Use the board, Luke

What’s the best way to get a man to fall over? It isn’t by hitting them with a board, and hoping you have enough strength and they have enough vulnerability to fall over. It’s by finding the board that they’re leaning against, and then pulling it away.

I wrote that in a comment to the “Beating Swastikas into Nose Rings” post, and it forms a good introduction to this one. What I was saying, in effect, is that you if you want to get people to change, you have to bring about change using language they can understand and accept – not batter at them repeatedly with concepts both confusing and threatening.

To use ‘Nazi’ to describe Bush’s use of media today will not cause Middle America to suddenly come awake and decide that Bush’s actions are a threat to our way of life. There is too much baggage associated with this word for it to be used effectively, as either comparison or possibility of threat. Tommy Franks introduction to the possibility of the Constitution being discarded and martial law being put into effect based on terrorist actions does far more for invoking the appropriate concerns and responses than a thousand uses of ‘Nazi’ and ten thousand uses of ‘Fascist’.

(Some would say my battering the bandwidth with continued exhortations about inequality of women will not lead to change among those that dominate our immediate environment – primarily white middle-aged (over) educated men. I would agree, but frankly, I’m not trying to get these men to change; I’m just trying to sour the milk for the ‘boys only’ milk-and-cookie fests. I’ll leave it to others to use the girly-girly approach to get these men to change.)

That’s why I so admire David Brooks recent op-ed at the New York Times. Brooks writes:

The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn’t just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.

The most pugnacious opposition to same-sex marriage in this country will come from the Fundamentalists, the Christians who have a deep and abiding belief in their faith, and, unfortunately, an equally deep and abiding set of rules to govern how we all should act. They have already started their campaign with claims that homosexual marriage will be the destruction of home and family, and the door to promiscuity and sin.

Brooks, who understands these people’s language, has couched this issue in terms they can not only understand but accept: that gay marriage, rather than leading to promiscuity will enforce a standard set of behaviors as regards sexuality on all people in this country – straight or gay. He’s found the board on which the fundamentalists have based their battle, and pulled it away before there war was even begun. Absolutely brilliant.

Every gay woman or man in this country, and every straight woman and man in this country who believes in equality regardless of sexual orientation should send this man roses. Instead, at least within weblogging, we’re treated to an exhibition of virility that, if pooled into liquid form, could scent every tree between me and China.

Glenn Reynolds and others respond to Brooks’ statement:

Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide. He or she is ripping the veil from all that is private and delicate in oneself, and pulverizing it in an assembly line of selfish sensations.

Reynolds responds with:

Actually, I had quite a few years like that before I was married, and I consider it a good thing, though I’m quite happy to be married now and wouldn’t have wanted to live that way forever. (But I think that one reason that I’m happily married now is that I did live that way for quite a while first). But I agree with David Brooks that gay marriage is a good thing, and actually strengthens traditional values rather than harming them.

What Reynolds said, paraphrasing him is, I agree with Brooks, but I don’t want you all to think I don’t like sex. I like it. I like it a lot.

Later, when he’d received several emails condemning his free-spirited ways, Reynolds wrote:

Yeah. But my point was that to arrive at what is, in fact, the kind of marriage that Brooks describes (except perhaps for the “I am you” angle, which seems a bit creepy to me), I had to pass through the kind of conduct he deplores. Only I think that I couldn’t have the one without the other. I’m deeply suspicious, frankly, of people who assume that all sex outside marriage is somehow depraved or corrupt or instrumental. Perhaps they are projecting, or perhaps they are just ignorant. It certainly seems to me – as I indicate above – that sex is to some on the right what violence is to some on the left: something seen as so dangerous, and so powerful, that if it is not kept entirely in check, it is sure to go completely out of control. I regard both kinds of thinking as misguided.

From there, the issue then became a matter of ’sex’ rather than equality, with Stephen Green (VodkaPundit) writing:

But some people don’t like sex. Or at least they don’t like it when unapproved couples are doing it in unapproved ways at unapproved times under unapproved auspices. Those are the folks who sent the InstaPundit a “surprising amount of hatemail” over the weekend.

Glenn always struck me as the kind of blogger who wouldn’t get a whole lot of hatemail —reasoned, calm, and often sympathetic on hotbutton issues. Yet a simple admission that ‘ gasp! ‘ he enjoyed his not-asexual single days gets his inbox filled with angry letters. And I’m not going out on a limb here, guessing that those angry people probably agree with the good professor on a lot of things. Just not about sex.

Lest you think this is a boy’s only milk-and-cookie fest, Reynolds also referenced Beth Green who wrote:

Sex is the greatest thing ever. Trust me, facing a year without Nerdstar around sucks beyond imagination, missing out on our sex life is a big part of why. I spent a few years celibate by choice – being so not by choice is the worst.

This was not about sex. Not really. This was about communicating for change using the tokens of language the intended target will understand. Brooks didn’t tailor his op-ed to the stud muffins among the warbloggers – he was trying to reach out to those most opposed to gay marriage, using a shared form of communication. For once I must agree with Andrew Sullivan when he writes about Brooks, He leaves me awed..

Brooks’ also wrote:

When liberals argue for gay marriage, they make it sound like a really good employee benefits plan. Or they frame it as a civil rights issue, like extending the right to vote.

He’s right on again – many in this country who are for gay marriage, or against Bush’s re-election for that matter, tend to use our terms and concepts in attempts to communicate our fears and worries to those unlike ourselves. We use ‘Hitler’ in comparison with Bush to reflect each man’s use of fear to obtain and keep power; and ‘Nazi’ in comparison with the Bush Administration to reflect the manipulation of media to control viewpoints of events. No matter whether we are just expressing our viewpoint (elegantly), or trying to invoke in others our own fears, the use of these ‘loaded’ terms works effectively, and consistently, only with those most likely to share the same internalization of these terms. Outside of this sphere of common understanding, the opposite reaction can, and does, occur.

I read the essays written by both sides of the fence and am struck again and again how many skilled pro-Bush journalists use terms and scenarios that would be identifiable by the so-called masses, with appropriate hooks to same. I compare this with their anti-Bush compatriots who tend to use recitation of the same facts, over and over, speaking with such intense ernestness about the evil of Bush that they are literally left puzzled and frustrated when people don’t immediately respond with, “Of course. You’re right.”

(For a demonstration of the conservative journalistic ability to adapt brilliantly, like ideological chameleons, see Sam Schulman’s Gay Marriage – And Marriage.)

But before I end this, I did want to assure one and all that, yes, I like sex, too. A lot.

(Thanks to wKen for the -Pundit links.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email