Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's Next ...

Having a conversation over on Steve Barnes's blog (darkush.blogspot.com) -- about homosexuality. In response to one post I found myself wondering what my kids would be struggling with --

My parents had to learn accept the equality of people with different skin colors, different ethnicities. I don't think it was difficult for them, and certainly there was no racist language tolerated at our house when I was growing up. I didn't hear about the Jewish conspiracy, the yellow breeders, the wetbacks stealing jobs, the criminal blacks -- until I was older, and then it was from people about whom I could make some pretty good judgements ...

I grew up in an anti-gay atmosphere. My Dad was a good guy -- but he looked down on the queers, the "three dollar bills." Didn't think they should be serving in the military, didn't want them in the locker room, thought there was something fundamentally wrong with them. He softened on that stuff later in life, but never got rid of it. (My mother's a remarkable woman -- never had a bigoted word about any human being she ever met or discussed, not in my hearing. The worst thing I've ever heard her say about anyone was "I guess she wasn't raised to be very thoughtful." My mother's had a difficult life in many plaes -- if you think no white people have picked cotton in this country in the last century, you'd be wrong; she did it at four years old, and remembers worrying that they wouldn't be paid for the cotton she picked, because her hands were bleeding and she was getting blood on the cotton. At four, and that's not the worst of what she endured. How she turned out as sane and wonderful as she did is a mystery to me, but I'm glad she did.)

At least in my late teens I was already clear that I thought gays should be permitted to marry, that it should be illegal to discriminate against them in jobs, housing, etc. Certainly I was aware of their existence -- I was pretty when I was younger, though I don't remember being tempted in those days. Certainly not by the men who were actually hitting on me -- even now I don't find men my age attractive, and back then the middle-aged men trying to get into my pants were simply repulsive to me. This goes to my "practicing heterosexual" description at this point in my life -- women my age are still attractive to me, and men my age aren't. Today even if I wasn't married, I doubt I'd be dating people in their 20s of either gender.

In my mid-20s I found myself with gay friends. One fellow in particular I ended up spending time with, and we hung out in a gay bar together. This buddy never tempted me -- but some of the guys in that bar did. Without getting into detail, let's call the thought the deed -- I suppose that could be compared to being an anti-semite and suddenly finding you're Jewish, or, under the "one drop" rule, to hating blacks and abruptly finding you had black blood yourself, some generations back. (Not necessarily that many generations, either -- light-skinned blacks have been passing for a long time, sometimes with their own families.) I got past it, and a few years later was pretty comfortable with what was going on inside my own head -- but it was an adjustment.

My kids won't need to make the adjustment. Other people's sexuality more bores them than otherwise -- some people are gay, or bi, or whatever, and some people like strawberry ice cream: what else you got?
So what comes next? When they're my age, what are they going to be having problems with, which of their assumptions are going to be challenged by changes in mores? Polygamy? Gender changes becoming more common, a la Varley's old stories? I don't see that in 30 years. Age of consent? I'm skeptical that's going to change -- it's gone up, not down, with every increase in the complexity of society; very few people at 18 today are functioning adults, with the complexity of modern society.
What's next?


Sean Fagan said...

My parents both got more bigoted as they got older, albeit in different ways. They werne't overtly racist -- but would make comments about blacks, mexicans, whatever, when none of them happened to be around.

But when it comes to gays... well. A typical comment from my mother is something like, "I don't care if they're gay, but they shouldn't flaunt it in public!"

For the trip when I took my then-fiancée home, I tried to get a friend to come by so I could bring him in instead and introduce Paul, my boyfriend.

Everyone said I am mean.

Doc Nebula said...

We seem to be getting beyond the physical. My guess (and it's a quick one, as I have to leave for work in like three seconds) is that the prejudices of the future will start to center more and more around non-tangible things -- mental irregularities, things ranging from retardation to autism to just weird behavioral quirks.

Just a feelin', as Powers Boothe said to Nick Nolte in EXTREME PREJUDICE.

Thomas said...

