Thursday, May 15, 2008

The church and the bench: Allow me a follow-up to the last post. To be perfectly frank, I don't find most arguments against gay marriage to be particularly compelling. The real reason I oppose it is that it insults the beliefs of most religious people, and I generally side with this very large group of people. Simple as that. This point of view will not impress those who don't look to faith traditions for moral guidance, just like your arguments of "Why not?" will not leave much of an impression with me.

But to make this post a more useful one, let me explain the larger concern I have that is connected to the gay marriage issue, and that is my take on the institution of law.

Unlike many intelligent folks these days, I don't think a society of unguided individuals engaging in free exchange is a desirable state of affairs. I find wisdom in Old School sociology which would call such a state anomie. The idea is that humans are social animals, and they thrive the best when they are embedded in a web of defined relationships, and when there are authoritative norms to guide their behavior and when there is a trustworthy worldview to give their lives order, meaning, and direction.

Now, environments always change, so societies have no choice but to always be in the process of adaptation. To optimize well-being, however, the change should be slow and gradual. Rapid social change undermines the authority of norms and worldviews, and folks are left with the guides of individual appetite, expedience, and extremism. The chaos of the 60s is a milder example of what I'm talking about here.

American culture today is biased in favor of change. We love the newest and the latest, and there is a tendency to equate new with good. And there are major instutitions which are 100% in sync with our cultural bias. The market and Madison Avenue love to push the new--if you don't have this or that, what is wrong with you?

The university is the same way. History is mostly a story of atrocities, the teachers tell us. Only the future is worth fighting for. The elite media and Hollywood repeat the same story. All a presidential candidate has to do is utter the word "change" and half the country falls in love.

And related to this is science and technology: the old guys gave us some stuff, but the newer stuff is much better. The behavioral sciences and the myriad industries aimed at solving social problems are guilty of the same thing. Traditional ways of helping people with their difficulties are just superstitutions, and not even the research from a decade ago is any good. The study that came out today is the one with all the answers.

So, there are a lot of power centers in love with change, and there are a lot of folks anxiously waiting for the Revolution. But if there is any truth to my above description of an optimally functioning society, where are institutional brakes on all this desire for innovation?

Well, brakes are hard to find in this country, but perhaps the first thing to pop into your brain is the church. And yes, that can be a very important source of caution and restraint. Since it is one of the few sources of anti-newism, it really ticks me off when churches base their policies on the latest New York Times editorial.

Ah, finally we come to it. Traditionally, another brake on the American locomotive has been the courts. With a deep respect for precedent, judges were always looking back for the answers. It was a backward-looking institution. Law was revered because it was ancient--going back a thousand years to medieval England. Even back to Moses if you wanted to push it. In it was encoded the wisdom of our fathers.

Now, the change fetishists sit on the bench, and instead of being pulled kicking and screaming by public sentiment to get with the times, now it imposes the latest fad like a tyrant on a resentful populace.

All you innovators--you can have the rest of them, but take pity on us poor conservatives and leave the church and the bench to us.


  1. Anonymous2:46 AM

    All you innovators--you can have the rest of them, but take pity on us poor conservatives and leave the church and the bench to us.

    That's interesting rhetoric, you want us to let some sub-culture in america do their own thing. But by giving them control of the courts, what they'll be doing is not letting others do their own thing. So freedom for the conservatives, miniature american flags for everyone else?

  2. Nothing wrong with a backward looking institution, as long as we remember its powers are also proscribed and limited.

  3. All you innovators--you can have the rest of them, but take pity on us poor conservatives and leave the church and the bench to us.


    Nobody's going to just cede anything to you. Make your case. Present evidence. You know, like they do in courts. And like you do in this blog on everything but this issue.

    If you have a case to make, make it. Once you resort to "Can't we all just get along" and "Have pity on me" it becomes clear you have no case.

  4. Above Jason, is another Jason, but yeah. :)

  5. Actually, the generic anti-change argument he presents makes some degree of sense to me; G.K. Chesterton and all that. It would be better if he showed some cases in history where neophilia led to disaster. I actually like historical arguments better than theoretical ones in a lot of ways--it's the closest to empiricism the social sciences can get.

    You could also make the rough democratic argument that the populace doesn't want gay marriage and you shouldn't force it on them.

  6. I don't feel that sorry for conservatives, though, after what Bush and Co. have put the country through for the past 8 years. I know paleos don't consider Bush conservative, but the evangelicals supported him 100%, and they're the majority of rank-and-file cons these days.

  7. Anonymous4:20 PM

    It would be better if he showed some cases in history where neophilia led to disaster.

    The French Revolution?

    intellectual pariah


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