April 7, 2009

Sex Is Not All

Justin Katz

It's a tragicomic truism that members of the cultural movement, with roots in the "Sexual Revolution," that presses for the acceptance of ever more licentious behavior, that peppers popular culture with lewd images and innuendo, and that leverages carnal lust as an enticement toward the trap of its radical worldview often accuse those who stand against them in defense of our society of being obsessed with sex. Here, in the words of commenter Pragmatist:

And why not just admit that this criticism of the president is really about sex Justin? We all know that religious conservatives, above all else, are obsessed with sex: the consequences of straight sex and existence of gay sex. Religious concerns about the environment, war, torture, income inequality seldom pop up on the conseravtive radar. But sex? Well then, hold the presses!

It doesn't take much capacity for objectivity to observe that none of the other issues that Pragmatist lists find anywhere near the concerted advocacy of sex when it comes to promoting sin qua sin, from the religious point of view. Nobody advocates lessons in safe-torture to grammar school children. (Abstinence is unrealistic, after all!) Nobody proposes that war should be a matter of individual choice made as free of consequences as possible.

Moreover, those not quite so blinkered by hostility to the expression of traditional views will likely comprehend that, for religious conservatives, chief among the "consequences of straight sex" is the creation of human life, and therein lies the motivation for determination. Note, for evidence, that the conservative radar is also well tuned to the overtures of scientists to transform human life into a utility. Progressives appear to believe that conservatives see protection of embryos and objection to cloning as front-guard barriers against the fundamental normalization of abortion, which (the story holds) we oppose because cannot keep our minds off the activity that creates a being to be aborted in the first place. The failure to see the true consistent core of this belief system is strongly suggestive of a desperate need to maintain the feeling of moral imprimatur for the commission of evil.

But what of torture? Isn't that an evil act? Yes, of course, and I've yet to hear a religious conservative argue for torture of an anything-to-extract-information degree, and general agreement that torture is unacceptable contributes to the skewed public perception. Because we all agree that our government should not be lopping off fingers one joint at a time, the discussion quickly moves to determination of the line. Truth be told, I've had discussions with other religious conservatives in which I voiced my difficulty seeing mild sleep deprivation and droning music, even stress positions, as torture; that doesn't indicate that conservatism is a philosophy in which torture isn't an issue, but that some of us believe that interrogations of unlawful combatants can be a bit more strenuous than a questionnaire. It's also relevant that the conversation would be a non-starter were the principle under scrutiny the permissibility of performing "enhanced interrogation" on innocent civilians.

What of income inequality? Isn't greed one of the seven deadlies? Aren't we called to serve our brothers and sisters? Yes, of course, but we on the right believe that opportunity is the more effective means of assisting the poor and that coercively redistributive power in the hands of a government body is a recipe for even more damaging outcomes.

Indeed, cycling through the issues that he mentions, one thought recurs with each: Pragmatist really hasn't followed internal debates among conservatives. What emerges from such a study is that there are basic principles held to be irreducible and a broad, fluid field of prudential lines.

At the core of them all, of course, is life, and among the most thoroughly agreed upon conclusions among religious righties is that a society that encourages (not forces) healthy personal choices endows its people with the most powerful possible protectant against a corruption that deadens the instinct for justice across the board. The most sure sources of instruction for discerning social necessities are the traditions that enabled the moral and corporeal advancement of our culture over millennia in the first place.

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You made many points in that post, and I'll address just one of them now; the one that exercises me the most.

As far as I can tell, the right has ignored the torture controversy, except to swallow hook, line, and sinker the Bush administration's talking points. In fact, you just did it.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that the Bush administration explicitly authorized what no serious person now disputes is Torture with a capital T, you dismiss it all by describing it as "mild sleep deprivation" and "a bit more strenuous than a questionnaire." A mountain of evidence contradicting your view of history is so widely available to make your statements absurd.