I grew up in the midwest, where the racism wasn't, and still isn't overt. My family would say things like: "Oh, that James Earl Jones is so well spoken." And they were right: JEJ has a wonderful speaking voice, made more special by the fact that he overcame a stutter to become the master of the spoken word that he is today. But that's not what they meant. They meant: "Isn't he so well spoken for being a black man."

It was hard to get over that, but I came to terms that this was a relatively harmless sort of racism when my parents moved us to Florida as children for 3 years. I attended an elementary school in Ft. Pierce called "Garden City Elementary", and it didn't occur to me that all of my friends happened to be black until the son of my babysitter told me I went to that .... school.

These days, my kids are much like yours (Gay == Strawberry ice cream, etc). After 9/11, when the media was singling out cases of racism against central Asians and Middle Easterners, my kids both reacted in a way that made me proud: Which is to say, they didn't react at all. The most they exhibited was a little befuddlement over anyone that would say anything against their Muslim friends.

DKM: What's next?

Dude, this is why we need science fiction writers. This sounds like the next great American novel. You should get right on that, K?

Anonymous said...

I'm 34, and I've personally long been of the opinion that sexual preference/orientation == ice cream flavor. And I suspect that my girlfriend's son (my godson), will have some "progressive" views on the subject, being raised by her and her husband and me...

Maybe I'm a frontrunner, or something like that, although it doesn't really feel that way to me.

Rick Whitesell said...

I'm guessing someone takes a step towards cloning humans.. can you imagine a group of humans that were all created in a lab. Oh yeah.. i guess you can. :)

I bet it will make everyone stop worrying about the "gays"

Rob said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Dan.

No comments re: homosexuality. I've long believed that a deliberate policy of unswerving apathy is sometimes the most humane and merciful thing to do in the face of certain social issues [1]. It's not necessary that I march in favor of gay rights or write letters to Congress condemning the Defense of Marriage Amendment. All I have to do is not care and persuade others to share in my apathy. "Defense of Marriage Amendment? Let's talk Iraq, that seems more pressing."

The age of consent and functioning in society, though... that interests me quite a lot, mostly because I think you're being far too hard on 18-year-olds. If you say that most 18-year-olds can't function as adults, what does it mean to 'function as an adult'? It hardly seems fair to criticize 18-year-olds for, on the whole, not acting as functional adults, when there are a ton of people twice their age who are in the exact same state.

As an example, I'm not sure my own mother counts as a 'functioning adult', not in the sense of modernity. Can she talk about Shakespeare and Milton and Dryden? Sure, with the best of them. She's quite the literature maven. But she's allergic to learning anything, anything at all, about technology, her knowledge of math and science is optimistically at about a sixth-grade level, and hasn't been in the workforce in 30 years. I cannot in all honesty say that she could live as a functioning adult in today's society.

[1] When some of your problems with a Certain Other Writer Of Much Less Talent first dawned and you fell off the face of the earth for a few months, you quipped that you felt like dedicating the next CT book to the CT list, "for unswerving apathy when I needed it most." I was pleased enough that you'd potentially quote me in a dedication that I didn't speak up about how you were quoting me from an email a few weeks before, because I figured pointint it out would probably make you rewrite the damn thing, writers being such stodgy folk about writing their own text.

Anonymous said...

What's next? Religion. It's come full circle and we're seeing it today with evangelicals against non believers and non believers doing the same (but to a lesser degree I suspect). Islam is the new brown menace with the "war on terrorism". Don't even get me started on the atheist and the belief in the separation of church and state that is so in your face now. Religion has always been the root of wars and I see no reason for it to stop now.

Rob said...

I wouldn't be certain that nonbelievers are discriminating against believers to a lesser extent than believers discriminate against nonbelievers. We're not talking about religion here, we're talking about human nature, and aggressive factionalism is endemic to the human condition.

Religion has never caused a war. Human nature has caused the war, and human natures have proceeded to seek cover of religion--either to justify the war, or to absolve our own human nature of any responsibility by saying "it was the damn clerics' fault".

Atheists killed more people in the 20th century than religion killed from the dawn of the common era to the 20th century. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were all atheists. But it would be just as simple and puerile for me to blame their behaviors on their chosen creed as it would be for me to blame the Crusades on the Pope.

