My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


I keep hearing on the radio that the election was about "values." Some of these people apparently just came out to vote to stop gay people from getting married, and voted to re-elect George W Bush while they were at it, because he hates gay marriage more than John Kerry does. Apparently the Democrats aren't able to connect with the down home values of Southern, rural and exurban voters. But I understand that culture all too well. I used to live there for chrissakes. I think these nattering nabobs of spin have it backwards. They should be asking why these values voters don't seem willing to understand or accept our culture here in the big blue cities. We're willing to live and let live, why aren't they?

I have a theory. I think a lot of these people come from places that are economically declining, and they can't match many "elites" from the metropolitan areas in terms of education, skill and accomplishment. This leads to a certain feeling of inferiority. Now I'm not trying to talk people down - I think it's terribly unfair what has happened to many smaller cities and rural areas over the past few decades. People's livelihoods have been taken from them, and their communities have been dying. But rather than blame the corporations that have screwed them over, they look for something that will alleviate their feelings of inferiority, resore their pride in what they are now. And what they find is "values." By which they mean conformity to the social and sexual mores of the forefathers. By being virtuous, faithful, and true to these norms, they are able to create a different scale of measuring personal worth other than finincial success, a scale on which they can rate higher than the elite. This really helps them feel better about themselves, by making them feel better than "elitist" Democrats like me. I can see how this is useful to them. But it ain't "Christian."

Theology is the art of translating eternal principals into guidelines for living a religious life under current economic and social circumstances. Non-theologians often confuse the guidelines generated for the here and now with the eternal principals, but they're not the same thing. "Love your neighbor" is an eternal principal. "Don't get divorced" was a guideline generated for a certain time and place. It was a good rule under circumstances where divorced women couldn't provide for themselves and were forced to choose between begging, prostitution, and starving to death. It is meaningless now. When the family was a unit of subsistence food production, it needed to stay together, it needed to produce children as workers, etc. Homosexuals disrupted the family economic system and thus were frowned upon. An understandable rule back in the day, and meaningless now. Child labor is illegal, adoption is common, and there are too many people to feed in the world - the reasons for suppressing homosexuality have disappeared.

Social norms change without changing eternal principals. Certainly no one is arguing for the return of polygamy like they had in the Bible - with three wives I'd have a migrane for the rest of my life, it would just not work in the here and now. I bring this up because these cultural conservatives seem to think that living a religiously observant life means returning to all the little rules that guided daily living a hundred years ago - even though everything else has changed.

Fifty years ago, it's true, my grandparents lived and worked and would have held some of the same social views on homosexuality, for example, as the Christian Conservates do now. But they weren't haters, they just fit into the world the way that it was. They were friendly neighbors, helped out in their communities, gave generously to their churches and to the United Way. They got along with everybody and tried to make their commuities good and welcoming places. They believed in compassion and humility.

Today people who hold the same views are out of step with social life as it is actually lived, and trying to recreate a social order of the past. They are trying to build communities that exclude, silence, and force out people who think differently. They aren't compassionate or humble at all, in fact they hate their country and community, they want to transform it into something totally new. It's not the faith of their fathers at all. They are confusing the little day to day rules which regulated behavior with the guiding principals which produce them. They have jettisoned compassion, love, and charity for a rigid adherence to outdated rules. Why? Because it lets them feel better than other people.

I for one have had it with this crowd. However much they decry the "elite," I'm not the one who's trying to tell them how to live. I'm just trying to navigate the modern world with grace and humility, at the same time as I try to make sure I get a fair shake for myself. That's confusing enough without having to hear about how people lived on the farm in 1913 and what they thought about sex and marriage at that time. The values of yeoman farmers really have nothing to do with how I'm gonna live my life in 21st Century Chicago. Neither do the values of Southern Baptists in the suburbs of Atlanta.

Yet all I'm hearing about the past two days is how I don't "understand" the moral concerns of these people. Baby, I don't care! Why should I? The fact is, I was raised with conservative Christian values in the suburbs, but then I grew up, got educated and left. I understand completely, and I think it's great if those people live their lives the way they want to. I'm not trying to take their churches away for pete's sake. They are the ones who want to come into my community and take rights away from my family and my neighbors. Why can't they live and let live? Why don't they understand, or at least accept the existence of, the values of my community?

I'll tell you why. They're jealous. They envy my educated, theater-watching, sushi-eating ways. They are stuck in dying towns, or boring suburbs. They feel threatened by my experience, my witty repartee, my capacity for rational thought. And they need to find a way to prove they are as good as me. So they use "values," a yardstick they can measure up to with no special skills or knowledge. This was the root of fascism - membership in an elite "race" made up for lack of talent or intellect on the part of the masses. Well guess what: they call us the elite because we're better than everybody. But you know what? It's a merit elite, you want to join the club, you can. Start by reading a book other than the Bible. Go back to school and learn something. Get to know somebody from a different culture. Eat some sushi (latte sucks though, stick with black coffee, you guys are right on that one). See, you can join too!

Or don't. Hell if I care. But don't come in my neighborhood telling me how to live. I don't go to your town an tell you to sleep around or turn gay or whatever. 'Cause I don't care. And don't start telling me about the media - your TV comes with an off switch. Why not throw it out and start your own theater company to do plays about Jesus and stuff? Nobody's stopping you. I might even check it out. But don't go messing with people's lives that you don't even know. That ain't moral, and it ain't "Christian" either. It's bullying.

The truth is, I do know something about you guys and your "values." But you know nothing about me, because you never asked.


Trope said...

Fifty years ago, it's true, my grandparents ... would have held some of the same social views on homosexuality, for example, as the Christian Conservatives do now. But they weren't haters, they just fit into the world the way that it was. They were friendly neighbors, helped out in their communities, gave generously to their churches and to the United Way.This argument is a little weak. What was the big stricture against homosexuality in the 1950's? What kept them from being "haters"? There are many of the same people today, who give generously to their charities and want to make the world a better place. But particularly in the small towns you're describing, money to these charities supports homophobic policies and uses a "moral" yardstick when deciding who to help. (I'm thinking of Salvation Army, though it's not the only one.) Then we're in a bind; do we support the work they are doing, since they keep many people warm and safe, or do we call them out for refusing to hire gay people and pushing an evangelical agenda?
I'm so glad I live in a city where I can donate money and stuff to a place like Howard Brown instead. If I were small-town, would I choose to support them despite their policy?

Bob said...

I love this post, and the whole blog so far. Good job, Elwood.

What do you think would be the best way to bring the metropolitan "feel" to the people that you and I think should experience it? CSI Miami and Law and Order and The West Wing don't seem to be doing it. Movies about or set in big cities don't seem to be doing it. And that America is a country of Starfuckers doesn't seem to be getting our progressive causes anywhere. I watched 3 hours of back to back epsiodes of a VH1 countdown show yesterday because I wanted to see Paris Hilton fall off of a motorcycle, for shit's sake! And I'm probably not the only one.

Maybe the NAAS blog needs to turn into a blog about urban life. Maybe Tony and I need to write a screenplay about living in DC; a sort of "Swingers" but with better dialogue. Maybe I can cause country music to flash out of existance just by concentrating really hard.