone is artistically sensitive just as not everyone can jump over high poles or efficiently cause concussions among his sporting opponents.
II. Civil marriage (I use the term “civil marriage” because I am uninterested in sectarian marriage rituals; the goddists can do whatever they want as far as I’m concerned as long as they don't get in my way or otherwise force the unwilling to follow along) is a particularly pernicious form of social engineering. It is an entitlement given to the religiously favored few that does significant financial harm to a growing minority if not by now majority within advanced nations who, for whatever reason, choose not to marry despite having children and raising their children responsibly. To cast exclusion from this entitlement as a civil rights issue respecting sexual orientation alone is to obfuscate the more fundamental problem that the entitlement of civil marriage has no place in civilized society. From a jurisprudential standpoint tax advantages based solely on marriage deny the unmarried equal treatment before the law and specifically violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
The marriage deduction is unrelated to the dependent deduction. There is an independent justification for allowing deductions for care of children, the elderly or anyone else who cannot earn a living on their own. Also if one conjugal partner, married or unmarried, chooses not to work in order to function as a full time household manager and caregiver, there are ways outside of a marriage deduction to acknowledge that situation and provide appropriate tax benefits. But the core problem is that civilly married childless couples who both work do not deserve any tax benefits that unmarried couples who both work don’t get. Any such benefit is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Here's my ulterior motive. If upstanding citizens get a tax deduction for signing a piece of paper, shouldn't I get a tax deduction for bringing hookers over to the hotel at The University Club of Chicago for private parties?)
My point is unrelated to the issue of whether there should be taxes at all or whether income tax should be replaced by consumption tax (Personally I favor some form of inheritance tax and consumption tax and oppose income tax, but I haven’t given enough thought to the matter to take a strong stand. Why inheritance tax? The reason lies in something I call “Hobbes’ Lemma” the full explanation of which I am still working on). My point is, assuming the existence of such a thing as income tax, the tax burden must be spread fairly and the marriage deduction is fundamentally unfair.