Human nature--human factionalism--the human willingness to war--is the enemy. Creeds really aren't so much. Religion appears to be a way to dress up factionalism and absolve ourselves of responsibility, since "God wills it".

Steve Perry said...

But, Rob, when was the last time you saw a group of atheists handing out leaflets at the airport? Or had a pair of them knock on your door with the intent of shifting you from your personal religions beliefs to theirs?

It might indeed be human nature to cloak our wants in rationalizations, but at least a couple of the major religions feel a need to convert the heathen, it is part of the core beliefs that they proselytize.

Christians have trouble abiding Buddhsts, many of them, and Moslems feel that Christians are following the wrong Messiah.

Religion might not cause cause, but some of the bloodiest ones in history were fought between different religions because they couldn't abide each others' beliefs. Yeah, Pol Pot and Stalin. But ... the Crusades ...

J.D. Ray said...

I took what Rob was saying as a condemnation of the human tendency to factionalize, and of religion to be just one facet of that rather than the definite root of the problem. But maybe that's just because I hear the voice of a kindred spirit, and read what I feel into what he was saying.

We as humans are terrible to one another. To quote, "What we have here is a failure to communicate... I don't like it any better than you like it."

I don't think it's a problem of people talking about how they feel or what they are about. There's a distinct lack of listening with open hearts and minds, though.



(just finished reading Devlin's Razor, BTW. Nice murder mystery, told in the voice of a Sunset Strip novel [a Bogie reference even shows up], which sets it apart from the rest of CT, but it's still good. Looking forward to ordering a hard copy.)

Rob said...


While I respect your opinions, I would make it a point to also condemn in the exact same breath those misguided politicians who go door-to-door trying to persuade me to change my mind.

Or that junk mail I get from Oxfam. I donate to them on a regular schedule, and I don't appreciate them thinking they can persuade me into giving them more of my hard-earned cash.

Or Amnesty International. Or beer advertising.

If you single out religion for their attempts to persuade you to change your mind, then don't you sort of have to single out all of the human experience? Isn't the human experience filled with human beings imposing upon others to one degree or another, in an attempt to change their views?

Personally, I have no problem with the Mormon missionaries who come through the neighborhood. I invite them in, I offer them some noncaffeinated drinks, we talk for a while. They see it as an opportunity to tell me about their religion, and it is. I see it as an opportunity to get to know some people from my community, which it is. They've never managed to persuade me, but I have managed to make a couple of friends.

(And incidentally, yes, I do have experience with militant atheists who have attempted to persuade me of the error of my views. What makes them especially annoying is they don't even bother to learn what my views are, only that I don't subscribe to their atheism.)

Rob said...

Also, J.D., you're pretty close to what I was saying. Thank you.

Steve Perry said...

"If you single out religion for their attempts to persuade you to change your mind, then don't you sort of have to single out all of the human experience?"

In a word, no. Guys trying to sell me soap or get me to send funds to starving children in Chad are after my money, and they don't much care about my soul.

If your religion mandates that you knock on my door and try to bring me around to your viewpoint, and the two biggest ones in the U.S. do consider conversion part of their dogma, then that's a pretty big pool of folks wanting to be their brother's keeper.

Look at the laws of the land. Lot of them come out of that ethos. A law based on a morality that tells me what my wife and I can do in the privacy of our bedrooms? Please.

Thou shalt not give head? I must have missed that verse in my readings of the Bible.

I'm not arguing against religion per se, you can believe what you want, as long as I don't have to get dragged down your path.

We aren't supposed to have a state religion in the U.S., but by default, we do.

I've had plenty of LDS kids knock on my door, and once I grew up, I'd invited them in for a glass of water and break, but tell them they were wasting their time on my.

I've never had an atheist come to my door and tell me I should give up my religious beliefs, whatever they might me. Never.

Your comment that you've been in arguments with atheists is something of a straw man; I didn't ask you if you've ever had a pro/anti discussion about religion, I would assume many of us have.

Atheists and agnostics by their nature don't have a creed or dogma that compels them to organize and go forth to create heathens ...