Your description is emblematic of the right's moral hypocracy when it comes to the record of our government during the last 8 years. You, like so many on the right, have either paid no attention at all to the massive evidence of the Bush administration's immoral, illegal, and ineffective torture program, or you are dishonestly sweeping it under the rug out of embarassment.

The public record of the beatings, waterboarding, starvation, and other extreme forms of physical and psychological pain inflicted on people who in many cases had little to no information to provide, all at the explicit direction of our government is overwhelming.

Start with the leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is available all over the web and which has been reported by the Washington Post and NY Review of Books. The conclusion of the Red Cross investigators, who had direct access to the victims, is that the treatment was clearly torture, that it was illegal, and that the perpetrators should be investigated to prevent it from ever happening again.

That you, like so many on the right, have turned a blind eye to all this is shocking to me. If anything should cause conservatives to be up in arms, it is the idea that our federal government can secretly detain a person, sweep him off to a far-away place, torture him indefinately, and account to no one for its actions.

So I know that torture committed in our names might not rank up there with stopping the gays, but shouldn't it register SOME air time among religious conservatives?

The religious right's silence on this topic is proof enough that it has become a captive of the partisan talk-radio ranters and that the intellectual core of the right is indeed hollow.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 7, 2009 7:43 PM

By the way, I'm eagerly awaiting your congratulations to the democratic process in Vermont that you so frequently call for. Not to mention the District of Columbia.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 7, 2009 7:54 PM

You spend a lot of words in reaction to a misreading of what I said. I did not write that the interrogation techniques, which did include methods of torture that ought to be investigated and stopped were tantamount to sleep dep. et al. I merely pointed out that public discussion typically moves from agreement to find the relevant line. Even news reports about the ICRC's leaked document continue to include sleep deprivation and forced shaving among the list of techniques, with no differentiation from torture. Before some of us are willing to sign on to vociferous statements of agreement, we'd like to put some boundaries on the effects.

As I've said, though, I don't think your reading is broad enough to tar the "religious right."

As for Vermont, I think the state has made a grievous mistake. Just because they avoided contributing to the compounded travesty of subverting our system of government doesn't mean that the move is deserving of congratulations.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 7, 2009 8:12 PM

C'mon, Prag. It would seem like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Barr, David Vitter and other conservatives get plenty of sex. The good, virtuous hetero kind, too.
Oh, and then there was Roy Cohn...

Posted by: rhody at April 8, 2009 1:40 AM


Ok you'd like to "put some boundaries on the effects" of the torture debate. Fine. Go ahead. Then once you've done that, how about some serious investigation of this issue by conservatives? What more prodding do you need?

Perhaps you can muster just a tiny bit of outrage the next time our government tortures and subsequently kills someone in a secret detention facility.

You are far more critical of the people exposing and criticizing the torture regime than you are of the torturers and their official enablers! The entire episode -- from the crimes themselves to the silence of those on the right in their aftermath -- will be judged one of the American right's darkest hours. That you are ashamed of all this is quite clear by your defensive comments.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 8, 2009 10:01 AM

As to your Vermont comments: enough of the "subverting our system of government" baloney. It's so trite. The independent judiciary is an integral part of our system of government, and has been from its inception. You might think the Iowa court's reasoning is wrong, but there is nothing subversive about a court striking down a statute it finds unconstitutional. Go ahead and use that kind of language on talk-radio when you're speaking to your fellow travelers, but don't expect to be taken seriously among the wider audience of adults.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 8, 2009 10:07 AM

I'd imagine that anyone of the type to seek employment by the Red Cross as a torture inspector probably had a pretty low threshold for finding it to begin with.

Posted by: EMT at April 8, 2009 8:44 PM

EMT, I'd imagine that anyone who made a comment like yours doesn't know his ass from his elbow.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 8, 2009 9:48 PM

Pragmatist said: "independent judiciary is an integral part of our system of government, and has been from its inception."

Yeh, but an abuse of judicial review is an abuse of judicial review.

The Iowa court did not offer judicial reasoning but rather a political assertion and little else.

Posted by: Chairm at April 8, 2009 11:28 PM
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