Monday, April 29, 2013

I heartily dislike the new odium theologicum that decrees that one must never quote from news sources that are deemed politically incorrect. For one thing, with all the news sources out there representing various points of view, it is impossible to prevent people from consulting "forbidden" sites. Maybe in Putin's Russia, but not here. 
At all events, yesterday I committed what some seem to regard as a cardinal sin on Facebook: I cited a piece from the The FrontPage, an internet magazine maintained by David Horowitz. Some years ago, when I read Horowitz' autobiography, I recognized that David and I were soul brothers--up to a point. For one thing, we were both raised in Communist Party households. We both chafed under the reign of conformity demanded by the Eisenhower years, and longed somehow for a better society. Then in the seventies we both participated in what was broadly termed the New Left, David as a full-fledged combatant with Ramparts Magazine and the Black Panthers, myself more sectorially as a gay liberationist. 
Gradually, we both began to have doubts about radicalism as it had developed in the United States. My disillusionment did not in fact take me very far, reflected nowadays mainly in my distrust of both political parties (resulting most recently in the absurd misperception that I was a supporter of George Romney). Yet David became a neocon. I was and am repulsed by that political orientation. David Horowitz and I have never met, but as I indicated we are in some sense linked. Even if we were not, I reserve the right, under the principle of freedom of speech and expression, to quote, when appropriate, from things that he has published.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Re: The Events in Boston.

A few days ago the journalist David Sirota published a specious column in which he expressed the hope that the Boston criminals would prove to be native Americans, and not Muslims. Even though it turns out that they actually were Muslims, Oliver Bullough tries to rescue Sirota's thesis by comparing the most recent perpetrators to the murderous Columbine boys. 

I say "Fail"--for this reason. In reality there are ethnic and religious valences attaching to many such atrocities. Rarely are they simply random expressions of individualism, but reflect group values. If one can acknowledge this point in the case of Timothy McVeigh, who represented a kind of far-right insurrectionism, why not mutatis mutandis with the perpetrators in Boston? Reflecting the intensity of the quarrel with the Russian authorities, Chechnya has proved an exceptional breeding ground for jihadists. It is idle to pretend otherwise.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I have long subscribed to Isaiah Berlin’s principle of incommensurabilty. That is to say, some differences of opinion are based on such radically different premises that even the most sustained efforts in reasoning together will find great difficulty in succeeding: there is no common ground. In practice, though, the principle need not be a counsel of despair. Take same-sex marriage, for example, where as recently as ten years ago differences seemed unbridgeable. But in fact they were bridgeable, through the ideas of equality (a foundational value in our society, however neglected in practice), and in some cases friendship or consanguinity, when a close friend or relative proved to be gay or lesbian and would benefit from marriage.
By contrast, in the matter of the current passions aroused by the death of Margaret Thatcher, there seems to be no bridge to soften or erase incommensurability.  Hence the bitterness of the conflict.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

My account of The Homophobic Mind, presented seriatim below, may now be more easily accessed in a reformatted version:
In my account of the many facets of The Homophobic Mind, set out at length in the following postings, I have stressed its origins in Europe and the Abrahamic Middle East.  Ideally, a more global approach would be adopted.  The following piece is an interesting sketch (though the picture it paints is a little too rosy, in my view):

 Here is my review of a recent book edited by David A. B. Murray, Homophobias: Lust and Loathing Across Time and Space (Duke, 2009).

Several general accounts--including those by Byrne Fone and Louis-Georges Tin--exist that address negative attitudes towards same-sex love, what is commonly termed homophobia, its causes, prevalence, and the prospects for reducing it. Existing studies mainly analyze the problem in Western societies. Yet news reports indicate that homophobia also blights Third World countries, where it seems to be on the rise.

There is a clearly a need for a comprehensive study of homophobia on a worldwide basis. Regrettably, this book fails to achieve that aim.

The essays in this book treat only a few countries, notably Australia, Greece, India, Indonesia, and Jamaica. The information offered is mainly anecdotal and little effort has been made by the editor to knit the contributions together into some sort of integrated whole.

Highly present-minded, the book is geared towards the concerns of the guild of academic anthropologists. The writers have neglected to avail themselves of the work of historians with regard to same-sex behavior and homophobia in non-Western countries. This effort began a century ago with the massive study of Ferdinand Karsch-Haack, not cited in this book.

Examination of the larger picture disclosed by this diachronic approach shows that over time homophobia has largely thrived in countries dominated by the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are four exceptions to this generalization: ancient Iran under Zoroastrianism; the Manchus of East Asia; and the Aztecs and Inca in the New World. Why? Recognition of this larger pattern would have gone a long way to fostering an understanding homophobia worldwide.

The essay on Jamaica does acknowledge the role of Christian churches in the intense antihomosexual attitudes that have emerged there. However, there is an almost total blackout on Muslim homophobia. The contributors seem to think that raising this issue is politically incorrect. Yet what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

In short, this book is disappointingly patchy and limited. The need for a worldwide analysis of homophobia must still be met.