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Rob, I didn't realize I was quoting you -- don't remember at this point actually using that line. It's a good line, though, so I'm proud to have lifted it from you. Only steal from the best. :-)

I don't think I'm being hard at all on 18 year olds, though. Sure, some 18 year olds are adults, and some 40 year olds aren't -- but you have to draw the age of consent somewhere, and I don't see any realistic scenario where you can lower it. Judging adulthood on a case by case basis is a recipe for screaming disaster, IMO, at least at the legal level.

Religion's not the problem; ideology is, and religion happens to be a virulent case of that. You get people to believe in something bigger than themselves ... and let me tell you, it's that much easier to believe it's bigger than other people. Communism or the Triune God, makes not too much difference.

Watch out for people who have the Truth with them....

Rob said...


I think you're erring by painting with far too broad a brush. Whether a particular church is aggressively evangelical depends much more on the person leading the church, rather than any official doctrine. I can list a great many churches off the top of my head that do no evangelism. Engagement with the community, sure, but not evangelism.

So, again, it appears to me you're conflating the flaws of human nature with religion.

Regarding what you consider the straw-man of my experience with militant atheists, I maintain that it is on point. Quoting you, "But, Rob, when was the last time you ... had a pair of them knock on your door with the intent of shifting you from your personal religions beliefs to theirs?"

About a month ago, Steve. They weren't knocking on the door of my home, they were knocking on the door of my office. They were members of the First Church of Richard Dawkins, heard that I was not an atheist, and decided to stop by and argue that atheism was the only viewpoint compatible with mathematical logic. It was remarkable hubris.

You asked the question. You got an answer you weren't liking. I call shenanigans on your attempt to call it a straw man.

Also, I'm a small-l libertarian. I have just as much disgust as you do for the intrusion of the government into the private sphere. You make it sound as if this isn't possible, given that I also identify with the Episcopal Church.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

BTW -- I've met plenty of faithful people who don't qualify as ideologs. Humble religious people who are terribly cautious about presuming on the nature of God's will ... no problem there on my end. I've known several of those people and I very much respect them.

I've only ever known a couple communists at all well -- one American communist, one Soviet communist. The American communist wasn't an ideolog by my definition; the Soviet was, I think. (Back in the pre-email days I got letters, within days, from my Soviet commie and a priest I used to correspond with: the priest called me a commie and the commie called me a running dog capitalist. That's happened to me more often than you'd think -- spent a week in Alabama once, and I was the most liberal person any of the guys there had ever met. In L.A. I frequently get to play the right-wing conservative -- I'm more left than right these days, but everything is relative. A fellow over on Barnes's blog lectured me on sensitivity to the gay experience the other day, and on my atrocious use of language; I spent much of the '90s working with a man who lectured me with every bit as much fervor on the evils of homosexuality. It'd be interesting to put the pair of them together in a room, and locking the door ...)

Steve Perry said...

Well, I sit corrected. Over the years, I've had dozens of LDS kids and not a few Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door. I was pleasant to them, but not interested in Joseph Smith and the leaves of gold, nor Awake nor the Watchtower.

Never had an atheist knock and try.

That it happened to you is the first I've heard of such attempts at conversion, and I still see no evidence of this kind of reverse-evangelicalism on any organized scale.

But let it go. If it happened to you, your view is your own.

It is my experience that religion sticks its nose into my business more than I do its business, and a short poll of folks I know who, some of who are atheists and some who are not, tends to agree with me. (And for the record, no, I'm not an atheist. My beliefs don't include a white-haired old God on a throne in Heaven hurling lightning bolts at those who displease Him, but I have no problem with people who want to go with that. It might be turtles all the way down, too.)

Our country is still based soundly in the Judeo-Christian ethical system, and not that's all bad; we could do worse than several of the Ten Commandments as a basis for our legal system.

The middle five work pretty well. The first four are religious dogma, and the last two are thought-crimes -- and I'm not sure that coveting thy neighbor's slave has much sway these days ...

I'm still more a proponent of the basis of crime being the unwarranted instigation of force by one person or persons against another.

I also wasn't aware that Dawkins had a church ...

Steve Perry said...

"Whom." Tsk, tsk. Where is my editor when I need her